Each week I invite someone bookish to tell us about one of their all-time favourite works of fiction, and why it’s so special to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from writer and editor Estelle Tang:
My memory is fairly sketchy, but I’d be willing to bet a bit of money that Tamora Pierce’s ‘Song of the Lioness’ books set me on the track to being a) a feminist, b) an obsessive reader, c) a lifetime lover of YA fiction and d) really into swords. (Maybe I’m just kidding about the last one.)
I stumbled across the second book in the series, In the Hand of the Goddess, at my local library. It was a very well thumbed edition that had clearly been loved by many readers before me. Like many young readers enthralled by tales of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, I was intrigued by the book’s promise of chivalry and magical battles. But the thing that really hooked me was that the protagonist, Alanna, was a girl pretending to be a boy so that she could become a knight. Fuck yeah, cross-dressing and fighting! I devoured the book, and then the whole series. Eventually, I bought a full set of the books so I could reread them whenever I wanted (which was often).
Alanna is one of my favourite heroines of all time. She is tough and determined, she is magical, she doesn’t care what people think and she has purple eyes. That is pretty much everything I wanted to be when I was a child. Plus she wasn’t a feminine female – she’s described as stocky and strong, and she rarely spares a thought for feminine standards of appearance (for one thing, she’s not going to get her knighthood by being prissy about her nails; for another, she doesn’t want anyone finding out she’s female before she succeeds). She undertakes unbelievable tasks and relishes them; she ends up the chief defender of her country, Tortall.
I didn’t know the word ‘feminist’ at the time, but now that I do, I feel like I can trace back my feminism to my encounters with Alanna and her adventures. Pierce originally began writing strong female characters because the YA fiction she grew up reading had almost none. I will be forever grateful for this, as Alanna paved the way for me to fall in love with other incredible female heroines, like Philip Pullman’s Lyra and many of Jane Austen’s spirited women.
Estelle Tang is an editor at Oxford University Press, editorial advisor at Paper Radio and a Wheeler Centre/Melbourne Zoo writing fellow.
Her blog is 3000 BOOKS.