So, it turns out that the desire for “realism” in fantasy fiction stops when it comes to including well-rounded female characters in the story (shocking, I know). I was on a thread last night where commenters were saying that the reason JRR Tolkien did not have many female characters in his books was that he wanted to write more “realistically.”
Let me state first, that I enjoy Tolkien’s work. I adored The Hobbit and LOTR. Furthermore, I really enjoyed Peter Jackson’s LOTR adaptations, but thought his Hobbit was dreadful (mainly because he shoehorned a nonexistent female character and love story into the narrative). I don’t feel a lack in those stories because they are short on female characters.
I get upset when readers and commentators on Tolkien’s book try to say that inclusion of female characters (or POC and LGBTQ characters) is deviating from reality. And this ridiculous opinion does not stop with just Tolkien. This is an on-going debate in SFF fandom that got particularly ugly a few years ago during the 2015 and 2016 Hugo Awards.
Okay, let me get this straight: dragons, orcs, elves, giant eagles, and wizards are MORE realistic than having well-rounded female representation? Uhhh…
Okay, okay. Let’s forget about that fact that we’re talking about HIGH FANTASY here where the rules of “realism” are pretty fluid from the get go. Let’s even forget that “realism,” to their minds, means excluding HALF THE HUMAN RACE. The commenters shrieking about Tolkien’s “realism” said that Tolkien, writing in the 30s and 40s was reflecting his own reality in which women did not participate in war. Patently false. Sure, not many women were soldiers then (not going to say none, because I’m pretty sure there were women who went out on the front lines dressed as men, just like in the Civil War) BUT women were integral to the war effort. They worked as nurses, in government, in factories, took over farm work (you know, so people could EAT), and performed vital services in just about every single capacity possible – even as spies. So, do not come at me with this “women weren’t soldiers so it’s not realistic to portray them that way” because if the only characters you expect in your SFF are soldiers, I say it’s YOUR perception of fiction that is not realistic.
Furthermore, these commenters were saying, “Well, he drew on Norse mythology and that’s all about kings and warriors”. Okay, okay, okay. Stop right there. Both of the largest influences on Tolkien, Beowulf (Old English, by the way) and the Völsunga saga, had female characters in them in pivotal roles. For instance, in Beowulf, Grendal’s mother – the main villain, and female – was not only a strategist but a warrior. How many kings and warriors did she fight and vanquish in her life? Hmmm….
My point here is that the entire argument that SFF literature is some sacrosanct body that is LESSER for the inclusion of well-rounded female characters (as well as other marginalized groups) needs to stop, as do the beliefs fueling it. People who hold these beliefs and spout these opinions are yearning for something that just never was – a world of SFF literature without politics, social issues, or challenging ideas.