Monday, January 24, 2005

Feminist Fantasy

So, The Firebrand, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I think that the best way to explain what's been troubling me about this book is by comparing it to The Mists of Avalon. Most people would consider the latter her masterpiece, and I can't disagree. The thing these have in common is depicting a matriarchal society, a world in which women are powerful, equal to men or better, possessed of the truest power and beloved of their own goddesses. Druids, in Mists, and Amazons, in Firebrand. I think the Amazons are less convincing.

First, there's less history behind them. Not that I require historical accuracy in my fantasy, but when you have history, you get a certain verisimilitude, just because you're telling the truth. The main problem, though, is that in her Arthurian story, the society seems to fit. There is a place for men, beside the women and intertwined with them, and they don't seem extraneous or pointless. In this book, however, it's hard to believe that anyone has babies, the men and women hate each other so. They visit a city, for example, where all the guards are women, a city ruled by a Queen who has no consort (there is no such thing as a King). And yet the Queen's daughter is a little chit who thinks that being a warrior would make her "manly." Only women can be blacksmiths, for various spiritual reasons. Okay...but the question remains: what are the men doing? Are they allowed to use their physical strength in any way at all? I mean, I'm not a very intense feminist, but is it still considered very wrong to admit that men often have stronger bodies than women? And I have trouble really believing in a world in which every character who isn't an idiot believes that staying indoors, pursuing intelligence, not being a warrior is just stupid and useless.

I bet at some point we get a wise man, though. But for some reason, it seems like it would be bad form to have an intelligent, respectable woman who doesn't kill people for a living.

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