I’ve written several posts about strong women characters in sci-fi and fantasy. My goal is to highlight some well-written female characters who are strong leaders, every bit equal to men, and yet still feminine. In this post, I’ll cover two female lead characters from the “Oz” books.
Let me begin by repeating that a strong female character is not a male character in a woman’s body. Women are inherently different in more than just biology, and those differences are important to portray well in fiction if a strong female character is to be believable. Yes, women can be warriors, leaders, and protectors (traditionally male attributes), just as men can be gentle, calming, and nurturing. But in a story, a strong female character needs to be so much more than just a gender-swapped man.
Many fantasy and sci-fi stories have an overwhelmingly male cast. All too often, the “token female” is just that—serving either as romance/sexual tension, and/or to simply say “this story is all about equality because look a woman.”
There’s no romance in the original Oz books by L. Frank Baum, primarily because they were written for young children. Even with some of the reimaginings of the Oz stories featuring romance to different degrees, most of the best Oz retellings stay fairly true to the strength of the female characters in the original tales.
This week I’m going to highlight one more strong female character from science fiction – and I have to discuss my favorite sci-fi show ever, Babylon 5. For anyone who’s watched Babylon 5, you would probably agree that the two main female leads – Susan Ivanova and Delenn – are strong women. But as much as I’d agree with you, and as much as I’d like to discuss either of those characters, I’m going to talk about the character of Lyta.
Lyta Alexander from Babylon 5
Lyta is a telepath, and she initially serves as the diplomatic aide to the enigmatic Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon Empire. Throughout the story of Babylon 5, the Vorlons – at first allies, then enemies, but always mysterious – alter Lyta’s telepathic abilities. She becomes stronger than average telepaths, and by the end of the series she reveals that the Vorlons had intended to use her as a doomsday weapon in their war against the Shadows.
I believe that Lyta is a strong character, but unlike Delenn or even Ivanova, she has a negative character arc. At the beginning of the story she starts out “good,” as it were – she’s a good person, she wants to do the right thing, she readily sides with the Army of Light. But through both circumstances and her own poor decisions, her character arc descends from the positive to the negative. By the end, she is hated and feared by her friends, and she herself has become belligerent, distrustful, and a terrorist. Continue reading
This is the next post in my “strong female characters” series. Last week I covered the fantasy genre (technically YA fantasy, I suppose, because I wrote about Aravis from The Chronicles of Narnia.) This week I’ll switch to sci-fi, and I’m going to switch from books to TV. (I know, shame on me).
But even though I’m a lover of books and a writer of novels, TV shows and movies are great story-telling mediums, and highly important to our modern culture. How women are portrayed on the screen is perhaps even more important than how they’re portrayed in books, because that visual medium is more pervasive.
And again, true to my penchant for not covering the newest and hottest thing, I’ll be discussing a strong female character from an older TV show. And by “older” I mean the early 2000s. So, old but not that old.
Sam Carter from Stargate: SG-1
I’m not sure if I should preface her name with “Captain,” which was her rank at the beginning, or “Colonel,” her rank by the end of the 11 seasons she was on, or “Doctor” (as in Ph.D.) Samantha Carter is one of the four headlining characters of the interstellar travel team SG1; she and her compatriots (her commanding officer in the Air Force, a nerdy archeologist, and an alien warrior – all three men) travel around the galaxy fighting bad guy aliens and saving Earth repeatedly. Classic sci-fi premise.
Traditionally, science fiction is not always a genre in which women really take the forefront as complex and valuable characters (some notable exceptions are Princess Leia from Star Wars, and Lt. Uhura from classic Star Trek). Those women are the exception rather than the rule; many women in sci-fi (if they’re even in the story at all) wind up being either the “hot space babe” or the “tough chick with the ray gun.”
Samantha Carter is neither of these. So what are some of the elements that go into making Sam a strong female character? Continue reading
A couple of months ago I wrote a post about Glinda the Good Witch (and other female characters) from L. Frank Baum’s Oz series (the books, not so much the Wizard of Oz movie). I discussed why I thought Glinda was a strong female character – an actual woman of strength, not just a tough, masculine character in a woman’s body.
In today’s world, readers and movie-goers want strong, well-rounded female characters in their stories, not just beautiful damsels in distress or rough-and-tough chicks who want to be one of the guys. There are a lot of popular characters right now that I could point to for my examples, but instead I’m going to continue with the thread started by Glinda, and discuss not only a lesser-known character, but a not-so modern one.
Aravis of Calormen
The Chronicles of Narnia (written a good 60+ years ago, in case you didn’t know) features several strong female characters, most notably the sisters Lucy and Susan Pevensie, who with their brothers, first find their way into Narnia via a wardrobe. Continue reading
March 8th is International Women’s Day, and so to celebrate (albeit a day late), I’ve decided to highlight some strong female characters of fantasy literature. (I suppose what I really should have done was highlight or interview a female author, but I didn’t plan this out well enough for that. Also, I just wanted an excuse to blog about fantasy characters, because I love fantasy. So there’s that.)
Anyway, there’s been a lot of buzz in recent years about writing strong female characters. A lot of people complain that many supposedly strong women characters are nothing more than gender-swapped male characters, or are women who are trying too hard to act like men. I’m not actually going to talk about that per se in this post – but what I am going to do is discuss some strong female characters of classic fantasy literature. Specifically, characters in the Oz stories.
The Matriarchal Land of Oz
Baum’s three main female leads: Ozma, Glinda, and Dorothy
Okay, so it’s perhaps not quite accurate to call the Land of Oz a matriarchy, but L. Frank Baum was very adept at writing female characters. And remember, he was writing The Wizard of Oz and subsequent books in the first two decades of the 20th century. Women’s suffrage was a hot topic during this time, but even though women were fighting for the right to vote, writing strong female characters in books wasn’t really a big focus. Especially not strong female characters in children’s fairy tale books.
So was Baum a supporter of women’s suffrage, a feminist, or perhaps just a keen observer of people (male and female alike)? That’s a discussion for a different post. But whatever his reasons or method, Baum excelled at writing strong women. Not women who acted like men – but women who were every bit as feminine as a lady of the 1910s should be while still smart, resourceful, and did not usually require a man to get them out of a scrape. Continue reading