Marie Brennan is an anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for material. She is currently misapplying her professors’ hard work to the Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent; the first book of that series, A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award.
I asked her:
Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess? Who was she?
I didn’t realize it until I was in college, but apparently I imprinted on Cimorene, the heroine of Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons. I studied Latin, I learned to fence — though I can’t make cherries jubilee, so I didn’t copy her in all respects. (I also had a deep and abiding fondness for Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden . . . though fortunately for all involved, I never tried to imitate her!)
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
I think I’m very attracted to pragmatic heroines. I’ve never been the sort to get swept away by my passions or my dreams; I like the characters who feel quite strongly, but don’t let it overwhelm them. Those kinds of characters tend to be proactive problem-solvers, which is my kind of daydream; I want to imagine myself as a person who can get out of a sticky spot by virtue of skill and wits. I can’t say for certain that I would volunteer to be a dragon’s “captive” princess just to solve my marital difficulties — but as solutions go, that one seemed pretty clever to me!
How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?
Oh, I definitely write heroines in the vein of Cimorene. Heroes and heroines both, really; my characters all skew toward the pragmatic, so that I have to push myself to write more impulsive types from time to time. Lady Trent would get along great with Cimorene; they could swap stories of their experiences with dragons, and then vanish forever into the library, never to be seen again. <lol>
How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?
It does have a different connotation than “hero,” doesn’t it? I admit I usually talk about a book’s “protagonist” or “main character,” rather than using a gendered term. The word “heroine” evokes two particular connotations for me. One is a character who acts in a heroic fashion: Wonder Woman, Katniss Everdeen, women and girls who fight on a grand scale for the greater good. I would never call Mary Lennox a heroine in that sense, because her story operates on a more personal level, and Mary herself isn’t intended to be admirable. The other is the female half of a romantic leading pair, the counterpart of the story’s hero — I often see it used in that sense in romance genre circles. If romance isn’t central to the story, I don’t tend to think of the main characters as a hero and a heroine, even if they pair up like that. Outside of the story proper, I’ll use the word “heroine” if I’m talking about a role model (as you are here) . . . but on the whole, it isn’t a word I deploy very often.
Marie is also the author of the doppelanger duology of Warrior and Witch, the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy, the Onyx Court historical fantasy series, and more than forty short stories. More information can be found atwww.swantower.com.
About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will take you to all the other interviews, or there’s an index of them here. If you’re wondering about my use of the word heroine, I’ve written an essay on the subject here.