Leah Bobet is a novelist, editor, and bookseller with Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada’s oldest science fiction bookstore. Her debut novel, Above, was short-listed for the Prix Aurora Award and the Andre Norton Award and commended by the CBCs Best Books for Kids and Teens; her second, An Inheritance of Ashes, will appear from Clarion Books in the US and Scholastic in Canada in October 2015. Visit her at www.leahbobet.com.
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?
Hard question! This isn’t usually how I ever interact with books: I tend to fall in love with worlds, and the books I loved were the books that had something to teach me, or that showed me something new. Which is why this might be an odd answer: I absolutely loved Molly Grue from Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.
I still love her, decades on. I never pretended to be her, but we live a little in each other’s shadows. She is the person in literature who grows with me always; who always has something new to show me whenever I reread that book.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
It’s funny, because understanding that connection took me a great deal more self-knowledge than I had as a kid.
Molly is manifestly not the first choice for a grade-school reader to identify with: She’s middle-aged, and tired, and full of bad life choices and regrets and cynicism. All in all, she’s not the person who is supposed to be able to go on an adventure or befriend a unicorn—but does. But that wasn’t why.
Even when I was very young, there was something about what Molly does in The Last Unicorn that appealed to me. She’s the person who keeps the soup on, who sees through bullshit, who is honest; who is practical and pragmatic and pays attention to rations and road miles and all the little things that actually back up the high-flying ideals of quest fantasy. The person who can call bullshit on other people, but in a way that’s compassionate, and who carves out a kind, warm, welcoming space inside a castle full of fear and despair. A unicorn can’t quite create solace in Haggard’s kingdom—but Molly Grue can.
Even very young, I understood deep down what a gift it was for Molly to listen to Prince Lir’s awful love poetry, and be his friend, and have him peel potatoes so he could be appreciated and useful to someone. And even very young, I understood that Molly’s hard-won competence and hard work were the only things keeping that quest together through the back half of the book, and admired the hell out of them.
She was kind. She gave people so much space to be themselves—and support to grow into themselves—mostly just by being herself, and taking care of the day-to-day braveries. She’s the very epitome of the “Chop wood, carry water” proverb. And in a very beautiful, quiet way, I think she helped me realize very young that kind was a thing I wanted to be too.
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 heroines owe her?
I think that idea of God being in the details, about quests being won on hard work and compassion, about a world made up of accreting small deeds and not so much the noble grand gestures has really rubbed off on my work thematically, even if it doesn’t show up in every character. I find myself telling a lot of stories about the characters we’re told aren’t supposed to get a story, be a hero, or take centre stage. I write a lot of stories about keeping the world on its keel.
But—and this goes especially for An Inheritance of Ashes—I write a lot of women who are angry, and have every right to be; angry and competent and kind. So maybe there’s a lot of Molly Grue in my women characters after all!
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 allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Tina Connolly, Alexandra C. Renwick, and Kelly Robson. Or, if you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here..