Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter Three, Part 1

OK, everybody, this is the part where things start to get rough. I’m splitting Chapter 3 into two parts, because it’s a long trek through the Tearling swamps of misogyny, racism, and sadness. We may lose Artax in here. I’m just warning you.

artaxYou’re not going to see this guy for a while. Sorry.

Kelsea wakes up in the tent of the Mysterious Masked Man. Only now he’s without his mask. His face is “handsome” and his cheekbones are described, so he must be the love interest.

Where’s your handsome face today?”

I’m home now,” he replied easily. “No point in dressing up.”

Oooh, snappy repartee! Maybe this is going to be good!

Kelsea realizes that Now-Unmasked Romantic Interest Man has patched up the wound on her neck. She also realizes that while she was unconscious, someone has bathed her and changed her clothes.

She looked up at him, her cheeks reddening.

Yes, me as well.” His smile widened. “But you needn’t worry, girl. You’re far too plain for my taste.”

And now I realize that this is going to be pure shit. Yeah, this is our romantic interest, folks. The guy who tells our heroine that she’s too ugly to rape.

Kelsea, of course, is upset because he called her ugly. Not because he stripped her while she was knocked out. Not because he implied that he’d dick her while she was unconscious if only she was hotter. But because she’ll never be pretty enough for this total stranger douchebro.

Remember, this book is feminist! With a strong female character!

Douchebro notes that Kelsea has the King’s jewel, whatever the hell that is (I think it’s one of her sapphire necklaces), and tells Kelsea his name.

You may call me the Fetch.”

I’m going to call you the Douche, but whatever.

It turns out the Douche is wanted by the Regent for stealing a bunch of stuff. He’s a really good thief. Well, he would be if he wasn’t the Douche, but because he’s the Douche, that’s not good enough for him.

“The world is full of thieves. If anything, I am the father of thieves.”

And a pretentious twit. Dread Pirate Roberts, he ain’t.

westley

At least I’m not reading Queen of the Tearling

The Douche tells Kelsea that the Regent has set a price on her head, and draws his knife. Kelsea counters by promising to pardon him if she reaches the throne, then asks why the Douche has a low opinion of her mother. The Douche calls her “girl” as an insult several times, then refuses to tell Kelsea anything because we aren’t allowed to have any backstory. He then starts applying some salve to her wound. Kelsea gets all hot over this, then is ashamed of herself. She has a crush on him! But he cannot know!

In her irritation, she snaps at the Douche to just kill her already and stop going on about it. I’m cool with this, as long as it turns into a murder-suicide, but the Douche is impressed by her spirit. He expresses his approval by shit-talking Kelsea’s mom and asking her who her dad was. Kelsea doesn’t know and doesn’t care, while everybody else doesn’t know and does care.

I have to say that’s it’s pretty cool that Queen Elyssa didn’t have to marry to produce an heir, or even have to name the father. Then again, Elyssa is portrayed as a vapid hobag and Kelsea gets constant shit just for being female, so I don’t know what the hell is going on here. I think the lesson is that it’s OK to be constantly judged by men because you have a vagina, but it’s not OK to let a man put his penis inside your vagina for pleasure. That would make you a bad person!

Anyway, the Douche approves of Kelsea because she didn’t beg for her life. Kelsea wonders what keeps the Douche and his band of nozzles together.

That’s a perceptive question, so of course you’ll get no answer.”

Since he can’t menace Kelsea any further, the Douche sweeps out of the tent.

Kelsea ponders her attraction to the Douche.

She wasn’t fool enough to miss the danger here: a man who was handsome, intelligent, and more than slightly bad. Not all of Carlin’s books had been nonfiction.

Oh, Kelsea, honey. The bad boy isn’t supposed to be bad to you. What kind of books did Carlin have on her shelves, anyway? Was she a fan of 1970s romance novels? 50 Shades of Grey?

Kelsea decides that there’s no danger in the situation, because she’s so ugly, and she knows because the Douche said so. She puts on some baggy men’s clothes, but that doesn’t even matter because she’s soooo ugly, and goes into the outlaws’ camp.

At first glance, Kelsea would have taken the camp for that of a circus troupe; several tents dyed gaudy shades of red, yellow, and blue, situated around a stone fire pit.

Wait a second, I thought they didn’t even have bricks in this country. Where the hell did these guys get all that expensive dye? And why did they waste it on tents? You know, the tents in their secret outlaw camp. Which apparently is in one place all the damn time, because they’ve bothered to spruce the place up with a stone fire pit.

Godmotherfuckingdammit why are all these motherfuckers so goddamn stupid? Why? Why?

Ahem.

Kelsea meets some more of the merry douchenozzle band.

The third man was black, which gave Kelsea pause for a moment. She’d never seen a black person before, and she was fascinated by the man’s skin, which gleamed in the sunlight.

Oy vey. We’ll go into this later. Part 2, you guys. Part 2.

Kelsea realizes that the outlaws probably don’t actually want to kill her, because they hate her Wicked Uncle very much and killing her would just prolong his reign. She visits the Mace, who is now a bound captive. She complains to the Mace that nobody will tell her anything and that it’s hampering her ability to make decisions. The Mace doesn’t give a shit.

What if I order you to tell me?”

Order away, Lady, and see how far you get.”

Kelsea backs down, because once you’ve been marked as female there’s no use ever trying to exercise any sort of power. It turns out that the Mace knows how to escape his bonds, and is planning his escape. Kelsea asks him to be the captain of her Guard, because she really wants a captain of the guard that personally denigrates her and won’t obey her orders, I guess.

Then she sees him again… the Douche.

Not just a thief, but a murderer as well. Beneath the handsome man, Kelsea sensed another man, a terrible one, with a life as black as the water in an ice-covered lake. A murderer many, many times.

The idea should have brought horror. Kelsea waited for a long moment, but what came instead was an even worse realization; it didn’t matter at all.

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter Two

Viewpoint change! The Red Queen of Mortmesne is waking from a nightmare. She’s been having dreams about “Queen Elyssa’s child” for a while now. These dreams also involve fires and a strange, gray man, but the Red Queen focuses on the girl we readers know to be Kelsea.

In the Queen’s dreams she was sturdy and dark haired, with a strong, determined face and her mother’s green Raleigh eyes. But unlike Elyssa, she was a plain thing, and somehow that seemed the worst detail of all, the one that conveyed the most reality.

So a woman is “real” or not depending on her level of attractiveness. Fuck you, book.

A thick, guttural sound came from behind her, and the Queen whirled around. But it was only the slave in her bed. She had forgotten about him. He’d performed well, and she’d kept him for the night; a good fuck chased the dreams right away.

Ah, yes, let’s conflate the evils of slavery with the evils of female orgasms. Fuck you again, book.*

The Red Queen considers asking some no-doubt evil dark thing about her dreams, but decides not to. She wonders where on earth Kelsea is hidden, and worries that she can’t see Kelsea’s sapphire necklace in her dreams. Then she decides to get on down with cartoon evil again, because her slave is snoring. By the way, the slave has “dark skin,” which is a sign of “Mort blood.” Oh, hey, Mortmesne is the evil kingdom, right?

Fuck you with a chainsaw, book.

So anyway, the Red Queen deals with her snoring slave by literally choosing between a red and a black button, like the fucking “Space Madness” episode of Ren and Stimpy.

Sadly, she doesn’t choose the red button and erase the book’s universe, but presses the black button, which calls her guards to her room. She instructs the guards to tear out the slave’s tongue and uvula and sever his vocal cords. Then they can give him to some woman as a human sex toy.

I get it, I get it, liking cock is a blazing sign of evil. This is like The Evil Queen: A Pornolexicology for slow readers. Now that we’ve established the definite link between women who have orgasms and history’s greatest monsters, the Red Queen chortles a bit over how she’ll have Kelsea’s head and necklaces, and goes back to bed.

And we’re back to Kelsea!

Our heroine notices that her sapphire necklace is glowing. So far, this jewel is doing jack shit other than being purty and glowy, but I assume that it will show its powers at some point. As Diana Wynne Jones says in her wonderful Tough Guide to Fantasyland, “The Rule is that it all has magical purpose… If you are lucky, your mother’s ring will merely bring out your latent talent.”

Magic, Kelsea thought wonderingly, staring at the cerulean light. Like something out of Carlin’s books.

Was Carlin a fan of Anne Bishop, I wonder?

The guards notice that they’re all being followed, and the party splits so that Kelsea and the Mace can have a chance of making it to the Keep. Kelsea gallops through some farmland on her mighty steed,** noticing the workers in the fields as she passes. All the farmhands are starved half to death and persecuted by brutal overseers. The Tearling apparently was supposed to be socialist at its founding, but it now has a system comparable to serfdom. The land is so resource- and money-poor that Kelsea gawps at a noble’s brick house, as even bricks are luxury goods.

More giant hawks attack, and one gashes Kelsea’s neck. Kelsea and the Mace change course, but then they’re pursued by Caden assassins. The Caden are recognizable by their bright red cloaks, which they wear because the Tearling has a magical depressive effect on IQ points.

The Mace manages to kill off the Caden, but then another group of pursuers show up, wearing black cloaks. Maybe try going without cloaks next time, you guys? One of these pursuers catches Kelsea.

A face loomed just above hers, a face the color of pale death with fathomless black holes for eyes and a bloodstained mouth…

Ooooooh scary! Fortunately it’s just a mask.

500px-Assassin's_Creed_Brotherhood_Harlequin_TrailerThe Mysterious Masked Man ties up the Mace and drags him and Kelsea off, as there are more Caden coming (easy enough to spot them, I suppose). The black cloaks ride toward a river, and Kelsea wonders how they’re all going to cross when this happens.

But when she opened her eyes, she found they were incomprehensibly crossing the river, the horses’ hooves splashing with each step, yet striking solid ground.

Whut.

So her horse just trotted across the water, like an equine Jesus. Is this going to come up later? Is Kelsea going to be like, “Hey, you know, I’m kind of sheltered but generally heavier things sink in water? Like, you know, horses? Also, what’s up with this glowing jewel, you guys?” Nope, Kelsea just shrugs it off.

The day had been full of wonders.

Ask some questions, you ninny!

The horsey magic trick does throw the Caden off the trail, leaving Kelsea and her one guard alone with their captors. Mysterious Masked Man shows up again, and Kelsea finally finds a bit of a voice.

“Who are you?”

“I am the long death of the Tearling. Forgive us.”

OH FUCK, DARKSTAR HAS SOME COMPETITION YOU GUYS.

800px-Darkstar_by_arkoniel

“Men call me Darkstar and I am of the–what? What did that masked guy just say? I’ve been outposed!”

Kelsea passes out from blood loss, which is the only sensible thing to do when holding a conversation with the Mysterious Masked Man. Blessed unconsciousness!

* The authorial use of “fuck” does startle me, considering the previous YA-friendly tone. Are the characters cursing because Johansen didn’t want her books on the YA shelves?

** The horses, outside of their unusually low sex drive, seem to be of the breed described by Jones in the Tough Guide, which “can be used like bicycles and usually are.” I have a feeling that I will be consulting Ms. Jones’s guidebook a lot in my travels through the Tearling.

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Chapter One

Technically, this isn’t part of Chapter One, but the book begins with the traditional Left-Justified Fantasy Map. The Tearling, is to the farthest west and north possible, of course. Some other randomly-named kingdoms are to the south and east, the canonically evil cardinal directions! I wonder if swarthy people live there.

All right, on to the text.

The chapter begins with a quote from a Tearling history book, detailing a bit of our queenly heroine’s biography. I like this technique, although it does somewhat spoil the suspense about Kelsea’s lifespan. Oh, and our heroine is named Kelsea. Kelsea Raleigh Glynn. Things are not looking up.

The proper story starts with Kelsea sitting in the trees around her home deep in the forest, watching as riders make their way up to her cottage. Barty, who lives in the cottage and is presumably her guardian, has told her to go into the woods as she’s unlikely to go outside for some time after she becomes queen.

The captain of the late queen’s guard arrives and tells Barty to hand Kelsea over. Kelsea is worried about the guard and thinks that they don’t respect her, as she doesn’t look like a queen. Her mother, Queen Elyssa, was blonde and tall, a “classic Tearling beauty.” So we know that Kelsea is insecure about her looks, like every female character ever written to be sympathetic, and that the Tearling is probably full of fantasy Northern European people.

The guards check Kelsea’s authenticity. They can tell she is the true heir because of a scar on her arm (reproducible) and the sapphire she wears around her neck (replaceable), but apparently those two proofs are enough. It’s her nineteenth birthday, and therefore she’s ready to become queen.

The Queen’s Guard would cart her back to the Keep screaming and kicking, if need be, and imprison her on the throne, and there she would sit, hung with velvet and silk, until she was assassinated.

Sounds like a nasty fate, although we haven’t heard about any other assassinated Tearling monarchs yet. Still, this is a vivid image of the horrors of passive queendom. See, book, I don’t want to throw you into an industrial-grade shredder! Yet.

Kelsea’s other guardian, Carlin, appears to offer a bit of instruction before the guards haul Kelsea away. The regal Carlin taught Kelsea all she knew, languages and literature, and instilled Kelsea with her love of books. Carlin tells Kelsea to beware of her wicked uncle, the Regent—isn’t there always one?—and then tells her that things at the Keep (the main palace, I guess) aren’t all that they seem. This isn’t very useful advice, as it turns out that Carlin and Barty have sworn not to tell Kelsea anything about her mother’s reign. In fact, Kelsea has been kept from socializing from anyone other than her guardians.

She had been kept from the village and the answers it might have provided; hers had been a true childhood in exile.

So Kelsea has no recent knowledge of her own land. In addition, she’s never met anyone outside her extremely small adoptive family. This seems like a very poor education for a future monarch, who will need the social skills to manage a court and exert command. Unless this is one of those countries where the monarch can be drooling mad and it doesn’t matter as long as there’s a symbol on the throne. But then why all this bother about scars and jewels?

The guards set off with poor, unsocialized Kelsea. Kelsea begins to differentiate the guards. One, Lazarus, carries a mace, and another has red hair, which is apparently very shocking in the Tearling as it has “bred out” ever since “the Crossing” 300 years ago.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Can I go one fantasy book without a mysterious redhead? Just one? At least this mysterious redhead is a man. Mysterious redhead also wears a crucifix, which shows that he’s loyal to God’s Church. Guess this is one of those lands with one religion. Carlin has told Kelsea not to trust the Church, which would be edgy if established churches weren’t dodgy in, oh, just about every fantasy novel ever.

Carroll is the leader of the guards. Kelsea wonders if she can win his and the other guards’ loyalty.

They thought her weak. Perhaps they thought all women so.

Uh, Kelsea, your mother was queen? And Kelsea inherited the crown, not her uncle. The Tearling seems to have a tradition of female leadership. Whatever the guards’ personal misogyny, Kelsea is unlikely to lose the lose the crown because of her gender.

Lazarus, the dude with the mace, shows up. Kelsea asks him why they gave her a mare to ride, while all the others ride stallions. She wonders if they think she’s a wuss. What do they think she’s been doing out here in the woods all this time, she asks?

Playing with dolls, Lady. Putting up your hair. Trying on dresses, perhaps.”

Do I look like a girl’s girl to you, Lazarus? […] Do I look like I spend hours in front of the mirror?”

Not in the slightest.”

Sick burn! It turns out Kelsea is sensitive about her appearance because she once saw her reflection in a pool of water years ago and decided that she was ugly. Nobody told her that she was ugly, mind you—not that there was much of anybody there to tell her, what with her almost total isolation. But she has low self-esteem because that’s what heroines have. Odds on everybody else, and especially the guy she likes, thinking that she’s hot?

I’m sticking with this passage because it’s an early example of Johansen’s weaknesses as a writer. First, there’s the insinuation that Kelsea would be a silly, worthless person if she had liked dolls or dresses while growing up, because ew, girl stuff is icky! Second, why are Kelsea’s guards riding stallions, anyway? Wouldn’t geldings or other mares be a better choice, eliminating the chance of stallions fighting or a rogue stallion going after Kelsea’s mare? Are the guards trying to assassinate Kelsea using the horny horse method? Or is Johansen ignoring animal biology so she can make a lame, pseudo-feminist point?

I’m going to go with the latter here. Sigh.

Kelsea turns in for the night, while her guards gossip outside her tent. Keep quiet, you idiots! Anyway, while unpacking her bag Kelsea finds a gift from Carlin—another sapphire necklace. She stashes it away.

The next day, Kelsea continues her journey with her guards, who continue to put her down. Kelsea decides to earn their respect by… building a tent? Isn’t not having to do that shit part of being royalty? Even if a royal wanted to wrangle with a tent, it harms the concept of royal dignity to do menial tasks and insults the dignity of royalty’s no-doubt innumerable servants, who are supposed to be proud to serve (even if they aren’t, really). Shouldn’t someone have taught Kelsea those concepts? I’m looking at you, Carlin.

Never mind, everyone has their ways of burning off tension, maybe tent-building is Kelsea’s. A giant hawk attacks, and one of the guards explains that it was probably sent by Wicked Uncle and the Red Queen, who rules the neighboring kingdom, Mortmesne.

No one knew who she was, or where she came from, but she had become a powerful monarch, presiding over a long and bloody reign for well over a century now.

Oooh, an evil, immortal queen. So unique. But there’s more! Someone is pursuing our heroine!

My guess is, we have Caden behind us.”

The assassins’ guild?”

A mercenary guild. Even more unique.

In the face of these threats, Kelsea asks guard leader Carroll if he’s loyal to her. Turns out he’s more loyal to his kids than to her, and depending on how things turn out he may turn to Wicked Uncle’s side once he reaches the Keep. At night, the rest of the guards get drunk round the blazing campfire. These are terrible, terrible guards.

Kelsea tries to take advantage of their loosened tongues to glean information about her mother and the current state of the Tearling, but just like Barty and Carlin, the guards have to withhold plot information are sworn to secrecy. Kelsea has always thought of her mother as good and kind, and the guards’ secrecy makes her suspicious.

The guards are willing to discuss the Red Queen, and whether she’s a witch. Wicked Uncle may have made an alliance with her, after all, although they don’t really know. They tell Kelsea about the invasion of the Tearling by Mortmesne. Right before Kelsea was born, the Mort tore through the land, making it to the capital before suddenly retreating.

The Crithe was wholesale slaughter. Tear villagers armed with wooden clubs fought Mort soldiers armed with iron and steel, and when the men were dead every female between five and eighty–”

Aaaaaand we have rape, yay! Also, the Tear seems to be terribly technologically backward, relying on wooden weaponry while its neighbor is able to produce steel. This may be a problem.

Kelsea is upset by the horrible tales of the invasion, and is kept from sleep by thoughts of slaughtered children and raped women.

End of chapter. This isn’t going well so far, although it still has time to redeem itself. Kelsea is a bit of a cipher, but I suppose someone who’s basically been raised as a hostage would be somewhat… unformed. Also, I’m 40 pages along and our heroine hasn’t even gotten to the capital yet, much less the promised deadly throne. Are we there yet?

Let’s Read Queen of the Tearling: Introduction

Finally, it’s happened! I’ve finally found a book that I want to share with everybody, chapter by chapter. Because I want you to suffer like I suffered, er, I mean I love you all so much. That’s right. Come, Internet friends and strangers, let’s read The Queen of the Tearling.

To set the stage: The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy novel. It has all the elements of your traditional, YA-ish fantasy novel—a young heroine, a kingdom, a concrete enemy, etc. The Queen of the Tearling is also kind of a big deal. Of course, Queen of the Tearling is the first book of a trilogy, but in addition the movie rights have already been sold and Famous Harry Potter Actress Emma Watson will portray the titular queen. (The movie deal plays heavily into the marketing of the book.) The author, Erika Johansen, earned a seven-figure advance for the series despite publishing being in the worst of its seemingly eternal monetary death throes. Johansen has given many interviews about how her book is unique because of its plain heroine and lack of romance—this sort-of feminist angle, like the movie, is a conspicuous part of the book’s publicity. Johansen is also a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, so she should know the basics, like how to construct a plot and how to construct a sentence.

I didn’t know most of this information when I picked up Queen of the Tearling. I was facing a long flight and wanted something engaging to pass the time. The parts of the book jacket that aren’t devoted to the movie deal promise “thrilling adventure and action, dark magic, mystery and romance.” So I expected certain elements: intrigue, swordplay, daring women, mysterious men, perhaps some spiffy magic and everything tied up with a kiss or maybe a really awesome fight. Or both at the same time! Something along the lines of The Privilege of the Sword or the fantasy version of a Vorkosigan novel. Even if it wasn’t up to those books’ standard—and not much is, frankly—I expected it to be at least competently told and not stupidly offensive.

You failed, Queen of the Tearling, oh, how you failed.

Normally I’m a very lazy person and will dedicate slivers of my time to whatever catches my fancy at the moment. But there’s so much hype around this book, and it’s so dreadful, and it’s so dreadful in particular ways that reveal a lot about the current realities of speculative fiction, that I’ve decided to look at it more closely. Many books are just bad, but it’s rare that you get a book that fails at almost every objective it sets for itself. It’s a completely self-unaware text. In an odd way, I feel like I need to celebrate The Queen of the Tearling, because it’s not that often that stories like this come along.

The Queen of the Tearling might be so very dreadful that it rips apart space and time, people. All right, maybe it’s not quite that powerful, but it might be so dreadful that it kills off the current fantasy fad itself. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

So, without further ado, let’s read!

 

Having Thoughts on Arianne

Somebody very important has gone missing! Specifically, it’s Arianne Martell. She’s missing from the Game of Thrones season 5 casting list, and people are angry. Some of the complaints are because Arianne is a strong female character.

Reaaaaally? Is it possible that George R.R. Martin really created a strong female character?

untitled-2-1309279310

Like, a real one? Or one who can twist her butt in line with her boobs? Cause that doesn’t count.

Arianne Martell is female, and she’s a character. Past that, I can’t really say. In theory, Dorne’s gender-equal inheritance system makes Arianne a possible symbol of female empowerment. In practice, Arianne spends most of her time 1. mindlessly fretting about her chances of succession and 2. making incredibly stupid choices because of her insecurity. In her main plot arc, she spends most of her time botching her plans and thinking about how much she wants to bang some emo knight. This knight has silver hair striped with black. He has purple eyes! He rides a unicorn! OK, I made that last part up. But he actually says, “Men call me Darkstar, and I am of the night.” Oh, for fuck’s sake!

Was he born evil with the eyes of a cat, though?

I’d be able to forgive if Arianne just had a weakness for Darkstar, the sparkly dude from seventh grade fanfiction, but unfortunately she has few other redeeming qualities. Despite supposedly being raised to become the leader of a large and powerful kingdom, she’s hotheaded, immune to reason, and thinks that she’s smarter than she really is. Then again, plenty of princes share the same flaws. Why condemn Arianne?

What really kills Arianne as a “lady-power!” character is not her temper or her choice in men, it’s that her authority derives from her power to seduce men into going along with her plans. She desperately wants to be a leader, but she’s unable to exercise authority without acting through a man she’s slept with. (She’s also easily defeated by any male authority figure.) Arianne’s powers come from the mysteries of her all-powerful body, rather than from, you know, being a goddamn princess anointed by the holy hands of the deities. She comes across as less a potential player than a neckbeard fantasy—the woman who, by the power of her sex alone, leads “good guys” to ruin, the treacherous Dark “M’Lady.” She’s a bit similar to Cersei, really, except that Cersei was trapped in a bad marriage and was raised to be a queen-wife, not a queen in her own right. Arianne doesn’t get that excuse.*

It doesn’t help that Martin writes Arianne as if he’s letching over the character through her own thoughts, so that Arianne is constantly musing about her appearance and sexual experiences when she should be thinking about developing a step two for her latest cunning plan. Poor Arianne, perhaps she isn’t stupid, she’s just written that way.

As for Arianne’s disappearance from our screens—well, plot-wise, Arianne’s doings don’t seem to connect to any of the show’s emphasized storylines, so I wouldn’t be surprised if her story was cut for expediency’s sake. I’m sure that, were there world enough and time, Arianne would be included, mainly because she gets her tits out a lot. However, there’s always the hottie Sand Snakes of Dorne, and they have tits and weaponry.** Sorry, Arianne.

* Biological aside #1: How do these characters have so much sex and so few babies? There’s no plastic, so no proper barrier methods, and no birth control pill. There’s some sort of mysterious, nasty-tasting abortifacient, but taking it regularly would be probably be unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. Yet young, unmarried women keep having raw sex in a patriarchal society which harshly punishes bastardy. It all seems to work in the “sexy female characters can have lots of sex because they are old enough to wank over, but they can’t have kids because they’re not old enough for me, the author, to think of them as mothers” sort of way. Why can’t we do something new? Maybe Arianne could go around birthing bastards and granting them titles? Or we could read Mary Gentle instead.

** Biological aside #2: All the racial, gender, and historical issues aside, one of the biggest fantasies that Game of Thrones peddles is the fantasy that despite centuries of inbreeding, almost every noble character is still physically attractive by 21st-century standards. Of course, almost every female character is basically a lingerie model, but it even holds true for the men—you don’t hear about stubby legs, bad eyes, or gigantic chins. Even generations of Targaryen brother-sister incest results in “smoking hot Caucasian elves with mystickal purple eyes and silver hair” as opposed to “holy shit, how did that get out of a uterus alive.” In reality, Tyrion might be one of the more attractive specimens, and not just because he refrains from spitting game about “the night” at the ladies.

Will Watching the Lego Movie Turn Your Son Into an Idiot?

I recently watched The Lego Movie. I enjoyed The Lego Movie because it’s hard to actively hate a movie about Legos, because they’re a bunch of toys, but also I was like, damn, Lego Movie, first of all I just watched a whole movie that was an ad for motherfucking toys, and second of all, why are the Legos a tool for some dumbass to go on his Campbell’s Journey and seduce his infinitely superior lady companion with the power of being A Protagonist? I get that this movie is mainly an ad for older guys to buy their kids Legos, but damn, does it really have to end with the main female character being handed from her ex to her current boyfriend because that is her fate?*

I am being harsh on The Lego Movie, because it is not the only film that follows this plot. Plenty of movies out there star a male protagonist who is thrust into circumstances in which he is massively inferior to his peers, especially his female peers. Yet he manages to save the day after all others have failed, and the most attractive, most skilled woman inevitably falls in love with him.

Back in the day, male characters were just smarter and stronger than female characters. Mighty swordmasters saved maidens whose main talents were hair braiding and turning up their pert noses at anything not hot pink or sparkly. When faced with any sort of problem, these ladies started trembling and shrieking for help, fulfilling their destiny as living, breathing, fuckable proof of the male protagonist’s awesomeness. That was just The Way it Was.

In the name of “role models” and “strong female characters,” these creatures have mostly disappeared. Today’s maiden can wield a sword, build an airplane, cast spells, and do god knows what else. Yet she’s still not the protagonist and often has to be saved by a much less competent male. The unfortunate message is that a girl’s efforts don’t matter because however good she is, there’s inevitably a prophecy floating about and that prophecy only applies to the Bepenised Ones.** The man will earn the recognition and the glory, while the woman earns said man as her reward. He’s the “hero she deserves,” but she still can’t be the hero herself.***

One genre exists in which girls without any particular talent or beauty are protagonists: young adult fantasy literature aimed solely towards females, where “nobody” girls are chosen to save the world and also score hot, mysterious men. However, these stories are classified as childish, silly fantasies–guilty pleasures at best, mind-warping at worst. I can’t remember how many times I saw women vow to keep their daughters, real or hypothetical, away from Twilight or some such series because they’re afraid that said daughters will start thinking that they, too, are special snowflakes and run off with vampires or sexy werewolves or whatnot. All right, these women probably don’t actually believe that vampires are real, they just don’t want their girls running off with the first boy they meet. But fangs or no fangs, these women thought that girls couldn’t handle these books, that they would affect the girls’ real-life behavior in a negative way. Women need strong female characters so they will grow up to be strong females themselves. So if a girl is watching The Lego Movie, she is receiving the wrong lesson.

But nobody thinks of keeping boys away from stories about insipid young men who, despite their lack of learned skills or innate talent, save the entire world and earn the praise of adoring masses of people. These stories teach boys that they can be the biggest idiots possible, completely uninterested in their surroundings or improving themselves in any way. As long as something glowing/an old dude full of wisdom/a glowing old dude full of wisdom “chooses” them for some mysterious task, they’ll become mighty warriors who save the world and get the girl.

movies-the-lego-movie-vitruvius

Sometimes it’s a glowing old black dude full of wisdom and also he’s a Lego

If you’re one of those people who believes that stories have effects on readers, this is a lesson that is dumb as hell, unless you want your boy to grow up to be Babycakes, waiting on the ditch wizards to take him to the hidden land of awesomeness accept treasure and accept love.

Love is a spell

But there’s two assumptions here: first, that the idiot storyline is an OK storyline for boys to process, and second (and this is perhaps the more interesting assumption) that boys grow up to be what they are without storytelling getting through their thick skulls; if a girl sees a Strong Female Character, she’ll use her as a positive role model for the rest of her life, but a boy can see a male character do practically anything and not identify with it in any way, good or bad. So even if a future guy sees a male character succeed through no positive action of his own, it’s ok. Manhood is innate, womanhood is learned.

Do men have a stronger moral compass (for lack of a better term)? Do they have a greater field of action (the range of action for a “good” woman is smaller than that for a “good” man, so it’s OK to have a range of character flaws in a male hero)? Do boys need better role models? Do girls need to rely less on role models?

*  And Will Ferrell and his sad-eyed son hugging it out in their basement full of toys while their wife/mother cooks them dinner?

** This raises the question: Why not just shriek and pout like a ninny? It’s less work and the ultimate outcome is the same.

***  Tasha Robinson has a good article on part of this problem over at The Dissolve, although I’m not sure why female characters (or male characters, for that matter) have to come up to an aspirational standard–does every protagonist have to be a cutout for the viewer and their desires? Is every viewer supposed to have the same aspirations?

 

To Someone Who Never Had to Share a Home

You will never arrive home tired and with the knowledge that there is some time-consuming task that you still have to do, only to find out that someone else’s needs are more important than your own, no matter how unimportant their task or how capable they are of doing it on their own.

You will never make breakfast quietly because you know that someone is angry at you and you can’t alert them to your presence or they’ll attack you.

You will never have to worry about somebody barging into your bedroom without knocking.

You will never have to worry about somebody barging into the bathroom without knocking.

You will never have your cat or dog mysteriously disappear because “something was wrong with it.”

You will never be distracted from what you are doing because someone just walked into the room to say that your outfit is ugly, or that you are too fat, or that you are too skinny, or that your face is too pimply, or that your eyelashes look weird, or any of the other million ways that a person can tell you that you look really bad today.

You will never plant a garden, then have it destroyed because it “looks sick.”

You will never lie awake on your own bed in the middle of the day, afraid that someone will start screaming at you or hitting you.

You will never spot someone attempting to kill you or kill themselves.

You will never drop a glass and have someone respond like it was the meltdown of Chernobyl because that glass was irreplaceable and you’re so stupid and clumsy and why do you have to exist.

You will never surprise someone by cleaning the house, then have them tell you that you messed it up and really shouldn’t have bothered.

You will never spend hours in therapy, on the street, or in a mental hospital because you’ve been forced to live with someone who makes all the mundane parts of daily existence into a living hell.

(sorry to Debbie Downer all over Chimaera’s post, I’m not hating on you, just abusive folks)

Taking a break for Lupin studies

General radio silence for a bit, but I’ve just finished Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and really enjoyed it, and also really wanted to link to Vrai Kaiser’s discussion of the series. I’m not that familiar with the Lupin-verse, but if you are you will enjoy Vrai’s knowledge of the older series. And if you aren’t, then you get to learn about a sexy thriller series with amazing art and a leading female character who’s a grown woman and not a martyr or an evil witch! It’s not about 13-year-old schoolgirls with gigantic breasts and short skirts and the nerds who love them!* Because every other anime is about that!

Except maybe My Neighbor Totoro. Maybe.

* OK, that’s not true. Some of them are about 13-year-old schoolgirls with smaller breasts. And the nerds who love smaller breasts.

How to Be a Male Psychopath for Fun and Profit, and a Digression on Evolutionary Psychology

Why would a man want to label himself as a psychopath? At least self-proclaimed female psychopaths or sociopaths or whatever are sexy and less likely to go to jail. And no, please do not bring up your crush on Hannibal Lecter to me because Hannibal Lecter isn’t real. Real-life male “psychopaths” are upper-middle-class pasty white 20-year-olds who murder schoolchildren after playing too much World of Warcraft. That’s what CNN tells me, and that’s what I’m sticking with, OK?

Meet Dr. James Fallon, the good psychopath. How does James Fallon know he’s a psychopath? He’s a neuroscientist, and he’s found that psychopaths’ brains “light up” in certain places during an MRI scan, and Fallon’s brain lights up in the very same place, so he is a psychopath. Or at least he can go around telling people he is a psychopath, like M.E. Thomas, only with a set of scan results. And a penis.

And in fact, Fallon’s narrative isn’t much different from Thomas’s on first glance, although he doesn’t go on as much about sex. Presumably this is because the image of the overweight, middle-aged Fallon mid-coitus is less of a popular draw than the image of a mysterious lady psycho in the sack. I suppose it’s also because sex is considered a more risky activity for women than for men, so a male psychopath needs to go further into the realms of questionable human behavior to qualify.

However, just like Thomas, Fallon doesn’t admit to anything particularly awful. He stole some booze from his friends’ parents as a boy and made a few pipe bombs. As an adult, he’s even less wicked. In every interview of his that I’ve read, he says that he’s a psychopath because he took his brother to an African cave where the Marburg virus was found, but that sounds more like a boast about being tough enough to be a white hunter in darkest Africa than a boast about being psychopathic enough to kill your own brother, what with his brother not actually dying and all. According to the Amazon reviews, if you read the book you also find out that Fallon flirts with women other than his wife and drinks too much. This is bona fide hurtful behavior, unlike the Marburg incident, but it’s pretty common and isn’t as exciting as wandering around a spooky death cave so Fallon leaves it out of his publicity.

I’m going to guess why Fallon suddenly became a psychopath in his annoying-yet-not-murderous middle age. It’s a way for him tell people about all the cool things he does, except that nobody would listen to him before because perhaps they weren’t that cool in the first place, er, because he wasn’t a psychopath. Neuroscience career boring people? Well, now those boring studies can be replaced with the story of how Fallon was this close to becoming an evil  murderer (but not really, thanks mom!) Nobody wanted to see Fallon’s pics of Africa? Well, now they do! Because spooky murder cave. Now Fallon has a book and everyone is paying attention to him. And if they find out about some of his worse behavior, well, he’s a psychopath! So it’s to be expected!

Now I don’t believe that Fallon isn’t doing anything shockingly harmful by pretending to be shockingly harmful. He’s twisting around a psychological definition that wasn’t very clear in the first place and which was already commonly misunderstood, and he’s getting people to listen to his blowhard stories. Nobody has to buy his book. You don’t have to subsidize Fallon’s life of non-crime.

However, Fallon is promoting a delusion much more dangerous than fake sociopathy. In order to find out what it is, you’ll have to watch Fallon’s TED video, in which he talks about something other than his self and his various diagnoses. That’s when things get odd.

OK, now–what do you think of the conflict between Israel and Palestine? And no, before you give me any opinions, I’m only going to give you two choices. Pick one.

A. It’s a conflict over a very small space of arable land in which one group lost the land within living memory, and the other group thinks the land was willed to them by God. This space is manipulated by multiple other entities which can use the conflict for their own purposes–so the longer it goes on, the longer they can reduce pressure on their own societies and put off examining their own beliefs.

B. It’s a conflict because 14-year-old girls are jumping on terrorist bones because terrorists are super hawt and manly, therefore breeding lots and lots of psychoterrorists who naturally conflict with one another.

If you picked A, well, you may or may not be right. If you picked option B, you agree with James Fallon and welcome to the magical world of evopsych.

In Wikipedia terms, evolutionary psychology aims to show how certain psychological traits evolved over time–genetic explanations for behavior. In popular practice, evopsych means just-so stories, a lot of which are about sexual behavior and a lot of which are kind of creepy.

Evopsych seems to be heavily intertwined with the men’s rights ethos, mostly as a justification (“Science says I don’t have to date fatties!”) but also as a form of anxiety–men wonder why women aren’t selecting them to breed with, and then conclude that there is something innately wrong with them. Some of them displace that fear by blaming women, saying that feminism has corrupted women, they’re all gross sluts anyway, etc.

Why is evopsych dangerous? Evopsych teaches dudes that genetics are destiny, sexual behavior has been constant through all time, and that the only important way of proving their worth is getting with a woman in a short period of time. If they don’t do that, then they’re nature’s failure. If you take the evopsych argument at face value, it’s almost like the “you’ll never conceive!” argument on steroids–women are failures if they’re not pregnant by 30, but men are failures if women aren’t “selecting” them by what, 25? It’s especially ridiculous because once a boy hits puberty, he technically can get a woman pregnant for the rest of his life. Granted, fertility falls over time and sperm gets wonky, but realistically there’s a 40- or 50-year span in which the odds are good. There’s no rush here, guys.

Still, jumping into the gene pool doesn’t mean that a person is our idea of a “winner.” If a 500-pound guy with buck teeth, pimples, and an IQ of -10 has a kid after having one sexual encounter in his entire life, he’s still evolutionarily ahead of George Clooney, just because his genes are passed on. His kid may turn out to be an evil, stupid son of a bitch, but he or she exists, and 99% of winning is just showing up, etc. His kid may also be a good, smart person, but then he or she gets hit by the truck that nobody saw coming, and that’s the end of that set of genes. There’s a lot of chance involved.

However, the reality of evolution raises a lot of touchy questions and doesn’t fit into our ideal of survival of the fittest, in which rich, good-looking people are “winners” no matter how many infants their loins produce. Also, it involves dealing with the end product of breeding, babies, who are tiny timesucking poop machines that you don’t see a lot in commercials selling products to make you attractive to the opposite sex. So being able to attract women becomes the goal in and of itself. with Richard Dawkins, of all people, which “proved” that survival of the fittest was real because young, attractive women were willing to sit with Dawkins at a party. I didn’t watch the whole thing so maybe I missed the part where they had Dawkins’s babies, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and conclude that didn’t happen. I don’t know, maybe the old-timers are right and you can get pregnant if you touch too close, or maybe the “evo” in “evopsych” is total bullshit.

Evopsych creates a world in which sexuality is hardwired into the human consciousness and women are hardwired to reward a certain type of man with sex, for genetic reasons that don’t actually have anything to do with genetic propagation. It’s a scientific construct that has nothing to do with science. Fallon is propagating that construct, and that’s why he’s dangerous.

 

An interruption

I’m working on a post about self-diagnosed, self-promoting male psychopaths, because who doesn’t love that sweet, sweet not-actually-murder, but I have to take time out to throw shade at all the bloggers out there writing about being one’s authentic self on the Internet. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart,” indeed. The breathings of my heart are pretty sulfurous right now.

I’m really just sulking because I want to vent, but can’t, so I’m taking it out on random advicegivers. And also on Romantic poets. Go suck a daffodil, Wordsworth.

(And no, the reason I can’t express myself is not that I’m secretly a psychopath and can’t give away that I’m dancing in the moonlight in a cloak made out of somebody else’s skin. You should know that already because I’m busy writing here, who would interrupt the intricacies of their Satanic murder ritual with something as dull as blogging?)