Good vs. Evil, and Beauty

I was going through my email yesterday and went to a link from one, PW Daily or something, then went to a link from there–you know, the link domino effect, where you keep getting distracted by other topics on the page and forget what you were originally looking for but end up finding other interesting things instead?

Somehow I stumbled across an article on villainesses and their physical attributes, versus the physical attributes of the  heroine, and, equally important, how self-aware each of them are of their own appearance. Alright, I found the actual link to the article after looking through my history (well my computer’s history, to be more precise):

http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2012/12/dont-hate-her-because-shes-beautiful-villains-and-the-weakness-of-beauty-in-romance?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+HomeHeroesAndHeartbreakerscom+%28H%26H%3A+Front+Page+Partial+-+Blogs+and+Stories%29

I’ll try to briefly summarize for those too busy to look at the moment, but if you’re a Michelle Pfeiffer fan, there is a picture of her from Snow or Snow White or whatever the movie was called (mea culpa–I didn’t see it, or the Huntsman one). The blogger, Elizabeth Vail, has an interesting theory, that once I started thinking about, really does seem true, not just in movies and romance novels, but in fantasy as well. She uses a couple of examples, one being Snow and the other being the Wizard of Oz, where it’s pretty obvious who the bad witch is because she’s hideous.

That’s the way that it is in most fairy tales and older works (we’re not talking the seductress/temptress type of character here, but the ones that are truly the villains). Snow White is sort of an exception to that, though, now that I think on it–the queen only makes herself look ugly when she’s giving Snow White the apple (another caveat, the blog pretty much stuck to Disney villainesses, and there are more exceptions the more I think about it, but we’ll just stick to fairy tale princesses for now. It simplifies things.)

However, what is, according to Vail, the most important concept of this is while the evil character is very aware of the way she looks and uses that to her advantage, as a means to an end and a way to use beauty as manipulating other people, usually men, the heroine is possibly just as beautiful, though completely unaware of it until–and this is where it gets interesting–the man who rescues her tells her she is, and then she finally starts to believe she is because he tells her she is. She still isn’t a villain, now that she’s more aware of her attractiveness, because another key feature to the difference between the beauty of the villainess and the heroine is the means by which they achieve their beauty.

The villainess’ beauty is, as Vail puts it, artificial. She has to work at being beautiful to keep people under her power. The heroine is naturally beautiful, she just is without trying, though oblivious to it.

The basic point was, why can’t you have a heroine who is aware of her beauty, especially the effect it has on men, but is also intelligent, without making her promiscuous  or any other thing one might care to label a woman who is self-possessed and sure of herself? So the author mentions a book, a romance called Beguiling the Beauty, where the heroine is supposedly not a meek, beautiful little thing in the corner waiting to be saved, but a woman who is attractive and knows it, and in the end of the 19th Century, also knows how to use it to maneuver her way through a society run by men, for men.

So, now a little curious, and not just using it as a chance to read another romance novel as a way to speed along my Goodreads Challenge, which I’m not going to meet by less than twenty books, maybe ten. Maybe I will, but at December 12th, I’m not finding it likely. Writing too much and not enough reading. Anyway, I checked out the library and it was a new book on the shelf–and actually on the shelf when I got there–small side rant–I love our library, it’s the best library I’ve ever had, even though we live just out of the city limits therefore have to pay $120/year to use it. Which is definitely money well spent, I think. I use it a lot. But after having worked in two different libraries and a bookstore, I feel a sense of trepidation when I go up to see if a book the computer says is there is actually there, because very often it’s not. The computer says when the book is being shelved, so it’s not being shelved. Most likely, someone has taken it off the shelf and put it back wherever, and it won’t be found until the library does an inventory or something. This is particularly bad in the Young Adult section. I’ve started simply putting books on hold instead of going specifically to look for them, unless I’m there already picking up books on hold for me, because it kept happening over and over and I finally got fed up. It’s not the library’s fault, but it’s annoying. They know the best places to look and I don’t. They probably think I’m lazy–I always am putting things on hold, mostly things that are already on hold, but the things that are supposed to be there as well. I know from experience that people often think they’re helping by putting things back. Don’t! For one thing, the library keeps track of what’s taken off the shelf and keeps statistics. If a book is put back just one or two sets of shelves over, no one is going to look that far unless they are truly determined or desperate.

Back on track: I checked it out and started reading it last night, but am not far enough into it to have anything to report, except that both the heroine and the person I’m assuming is going t0 be the hero are both interested, seemingly, in fossils, which is a new one on me. The cover is interesting, though

Beguiling-the-Beauty-by-Sherry-Thomas174x281

I read another article at some point talking about how romance novels but some other genres as well do the head-cutting-off thing, both on men and women. I think it’s interesting that it’s always above the lips. If it’s above the eyes, I suppose it would be too disproportionate. So we’re left with lips and quite a well exposed bosom.

But yes, it does look sufficiently fleshy. And on a completely separate note (remember what I said about outlines? This is why I need them)–personally I have not read any Jim C. Hines, yet. But this man has to be one of the funniest fantasy/sci fi authors I’ve never read. I’ve read little things on his page and first became aware of him when I found a link to him re-creating poses of females on fantasy covers to see if they were even physically possible. He later did one on male poses. They are hysterical. He is a brave, brave man. He is doing one now for charity for a non-profit foundation on a rare syndrome that effects girls–Aicardi Syndrome, which I’d never heard of even after working for nearly 13 years with people with disabilities. Research on this syndrome is definitely a worthwhile cause.

Jim C. Hines’ website:

http://www.jimchines.com

I’m thinking of starting with The Stepsister Scheme.  I should see if the library has them. The above mentioned poses are in his blog section, and are his most popular blogs, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

I suppose, getting back to the original subject, that what startled me was that I have done the same thing with my female characters (which I am trying to introduce more of). At first the only one was Gwyne, who Madeleine didn’t really relate to because she had grown up knowing she was going to marry Brion, accepted that role, and was, in most people’s eyes, living it as she should be–the good monarch’s wife who bears him heirs. They don’t realize how much influence she has over him, not a bad influence, but more of a ‘use your brain’ influence. The other brain. Brion’s habit of talking before he thinks is very much like his father’s, which isn’t a good trait for a King. So Madeleine grows up a complete tomboy, used to being around only her brothers and avoiding girls because they think she’s some sort of freak because of both her appearance and her way of thinking, and her complete lack of social etiquette. She is beautiful but doesn’t believe it, doesn’t like the way she looks and doesn’t even use mirrors. I think there’s more to the latter than avoiding her appearance, though. In a way she’s avoiding an identity by refusing to stop and really look at herself. In a scene that was edited out that I liked, Elvan tells her to go look in the mirror and stay there until she figures out what she has missed–the fact that one of her brothers is really a full brother and everyone has figured it out except her, including the brother. Maybe I can try to work that back in. Everyone tells her she is pretty, but she doesn’t believe them, possibly because the fact that she’s so short bothers her enough that she doesn’t believe the fact that she could be appealing. As in the blog above (not an article, sorry) where the heroine is naturally beautiful but doesn’t believe it–only Madeleine doesn’t believe it when men tell her. She looks at other women and realizes she’s completely unlike them physically. Miadryth, her cousin on the Vaundenbourgh side who Geoffrey married, is the opposite–very conscious of her appearance, her dresses, fashion, the very strong belief that she is entitled to more than she has–is meant to have more than she has. She is very beautiful, something that attracts Geoffrey to her immediately. She finds him attractive as well, but also his position and the possibility that he might elevate her status. Being around Madeleine tempered some of those beliefs for a while, but she goes back to being her original self, and more is revealed about her character that makes her seem somewhat two dimensional–she wants money and position, and wants it through an Aithin husband, not Geoffrey. Despite the face that he is a prince, which is something I tend to forget about all of the Lockienhylms other than Brion–I suppose the only one left is Adrian. Brion cares, position matters to him, but not of the others really do.

While Mia is cruel, I’m not sure she’s evil, just not a very nice person. She’s not ordering anyone killed. But not even her older brother can stand her anymore, hasn’t been able to for quite some time, and lives at Elverliane. She is very self-confident, the only person she’s afraid of is Antony. She and Madeleine were friends, though, and it still hurts her that Madeleine cuts her off once she realizes the situation with Mia and Geoffrey.

Bettina is an older, wiser woman who was originally hired by Kalliandra, Madeleine’s mother, when Kalliandra sill lived at Lherghard. She was Madeleine’s nanny, so she does try to improve her manners. She’s the one who comes up with the idea that Madeleine will only wear dresses when she’s at Elverliane. She’s the Head of House but also, and not very well known, the Seneschal. Adrian knows, obviously, as he knows all of the Seneschals, but he doesn’t say anything, figuring that there must be a reason she goes under the title Head of House instead.

The other two main female characters, Stasia and Deirdre, both have come from the same House. While Stasia has been a Courtesan for years, Deirdre only has been for the past four years, and since she was twelve, worked in the streets. Stasia is intelligent and knows more generally than Deirdre, whose focus for so long was staying alive and trying to avoid being killed. They’re both beautiful because they were both Courtesans, but people have a hard time seeing past that, which Stasia realizes can actually be used to her advantage at times, as she’s not expected to be able to think on her own by people who aren’t aware of the difference between Courtesans and the prostitutes on the street. Courtesans are generally better educated, and know more about both what is going on in the world around them as well as being able to carry on intelligent conversations. Stasia worried for Deirdre, an Empath, knowing that this situation is completely wrong for her but not wanting to put her back on the street.

So it is still a world mostly peopled by men. I think this is a result of the fact that I don’t always understand women very well myself, having been much more like Madeleine growing up. Except without the brothers. And being the oldest. I’ve thought a lot lately how would be nice to have an older brother somewhat along the lines of Adrian or Julian. It would be nice to have a place to go where acceptance isn’t a question, and the love is truly unconditional.

That’s possibly why my characters aren’t trying to kill each other off for the throne. I don’t want a Game of Thrones type scenario where no one can trust anyone. It becomes a little too much at times. I want a land where after years of distrust, they are trying to move forward, with a few stubborn people who still try to play the old games of stepping backward, and the process of discovering who they are and trying to bring them to justice without turning fields to trampled, muddy, blood-stained wastelands. I’m not putting Game of Thrones and on down, I have tried to read the first one, started about five times, and just haven’t been able to get into it. Sometimes that happens and I’ll read the book again later on when the time is somehow right and it clicks and I’m totally sucked in. I watched the first season, which renewed my interest in it, and not being phased by spoilers and wanting to know more what happens to the characters I’m interested in have looked that information up. Which I then cannot breathe a word about because my boyfriend hates spoilers.

I think it’s more a case that I simply couldn’t manage a world that large, with so many characters. I write what I’d want to read (I know that sounds cheesy), and if I want to read about wars and people dying, all I have to do is read about Syria or Afghanistan, to name a couple. Last time I checked, which was a week and a half ago or so, over 408,000 refugees had fled Syria into the neighboring countries, Turkey being a popular destination, among other places. In a country where President Assad says Democracy is at work. And refuses to step down. NATO finally stepped in at one point when Syria was threatening to use chemical weapons against Turkey, lobbed a few missiles over. But no one is really doing much as a large unit–I finally stopped following it so closely because it was so disheartening. Is the basic idea to let them kill each other off? I can see that as a strategy. The younger Geoffrey would have endorsed it. The older one might, but only if it was the last possible course of action. Eventually, Rial Oman does take in refugees from what is basically a war of persecution, not unlike the war against the Aithin years earlier under his father. It’s one of the first truly ethical decisions Brion makes at the opposition from his council for support from the provinces over a war too keep one boy safe–in the short term a decision that may not make sense to them, but in the long term, the key to how the two nations will relate and for a safe future for everyone on both sides.

What happens to the refugees in Game of Thrones? Are there none? Are they all simply killed? That’s one way to deal with it. It is a fantasy, and I haven’t read the books as of yet. Maybe I’ll wait until all eight, or nine, or however many are done. Not that I’m one to talk. I’ve been working on this second book for two years now. I guess I’m not an epic battle scene kind of gal. Instead I have a family that doesn’t vie for power, mostly because they either don’t want it or already have it to the degree they’re comfortable with. While they may not have agents in the field, Adrian and Elvan are becoming quite a formidable team, along with Antony to keep Brion calm so he’ll listen to them. There is truth to their discussion that Antony and Adrian together have equal power to Brion, both an interesting and somewhat treasonous idea. Neither Antony nor Adrian want Brion’s position. The two of them consider Gwyne a crucial part of this–they understand how important she is. And Elvan’s role is growing.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of the things I had hoped to fit into book 2 are going to be in book 3, which does have a name, I just don’t remember it off the top of my head. I’m also beginning to think the name I had originally for the second book, Cael’an, isn’t really going to work anymore, which is disappointing because I have a terrible time coming up with titles.

And how did we get here from villainesses? I don’t know. Good vs. Evil, I guess. I read a bit about the characters in Game of Thrones and I really did like one thing that George R.R. Martin said about Tyrion Lannister. He’s grey. Not totally good, not totally evil. That, I think, is one truth in the world.

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