So, fellow fantasy author Paul S. Kemp, published this piece entitled “Why I Write Masculine Stories.”
For those of you who can’t be bothered to read it (but you really should), the gist of it is that Paul writes stories extolling what he considers to be traditional virtues of manhood. He is fairly unapologetic about writing what he enjoys and a lot of what he enjoys are attributes that he believes positively embodies aspects of masculinity such as adventure, fighting, putting women and children first, what have you.
I’ve spent the better part of the day trying to figure out how I felt about this article. I think I’ve arrived at a pretty good idea.
I’ll preface this by saying I am, by and large, very fond of Paul. I read his first book, Hammer and Blade, and enjoyed it. Paul writes the adventure, action and larger-than-life characters that I came to love from fantasy and he seems to be one of those increasingly rare authors that isn’t obsessed with bastards or worldbuilding and I’m pretty damn pleased he’s unapologetic about that…
…but I can’t get on board with the idea that bravery, a lust for adventure and a desire to protect people are traditionally masculine virtues.
I said I spent a lot of time considering my response to this article and a lot of that time was spent looking inward, reflecting on my own books.
Is The Aeons’ Gate trilogy a masculine series?
You could make the argument that it is. It features a lot of over-the-top violence, a lot of witty banter, a lot of people in impractical or skimpy clothing (many of them women), a lot of charismatic heroes, a lot of dark pasts, a lot of the things you might come to associate with the kind of adventure stories that embody these traits of manhood.
The characters of The Aeons’ Gate aren’t really…traditionally masculine. The male characters are frequently depressed, lethargic, paralyzed with self-doubt or consumed by petty, boyish ego (and they, too, often wear impractical or skimpy clothing) and they frequently spend a lot of time crying. The characters who frequently suck things up and resolve to get things done, pushing past pain, paralysis and doubt are the female characters. But even they are consumed by introspection, doubt and concern over their relationships.
So is The Aeons’ Gate trilogy a feminine series?
You could make the argument that it is.
And, in fact, many have.
And I guess that, for as much as that’s unintentional, that’s also inevitable.
I suppose we all have fairly clear ideas of what gender is. Paul has a pretty solid idea of what he thinks a man is, many readers probably agree or disagree based on their own assumptions. My clear idea of gender is that I clearly think that gender is a pretty unclear subject.
I feel that Paul (and I’m speculating here, I don’t presume to speak for him) probably shares the opinion of a lot of readers out there that masculinity is to femininity what fire is to water: something opposite, diametrically opposed, clashing where they collide. Man is hard where woman is soft, man is brash where woman is thoughtful, man is stubborn where woman is yielding.
Frankly, I’m not so sure that’s the case. At least, not from where I stand.
Instead of viewing masculinity and femininity as two lines heading toward each other, I view them as heading roughly in the same direction, with the key distinction lying in how close they touch each other. On certain subjects, they are miles, nay, leagues apart. On others, they are so close you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. They cross each other frequently, bounce off each other often, blend seamlessly sometimes. It’s a long, convoluted mess that stretches out into infinity.
And that’s where I write from.
Like I said, I applaud Paul for embracing these virtues and writing very entertaining stories from them. But I don’t think these are solely male traits. Bravery, selflessness, a lust for adventure and a thrill of struggle have always been traits of a hero. It’s just that we used to be in a world where the only heroes in stories were men.
This is no longer the case.
Frankly, it strikes me as weird when there’s no prominent women characters in a fantasy book these days. I’m not outraged. I’m not incensed. I’m just kind of…bored. I’ve read books that my friends have raved about and picked them up and been struck by the absence of women. Like I said, it’s not necessarily an offensive omission (to me, that is; plenty of wiser minds than I have far bigger things to say about it), but it’s just not authentic.
Writing reflects reality, or what we see of it. My reality includes a lot of women doing a lot of stuff.
I’m not presuming to sit in judgment of Paul or the people who agree with him. I’m not going to lecture them on what I think they’re doing wrong (I think that’s a pretty bad way to teach people). I’m not going to demand they change one thing or another. I’m probably not going to stop reading Paul’s books (unless he just goes totally apeshit, which I doubt he will). I’m content to let this be one of those things in which we are miles apart from each other on.
This is something, I think, that’s good to consider. Because I think, as geeks continue to change the world and “nerd” becomes less of a dirty word, as fantasy books are read more and more widely, that the realities of many people will start to include many other people.
Nothing, after all, is more impermanent, liquid or false than what we know is certain.