Friday, June 16, 2017

Three Female Leads Who Started Me on the Fangirl Path

As a young girl, I was an avid reader. There was no such thing as Netflix, the internet still took twenty minutes to connect (and disconnected at every phone call), and female leads were hard to find. I was that kid who read everything in search of a book that I could read over and over, one that had a female lead I could daydream about one day being.

By the fifth grade, I had consumed nearly every book in our school’s library and still hadn’t found the heroes I was looking for. I didn’t entirely know what would define these women I was in search of, but I knew they would stand out when I found them. And stand out they did.

There are three specific characters who come to mind whenever I think back to where my passion for other worlds, stories, and ideas began. All three were very different from each other, from different time periods, and in different stages of life. Each one took control of her own destiny for different reasons and each one did it in her own unique way. One thing they all had in common, however, was that none of them let circumstances, rules, or expectations get in their way.

Although these books were written for younger readers, if you have the chance, I would recommend taking the time to read them. These powerful stories are inspiring, and each of them, in its own way, helped set me down the path to becoming a professional writer.

Dove and Sword by Nancy Garden

Although Joan of Arc is not a fictional character, this story is a fictional take on the life and story of one of history’s most famous female warriors. Everything is told through the eyes of Gabrielle de Domremy, Joan’s childhood friend in this tale. Gabrielle is courageous, determined, and a woman worthy of admiration for her own merits, but it was Joan who captivated me.

Joan believed with her entire being that God had asked her to lead the army and fight, and she did it. Despite the odds, she pushed through and held fast even during her capture, trial, and death.

Ultimately, this work of fiction was the catalyst to a nearly ten-year obsession with Joan. While her real story was every bit as captivating and heartbreaking, Dove and Sword was the book I always came back to. Gabrielle’s perspective brings a level of depth and humanity to Joan’s story that the history books couldn’t. It took her out of the pages and brought her to life.

Joan was the first woman to teach me that following your convictions, regardless of what the world says, is one of the most important things you can ever do.

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery

Emily was my kindred soul, my spirit animal. I don’t recall who gave me the Emily books, but they were a series I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to read. Written by the same talented Canadian author behind the Anne of Green Gables series, this trilogy was far less-known, despite having a TV show for a few years. I was skeptical because Anne of Green Gables had never held my interest the way so many claimed it did for them.

Still, I decided to give it a try, and within the first few pages of New Moon, I was hooked. Emily Starr reminded me so much of myself, though she was far bolder than I ever was as a child. In a time when girls were still frowned upon for excelling in school, Emily embraced her intelligence, recognizing her love of writing early on. She wrote as much as she could, whenever she could, no matter how much trouble it got her in.

Over the span of three books, you get to grow with Emily. When you meet her, she is a young, orphaned child, alone with two cold-hearted aunts, having nothing but her wits and imagination to rely on. As the series progresses, you walk with Emily through puberty, love, loss, and the pursuit of her dreams.

Her classmates and aunts often consider her to be foolish, but she still follows her heart in everything. Her circumstances, being fairly poor and with no super-reliable support system to lean on, never hold her back because she refuses to let them.

For me, Emily introduced me to the idea that a fictional character can become a dear friend, one who stays with you for the rest of your life.

The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce

This was the first series to really introduce me to the world of fantasy, thanks to the main character, Alanna of Trebond. The reader meets Alanna at the age of 11 when she and her twin brother are being sent away for their life studies. As a girl, Alanna will be sent to the monastery to learn how to use The Gift and become a great sorceress, while Thom, her twin, will be sent to the palace to be trained as a knight. The only problem is Alanna hates learning magic and wants to be a knight, and her brother wants to become a sorcerer.

Thus, Alanna of Trebond becomes Alan, Thom’s younger twin, and they trade places. Only their two closest confidants, who have raised them since the death of their mother, know about this.

Alanna is captivating. She is on fire, in her soul, in her heart, and in her personality. "Stubborn" and "determined" are hardly strong enough words to describe her. She was everything I hoped to become one day.

The thing that stands out the most about Alanna is she never aims to prove anything to anyone, other than herself. The idea that she can’t be as good as the boys rarely ever crosses her mind. When it does, it comes in the form of a fear she quickly squashes.

But Alanna is more than just a girl determined to become a female knight: she is also the one chosen by the Great Mother Goddess herself.

What captivated me about Alanna was her ability to eventually reconcile her destiny with her dreams, and make both flow together, entwining the strands of each so that they worked. She was never defined or controlled by her destiny, but by her boldness and desire to be exactly who she was without ever changing for anyone.

Alanna taught me to be bold in my dreams and to never let anyone tell me that my gender should restrict me from fulfilling them. In life, whenever I have doubted following my heart, I have always thought back to Alanna for courage.

Perhaps one of the most incredible things I learned from each of these three women was the power and positive influence of having fiction become a big part of your life. We all know the possible negatives, and they’re reinforced daily by people who do not understand fandoms. But when it comes to the right stories for each of us, they not only stick with us, but they become a part of us. They live within us, guiding us and, as odd as it may sound, helping us to create stronger roots for ourselves within reality. Most importantly, I strongly believe they help to take us outside of the boxes we are all placed within in society. We learn about how to break those walls down and expand how we view ourselves and the world.

As a fangirl, who were the characters that first introduced you to the world of fandoms, whether you knew the word or not at the time?


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