These Books Made Me

Alanna: The First Adventure

February 24, 2022 Prince George's County Memorial Library System Season 2 Episode 1
These Books Made Me
Alanna: The First Adventure
Show Notes Transcript

Noted Sagittarius and author Tamora Pierce brought us the groundbreaking, gender norm defying Alanna: The First Adventure in 1983. The book ended up being a formative text and gateway sword-and-sorcery fantasy work for many of us. Alanna was a Strong Female Protagonist for young adults before the Strong Female Protagonist conversation was a thing. Headstrong, improbably purple-eyed Alanna is determined to be a knight although girl knights are not allowed are in the Kingdom of Tortall, and nothing will stand in her way, not the rigors of knighthood training ( which involves far more homework than you'd expect), not a steady stream of bullies & villains, and not even puberty, the greatest villain of them all. 

We discuss Alanna's internalized misogyny, magic swords, and the Tortellian class structures that went over our heads as young readers as we revisit (or visit for the first time in Kelsey's case) the technicolor, Errol Flynn-esque world of the first installment in the Song of Lioness Quartet.

Some links for additional reading:
https://www.themarysue.com/tamora-pierce-alanna-gender-fluid/

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/tamora-pierce-interview

https://ejournal.unesa.ac.id/index.php/litera-kultura/article/view/28658/26235

Hannah:

Hi, I'm Hannah

Kelsey:

I'm Kelsey.

Hannah:

And this is our podcast These Books Made Me. Today, we're going to be talking about Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. Friendly warning as always, this podcast contains spoilers. If you don't yet know the secret of the Black City, continue at your own risk, or you may lose your soul. We have two special guests this week. Could each o f you introduce yourselves?

Aya:

I'm Aya. I work in circulation at PGCMLS

Lauren:

And I'm Lauren. I'm a youth services librarian at the Bowie library. So I'll start us off. Um, for those of you who don't know, cuz this is an audio medium. I am a bright redheaded girl. So this book featuring a bright redheaded protagonist was very special to me growing up because I saw a lot of myself in the protagonist. And I'd like to ask you all, what did this book mean to you?

Aya:

So for me am not a redhead, but I loved Alanna because she was so stubborn and angry all the time, which I suppose is kind of a redheaded stereotype. But , um, I just really loved how she fought with basically everything she came into contact with and stuck to her guts and everything like that. So it was very meaningful to me growing up because most of the heroines that you meet when you're growing up are very well behaved and Alanna is not always well behaved.

Hannah:

Well, I am not as bright of a redhead as Lauren and I'm a more faded , uh , ginger type, but I nevertheless found some representation in Alanna and also I was a kid was obsessed with horses and sword play and fantasy fiction. And so this was a book that was very near and dear to

Kelsey:

Me. And I'm a n00b, I've never read this book before. I have honestly, never been much of a fantasy reader. Um, though I tend to enjoy it when I read it. I - just not a place I gravitate towards. Um, I do have very faded pink hair right now. So, you know, slight air of relatability there. Um, but yeah, it was, it was interesting. I, I, I, I have a lot of thoughts and we'll get into them, but I could definitely see loving this book as a kid. And , um, there's definitely a lot of merit in , um, the, the mission of what I think Tamara Pierce was trying to convey through her work.

Aya:

So for those in the audience who haven't read it , um, Alanna, the first adventure is about Alanna of Trebond. This is a little summary for you. Alanna has always wanted to be a knight, not a fancy lady learning how to sew in some convent. So when her father tries to send her away to become exactly that, she switches places with her twin brother and heads to chorus to become a knight while hiding her true identity, she deals with new friends, new enemies, and her growing magical abilities. But what happens when her best friend, prince Jonathan heads into the mysterious Black City and right into danger.

Kelsey:

Um, so I'm gonna talk a little bit about who Tamora Pierce is. So Tamora pierces, a notable Pennsylvania, which is near and dear to me as a , uh, less notable former Pennsylvania , um , and a Sagittarius and this is true. You can check her bio. She, she reveals this, she credits first her father and then an English teacher for fostering and nurturing, a love of writing and reading particularly works of science fiction. She had a somewhat unsteady childhood. She moved from Pennsylvania to California and then back to Pennsylvania , um , as a result of her parents' divorce, they lived on welfare and experienced the joys and the challenges of life in rural America and Pierce ultimately finished high school living with her family in a one room hotel. And during this time she slowly emerged into her own as a self-described geek. She went on to study at University of Pennsylvania, where a professor encouraged her to write her first novel. She did not complete her psychology degree as she failed statistics. And instead, according to her , uh , bio on her website, her degree just said, Bachelor of Arts, which I didn't know, you could just get a generic degree, but apparently she talked them into it. After college, she got a job as a house mother in a group home for teens, and she wrote another novel, which would ultimately become the Lioness series. Initially. However, she wrote this as a 732 page adult novel and the director of the group home, where she worked told her that it was inappropriate for the teens that she worked with. So instead as Pierce describes in her biography, she retold the stories out loud for the teens, which ultimately proved helpful when her first agent suggested that she turned it into a quartet of books for this age group. Tamora Pierce seems like a truly delightful person. Um , based on all the research I've done , um, I've referenced her website bio several times and it's truly a joy and I highly recommend reading it. I've just provided some excerpts here. She refers to her partner of 25 plus years as her spouse creature. And she proudly refers to her quote, hillbilly heritage and her love of, of martial arts. She seems to base many of her characters off of her real life. She modeled Alanna after her younger sister, Kimberly and she modeled another character, Duke Rogers on a high school boyfriend. After the success of Lioness, she went on to write many more fantasy novels, almost all of which focused on strong, gender-defying, female role models.

Hannah:

Each episode, our luminous, literarian and frequent co-host Hawa will provide miscellaneous insights from our book. It's time for Hawa's Headspace.

Hawa:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Hawa's Headspace. The part of the podcast where I literally say whatever comes to mind for today's segment, I'll be in conversation with Hannah, say hello to the people, Hannah,

Hannah:

Hello people.

Hawa:

And I'll be guessing what Alana and the first adventure is about. Based on a few covers before now, I haven't read any of the series or looked at any of the covers. Hannah's gonna let me know how off base I am and from here and from there, read the synopsis. Okay. So I have a Google Doc here that Hannah put together with a couple different covers. The first one that I'm looking at is there's a horse on it. Like there's a horse just like smacked dab in the middle of the cover and looks like it's like in a picture frame, it feels very like old, timey, not like country Western, but maybe like , uh , like war time, like back when they used to fight with horses or something. Um, the first adventure in the title makes me think maybe this might be a historical time, maybe

Hannah:

So far with your reaction to that first cover. And I threw a lot of cover at you, art at you. So sorry if it was too much, but you're , uh , pretty close to, to accurate, like the only thing that like, maybe that you said that maybe wasn't pretty spot on was the historical, cuz it's pseudo historical in some ways

Hawa:

I'm looking at another cover. So I , this is I'm guessing Alanna , uh , who I'm guessing is our heroine for this series and she on the cover with a horse. Okay. Horses must be very important in this. Is that a sword? She has a sword.

Hannah:

She totally has a sword.

Hawa:

That's pretty cool. I wasn't expecting the sword. Um , She looks like she might be like 12, is she going off and fighting like?, Right. So this one that I'm looking, oh yeah, she did definitely has a sword. So in this one, there are two horses on the cover. Someone else is on a horse and they look like they're in armor in, in the back. I see possibly castles. And like, it's funny cuz like the way she's holding the sword almost looks like it's one of the buildings. I think that's pretty cool. And she's looking up, she looks like she's like a very serious, I don't play no business. You don't want to see her with a sword type

Hannah:

So far. You're you're you're saying saying no untruths. This is all like pretty

Hawa:

Okay. I'm gonna scroll through a couple more. It's interesting because in all these covers, she looks different. They, the first, the, the second and third covers that have her depicted have her with like short hair, but like the, this next one has her with like really long and like reddish hair. Like she didn't have that hair and the other cover covers. Um , but then back to this, another one she has short hair, maybe, you know, she may feel like she has to fight to, to save her, her city or her or not her city. But you know, her, her community she's using swords and horses are clearly an integral part about how she goes about this and her, it being her first adventure. It also implies that there are maybe many more to come.

Hannah:

I mean, honestly you pretty much got everything, everything, right? Like the cover clearly did a pretty good job of, you know, conveying the like importance of horses and swords. Cuz they're definitely huge. Alana is uh , in training to be a knight.

Hawa:

Ooh, I I didn't see that coming. Yeah.

Hannah:

So you, you know, you were, you were, you were like, you were all around like the shape of her, you know, horses, swords, knight, knighthood. Um

Hawa:

Why did my mind draw a blank to that

Hannah:

Now you, and you mentioned her short hair because she is in disguise as a boy because

Hawa:

You know, I was wondering that after the fact I was like, this is giving kind of like, I don't wanna say like Mulan ish, but you know, it kinda felt like that.

Hannah:

That. And the one that has her with very red hair.

Hawa:

Yeah.

Hannah:

Um , like they actually made her cuz she has, she has purple eyes, believe it or not. So like they actually like portrayed her purple eyes, which I don't know why it cracks me up that she has purple eyes for some reason.

Hawa:

Purple eyes.

Hannah:

Yeah.

Hawa:

I was not expecting the, the magical elements , um, that it, that are described in the synopsis. I don't know how like strong they are in the actual story, but that was something I wasn't expecting just from looking at any of the covers, to be honest, maybe except for this last one that's on here that it's like, it's showing like faces coming from like this cloud over the castles. Maybe that kind of felt like it had like a magical aspect to it.

Hannah:

You're right. I don't think they represent the magic well on these covers and it is a pretty big theme in the, in the books actually. I guess it's hard to portray. I mean, you can do it, but like that's maybe harder to portray to kind of cover than horses and swords, but yeah.

Hawa:

Alrighty. Well, that's it for this , uh , segment of Hawa's Headspace and make sure to tune in next time to see what else is going on in this brain of mine.

Lauren:

Alrighty. So let's go ahead and dive right into the discussion. Now this book was originally published in 1983, but it didn't really sort of gain super popularity until the nineties. Now this was a quite a bit of time ago for all of you younger listeners out there. Um, so I put this out to you all. How does this book hold up?

Kelsey:

I think thinking like from a writing style perspective, I think this is true of a lot of children's books from this particular time. It's like, they're afraid that kids can't handle like complex writing. So it's very like short declarative, very informational, like similarly structured sentences in a way that like conveys very well what is happening, but isn't the most like artistic, like it's very like direct into the point. Um, so I don't know that it necessarily didn't hold up, but it just really stood out as like being a little like of that time when we were still figuring out like what books for kids look like and if we can make books for teens and, and, and that kind of stuff. So I feel like that was kind of that kind of jumped out to me.

Aya:

I would definitely agree. There's just this lack of style at times it seems like Pierce is kind of writing as quickly as possible as much plot as possible to capture the attention of her audience, but not using literary tricks or technique. Really at the same time, I was kind of shocked by how much I was judging the writing when I was reading, because I loved it so much growing up.

Hannah:

It's definitely a very straightforward book. Um, like I, I didn't really notice the writing style or I didn't criticize the writing style as a kid, as an adult. I'm kind of like, alright, this is, this book is not a subtle book. It's , uh , there's a, there's a clarity and a straightforwardness to it, which, you know, is both good or bad. Um, but yeah, like you said, it's very plotty um, it's like, this is what happens to me. It kind of really feels like so many other fantasy fiction of the eighties. It kind of, I can't really define my what that is, but it has that feel for me, but also albeit you know, aimed at a younger audience.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I mean, I , I do wanna say like, it definitely sucked me in right away.

Aya:

Yes.

Kelsey:

Like the fact that we immediately started and it was like, and we're off on the adventure. Like the reason I don't like to read a lot of fantasies, cuz I get impatient with all the details. Like I'm like I get it, I get it. The world exists and it's different and there's people and they look different, they smell different and whatever. Like I, I wanna like learn that as I go and I feel like sometimes it takes too long to get there. Um, so I , I appreciated that. She was just like, I'm throwing you in and you're gonna have to figure out how this world works as we go.

Lauren:

Yeah. I think it was like the first like five pages or less, the first major conflict comes in and she's putting forth this plan to go undercover as her brother like instantaneously. Yeah. And I think it's also indicative of like the age group maybe she was writing for, for this book cuz when I was first reading it in middle school, I definitely didn't notice like a lack of subtlety. I just thought this is a really exciting plot. I'm really loving this. And it kind of started me on my journey of fantasy book reading. And as I've gotten older, the books have gotten more complex and more descriptive. And I mean now you've got George R. R. Martin spending 10 pages describing all the different tenants of all the different houses and all the different world building. And as a child that probably would've turned me off to a book. I would've gotten very bored being like, I don't know these people yet. So the fact that it jumped right in and was very kind of like here's the plot , um, was very appealing to me as a young reader.

Aya:

I would really agree with that. I think if, if you're looking at other very influential fantasy works, Harry Potter comes to mind and this predated Harry Potter by quite a bit. And I also read it, I think before I read Harry Potter because my father was very into fantasy and he would go out and look for books with women in them and bring them back even if they weren't quite age appropriate for us. So I think I read it before and it just deals with plots so much faster than George R . R. Martin or Harry Potter because it condenses her entire training as a knight into I'm thinking it maybe takes two books and it's like maybe 400 pages and you get that rapid fire plot and you can read it and it builds up your stamina for reading. I think it was very effective and now I can do something like embark on a George R.R. Martin book and I've built up my tolerance for it. So I think there's something to be said for learning with some training wheels on

Hannah:

Alanna was being trained to be a knight and we were training to read really, really long books. Yes,

Lauren:

Absolutely. And I mean also for how short it is a lot happens in that first book and it spans so many years.

Aya:

Yes.

Lauren:

Yeah. Um , so she really does like cram it in and when I was first reading it, it didn't feel like a short book. It felt like this big fantasy book, but I think you said the audiobook itself is only like five hours long or something.

Kelsey:

It was, it was definitely a fast read. I think we also wanted to point out that another artifact of it being written in the eighties is a lot of cringe, inducing , uh , verbiage. Um, particularly the word pert. I don't like that word

Aya:

Pert was not a fun word to rediscover.

Kelsey:

No, not a fan, not a fan to listen to it an audiobook is not great. Canoodling also comes in. So just a little bit of dated vocab.

Aya:

There's also some class privilege. I was rereading it just yesterday and there's kind of a throwaway line where we find out that there are slaves in Corus and they're never mentioned again. So it's just, they're this throwaway piece of worldbuilding that I don't think we would write so casually today.

Hannah:

I missed that entirely. I have to go back and - that's how quick the mention was.

Aya:

Yeah, it's one word just when Alanna was walking through the marketplace, she sees all these new things and one of them is slaves. So I don't know if Corus is a stop on the road or a market, but it really stood out to me on my reread that you would not build a world like that now without taking responsibility for it or hopefully you wouldn't.

Lauren:

Absolutely. Well, let's dive in a little bit more to the character of Alanna. For me personally, she was very influential on who I was as a child. I was very tomboyish. I was into sports in a time when it still felt like you had to either choose one or the other be into sports or be a girl like a quote unquote girly girl. Um, and so I saw a lot of myself in the character of Alanna.

Hannah:

Well she's definitely, like you said, the , kind of the archetype of the tomboy whose not comfortable with traditionally feminine roles, which I think speaks to many people then. And maybe even now, although I don't know, going back to if it's held up, I don't know if it reads the same now as else then, but um, I know it really spoke to me. I was also tomboyish. I was interested in esoteric sports, like, like fencing, which I which I did as, as a kid. Not at the time that I read this, but I mean, I think for anyone who's kind of felt uncomfortable with like a binary of being feminine, girly, girly, or other like Alanna, you know, with kind of a bit of a role model for many of us,

Kelsey:

I really appreciated that. She seems to know herself really well and she's unafraid to express exactly what she wants and tell people like this is who I am and you're gonna have to like accept that , um, one scene in particular where she she's going through her first couple days of being a page and she's like so tired, she can't catch up with her homework. She can't catch up with her housework and they're just like keep piling stuff on. And she tells Corum like, yeah, I'm, I'm done. Like we're gonna leave. This is not working for me. And the, the argument that they have, I feel like I don't even know like how exactly to describe it. But like when I was listening to it, like the way she was expressing herself felt very fresh to me in a way that I don't really often hear like female characters, like express themselves so confidently in saying like, I know this is not right. I know this is not what I signed up for. And I know you're gonna tell me that I'm quitting, but I know that this is and this. And like, yes, she does end up changing her mind. But the fact that she doesn't like let it herself be like, she kind of comes around to it on her own terms. She doesn't let him say like, oh, just, you know, figure it out. And I know there's like an interesting dynamic there too with like her, him being her servant technically. But he also is kind of in a father role for her. And so for her to kind of speak to him, like, I don't know, I , there was something about that that really stood out to me and , I don't, I can't even fully explain it, but it just, I just really appreciated her in that moment.

Lauren:

She was able to articulate a boundary, like sort of a breaking point very well, which you don't always see in, especially female coded characters, they kind of like internalized take it in, take it in, take it in until they have like, sort of like some really bad thing happen, like outside of those private conversations. But instead she just was like, this is what I'm feeling. This is not right. And I know this is not the way it's supposed to be.

Hannah:

Right. Yeah. She recognized the thing that I think kids in general can identify with. Like, I think kids are big on noticing when something is fair or not. And she looked at the system was like, this is designed to beat you down. You really can't win. She recognized and you know, had her strong and correct emotion about this is not fair. And then you see, you kind of go well fine. It's not fair, but I'm gonna do my best anyway.

Kelsey:

Right. It's not fair, but I know that I need to do it in order to reach my ultimate goal. So like, I'm just gonna do what I can to push back against the things that aren't fair. But you know, accept what I can't change about it.

Aya:

She also adds to her training in ways that might be considered from a chivalrous perspective, kind of cheating. She learns underhanded fighting from one of her lower class friends. And she practices, you know, when other, people aren't practicing, she doesn't stick to the curriculum. And I think that as much as children like to maybe resonate with the idea that Alanna sees when things aren't fair, I think they cheer her on when she's able to conquer these challenges partially by not following the rules because isn't that kind of the dream when you're that age that you might be able to overcome something, doing it your way instead of the way of everyone wants you to do it, which I think she's able to do really well.

Hannah:

I think you see that. I, because I, I agree. I do think that you can look at the, some of the things she does is like underhanded or cheating, but she also like puts there's like, it's almost like a training montage. You get like this sense of, she puts in an incredible amount of hard work. So it's like, it's a little bit underhanded, but it also kind of speaks to her, her strength of character.

Aya:

Well, yeah, cheating is a strong word. I think the world she's in is kind of broken. There's even a hint that maybe Pierce wants us to consider that because one of the knights who teaches them is very against the code of chivalry and thinks that maybe it asks too much of the knights. And Alanna thinks about that during the book. So I think that maybe when I say cheating, I just mean she circumvents this system the way other people are using it. I don't think she's doing anything wrong. I think she's doing the right thing.

Lauren:

She's problem solving,

Aya:

She's problem solving

Lauren:

Absolutely. And I think that ties in also, you mentioned she learns these underhanded tricks. She uses a lot of these sort of, not necessarily shortcuts, but like she uses this creative thinking to get around obstacles that are unique to her. She learns the underhanded fighting because she is explicitly shorter and more slight and not as strong as the other pages in knight training. And if she wants to be on that same level, she has to get creative in her way of dealing with the situation

Kelsey:

She uses her perceived weaknesses to her advantage.

Lauren:

Absolutely.

Aya:

She learns from her weaknesses instead of just accepting them.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Aya:

Which I, I think is a very good role model for children that age. She turns things that people tease you about into something she learns from. And it develops her character.

Kelsey:

Just to bring this in Tamara Pierce has, has tweeted before to suggest that, you know, if this term existed at the time, Alanna might be gender fluid. And I think that's interesting cause, and we can talk more about like this idea of the describing current terms to past folks who, who maybe don't accept them for them to claim that title for themselves. But I think it's interesting because to me, Alanna, doesn't really, she's not becoming living as a man because she wants to be a man. She's just doing it to get what she wants, but she also doesn't really seem to want to claim like femininity either. Like she, she almost doesn't really seem to be like, be interested in either. She just wants to be who she is. And like, but then the annoying thing is she rejects like femininity rather than just saying like, that's not, for me. She has to like hate on it in a way that I think is like really frustrating.

Lauren:

She has a lot of internalized misogyny for sure.

Kelsey:

Yes,

Aya:

Yes

Hannah:

Yes.

Kelsey:

Yeah. Like she could just simply say like, that's not for me. And like other girls can want this, this and this, but I don't wanna do that. The fact that she has to like say like, oh, like, ew, you called me a girl. Or you think I'm like girly like this. Like, that's always frustrating to me that it, it can't just be like, that's not, for me. It always has to be like being a woman is disgusting.

Hannah:

Yeah. She says to Coram at one point, I don't want to be soft and silly.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Hannah:

And he kinda looks at her and he's like, you're only silly when you're talking like this.

Kelsey:

Right.

Aya:

Yeah. I think I was thinking about this question, the insertion of the word, genderfluid into Alanna's character. And I reached the part of the book where she gets her period for the first time. And that was actually interesting because she says she wants to use her magic to get rid of, of it. And that was the first moment where I was like, oh, maybe there is something more complicated going on because that's a deep feeling of unease in your own body.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

:

And I think it's kind of played off in the moment as being grossed out and not wanting to give into something. But I think reading it now in 2021, it reads very differently. So I was kind of talked around to the possibility of Alanna being genderfluid, by that moment,

Kelsey:

Everyone defines terms differently. Right. So like, it's so hard to say, I just think maybe genderfluid, isn't it. But maybe she's trans or maybe she's, non-binary like, I think the fact that she doesn't seem to wanna embrace any aspect of her femininity to me, seems like maybe she wouldn't be genderfluid. Cuz that to me is someone who kind of switches back and forth or has different feelings on different days. And her feelings feel a little more concrete in wanting to move away from that. But she also is so bound up in like all of the disadvantages that come from being a woman. Like she can't really escape the societal pressures of not being able to pursue the life she wants to live and having to hide those aspects of herself. Like maybe she would feel differently if that, if those boundaries weren't there. If she could like explore that a little bit more,

Lauren:

You saying that it's not that she wants to be a man or that she's just like wanting to go from one to the other kind of really resonated with me just now. And it's almost like in her mind, she views them as I don't wanna be a man. I don't wanna be a woman. I wanna be the magical third gender a knight. Like she just wants to be. Which I think could be so interesting. Like it's not about the gender. It's about like, this is what I wanna do with my life. You know, my bodily functions have nothing to do with it. Um, so it almost reads to me now looking back as non-binary just kind of not wanting to go one way or the other, but I don't think it stays that way. Cuz it big part of Alanna's journey through this is almost magically forcing her to, accept that she is female and her femininity. I mean her getting her period for the first time and having to live with that is sort of our first indication that this is something she's going to have to learn to accept.

Hannah:

I honestly, can't sort outin my mind, what is Alanna's internalized misogyny? What is her figuring out her that her identity? I don't know if, at least for me, I don't get clarity about who Alanna is, but I do know that when she, that scene, when she gets her period and she h, she doesn't know what it is and she has, she goes and talks to George's mother. Like George's mother is very clearly like, nope, this is how it is. You're a woman. You can't change that. Like basically suck it up, you know, kind of in a kinder way. But like the narrative is definitely sort of enforcing the gender binary that whatever Alanna's identity is kind kind of the message I got from that.

Aya:

It's not much kinder than you're a woman. Suck it up. In my opinion. I didn't think that was a very , uh , gentle scene at all. Um, I thought that George's mother was kind of forcing her into a box that she didn't want to be in. And I think that maybe writing in the eighties and the early nineties, this was interesting and revolutionary as it could be to have this feeling of dislike for your femininity and to be able to exercise power over it. But I think that it does read as really dated now

Lauren:

For sure.

Hannah:

Absolutely.

Lauren:

I will say that was since I was reading i t. When I was at that age, it was my first experience reading about a period in a book ever. And I think for me that was revolutionary. U m, she even says Tamora Pierce says in one of her interviews, like all of the books she was reading, nobody goes to the bathroom, nobody likes sweats ugly. And she wanted to explicitly be more realistic. And that was something I picked up on when I was reading it and that it grounded it more for me cuz it was something I was going through at the same time. And so that added an extra layer of connecting to this character.

Kelsey:

And it's still like not really a common thing to see in books. Like I can't think of many other examples. Although spoiler, this season we will be reading at least two books that have it in it. And one that talks about puberty in other ways. So I guess the ones that do really leave an impact. Um, but it really is like a like menstruation is really a topic that books really shy away from, which is such a shame because at least 50% of people experience it and they should be able to read about what that experience is and all the different ways that experience can be perceived, whether you're excited about it, whether you're, it causes dysphoria, whether you hate it, whether you're afraid, like we need that representation and we really don't have it.

Hannah:

Maybe Alanna is on the extreme of not knowing it all what it is. But I think that there's like a spectrum of people being surprised by, by periods when they encounter them. And I think it can be really upsetting and traumatic.

Aya:

I think it's interesting that Alanna within her realm of reference is going to look at a period kind of as a wound because that's how she thinks about blood. That's how most of us think about blood, but Alanna is trained to be a knight. I think that puts some interesting context on it. It's like a damage that happens to her when she first perceives it. And that's partially because of the lack of cultural context she has about being a woman and the lack of female figures in her life.

Lauren:

I think it's also affirming to read about a character who, when she first gets it, it is so traumatic and startling to her that she utterly rejects it. Cause I feel like that is probably a little bit more common than we see portrayed in media and in books. Cuz usually it's like, oh your mother or female figure takes you aside. This is what's happening to your body. But she is like taken aback and she is like, I don't want this. This is not in my plan for my life. Like this is going to do nothing but detract from my goals that I'm working hard for. And I think it was in important to see that because not everybody's first menstruation experience is the same and it kind of rounds out that representation some.

Kelsey:

I definitely was like, I have to do this forever?

Lauren:

Every, Every month for the rest of my life.

Aya:

She's overwhelmed by the logistics. And that's like, so relatable.

Lauren:

Yeah, this is a scheduling conflict can we not

Hannah:

Like, can we just skip a month? And I mean like they gloss over, they don't, they don't talk about Alanna experiencing like a lot of pain or discomfort, but like that's what comes with yeah. you know, menstruation, a lot of the time, although people's experiences are different, you know, it's, it's relatable that she would be like, oh heck no.

Lauren:

Cause she's already facing all of these insurmountable odds trying to train to be a knight, not only being smaller than all the other boys, but keeping her identity a secret from everybody. And now she's got once a month where she has to, on top of all of these other things, keep up, has to hide the fact that she's got additional blood that no else has leaking out of their body. It's definitely a, a challenge, a challenge.

Kelsey:

I, I think also like that whole conversation with George's mother was interesting too, because we talked about this a little bit while we were preparing. But I think for the time, a very progressive like conversation around sex, right. Because she gives her like a, like a method of birth control and, and actually talks to her about like this could happen, right?

Lauren:

Magical birth control.

Kelsey:

Right. But doesn't talk about, I, I forget who mentioned this when we were preparing, but like doesn't really talk about anything else. Like how to, you know, make sure that it's a positive experience,

Lauren:

No talks about consent or like what the boundaries and how to go about like negotiating these things. And she doesn't really touch on any of

Aya:

That? This was something that bothered me. And I think I was one of the people who brought it up. Um, she mentions that Alanna might wanna have sex and Alanna's like, I'm never gonna have babies. And she's basically just like, well, women like it too, you know, which I think for the time was revolutionary. I mean, you are educating someone in female pleasure, but on the other hand, you're not really educating her. The lack of sex ed , um, is kind of startling that you would just give someone birth control and send them out into the world with no real education. And I think it is suggested that the knights get some kind of education. So she knows the male part of its, but that's not exactly a great alternative,

Lauren:

Not equivocal,

Kelsey:

No

Hannah:

One sided.

Aya:

So I felt very let down by this character George's mother who otherwise I'd rather like, yeah,

Speaker 1:

Yeah,

Speaker 4:

There definitely is some world building put throughout it. And we get introduced to some middle Eastern type characters towards the end of the book. What are your all's thoughts on the inclusion of this people?

Speaker 3:

It's very Lawrence of Arabia stereotype, the noble desert people, which is not the worst. It could be. I wanna be very clear, but it's also not the best use of diversity

Speaker 2:

And attempt was made

Speaker 3:

An attempt was made.

Speaker 1:

Yes . She tried, I think she had good intentions. She didn't quite,

Speaker 3:

She didn't stick the landing. She

Speaker 1:

Did not. It was definitely heavily stereotype exoticized portrayals of what are clearly meant to be middle Eastern people.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. They were very superstitious. They were very like beholden to their sort of old ways. They didn't wanna submit the quote unquote colonial rule of the king and the monarchy.

Speaker 2:

I, I think too, like the fact that they're the only like people with any cultural or racial difference in the whole book makes it stand out worse. Like if it had been like a generally diverse book and this was also part of it, it'd be like, okay, that's one kind of person. There's another kind of person, but because they're like the only quote unquote different people, it's like, it really stands out in like how clunky it is.

Speaker 3:

She doesn't set herself up for success because she limits her , uh , diversity to tokenism. And when you have a token it's never going to work. So I think that's really unfortunate. I will say that total , as it developed, you know , into the nineties and the 20 and the 2010s and even into now does get more diverse. I just wanna throw that out there. This book does not do a good job

Speaker 2:

And that's something I really respect about Tamora Pierce . Like she seems very committed to like learning and growing as a writer. This was her first ever book. So like she definitely, like, it seems to me recognized that that was a flaw and, and worked on it. Um, and we have a quote from her from, is this from her Twitter?

Speaker 4:

Uh, this was I'm . It was from this 2018 interview. Okay. As where I found it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So she says, as times have changed, I've tried to bring more of a , in my characters to my books. It's important that readers feel part of my universes. There's too much exclusion and battering in this one and I'm not perfect at it. Sometimes I screw up royally in my attempts to portray people of different races and beliefs. And sometimes I offend royally. Then I have to shut up, listen, learn and try to do better. It's a process, but it's worth it. And I think that's exactly the right attitude to have.

Speaker 4:

I agree. A lot of, I feel like authors will try to justify if they do an , a sort of unintended offense in a portrayal. It's like, well, I was going for this or I meant it to be taken this way. You took it the wrong way. You didn't take it the way I intended. And the fact that she says like, I just, I shut my mouth. I listen, I have absorb. And like, I can't change it. So I just try to do better next time. I really appreciate

Speaker 1:

I do too. I, I can think of a handful of writers who I'm not gonna name who have not learned and not improved and have gone. Well, you're just wrong. Like you were saying, like you interpret it the wrong way. And she does seem to learn and work to improve as goes on. And I haven't read a lot of her later books. I, I , I think some of you, I think Lauren and I have both read her more recent works and it sounds like they've done some really interesting things in them. And my experience is more with her older, earlier works like the Alana books and the wild magic books. But , um, it does sound like she has made strides in her later writings that she didn't have in her earlier.

Speaker 3:

I think even the difference between the Alana books and the wild magic books, there's a stark difference in the representation of diversity. Yeah . I think she learned, I , what I hope is that she got some feedback on the Alana books and took it to heart and it sounds like she did.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And I , I , I do love this idea that like, as a fantasy writer, she feels that her job is to make a world that has more inclusion and less battering, which I love the idea of there's too much battery . Like, I just love that as a word. She's very good with words , but I'm, I really admire that. That's kind of her mission statement. It sounds like is to make a better world through her book.

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. That being said, there is definitely a lot of classism in these books, especially in some of the relationships, for example, Alana and Koru , her sort of pseudo father figure slash technically also her servant and also the romanticization of prince Jonathan , um, throughout it, she gonna hold him up in this ideal, like, oh, he's gonna be the next generation. He wants to get to know his people. So he can be a good king when it is still a monarchical system. Not sure if monarchical is a word, but I've just said it. So

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Alana is definitely part of the power structure of the kingdom. She's a privileged noble, and she does not examine her privilege very much. She just kind of goes with it. She wants to be a night nights uphold the power structure. She's not a revolutionary in all ways. She's kind of conservative when it comes to her class

Speaker 2:

Outlook. Yeah. I mean, and to speak about Jonathan, you know, he is kind of held up as this example of like a fair ruler, right? Like he always does the right thing and he enacts justice and he protects her from RO Rolan .

Speaker 4:

Well , we wanna talk about the naming convention.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Okay . Quick sidebar. When I was listening to the audio book , I can't see the names and they say Alana , and they say Rolan Rowlin

Speaker 3:

Rowlin

Speaker 2:

Alana . Oh a and row . That's it right . TA a and row . And I'm like, they just put an R on a , for her villain,

Speaker 4:

You know, the old villain trope . Just add another letter to the beginning of the protagonist name. And you've got your magical villain.

Speaker 3:

I mean, no wonder they hate each other. Their names are the same.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. They're probably getting called each other's name all the time.

Speaker 2:

If you're reading it, it looks , it looks more different. You don't make that comparison, but if you're not looking at it, it

Speaker 4:

Actually doesn't sound

Speaker 2:

Very

Speaker 4:

Much difference . It , it is just a with an R at the beginning. I no ,

Speaker 2:

No , there's an O isn't there. Oh,

Speaker 4:

That's true. Yeah. So it's spelled like TA .

Speaker 2:

So anyway row is , uh , he's kind of bullying a or Alana and Jonathan steps in and helps recreate the balance there and make sure that that's not happening, which is great. And I , I really like Jonathan, however, it doesn't really acknowledge the fact that like, if he had been a jerk, like he would still be the prince and there's nothing anyone can do about it. And it would be an unjust world. And so the amount of power, the , it he has and his father, isn't his father, the duke who's terrible. His uncle, his uncle. Yeah . So like, there are people with more power who are not great, you know, that whole structure is not really examined and kind of its flaws.

Speaker 3:

And Jonathan loves his uncle who is not that great. So Jonathan is not awake to the world. I the , or he is fully just in line for the throne and he's gonna have that life. He's gonna be a noble king, but a king is still a king. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

I absolutely agree with that. And you, yeah. You see Jonathan be human and make poor decisions and , and you , you see him do reckless things and you're like, well, should this young man be in charge of a whole country? I don't

Speaker 3:

Know. And I think that Alana definitely misuses her relationship with quorum at times. Like she's going to threaten him with enchantments and stuff like that . If he doesn't keep her secrets and it's not a very great intro to her character for something that happens so early on in the book. And I think that that always not always, but that will always now stand out to me.

Speaker 2:

That was weird too, because she says, oh, if he doesn't go along with it, I'm , I'm just threaten him with magic. And then she like, sort of does, but like, he doesn't have a very strong reaction. Like he kind of seems like he was already on board anyway. And then when she uses magic in the future, it's like very sh like showing, not telling of like, oh, he saw she was doing magic. And he thought that he would not be part of it. Like

Speaker 3:

He Grimes, or he makes an evil eye.

Speaker 2:

It's not very like, the reaction is not as strong as she initially kind of made it out. To me ,

Speaker 3:

That might be a side effect of the style of the writing as much as anything. I think that plot gets thrown away because quorum believes in her and maybe she doesn't understand how much he believes in her and how he thinks of her as a surrogate daughter, because she has really no father, her father is completely absent and her mother died in childbirth. I don't don't think she understands the deep nature of her relationship with Quora until she's much older. And

Speaker 1:

It heavily implied that part of how she convinces him to not reveal the twin swap secret is she like fills the water skin or flask with Brandy,

Speaker 2:

Which he didn't know to ,

Speaker 3:

He like takes it , drink and spits it out all over the road. And then she talks him into it. It doesn't really make sense. And then she treats his hangover. It's I think that Alana might leave that thinking. I tricked quorum, but like really quorum went along with it because he's a little bit smarter than she thinks that

Speaker 2:

Maybe that's interesting. So maybe it was like partially a intentional to kind of acknowledge that she's

Speaker 3:

A child at

Speaker 2:

That point. Like she's not as sneaky as she thinks

Speaker 3:

She is. I might stick with this reading because I like it more. It makes me like the characters more .

Speaker 4:

Yeah . I also like how in the book it's essentially said that he ultimately agrees because when his horse, like shys up, she and she like reigns it down. Yeah . And he looks, and he was like, your brother, would've never been able to do brother. Yeah . Your brother was too cowardly and too wimpy to ever have been able to do that. And he wouldn't have survived as a Knight . So

Speaker 2:

We need justice for her brother justice

Speaker 3:

For Tom.

Speaker 4:

Yeah. Justice for Tom,

Speaker 2:

Tom. Cause he seems like a very nice young man and I feel bad that he's slandered throughout this whole book.

Speaker 3:

If you wanna read the later books and talk to us about them, we will . I think Hannah and I and Lauren will all be here for that. Yes. Yeah .

Speaker 4:

Well, and there's also, you do see a little bit of the parallelism in between them because when she starts to get, when Alana starts to get very serious about her sword training, she explicitly stays up late at night and trains with the heavier sword when nobody else sees. And I think one co uh , convers or one correspondence she has with Tom is he's also doing something similar. He's playing dumb in his classes, but then late at night, he's staying up and studying magic on his own. So there's definitely a lot of parallels in between the two of them.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I loved that. Like as a twin , um, I've always been very sad that Alana and Tom get separated and don't see each other for like eight years.

Speaker 2:

I do wanna bring up though that this like the whole plot doesn't actually work. If you think about it too .

Speaker 4:

Absolutely. It works for middle schoolers. Okay . It's

Speaker 2:

Twin swap . So like, okay. So , uh , Alana gets away with it because when the duke writes a letter to her dad saying like, your son, Alan is doing really great, her dad just responds and says like, yes, I knew Tom would be great. And Alana can just say, oh, my dad doesn't really pay attention to me . Doesn't notice whatever, when Tom is at the convent and they say like, oh, your son is doing really good in priest training. And his father is expecting a letter about how his daughter's doing really well as a nun. Like, I feel like that's gonna stand out and be really difficult to explain that

Speaker 3:

Is a big plot hole that never gets addressed. Um, I don't know if Tom, I would love Tom's perspective and like his shenanigans running around stopping letters from being sent. But the book just relies on this. Like twins can switch places. It's magic. Yep .

Speaker 4:

A lot of out of sight, out of mind for the convent storyline, like this is all about Alana in her journey while she's training for night, Tom made it there safely.

Speaker 1:

This is the world with magic in it. And Tom is, you know, like Alon is supposed to be very powerful. It doesn't seem that implausible that he could have , like, I don't know , enchanted their father's attention from a distance. I mean,

Speaker 4:

Or even intercepted the letters, cuz he's always been portrayed as very, the intelligent one. Like the like whip smart one. Yeah. I could see him am coming up with some sort of scheme don't wanna

Speaker 2:

Know ,

Speaker 4:

See him . We don't get to see it. Unfortunately.

Speaker 3:

All of that's very interesting, but none of it actually happens in the book. Yeah .

Speaker 2:

Yeah . And you know, if it happened, that'd be the first thing he'd write in the letter. Like, did you get a letter too? Cuz I had to run all around this town and like intercept, magical letters like that didn't happen. That

Speaker 4:

Could be a great energy to read about

Speaker 3:

Fan fiction. Yeah.

Speaker 4:

But with how much she already stuffed into that one book. I think following Tom too closely on his storyline, would've dragged some things out a little more, but a line would not have gone unappreciated. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

The fact that Alana rejects magic and that an old wise woman is teaching her magic and that her magic is connect to this secret she's keeping. But then she's also perhaps touched by the gods. Like there's a lot of magic and it does get kind of mixed up and confusing sometimes. Or at least it did for me, but she's rejecting magic because she thinks it's cheating and she's rejecting being a woman because she thinks people will think she's silly . They're both things that are obstacles to her. And that is a really, it's an interesting dynamic that you don't normally see in a fantasy novel where normally you're embracing magic and it's how the world building is stimulated.

Speaker 2:

I agree. I actually, this is the one place where I want it more world building around like how does this magic actually work? I didn't really understand like who gets it and to what end can it be used? Like what are the limits? Like you get pieces along the way. But for me as like not someone who is like listening to every single word, like I didn't really feel like I got the full picture. And interestingly, so we talked to talking about this idea of like magic being female coded before I really finished reading. But as I went on, I actually didn't, I didn't really pick that up in the same way. Like I think that's a very common trope, but in this book, most of the people you see doing magic are men, right?

Speaker 3:

Yeah . I think there's a separation between healing magic, which is like women's magic.

Speaker 2:

But the healer who's in Jonathan's room is a man, isn't it? That's

Speaker 3:

True. There's duke Baird who is a male healer. But I think Tom in the beginning is very dismissive of MOD's magic. And I think that might kind of be where I'm picking up that thread. That mod is like not a sourcer and that the priests , uh, train or the nuns train girls magic, he says something like they always train girls in magic. It might be that they only train noble girls in magic. Right . So I think it, the world building is not explicitly clear, which I think speaks kind of to how the magic works. Like I agree. It's not really clear what the rules of the magic are, but I think that Alana , the combination, the magic and the femininity works from Alana's perspective.

Speaker 4:

And I think the way, the reason I picked up on it is you're right. I don't think the world itself codes it as feminine, but Alana having healing magic specifically, I think temor appears used the magic as sort of a plot equivalency to like a big point, forcing her to accept her magic. And ultimately that is her magic is tied to her femininity. So it's like the plot device used to make her have these character developments because at one point she literally, if she doesn't use her magic prince, Jonathan will die. Yeah. And, but she's always been like, so just like getting her period, just so reject of her magic,

Speaker 3:

Her magic reveals her gender too. When she goes into this fun, magical event, I don't wanna give away spoilers, but her magic reveals her gender to Sur miles . And then , um, that's a kind of a , a tiny plot in the book. But when she is being very magical, she's a woman, not a girl. And when Jonathan's being very magical, he's a man, not a boy. So maybe it's more, that magic is revealing. People's true identities and hers is in the book at that time a woman.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I mean, it's definitely something that she's ashamed of. And I think part of it is that it's not something that nights do. Right? So like, even if it's something that men in the world do, it's not the kind of men that she wants to emulate and a again, similar to like her fighting underhand and those other things, she views it as cheating.

Speaker 1:

We saw that there was a shift mid book . I think where I think was a duke Gareth who kind , kind of says , I think after the sweating thickness, he's like, oh, nights need to learn every weapon in their arsenal. And they have a big , more explicitly decide to add magic training to the curriculum. Um, so there is like you see that change and now how long, how long will that change last? We , we don't know, but you do see at least one character kind of except magic into the world of night hood kind of going back to the, you know, this magic coded feminine or otherwise. Like I , I think it's a complex discussion and, and I'm kind of Mo all , all of your thoughts when we first started talking off pot about this, I kind of saw it as , um, you know, like cooking is of thought of as , uh , in our world of something that women do, but chefs, you know, chefs or men, like , it just seems like there's, I saw some parallels to how magic is treated in, in the , the turtle verse.

Speaker 3:

I think that's a really good analogy. I think the women know a certain kind of magic and then the men know a different kind of magic

Speaker 1:

Magic in the home healing magic sort of smaller. And then the grand sourcers

Speaker 4:

Having visions in the fireplace versus exactly healing the print. I think also once Alana , since she is our narrator, she is the lens in which we are seeing this story. Once she finds out prince Jonathan also has magic ice noticed a shift after that in her are sort of opening her mind to magic. Why should you cut off your arm to spite your or whatever that saying is

Speaker 3:

I think she even talks to George about this. She's secretly practicing spells. She's not supposed to, and she's ashamed of herself. And he says like, no, you're just learning another skill and you're gonna need it to defend your country. So you should in it. And I think that that is a major shift. And I wonder if her rejection of her gift is kind of motivated by her mother's death. The way her father's rejection of magic is motivated by her mother's death. And she just needs to see it in a new context of it saving people's lives instead of failing to do so.

Speaker 4:

They describe her eyes as violet in the books, right?

Speaker 1:

Or ammos

Speaker 4:

Ammos, I'm sorry. It's a very jewel tone . All the important characters get jewel , toed eyes. Um, and I know that's something that is a little trophy in fantasy books.

Speaker 3:

Hannah, what did you call it?

Speaker 1:

Text , color , eyes, technic color eyes . There's a full cause . I think I used the , the phrase technical when we were talking about these books initially, because cuz like the world seems very bright and like you said, IA , everybody has so much eye color, but it's also a description of that clothing. I'm imagining like princess bride arrow , Flyn original series, star Trek levels of like bright primary colors and that, that extends to the

Speaker 4:

Eyes. Well , and I feel like, like it's also very common to see like, especially in media where magic is involved, your eye color corresponding to either the type of magic you do or like the amount of power your eyes will flash. Sometimes when you do a certain thing, eyes

Speaker 3:

Are just very, they're very useful for signaling plot and emotion and importance. I think, I think that the characters who get their eye color called out a lot, tend to be important characters. Whereas I couldn't tell you the name , uh , sorry. I couldn't tell you the eye color of most of the people I work with. So I think that there's something very fantasy about that. The idea that you meet someone and you just notice their eye color immediately.

Speaker 4:

So they're the main character.

Speaker 3:

So they're the main character. So there you go.

Speaker 1:

And the idea that some eye color says something about the person, like their character and skills and role in the story, like rather than just that's the eye color they happen to have.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. Like Alana has special eyes because she's special. Exactly. And Jonathan has Sapphire eye is because he's noble and important, but like someone who has cold eyes is probably gonna be a villain. Right ? Yeah. If only the world were that obvious.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I feel really bad for anyone who doesn't have blue eyes cuz uh, you're not, you're not getting represented positively in this book. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

Speaking of representation. Yeah .

Speaker 2:

Luckily I do. So I'm good. So

Speaker 4:

You're good. You , I do not, not a lot of green eyes in this one.

Speaker 1:

No, I guess there aren't green eyes. I kind of would expected. This seems like a sort of book that would like a big deal about green eyes,

Speaker 4:

But its pretty old eyes, especially

Speaker 2:

Haired person.

Speaker 4:

Well she's special. She's gotta be violet amethyst.

Speaker 1:

She's sort of classic Mary Sue .

Speaker 3:

There's something appealing about a Mary Sue sometimes. Cause you

Speaker 4:

Gotta be able to see yourself in your media. And I mean, guys don't have flaws and a lot of the male led like action whatevers. So let's get rid of some of our flaws.

Speaker 3:

That's a really good point. She's basically a superhero. Yeah . And that's fine.

Speaker 4:

And I think it does get more nuanced. The more books Tamara appears writes, like she definitely adds more character flaws to her people. So I'm a little bit more inclined to give her a pass for her first foray into expanding this genre.

Speaker 2:

Well, it's interesting when you think about it as what used to be the first quarter of an 800 page book, like that's true. It makes you wonder how much really changed or if she really just kind of like cut stuff up and made book endings. When

Speaker 4:

I first saw , um , in the bio that it was originally all four books were one giant book. My mind was like boggled, cuz this takes her from like age 10, well into adulthood. And I just that much traveling through your life in one book seems like a lot to me. So I'm , I'm glad she broke it down into four books.

Speaker 3:

I would read that book.

Speaker 1:

I would also read that. Yeah.

Speaker 4:

Oh absolutely. I would've

Speaker 2:

Read it. I , I would would've read the adult version anyway. Cause I wanna know what all the like juicy bits that she had to cut were I

Speaker 1:

Would like to read that

Speaker 4:

That would be well , one of the things I really like about her books is as she makes all these different series in the same world, you get cameos from all of these other characters that you love. And so, so it's kind of like spot the like Alana shows up in other characters books and it's as someone who loves the world, it's always very fun to be like, oh there's, you know, so and so , oh I want more like what has their life been like? Well

Speaker 1:

The Alana cameo we get in some of the other books like that, Alana like the adult Alana is almost unrecognizable. When you , you like think Alana in these books, you know , that's kind of a silly thing to say because she's a kid in this and obviously people grow and change, but she, she changed so much. Like the Alana we see in this is like fairly recognizable as the adult Alana , which I kind of, would've like to see some of the narrative that got her to that point. Like how did, how did she become the adult that she eventually become?

Speaker 6:

Now let's talk to someone who actually knows something about one of the main topics covered in this book as a special treat this week we have two guests. Okay. So KTI , I just wanted to introduce you. Um, so KTI Francis is a writer, editor and medieval magic scholar, according to her website and she studies at UCLA. Is there anything you wanna add?

Speaker 7:

I think that covers it all. I'm a PhD candidate at UCLA. I work on magic and gender. Um, and I'm graduating either in June or we'll see, depending on the job market.

Speaker 6:

All right . I kind of know a little bit of this answer already. If I'm gonna ask what's your relationship to the book? We read Alana the first adventure.

Speaker 7:

Yeah, it was given to me when I was 10 years old from my godmother when I was homesick with strep throat, from like a used bookstore, I devoured it. Like I just remember being so miserable and it was such a great distraction. And then it took me a while to encounter the sequel. So it was like three or four years probably until I went to the middle school library maybe and saw them on the bookshelf or like the, you know , and you know, I was already hooked from the first book.

Speaker 6:

What has changed as you've gone into this path of becoming a medieval scholar? Like looking back on, on the work, has anything changed with your relationship with the book?

Speaker 7:

Yeah, I think that one of the things that grad school does is it makes you ruin some of your favorite , um , books and memories of your childhood. Not that this book is ruined for me. I think it really does hold up, but I think that coming back to it now as a, not 10 year old , I can see a lot of things, especially like in the larger series that were more problematic. And I think the author a good job and work to correct, but I'm thinking here like a major facet of, of the culture of portal , the , the, you know, the city of, or the gland, the book buzzer and the church kinda engages in a , it , doesn't kind of , it engages in a lot of orientalist tropes about, you know, what it is to be middle Le that are really cringy to come back to every single time. The Bosier mentioned, they're like the hook knows Bosier . And I just noticed myself like flagging as I reread this book, these descriptions that in 21st century, when you read the book, you're like, oh wow, there are some things here that , um, that could be updated and need to be a bit more , um, inclusive. But I also think that what's really cool about this book that I noticed coming back to it as a grad student too, is how radical it is in some ways from when it was published, right. It's published in the eighties and the world did it portrays as a pretty radical one where you know, women are, is certainly like have a gendered sphere , but Alana represents possibilities for women and women have a couple of different possibilities that aren't even available to women in our world.

Speaker 6:

Yeah. Alana herself is quite radical and , and liberating in a lot of ways. So it's, it's interesting how that can balance how you can have something very upsetting and, and tropes that we find very, but at the same time, the book can be very liberating and freeing. Yes . Yes . It's complicated. Just going right into your wheelhouse. What do you think about gender and magic in total ?

Speaker 7:

I love it. I have never encountered a magic system quite like , um, the gift in that system and all of the Y and all the fantasy I read, which is extensive. And I think that it's really creative the way that the gift, it kinda stays unexplained throughout the series. And that's something that, you know, the magic and the series is not, there's not a lot of attempts to figure out like, well, where does it come from? Right. There's a lot that's left , um , a mystery thinking too about like the old ones in this book. Um, yeah , its lightning, her sword, right? Like there's a lot of history and magical background to Alana that were just kind of meant to trust or meant to kind of understand and coming from this as a historian of gender and magic, I feel like this is kind of how it would be for a layperson in the middle ages. Don't get me wrong in my work. I talk a lot about how natural philosophers like Roger bacon and other big philosophy names, that's time , um , like Thomas Aquinas, how they theorized and thought through of magic. Like they really were rigorous in trying to trace its origins, but you know, the average person on the street would probably not be engaged in these university debates. Right. And so I, I think what's really cool about this book is that the way that it makes magic, so Omni the present and comfortable, and yet still showing the tension that emerge from like folks who don't have magic, who can really see it as, as a danger and a threat, even as it is so integral to their world.

Speaker 6:

Yeah. I think that's really cool. Cuz you do touch on something we talked about, which is the fact that some people are very scared of magic in and the world and that's something that you don't see a lot of in and fantasy . We also talked a little bit about the system of education and magic and how Alana kind of learns from like a wise woman. And we thought that was pretty radical and cool, but that magic is also something that you learn at a convent or from these priest brothers. Is there anything interesting there from a historical perspective is Pierce drawing on anything?

Speaker 7:

I think Pierce is drawing on a couple of different things. Um, one the association of course, with like magic and witches, right? That sort of feminine magic being in the space of the feminine. I think what's really intriguing in the way that Pierce frames. It really mirrors a lot of medieval scholar or medieval understandings of magic in that like perhaps popular or folk magic that would be done by a wise woman. That would be very gendered female. But as soon as you get through the upper echelons of magic, right? Like what Tom wants to do, he wants to learn to be a that's pretty much male only, right? You have , have to become a male myth priest go into the convent. And that really reflects like in the middle ages, a lot of the people who practice magic were in fact, the monks and the priests who also condemned magic, right? There's this really weird, fascinating , Like the top levels of the church are saying magic is bad. And yet if you're looking at who's learning magic and who's like passing it around medieval , um , magic, magical theorist, not magician Richard Keifer calls it a clerical underworld of magic that happens in the middle ages. And I think that that idea really fits in nicely to how Pierce displays magic or depicts it.

Speaker 6:

The other thing I wondered about when I saw where your studies had taken you was if you had run across us , any other lady night , um, tropes in your work

Speaker 7:

That's, that's great. And this is what I think keeps me, so I mean, not the lady night trope , but like the way that Alana grapples with magic and gender and what we think of is stereotypically male , um, acts right, like being a Knight , um, this would be something that was super gendered in the middle ages too. And you really rarely get an example of fighting women. And when you do, they're really idiosyncratic, you know, just like Alana is in this first year , but they're really, they really stand out. And often I think it's very interesting is that like these women have some sort of supernatural or some sort of other worldly connection that makes it okay for them to do the non feminine activities they do. So I think that that's really interesting when I think about this book, like I , I tend to kind of wanna argue that magic is in this book or magic serves a queering function, right? Like the moment that Alana sees her magical sword is like a really transformative moment for her in terms of like kind of personal identity and power and thinking about like how these books both depict a, a world where magic kind of is integrated into the every day and yet there's still beliefs, right? Like the Knight who argue you should never use magic because it's cheating this weird tension around, like, what does it mean to have a, like an extra power? I think mirrors really well, like this idea of like, what does it mean to like, what if you're born with queerness and you can't really understand it or explain it, but it just is

Speaker 6:

Beautiful. Oh, I love that. Well , that's really great. Thank you so much for your time.

Speaker 7:

Absolutely. Thank you.

Speaker 8:

Corwin Duncan, serial number 5, 4 26 . Enson 5, 4 26 is just my guest number on here.

Speaker 9:

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? Oh , fencing, like , uh , you're a former national champion, I believe

Speaker 8:

A three time national champion actually, but not that anyone's counting. I also, as I got into my late teens, I started coaching fencing and did that for probably 10 years or so before I transitioned out of being a coach. And I've also spent time as a referee.

Speaker 9:

So you took the time to read this whole book for the interview, which was awesome. Thank you. We wanna start with how accurate or not was the sort of stuff in

Speaker 8:

It in terms of sword fighting. I gotta say there's not a ton of sword fighting in this book, right? It's mostly about this young woman and her, you know, her difficulties in pretending to, to be a boy and learning magic and all of this stuff at the same time. And for a period of the book, really, really focusing hard on learning sort , fighting , learning fencing really on her own as well as studying with the rest of the kids. And specifically what, what happened in that sequences. If anybody listening has read the book, you may remember she started off terribly. She was smaller and weaker than the other kids and , uh , was not great with a sword. And so she got soundly thrash the first time. She actually tried to spar with somebody else and then not wanting to repeat that performance along with due the normal exercises and drills and working on the skills with the other kids. She did a lot of work on her own and really practiced. Um, if I recall correctly, things like the way that she moves and the way that she moves the sword with a result that when it came time to spar, again, months, months later, a year later, a a long time later, she was much better prepared than the other kids and , uh, had a , a great victory. So there's some realism in that. Absolutely in that in fencing, we practice the movements and we practice a , the, the footwork. And there's the, the other past aspect, which is practicing the, the mental side or the focus on what we're doing. And you're gonna get some of that from practicing on your own that you wouldn't get. You know, you're gonna put yourself ahead of other people. If you practice that stuff on your own, again, it didn't go into a lot of depth and overall all , uh , the depth that it went into, I found to be fairly accurate.

Speaker 9:

That's encouraging to hear. Can you talk about , uh , what kinds of things that you as an experienced fencer think about when you see these sorts of portrayals of people practicing fencing or swordplay in media or fiction?

Speaker 8:

Yeah, I guess I have this feeling or this sense of, you know, in a narrative structure, things want to be dramatic and impressive and inspiring. So it it's, it's kind of this really gratifying thing when something is, is difficult or somebody's bad. And then they work really hard on it and suddenly they're amazing. They're great. They're the best. And the place where this kind of breaks down is usually to become the best. You gotta lose a lot first. And this, this scenario had our protagonist go from being the worst to the best without really doing like real life practice. She was practicing sort of contained scenarios that gave her , um , a lot of structure to work with, which again is a great, great part of training, but usually the shift isn't so dramatic from the bottom to the top from, I'm not sure what to do here to all right , I'm the best. Now the other big piece is, and what I'm actually doing now in fencing is I'm a mental skills coach. So I help athletes with their attitude, with their mindset and , um , with the mental aspect of the game, both fencers and you know, other athletes, when I see that this kid went from just practicing drills to fencing somebody or, or fighting somebody in a , a sort of a free form, a freestyle, I think they call it in the book without any hesitation or fear. That's part of what feels a little unrealistic. To me, it feels a little bit like, eh , she might have more difficulty with that part because a lot of people in that unfamiliar environment are gonna freeze. They're gonna lock up and they're not, not gonna be able to do the things that they practiced. Uh , of course, maybe that's why she's the hero of the book, because she's so good at that.

Speaker 9:

That does make sense that, you know , practicing drills in a room by yourself seems very different than having a live person in front of you. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your knowledge with us.

Speaker 8:

Absolutely happy to

Speaker 2:

Yay. All right . So it's time for our game segment. And , um, originally we envisioned this as a, like, choose your own adventure sh game. However, I started doing some research on sh in fun fact, there was not actually like one set of sh laws. Like it was all kind of arbitrary and everyone had their own individual set of laws and they're not really that instructive. So it would've been a very difficult game. So instead, what I did was I pulled from our trustee friend, Wikipedia, Leon go , TA's 10 commandments of shivery , which were set out in the work last chal in 1891. And what we're gonna do is we're going to create our own 10 commandments of shivery doing 10 commitments of shivery Madlibs.

Speaker 4:

All

Speaker 2:

Right . So as you may be familiar, what I need now is I'm going to tell you a , um, tense of word, a verb, but now what are they called?

Speaker 4:

Part of speech , part , part of speech . I had no idea what you were asking . I ,

Speaker 2:

I have a , I was a journalism major. Um , I'm gonna tell you a part of speech and you're going to give me a word for that blank. So we're gonna start, I need a verb

Speaker 4:

Run. I must be basic, cuz I was also going to say run was the first word that came into mind. I was gonna say scurry. I don't know where Curr came from. Urry is

Speaker 2:

A scurry . We have another verb coming up. Don't worry. There's a lot of verbs. Uh , noun

Speaker 4:

Potato,

Speaker 2:

Another noun. Sword

Speaker 1:

Of course.

Speaker 2:

Scurry for the verb. Yeah . Yes. Noun hairbrush. Um, Proper noun, Connecticut .

Speaker 1:

You say horn or

Speaker 4:

Horn horn. H O R N. Honestly, I'm just looking around the room. Likewise . I don't know what made me say horn though. There are no horns in, in this room.

Speaker 2:

I was , I was like, where is the horn?

Speaker 4:

I'll I'll give you a sneak peek behind the curtain. And I looked at my cell phone and I was like, they don't have cell phones in the shiver times. And then I thought of ring tone and then I got to horn. Okay. So there's peek into the mind of Lauren.

Speaker 2:

Love it. All right . Are we ready for our 10 commandments of, I should have made you mad libs the title, but that's okay. Our , the 10 commandments of Sharia is told by librarians, thou Shet run all that the church teaches and thou shat observe all its potato. Number two thou shall defend the sword actually. Very good job. Thank you. Thou shalt skirt, all hairbrush eye and Shet constitute Connecticut. The defender of tables. It's a lot of responsibility to put on one state thou Shet PR the country in which thou dove.

Speaker 4:

I love it.

Speaker 2:

Thou Shet not settle before the enemy .

Speaker 4:

Okay.

Speaker 2:

Valid , never settle. Thou shalt make more against horns sensation. And without mercy

Speaker 4:

Down with horns,

Speaker 2:

Thou shalt performs spritely by slow duties. If they be not contrary to the laws of Baltimore,

Speaker 4:

Getting too real,

Speaker 1:

I'm not trying to imagine someone like doing something slowly, but in a Sprite leave manner. And it's very confusing.

Speaker 2:

I imagine B slow Thou Shet never lie and shall remain faithful to the liminal word. Ooh ,

Speaker 4:

Wow. Now we're getting elegant. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

I like that. Thou she be loud and give trunks to everyone.

Speaker 4:

Now we're brought it back down.

Speaker 2:

Thou Shet be everywhere and always the champion of the cup and the door against whistles and shield. So there we go. Those are our 10 commitments of shivery . Very good job.

Speaker 4:

I like the laws of Baltimore now exist in medieval,

Speaker 2:

Wherever they, I like that too. They apply to all the land, but Connecticut enforce them.

Speaker 4:

Yes, exactly.

Speaker 2:

So

Speaker 4:

Each episode we ask, whether our book passes, the Bede test, the Bede test asks of our work features two female characters who talk to each other about something that doesn't involve men or boys. So does it pass

Speaker 2:

Very unclear maybe?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, we couldn't decide. Could we, because the two conversations I remember one is mod and Alana talking about if she can pretend to be a boy and then the other is George's mother and Alana talking about having sex with boys.

Speaker 1:

There's just like , so I

Speaker 2:

Think the answer is no

Speaker 1:

She's like men are boys everywhere

Speaker 3:

In this . Well

Speaker 4:

Big because the conversation with George's mother starts out as a conversation about menstruation, about her body. And , but then it does transfer into, as you're now growing, you are gonna show interest in boys. And so here's your magical birth control for when you get those urges. So it's very like, while it started as non about boys ended up very closely tied to

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yeah. It's a little bit silly when you think it , this, the protagonist is a girl, but there are so few girls in this book. It's pretty much just nothing but men or boys training to be nights . Yeah.

Speaker 4:

Or any of the notable characters who work with George when she's out in the city. Yeah . Where we him in . So she could see sort of other examples of femininity that possibly exist outside of the, oh, well you're a lady who's getting married and popping out children cuz I'm sure there were other people doing like working and doing things. She just never sees them. Right.

Speaker 3:

There's RPA , who is uh , a sex worker and queen of ladies of the rogue. And she is the only woman I can think of.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . But she's asking about DOR .

Speaker 3:

Yeah. So that doesn't really count does it ? That's true. But she's a high ranking woman and I wanna give her credit. She does show up.

Speaker 2:

Okay. Snaps to her.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's it for this episode of these books made me join us. Next one will discuss a book in which a young girl in Chicago gave dream of a white wooden house with a big yard and mini treats . If you think you know which book we're tackling next, drop us a tweet. We're at P G C M L S on Twitter and hashtag these books maybe .