Friday, January 22, 2016

From My Bookshelf: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

I believe I first read Dealing with Dragons (1990), the first book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede in middle school, and it shaped what I believe about women's rights and how I view the feminist movement. This may come as a surprise to anyone who has read the series, since it isn't about feminism at all. In fact, it is about a princess who runs away from home to keep house for a dragon. However, many elements of the story challenge modern feminism's extreme views.

Strong Female Characters

In addition to the main character Cimorene, the dragon she works for Kazul is female, as is Cimorene's best friend Alianora, and the witch Morwen. They are all competent, intelligent, clever, and practical, but they were all individuals as well, and they grew in different ways. The villains were all male, however, not all the men were villains, and the story did not vilify all men.

Practical Response to Oppression

The story begins with Cimorene trapped in her life as a princess where she is expected to be beautiful, obedient, and empty-headed. She finally runs away when she catches her parents arranging her marriage behind her back. Cimorene takes responsibility for her life and happiness. However, she does not go where she has no unpleasant responsibilities or where no one has authority over her. Instead, the emphasis is on going where she is free to pursue her dreams (sword-fighting, magic, cooking) and where her talents are appreciated.


My copy of Dealing with Dragons.
Of note:
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
An IRA Young Adult's Choice
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
A Booklist Editor's Choice
A New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
The emphasis is not on forcing others to treat her with more respect, but on living her life among people who already do. As a young girl, this encouraged me to invest my time in friendships that were mutually edifying instead of in arguments with people who will never agree with me. It also illustrated the practical mindset that you can not expect to be treated like a princess if you run away from a princess's responsibilities, and you can not expect not to have any responsibilities at all. Cimorene still expected to be treated with respect, but she did not expect she would be waited on hand and foot, nor did she think that she would be able to do anything she wanted to do.

No "Feminist" Behaviors

Cimorene did not throw fits insisting that she be given her way or trying to change other people's behavior. She changed her own behavior to get the results she wanted. She treated the men who came to rescue her with cutesy, even when she thought them particularly stupid. Cimorene used her manners. Even when it would have been easier to get them to leave by insulting them, she treated them with the respect that she wanted in return. She did not go into a tizzy when someone called princesses "empty-headed." Although they were feeding into stereotypes with the insult, they clearly were not intending to offend her personally, and she did not deliberately misunderstand to prove a point.

A Woman for King

At about the same time that I read this series for the first time, a lesson in Physical Education centered around--no joke--"Sportspersonship." As a result, the passage in Dealing with Dragons  where Cimorene has a conversation with Kazul about the dragons' system of government impacted me greatly.
"But you're a female!" Cimorene said. "If you'd carried Colin's Stone from the Ford of Whispering Snakes to the Vanishing Mountain, you'd have had to be a queen, wouldn't you?"
"No, of course not," Kazul said. "Queen of the Dragons is a totally different job from King, and it's not one I'm particularly interested in. Most people aren't....'King' is the name of the job. It doesn't matter who holds it." (Wrede 85)
 I think this highlights how silly some of these "Feminist" issues are. As long as a woman can hold a particular job, what does it matter what it is called? As long as a woman can exhibit sportsmanship, does it matter that her specific gender is not connoted? Many "feminist" issues today are like this. At the heart, they are very silly and based on misconceptions or false evidence.

Conclusion

I believe we should be aware of how women are portrayed in fiction because there are often legitimate discrepancies and stereotypes. However, I think we should also be aware that the current "feminist" movement has fallen far from its noble origins. It is now largely a group about venting personal grievances, and getting the government to pay for it.

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