The question before the panel this week:
Heroine February 28, 2008
Filed under: Wordpress — --Deb @ 1:32 am
Who is your favorite female lead character? And why? (And yes, of course, you can name more than one . . . I always have trouble narrowing down these things to one name, why should I force you to?)
For years, I have loved Eilonwy from Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles. You can say what you want about the plotline of the chronicles itself. Fans will find it classic and admire the way it draws on influences from Anglo-Saxon legend to Tolkien. Detractors will find it derivative and they may try to claim there's nothing new there, but they'll overlook the character of Eilonwy.
We first meet Eilonwy when she drops her "bauble" into the dungeon where the hero, Taran, is being held (her bauble is a spherical, glowing object that turns out to be quite important. I heard that word for the first time in these books, and it's always had that sort of magic connotation to me.) Eilonwy, it turns out, is the niece of the evil queen who is holding Taran, but decides to help him rather than remain loyal to her aunt and the rest of the creeps. She is very brave, very funny, very clever and very strong. Throughout the series, she seeks out adventure and years for opportunities to prove herself.
It's to Alexander's credit that he makes her an actual asset to Taran and the rest of the men. One very common criticism of Tolkien's books is the lack of depth of his female characters. Eilonwy is never a mere ornament. Her value is recognized by all, from Taran's father-figure enchanter Dallben to the Crown Prince Gwydion himself. Taran's occasional stupid remark about her being "just a girl" is never tolerated by the other men, and even when there's no one around to correct him, the stupidity of it is usually evidenced by subsequent events.
After saying all that, I will add that I've always been angered by the ending of the series. Eilonwy has to make a terrible choice, one that faces many women in real life (although generally in a less dramatic fashion). She has to choose between a man and her identity. I bet you can guess which she picked. Her destiny felt inevitable -- you knew that the two characters were destined to be together from the moment her bauble dropped into his cell -- but still. It would've been better if she'd found a way to use her considerable skills and ingenuity to compromise, or to avoid the choice altogether. It doesn't change my love for the character, though.