Monday, May 13, 2013

Literary Leading Ladies

On yesterday's vlog, I mentioned that I was preparing a post in honor of my grandmother.  This is that post; Nana, today is for you.  And, because I have no other graphic to go with this post, I give you a photo I took outside the V&A in London a few years ago, which seems appropriate:


Nana, by the way, reads my blog religiously and every so often offers constructive criticism and/or ideas for material she'd like to see here.  A few months ago, she suggested I write a post on why I revisit so many of the books I read as a child - I haven't quite figured out how to explain it yet; it has to do with nostalgia and, at the same time, discovering new things about both myself and the characters... I'll write that post when I can phrase it more eloquently, I promise!  But today I thought I'd give you a list of my ten favorite heroines in novels from my childhood and adolescence.

As I put together these names and dove back into the books for this post, I stumbled on articles online about strong girls and women in children's or young adult literature.  I recognized almost all of the names and, obviously, many of the them were repeated from list to list.  Interestingly, though, the ones that kept reappearing were ones that haven't stuck with me as viscerally as those below.  I read Pippi Longstocking and Harriet the Spy, I remember Mary Lennox and Sara Crewe, and I loved the Little House on the Prairie series as well as obviously To Kill a Mockingbird, but those girls just didn't become part of my soul in the way that the characters on my list did. For those of you who are a bit younger than I am, let me say that I read the first Harry Potter book when I was 12 and the last at 20, so while I love Hermione she didn't make such an impression on me as the girls in my list.  (The same goes for Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy, which came out after I'd finished grad school.)  And for you English readers, I will admit to never having read Enid Blyton or Edith Nesbit, which is why this list skews towards the American!  So here goes - in no order other than alphabetical by author because I can't pick favorites, here are my top ten literary leading ladies from books I read in childhood and adolescence:

Josephine March; Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Emma Woodhouse; Emma, Jane Austen
Rachel Robinson; Here's To You, Rachel Robinson, Judy Bloom
Meg Murray; The Time Quartet, Madeleine L'Engle
Vicky Austin; A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle
Angharad "Harry" Crewe; The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley
Rilla Blythe; Rilla of Ingleside from the Anne of Green Gables series, LM Montgomery
Jane Victoria Stuart; Jane of Lantern Hill, LM Montgomery
Keladry of Mindelan; Protector of the Small quartet, Tamora Pierce
Lyra; His Dark Materials quartet, Phillip Pullman

Okay, it's pretty obvious I went for fantasy stories.  Raise your hand if you did, too?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  I also seemed to like girls who did things that were, in the books, considered not feminine; Jo March moved to New York to pursue her dream of being a writer, Harry escaped diplomatic niceties to become a native of a foreign culture, Kel was the first woman in the land to openly train to be a knight, and both Jane and Lyra are described multiple times as tomboys.  These characters also tend towards normal girls with very relatable flaws who, over the course of the book(s), grow into themselves in one way or another.  I think that's why I actually like Rilla, Anne Shirley's daughter, better than I like Anne - the character development in that last book is wonderful and the background of World War I is a much more global setting than PEI is in the other books.  (Also, Tamora Pierce spoke at my school once, and I remember her saying that Alanna, from the first Tortall series, was both a female knight and a sorceress because she was so excited to be writing books that she went overboard and stuffed entirely too much into the character.)  My favorite leading ladies were also usually smart and bookish - Rachel Robinson is a straight-A student with a gift for music, Meg Murray is a math whiz who uses her intellect to resist losing free will, and Vicky Austin discusses philosophy and theology with her dying grandfather.  Of course, they also often had confusing family dynamics and awkward (at best) relationships with the opposite sex.  I guess you can tell a lot about who I thought I was and who I wanted to be from this list, can't you?

Do you think I've forgotten anyone, dear readers?  Who would you add?


35 comments:

  1. Love your selections! I remember being completely in love with The Blue Sword and A Wrinkle in Time, and too much into the character or not, I read all the Song of the Lioness Quartet obsessively {swordplay, magic, romance, more swordplay - what's not to love?}. Hmm...I have to dig those out for a re-read!

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  2. I loved the Song of the Lioness quartet, too, but Alanna has SO MUCH GOING ON that it can be a little overwhelming. (Also, there were a LOT of pg-13 sex scenes in those books, and I wasn't quite ready for that when I read them!) Maybe I shouldn't have included Kel because I was in high school when those books came out, but she was just training to be a knight - she wasn't also magical - and it was kind of easier to focus on what was going on with her. (clearly I get really into my books... haha)

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  3. TAMORA PIERCE SPOKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?!!? ASJIHDSUVBDAKJDNSOUFBUOSA! /nerd-faint

    so yes, I was into Alanna. Also completely loved Ginger from black beauty (can a girl-horse count as a heroine?!) And this girl Aeriel from a completely cheesy Darkangel Trilogy (ostensibly undesirable girl is kidnapped by vampire to be his servant, turns out she loves him, decides to save him. you know the deal.) I love all the ones on your list!

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  4. oh man there were a few others that I wasn't sure would count - no horses, but some girls from ensemble books, like Susan from the Narnia series - and it was hard to get it down to this list! also, Nancy Drew was one of my favorite characters, but even at 10 I knew she wasn't actually a heroine...


    (and yes. I know the deal. LOVE YOU.)

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  5. OH MY GOD I can't believe you also read the Blue Sword (and presumably the Hero and the Crown)?! I was completely obsessed with them (as well as Harry's horse) and I may still bring both of these books on annual family beach vacation because I love them so much. I am also obsessed with Jane of Lantern Hill (it is the only one of LM Montgomery's books I've read so often it has actually fallen apart and needs to be replaced). I agree with everything else on your list but I am particularly a fan of those ones.

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  6. Georgia ChristakisMay 13, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Nice picks- I absolutely love Meg especially. Apparently all my favorite books are pretty male-heavy and female-sparse (East of Eden and LOTR) but considering how traditionalist Tolkien is I love how Eowyn plays both medieval cup-bearer and badass warrior (she kills the leader of the ringwraiths.)

    I'm currently reading the Horse and His Boy, and Aravis is a pretty good, feisty character. If you like fantasy (can you tell that I do?), Tenar of the Tombs of Atuan is a strong young female character as well.

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  7. I love that your Nana read and offers suggestions! That is the cutest. I love to read but for some reason I was never really drawn to books with a strong female lead being the main character. weird? Well, unless you count the Poisonwood Bible. But I do love a good fantasy book :)

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  8. LOVED Hero and the Crown! I almost put Aerin instead of Emma as my 10th :) and OBVI you love them because of all the horses? no one else has read Jane of Lantern Hill - it's such a random one and it's totally my favorite! have you read The Blue Castle? it's actually one of LM Montgomery's few books for adults, but it's the same style; there are just some really heavy themes. check it out!

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  9. Rachel Robinson? Oh my goodness. Be still my beating heart. I thought that was one of the more unknown Judy Blume books (if it's even possible to say that about a Judy Blume book). I always cite "Just as Long as We're Together" as my most favorite favorite Judy Blume book and tween read and everyone is always like, "but, Superfudge?" You won me over (again) with this post!

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  10. YES to Eowyn! I have to admit I wasn't crazy about the LOTR books - my favorite was The Hobbit but I had a hard time being as into the world as Tolkein was - but she's pretty awesome :) I can't remember The horse and His Boy though I reread all the Narnia books about 6 years ago when I was babysitting... I'll have to revisit!

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  11. "offers" may be putting it gently :P (JUST KIDDING, NANA! I LOVE YOU!)

    I was reading something about how more books for boys are more universal than girls' books are for boys - does that make sense? it's okay for us to read books with strong male characters but less okay for guys to read books with strong female characters. sad!

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  12. I HAVE NEVER READ SUPERFUDGE. also, I've never read the Ramona books, which everyone cites as THE BEST BOOKS FOR GIRLS EVER. glad I'm not the only one with niche favorites :)

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  13. This post includes the names Anne Shirley and PEI, so naturally, it's the only important blog post of the day in the entire universe.

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  14. haha thank you. I am honored. p.s. did you know you can go on Anne of Green Gables TOURS?

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  15. Really? I remember some vague hints, but it's been a while since I read those books! I guess they didn't make an impression. Oops :p

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  16. Georgia ChristakisMay 13, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    I hear that from pretty much all of my peers- I think the complex interweaving story telling technique (something he picked up from studying medieval sagas and texts) and verbose passage are a challenge for modern readers, but as a Christian I've derived more meaning from his books than any others. I guess it's all about perspective :) I LOVED this post, thanks for sharing.

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  17. Yes! And lucky for me, Mr. TBS would totally be down to go too. A few months ago, we wanted to put on a leisure movie as we worked on something on the couch (that is not intended to sound dirty, but I have no other way of wording it), and HE said, "Green Gables. The first one." I was so happy that it made me all hot and bothered. (Okay, that one WAS supposed to sound dirty.)

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  18. I'm at work so I can't look up passages, but maybe you can? I remember squirming as I read!

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  19. oh man. you got a good one. keep him! haha :)

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  20. "even at 10 I knew she wasn't actually a heroine..."

    HA so true... speaking of which, I totally love: http://thehairpin.com/2012/08/texts-from-nancy-drew



    (poor Ned...)

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  21. I just finished reading The Poisonwood Bible! I thought it was brilliant!

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  22. I'VE NEVER MET SOMEONE WHO READ THE DARKANGEL TRILOGY!!!!!!!!!! I seriously loved those books.

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  23. Every time I start thinking about what I would comment, I realized I had a mini-novel in my head. You don't mind if I eventually steal this idea for my own blog, do you? :D

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  24. Georgia ChristakisMay 13, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    Christianity, yes, but C.S. Lewis specifically, I don't think so :)

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  25. Yes and yes to Meg Murray and Vicky Austin. This makes me want to hop downstairs and get their books off the bookshelves! I always felt for Meg and how she felt so awkward and different, yet she really grows into her own in those books. Also, I'm freaking out that there are Anne of Green Gables tours, and I need to look into this immediately!!!!!

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  26. For me, it's Pippi, Harriet the Spy, and Anne Shirley. I loved Anne so much, that when I was ten, I convinced a friend's family that PEI was where they should go on their family vacation and then I invited myself to go along with them! It remains one of my fondest holiday memories :)

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  27. haha no of course not! can't wait to see what you come up with.

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  28. whoa girl, you got skillz! mad literary fangirl skillz :P

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  29. haha I love how we're spreading the PEI mania :)

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  30. well, long story short: I want to read is adult novels and theological writings. have you?

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  31. Nah. My network is regulated. But apparently not too well, because I spend most of my lunch hour on the internet blog-surfing and the work police have not come to arrest me for slacking yet :D

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  32. Okay, how much will you judge me if I tell you that I've never read any of those books? *cowers*

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  33. haha I'm not judging you! but lt me know if you want suggestions as to where to start :P

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I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.