Haha, old but gold! So glad Dave Barry still does the occasional columns and is still active on Twitter!! Laughed out loud at this.
The realization that so many things that enrich and enlighten my life - music that makes my heart sing, unforgettably beautiful art; novels that take me away from my life, and films that make my insides tingle – come from nothing, is amazing.
Blank canvases, scoresheets and empty word processor screens – people lovingly fill these with with fragile, magical layers of inspiration, talent and sheer hard work.
When I realise I’ve got the exact same nothing as my favourite authors, bands, and artists, there’s no excuse left between me and the things I aspire to create anymore.
I was talking to a friend’s girlfriend over the weekend, and somehow the topic of her twin brother came up - everyone called me stupid when I asked if they looked alike, but when I defensively cited that I’d read a series of books as a kid where the boy and girl looked alike to the point that they were completely able to switch lives, I was surprised that she had read and was also a fan about the series I was talking about!
Discussing this much-beloved series - Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce - inspired me to re-read all the books. I’m quite impressed that almost 15 years after I first read them, I still find the books as fascinating and thrilling as ever.
The series follows the life and adventures of Alanna of Trebond, a young girl from a noble family who hates all things girly, and wants to be a knight. It begins with a pact between Alanna and her twin brother Thom to swap places, so that Alanna can go to the palace disguised as a boy, to undergo training to be a knight, while Thom goes off to learn how to be a sorcerer. Over the span of 4 books (and 10-ish years?), Alanna goes from a small, skinny but incredibly brave little girl hiding her true identity from everyone to a brave, awesome knight who wins the respect and admiration of everyone in the realm. Of course, her many adventures include foiling plots to overthrow the throne, bringing back tokens of immeasurable value and glory for her king and realm, and fighting back against those who underestimate her, either because she’s a scrawny little thing or a girl, coming to terms with her magical powers, and gaining the companionship of a talking cat - what’s not to love here?
What really made me happy as I re-read the books was that even 15 years after I first read them, these books stand up fairly well to scrutiny from a gender, class and racial perspective. Considering that all the books were written in the late ’80s, it’s pretty great that they’re so progressive and feminist (for the most part).
I loved the books a lot as a kid, but Alanna was never my role model in any real sense. However, upon re-reading, I do think she’s a pretty badass role model for children. She’s super brave, she has integrity, she’s selfless, sensible and strong - but yet, very believable. Her quick and fiery temper is quite endearing and often the source of comic relief, while the process of her balancing her true gender identity with her longing for adventure and great deeds is portrayed with sensitivity and empathy.
Her romantic relationships are also (for the time of publishing, I feel) really unconventional and liberal (reading them as an adult, there’s SO MUCH more sexual tension that I picked up on as a kid, heeee)!
I love the fact that she’s confused between the Prince and the King of Thieves (and for a while, a third love interest), and somehow involved with them all at the same time, and that’s totally okay. She’s determined to think things through before agreeing to a marriage proposal, and while that results in a huge fight, she stands her ground and doesn’t let anything pressure her into marriage - and as a result, she eventually makes the best choice for herself, the man in question, and the realm. She breaks up with another love interest, but they’re able to remain loyal, steadfast friends with no bullshit and no drama. I think this is a tall order for pretty much ANY Young Adult fiction out there today.
To be fair, I did find it a bit problematic that in the earlier books, some of the men in Alanna’s life do the whole “grab and kiss” thing when she totally isn’t expecting it thing, and she does indulge in a bit of the “I’m still single” self pity thing near the end of the books. Overall, though, this is outweighed by her approach to the relationships once she is in them, and the ultimate takeaway for young readers is still quite a positive one.
In general, Alanna’s approach to everything is very likeable - she takes her role as her prince’s squire (and later, her King’s Champion) very seriously, and is responsible, intelligent, courageous, and honourable. She has warm, loving, functional relationships with characters from a variety of class (everyone from the King of Thieves to nomadic tribes to royalty) and ethnic backgrounds (she even gets adopted by a faraway desert tribe and becomes their shaman), and enjoys the same camaraderie with her friends from the palace before and after they find out she’s a girl. She slowly develops an interest in “girly” things like dresses, trinkets and preening, but when she’s in Knight mode, she’s still totally no-nonsense and formidable.
She doesn’t back down from confrontation, or even feuds where the odds are stacked sky high against her, with her enemies. Her acid wit, her volatile temper and her fierce protectiveness to those she loves and has a duty to make for some pretty great encounters. Topped off with the fact that she’s pretty much a totally kickass warrior with near-unparalleled skills, Alanna of Trebond is a fucking cool character - I thought so when I was 12, and I think I feel that even more strongly when I’m 27.
Every single supporting character is seriously awesome as well - from the noblemen who are her teachers when she first arrives at her palace to her fellow students, from the crooked but lovable community of thieves and common-folk she befriends in the city to the solemn and reserved desert tribes, and even the grippingly evil enemies she makes in the form of bullies, rebels and contenders for the throne - Tamora Pierce is just brilliant at creating compelling, vivid characters.
Almost 30 years after the books were published, there are still tons of fanfiction, fan-art and even fancasts being created about this series - how awesome is that? It’s funny that the closest popular culture comparison I can find for Alanna is a tomboyish Hermione Granger with a temper, and that Emma Watson is one of the fan favourites to play Alanna if there was ever a movie (Ian Somderhalder or Matt Bomer as Jon please!! Ewan McGregor as Liam! Okay, I’ll stop now).
Well, I think I’ve gone on long enough about these seriously awesome books - even though I feel like I could squee about them for another few hundred words if it weren’t so late. Part of me feels silly for going on and on about a Young Adult Fiction series when I’m almost 30, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every single minute of revisiting these books this past week.
I gave away my set of books (with the cover art shown above - all the other covers I’ve seen are so butt-ugly, for some reason) to my little niece a long time ago, but if you’re so inclined, you can acquire them in paperback or Kindle format on Amazon here (or by any other means you choose, which I certainly know nothing about).
Enjoy! And if you do read them, please let me know what you think of them! :)
I do one of these every year in one form or another, so here goes. Am rather inebriated, so contents might be more incoherent and/or sappy than displayed on packaging.