Kick Ass Women: Literary Characters Edition

To continue my current project of praising some kick ass women that helped influence Middle School Patricia for the better, here is a list of kick ass women characters from books I remember reading and enjoying! Middle School Patricia read a lot–probably way too much, looking back–so literary characters definitely had way more influence on her than they probably should have.

Elizabeth, the Paper Bag Princess

As seen in the book of the same name by Robert Munsch

Peggy Orenstein of Cinderella Ate My Daughter fame actually mentions this picture book when she’s trying to find more female-empowering fairy tales to read to her daughter. Unfortunately, she doesn’t like this story very much either, because she says the message seems to be that princesses can’t be strong women AND find love. They have to choose one or the other. Personally, I don’t think that is really the point of the book at all. Here is a plot rundown in case your childhood was deprived:

A dragon wrecks Princess Elizabeth’s castle and carries off the prince she was going to marry! Rather than sit around feeling sorry for herself or waiting for someone to rescue her, she puts on the only thing she can find–a paper bag–and sets off after the dragon to rescue her prince herself. She tricks the dragon into wearing himself out and falling fast asleep, and then heads on into his lair to find worthless Prince Ronald. Prince Ronald is appalled by her gross singed hair and terrible choice of clothing and tells her to come back when she looks like a “real” princess. Elizabeth tells Ronald that even though he may look like a prince, he is really just “a bum” and runs off into the sunset.

Whatever, Ronald, like you're NOT dressed like a tool?

So, Peggy is right: Princess Elizabeth doesn’t get married at the end. Which I think is awesome! I hate how stories always end with the female protagonist getting married, as if that is the pinnacle of a woman’s existence and nothing of note will ever happen to her again. I also don’t see this ending as saying “all men suck and Elizabeth can never get married because she is too strong a lady”. Elizabeth won’t marry Ronald, which is totally the right choice and I don’t think anyone would argue otherwise. For all we know, she is running off into the sunset to find an awesome guy who doesn’t care about her appearance and would not act like such a prat when she just went to the trouble of rescuing him! The moral is not that strong women can’t find husbands; it’s that appearances don’t matter, and you shouldn’t waste your time with people who think they do! Elizabeth is amazing no matter what she is wearing, even if it is just a paper bag, and Ronald is a total jerk even though he is always dressed in the medieval fantasy version of Aeropastale. Secondarily, Elizabeth doesn’t “have” to get married at the end of her story just because she’s a princess or a woman. I wish more stories for girls ended without them finding love, because having it happen in pretty much every book creates too much pressure and unrealistic expectations.

Some people have thought it seemed like a weird choice for me to dress as for my wedding, what with it being kind of the opposite of a love story. And, yeah, it’s not going to work out for Elizabeth and Ronald, but I think this story can still teach us a lot about love: how important it is to love yourself, to find someone who can love you no matter the clothes or hair or other superficial things, and not to ever settle with someone who is less than perfect just because it’s the end of the story and you feel like that means you have to get married. Luckily, I have taken all those lessons to heart, which is why I’m marrying Steven Wiggins, not Prince Ronald.

I mean, is this the face of a man that cares about appearances? Not enough to untag himself on facebook, apparently

Princess Cimorene

From the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

You may remember me talking briefly about this book in my post about awesome first sentences. The first book, Dealing with Dragons, has always been my favorite, probably because it has the most to do with Cimorene. She is pretty much who I’ve always wanted to be when I grow up! She spends most of her early life trying to learn useful and interesting things, like magic, fencing, or cooking, but each time her parents stop her saying that whatever she’s doing is totally unladylike. Then, when faced with the prospect of an arranged marriage, she decides to run away, eventually agreeing to be a dragon’s cook/librarian. Dragon cook/librarian is pretty much my dream job, if the dragon is as awesome as Kazul. Cimorene loves her new job, but is constantly annoyed by princes coming to rescue her; they never seem to listen when she tries to explain that she doesn’t want or need to be rescued. I liked Cimorene because she was brave, smart, and master of her own destiny. No one forces Cimorene to do things she doesn’t want to do, and she never does what society thinks she’s supposed to. And–Peggy will be happy to hear–she eventually does get married! To the King of the Enchanted Forest even! But it happens at the end of Book 2, after the two have been on an adventure together. Cimorene is clearly valued for her personality and abilities far more than her looks, even to her eventual husband. Plus, she gets to have adventures after getting married! Plus, she kicks wizard butt!

Anne Shirley

From Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Full disclosure: I don’t really remember reading the other Anne books after this one. Once she grew up, I kind of lost interest in her shenanigans. So I can’t really say if Anne actually grew up to be a kick ass woman or not, but she was definitely a kick ass girl. I immediately connected with Anne because we both shared vivid imaginations and the desire to write and act out stories. While I was a little embarrassed about this (especially in middle school), Anne didn’t ever try to hide her passions, willingly playing Lady of Shallot right there in the middle of the pond. And when it went wrong and Gilbert Blythe had to rescue her she didn’t even offer him an explanation. “Whatever, Gilbert, I don’t have to explain myself to you, I am totally awesome” I imagined Anne thinking. Anne, unlike Diana, does not readily forgive Gilbert for making fun of her. Diana tries to convince her that it is no big deal, that boys are always jerks but you have to forgive them because otherwise how will you get a boyfriend?? Anne is having none of that, explaining that being a boy is no excuse. Anne is never passive, and though she does spend time worrying about her appearance, at least it’s because she herself wants a change, not to impress someone else.


From the book of the same name by Garth Nix

This is actually the second book in the Old Kingdom trilogy. I also enjoyed the first book Sabriel, and think she is fairly kick ass too, but they have many similarities, and Lirael’s a librarian, so I’m concentrating on her. Lirael is quiet and shy, and spends a lot of time being really emo because everyone else in her clan has super special clairvoyance powers and she doesn’t. And if that were all there was to Lirael, this entry would be about Sabriel instead, but she finally decides to do something useful and gets a job in the magical library. Then her personality takes a turn for the awesome! Bored with the floors full of books that she’s allowed to go in, she secretly studies up and works out how to make her magical bracelet hall pass work on any floor of the library, going on ridiculous(ly dangerous) exploratory missions and fighting insane library monsters who are apparently just chilling down there. Eventually, she gets her destiny on and goes on a quest out into the Old Kingdom to kill some freaky zombie monsters. I love Lirael because she still stays quiet and shy around people, all while having these ridiculous dangerous adventures just because she’s bored. By the end of the book, she doesn’t feel like she has to justify herself to anyone, least of all Prince Sameth, who she stops from making eyes at her by telling him she’s 35 instead of 16. The fact that he believes her is probably further proof that that’s a love match you don’t want to make, Lirael; he is kind of dumb. Both Lirael and Sabriel are totally devoted to their work–Sabriel because it’s her destiny and Lirael because she’s kind of bored and, whatever, I’m going to save the world and I don’t care what my jerky clan thinks. Like Cimorene, they prove themselves and are respected by other characters for their abilities and personality, not appearance. Sabriel does end up getting married (some time after book 1) but that doesn’t stop her from kicking ass through two more books.

Kel and Alanna

I’ve already talked about Alanna and Kel pretty extensively in my Middle School Book Reports of Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small. Both are singularly devoted to their goals of becoming knights and saving Tortall and generally not letting anyone mess with them. Despite pressures from their fantasy medieval society to marry and act ladylike, both are unafraid to find their own path doing what they’re truly passionate about. As I have admitted in my Middle School Book Reports, Alanna is kind of a Mary Sue. But I am glad that Tamora Pierce added chapters in In the Hand of the Goddess about Alanna secretly learning how to wear dresses and do ladylike things as well as her knight training. Kel, too, wears dresses to dinner every night, not wanting to hide her femininity from the boy pages as if she were ashamed of her gender. It’s not so much that Kel and Alanna are acting like boys, as Kel and Alanna are not letting anyone tell them what to do based on gender. They are girls, and they want to fight, so they do. Although both face adversity, they are completely dedicated to their cause. Although Alanna’s story ends with her finding true love and getting married, her appearances throughout the other books about Tortall indicate that she doesn’t give up her passions to sit ladylike at home being a wife and mother like her society might want her to. No one ever really remarks upon Kel’s looks besides how tall she is and to call her a “lump”, yet she still earns and commands respect from her peers and teachers for her skill, dedication, and good heart. These are the important things in Tamora Pierce’s universe, not beauty or who lands a man in the end.

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