Long live Lyra Silvertongue and Serafina Pekkala

I finally finished The Golden Compass. This books features a couple of the most excellent female characters that I have ever read about. Lyra kicks ass. So does the witch queen, Serafina Pekkala.

About half way through the book, I posted on how all of the male characters were annoying me somewhat. Lyra was appearing to be too much of a Token Feisty for me, the lone female allowed to interact with several sexist groups: the Oxford scholars, the gyptians, and the bear community where the males are polygamists. Frustrated, I posted: Are there imaginary worlds where sexism doesn’t exist? Mrs. Coulter, the evil mother character, is powerful but she was also used to show how she was the exception to the other females in the story. It just irritates me that so often, when kids finally get to see a girl being brave, it’s woven into the narrative how she’s the exception of her gender.

But two things changed for me as a I read along to make me a die hard fan of The Golden Compass. The first is I absolutely fell in love Iorek Byrinson, the armored bear character. He’s male of course, but once he came on the scene, the book really came alive for me, and it kept getting better after that. Then came the witches. The witch clans are all female, magical, mysterious, and powerful.

While flying to the armored bear’s palace in a balloon through a starry, cold winter night guided by the witch queen, Lyra ask her: “Are there men witches, or only women?” Here is Serafina’s response:

There are men who serve us, like the consul at Trollesund. And there are men we take for lovers or husbands. You are so young, Lyra, too young to understand this, but I shall tell you anyway and you’ll understand later: men pass in front of our eyes like butterflies. creatures of a brief season. We love them; they are brave, powerful, beautiful, clever; and they die almost at once. They die so soon that our hearts are continually racked with pain. We bear their children who are witches if they are female, human if not; and then in a blink of an eye they are gone, felled, slain, lost. Our sons too. When a little boy is growing, he thinks he is immortal. His mother knows he isn’t. each time become more painful until finally your heart is broken. Perhaps that is when Yambe-Akka coems for you. She is older than the tundra.  Perhaps for her, witches lives are as brief as men’s are to us.

Wow, how’s that for an alternate narrative? Clearly, Serafina Pekkala needs her own series. And I no longer mind polygamous bears when kids get to see females in power too.

As you read this book, the writing gets better and better until the end (not the movie ending, the book ending; they are different) which is so dazzling and stunning, it gave me chills.

Reel Girl rates The Golden Compass ***GGG***

Are there imaginary worlds where sexism doesn’t exist?

I’m reading The Golden Compass and I absolutely love it. The main character is Lyra. She is fierce, smart, and brave. The villain is also female: Mrs. Coulter. She’s brilliant, beautiful, and wicked.

There are several indirect references to sexism in the book. When Lyra first meets Mrs. Coulter she is shocked that the woman is a scholar because female scholars are few and dowdy. Lyra notes many times that the male scholars get access to special rooms. Just like in the real world, right? We all know real life Oxford is sexist as hell. So what’s wrong with referencing that sexism in the story?

There are further parts of the story that make note of sexism. Only the male gyptians are allowed on the boat to recover the children. The female gyptians argue they should be included, not to battle, but because someone will need to be there to look after the children once they are rescued.

Of course Lyra, just a child, goes and battles and is the heroine of the story. But I’m wondering as I read, are there imaginary worlds where there is no sexism? I would love girls and boys to be exposed to this fantasy much more than they currently are. Before we can realize it, we’ve got to be able to imagine it. We get to that surprisingly little if at all.

Obviously, the challenge is that writers exist in real life sexist worlds so as Luce Irigaray wrote, even creating a “female imaginary” can be practically impossible to fantasize about. Though, honestly, it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. Remember, battles are symbolic and metaphorical as are magical powers.

Just put a female front and center. Have some other females helping her out, they don’t have to be human, just female. That’s a start. Maybe the Oz series would fit? It had Glinda but a lot of makes around Dorothy. Alice in Wonderland? Same thing, but I think that would fit, at least the movie version with the White Queen. Is she in the book? There is the Red Queen, though she’s evil. I like evil female characters but I like good ones as well.  The only thing that bums me out about Tim Burton’s Alice, which I loved, was that the story was bookended with a wedding scene. Like so many modern day feminist heroines, Alice’s independent act is that she refuses to marry who she is supposed to. But why mention marriage at all?

Update: Commenters and  I agree on these: Oz, Wonderland, and Miyazaki’s imagination