I was thinking about my last book post and that started me thinking about what makes a character, particularly a woman, strong. Now, I know men and women are just people, and a strong character is a strong character regardless of gender. (Did you stop throwing tomatoes yet?) But sometimes some people think a “strong woman” has to be strong physically, or good with weapons, or compete in a “man’s world.”
Since that’s never what I’ve thought, I wanted to talk about my definitions.
Let’s start with the difference between “strong” and “gentle,” since some people think someone can’t be both. Here’s what I decided. “Strong” is how well you resist pressure exerted on you. “Gentle” is how much pressure you exert on others. So while the terms are related, the direction of the pressure is important, and one person can be both at the same time.
Now, back to our heroines (and heroes). Is a strong warrior a strong person? Maybe, maybe not. The neighborhood bully that threatens people with his sword might be a strong warrior, but he isn’t a strong person. The unarmed traveler who gently refuses to comply with the demands of a robber is a strong person. (Possibly a dead strong person, but we can hope not.)
I’m going to borrow some of the heroes/heroines from last month’s post as examples. 🙂 And yes, I cheated and threw in a couple of men. Strong is strong.
In The Great and Terrible Quest, the two main protagonists (heroes) are a wounded knight and a young boy. The knight is physically strong enough to fight multiple enemies, climb a cliff without a rope, and keep moving after enemies split his head. That’s not what impresses me most about him, though. He continues on his quest for ten years(!) through near-death and total memory loss, not to gain a reward for himself, but to give his own inheritance to the true owner. Wow, that’s strength of character. As for the little boy, he has very little physical strength (he is just a little boy), but he defies his robber-baron grandfather and the entire robber band to save an injured cat and then the wounded knight. He risks his life (Grandfather is a dangerous jerk) to save others, and he leads the knight ever onward despite enemies at every turn and almost no help from the knight. His strong determination and faith carry the story, and I love it.
The Ordinary Princess, Amy, is like Cimorene in some ways, like not wanting to be a princess. (Enchanted Forest series, by Wrede. Add it to your list.) But in others, she is very different. Amy doesn’t have a spitfire personality. She never picks up a weapon and doesn’t know any magic or even how to cook. She never fights anyone and doesn’t have any enemies. Amy is a cheerful, gentle soul. But when her parents decide to hire a dragon to attract a suitor, she runs away to protect her kingdom and ends up working as a kitchen maid until she’s drooping with exhaustion. I call that strength.
In the Crown Duel duology, our heroine does fight with a sword (very badly) and ride a horse (adequately) and try to improve politics (oh-so-disastrously). She doesn’t even know how to read, but I can’t call her weak. She keeps trying against overwhelming odds, even when torture and execution seem the inevitable next steps. And (spoiler) she wins. Not by feat of arms or might of army, but by one voice saying the right thing for morally right reasons. How strong can you get?
The heroine of Seven Daughters and Seven Sons is another non-combatant. I almost said non-fighter, but she does fight. She fights for her family’s financial security with her wits. She turns enemies into friends or finds ways to render them helpless, and all without a weapon. By the end of the story, her father, long thought cursed because he had only seven daughters, is praising her name and counting her better than his brother’s seven sons. Smart and caring is strong, too.
I could name more, but I think I’ve babbled long enough. Which characters in books you’ve read impressed YOU with their strength? What kind of strength did they have? What strength do you wish you had?
Trying to be stronger,
M. C. Lee