21 March, 2006

The warrior heroine in cover art

In the comment thread, Susan Higginbotham said, "The Boudica novels I see in the bookstore here (Scott?) all have a minimally clothed hot-looking babe on them who seems to be pondering a modeling career rather than rebellion."

This comment reminded me irresistibly of Terry Pratchett's observations on the warrior heroine in a certain kind of novel, so I went and looked up the quote. Here it is:

....this particular hero was a heroine. A red-headed one.

Now, there is a tendency at a point like this to look over one's shoulder at the cover artist and start going on at length about leather, thighboots and naked blades.

Words like 'full', 'round' and even 'pert' creep into the narrative, until the writer has to go and have a cold shower and a lie down.

Which is all rather silly, because any woman setting out to make a living by the sword isn't about to go around looking like something off the cover of the more advanced kind of lingerie catalogue for the specialised buyer.

Oh well, all right. The point that must be made is that although Herrena the Henna-Haired Harridan would look quite stunning after a good bath, a heavy-duty manicure and the pick of the leather racks in Woo Hun Ling's Oriental Exotica and Martial Aids on Heroes Street, she was currently quite sensibly dressed in light chain mail, soft boots and a short sword.

All right, maybe the boots were leather. But not black.

Riding with her were a number of swarthy men that will certainly be killed before too long anyway, so a description is probably not essential. There was absolutely nothing pert about any of them.

Look, they can wear leather if you like.

--The Light Fantastic, by Terry Pratchett.

If anyone else is a fan of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, or is curious about it, you might like to know that BBC Radio 4 has just finished a 4-part dramatic adaptation of Small Gods and made it available on the Listen Again service. Small Gods is one of my favourite Discworld novels and the adapter has done a good job.


Bernita said...

I LIKE those sic-'em-girl covers with bodacious babe with shining sword, leather thigh-highs, and flaming hair.
Guess I have low tastes.
Besides, my mother always told me: Don't judge book by, etc.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I love it how Pratchett plays with all sorts of clich├ęs.

Susan Higginbotham said...

But I'm happy to report that the ladies don't have a monopoly on leather. I recently read a book by John Colin Penford, The Gascon, in which the Earl of Lancaster seduces Queen Isabella while Lancaster is clad only in shiny, thigh-high leather boots. The author specifically called them "shiny"--evidently this was very important to Lancaster's sex appeal. Dull boots just wouldn't accomplish the task at hand.

The author does not record whether Lancaster ever takes the boots off while bedding Isabella. Pity.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Don't tell me that ones is marketed as historical fiction. ;)

Carla said...

Oooh, delicious (!). Maybe Sarah Churchill's famous line "My lord came home from the wars today and pleasured me with his boots on" has a lot to answer for?
Is there any evidence that Isabella and Lancaster had an affair, with or without shiny boots?

Bernita, I rather had the impression that Pratchett likes them too....

If anyone else is a fan of Pratchett, Radio 4's just finished a jolly good adaptation of Small Gods and it's on Listen Again. I'll put the link in the main post; it's easier.

Marg said...

I too love the way that Pratchett twists everyday things and gives them a really funny outlook! Fantastic.

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla, the earl of Lancaster was Isabella's uncle, so I really hope not!! It's astonishing how few historians and novelists have noticed their relationship - Isabella's mother Jeanne of Navarre was the elder half-sister of Lancaster. A novel I read recently called 'Letter from Poitou' has Lancaster in love with Isabella, and Jean Plaidy has something about it too. Do some research, people!! :)

Susan Higginbotham said...

I'll have to check into Pratchett's stuff. Sounds entertaining.

As for the Earl of Lancaster, I never thought of him as being a studly guy (his wife was abducted from him, perhaps with her connivance, and never seemed to have the slightest interest in being restored to him). Maybe that's when he decided to have the boots made for him. Boots do make the man.

Rick said...

Dammit, Carla, you beat me to the Sarah Churchill line! Though I seem to recall that in fact he pleasured her twice with his boots on.

I particularly enjoy her perspective on who was pleasuring whom - though one presumes that Marlborough was also left smiling.

Carla said...

Rick - There are several more ambitious variants, such as 'My lord duke came home from the wars today and pleasured me three times in his top-boots'. (Any advance on three, anyone?)

Susan - did the novel mention that Lancaster was Isabella's uncle? That would be even more kinky than the boots. Which are pretty kinky, considering that if I understand medieval male clothing correctly he presumably had to take them off to remove his chausses and braies and then put them back on again. Weird.

I'd highly recommend Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. He's usually classed as 'fantasy', which is why it took me years to discover him (how I hate categorisation), but I'd say he has far more in common with the great English comic novelists like PG Wodehouse. If you do give his novels a try, Discworld is one of the few series that I think is best started in the middle. The early books are essentially a spoof on sub-Tolkien Epic Fantasy and work best if you know that genre well and have got a little bored with it. If you know Macbeth (especially if you studied it at school), I'd say start with Wyrd Sisters, otherwise I'd say start with any one of Guards! Guards! (my personal favourite), Pyramids or Small Gods.

Kathryn Warner said...

Actually, some of the chronicles say that Lancaster 'defouled a great multitude of women and gentle wenches'. Maybe that was one reason why Alice left him. He certainly had 2 illegitimate sons (John and Thomas). I haven't read the book Susan mentioned, but the ones I've read where he's in love with Isabella, the authors clearly didn't know she was his niece. Maybe he seduced the 'great multitude' with his shiny boots on, though. Unfortunately, the chronicles are silent on that point.

Alex Bordessa said...

I loved Monstrous Regiment by Pratchett - the socks were very amusing :-)

Susan Higginbotham said...

The Penford novel mentions only a cousinly relationship (apparently only through Isabella's marriage to Edward). Other than the shiny boots, my favorite scene is where Lancaster steals the young Edward III (born here a couple of years early) from Isabella, who naturally yells, "You filthy swine!"

Historically accurate it's not, to put it mildly, but it does have the redeeming quality of being Quite a Hoot. Unfortunately, I don't think the author intended the hoot factor.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Wyrd Sisters is fun. I like the witches anyway, also in Witches Abroad and Masquerade (a Phantom of the Opera parody).