She was the dream, my dream, and I lived it every time I picked up the Song of the Lioness.
Alanna of Trebond. Red-haired, purple-eyed, truculent, and in cahoots with her twin brother to outwit their father and the entire kingdom to pursue their chosen paths; Alanna took her brother’s place to become a knight in a kingdom where women were forbidden from taking up sword and shield. I came to fandom more than a decade after Tamora Pierce published Alanna: The First Adventure in 1984, but fifteen years after my initial reading, she remains the standard against which I hold every other female heroine, whether I am conscious of it or not. Here’s why:
1. She actually became a knight
When I was in grade school, I was pretty heavily into fantasy; young as I was, it was clear to me that there was a dichotomy in sword-and-sorcery books (at least, those aimed at grade-school kids). Girls explored and were open-minded and had adventures, to be sure, but it was the boys who got to chop things up and be praised for physical prowess,courageousness, and bravery… and then there was all this valour business. It was so awesome, and I wanted it so badly for myself.
However, books told me a great deal about life when I was that age, and what I got from my books was that no, that was not my lot in life: I could settle for being brave and valiant (and usually tragic, since somehow that’s always weirdly tied into the warrior-maiden trope), but only that. Alanna busted right through that glass ceiling in my imagination.
She fought back, shoving the pain away until she had it under control. Now she ruled the power she had pulled from the flames. She rode the tiger. She was a warrior!
It seems to me that a lot of warrior females tend to fall to one extreme stereotype or the other: either men with boobs and a chip on their shoulder about dresses and the assumption that they probably wouldn’t be very good at anything else, or so very comfortable with being female that it’s a weird source of power/fetish fuel. I really haven’t found any middle ground that can compare to how very normalized the fact that Alanna is female is in the book. I mean, as far as being a girl in disguise in a castle full of dudes.
In The First Adventure, Alanna gets her first period in the castle and freaks out (because seriously, who wouldn’t?), and is faced with the wrenching decision to reveal herself or (she assumes) bleed to death in silence. The chapter that follows is one of the most frank and sensible treatments of becoming a woman in literature I have read, courtesy of the mother of one of Alanna’s friends.
3. The books are about Alanna herself
Yes, yes, and the fate of the kingdom, I know, but the story is a bildungsroman and does not betray its protagonist by sacrificing development of character for development of plot, even (especially) when it comes to romance. Alanna has meaningful relationships with three-dimensional characters that, while contributing to the plot, are not the focus of the books (or her personality). Alanna is defined by her actions and thoughts, a good majority of which happen to be about her own safety, politics, enemies, allies, friends, and then also the men she loves. She’s allowed to think of herself first.
4. She’s likeable
YMMV on this one, but I was so impressed by Alanna when I was young. She was brave, and loyal, and quick-witted, but didn’t know all the answers, got frustrated, had problems, was bullied, did things she regretted, and did more she was proud of. She was very real to me, and she inspired me. Plus she had a cat named Faithful in the second book; how cool is that?
How about you, readers? Were you fangirls of Alanna? Had a crush on George? Or Jon? Or perhaps you prefer to read about Daine or Kel? What do you think of The Circle Opens? Who else wishes there was an HBO series of the Song of the Lioness?