Things I Would Like to See More of in Fantasy Fiction, Part 3

Heroic female dragons.

Not everyone likes dragons. They’ve fallen slightly out of favor of late, with a number of writers and readers pointing to them as the chief example of overused classic-fantasy stock characters that the genre as a whole should move beyond. That a fair number of fantasy writers are laying dragons aside and seeking out less well known yet no less fascinating mythical beasts to include can only help the genre stay fresh and inventive. Yet dragons aren’t going away anytime soon. They’ll be a fantasy staple as long as readers like me exist. I can sympathize with the reasoning of those who dislike dragons, but darn it, I love them. And while, with their great, strong wings and fiery breath, they make splendid villains, I have a soft spot for those who use their awesomeness for Good.

Yet I have a quibble. While heroic dragons are fairly plentiful in the current fantasy landscape, it seems at least 80% of those dragons are male.

Who are the most recognizable dragons in the Disney cinema canon? The big, clumsy, loyal, lovable male Elliott of Pete’s Dragon, who protects a young boy from danger, and the monstrously evil shapeshifted female Maleficent of Sleeping Beauty, who threatens to decimate a valiant hero. In her famous Temeraire series, Naomi Novik pits her magnificent though child-like dragon hero Temeraire against the vengeful dragon villainess Lien. In Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton’s The Elvenbane and Elvenblood, good-hearted male dragon Keman must do battle with his wicked sister, Myre, and has to goad his ice-cold mother into doing the right thing. Lackey’s series The Enduring Flame, co-written with James Mallory, also juxtaposes a heroic male dragon (or at least, an ally of the heroes) with a villainous female. Melanie Nilles does the same in her novel Legends. Diana Wynne Jones’ entertaining Dark Lord of Derkholm also features a male and female dragon, and again, the male plays a major heroic role, while the female, though not out-and-out evil, is depicted as vain and unlikable and gets very little page time.

Then, of course, we have quite a few paranormal romances that feature dragon shifters, as this Goodreads list makes clear. In at least nine out of every ten — probably even more than that — the shifter is male, and his love interest is a human woman. Then we have stories that leave female dragons out of the picture altogether. With only one exception I can think of, and that exception lamentably bad (the screen adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon), the “last dragon” in movies and television shows is invariably male. In George R.R. Martin’s famous saga A Song of Ice and Fire, all dragons are male, as if the very idea of the dragon were inherently masculine.

Where are the dragon heroines?

There are a few, but you have to sift through an ocean of heroic males in order to find them. Anne McCaffrey’s Ramoth (Dragonflight) and Zaranth (The Skies of Pern) certainly deserve mention. The most enjoyable is probably Kazul, the female who fights to claim the title of King (not Queen) of the Dragons, and proves a loyal friend to a wayward princess, in Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles (beginning with Dealing with Dragons). E.E. Knight also presents readers with a dragon heroine, the complex Wistala, in his Age of Fire series. Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon Chronicles and Mercedes Lackey’s Dragon Jousters series also feature sympathetic female dragons, but unlike Ramoth, Zaranth, Kazul, and Wistala, they are strictly animal in intelligence. Saphira in Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle may be impressive, but Paolini’s work lacks the polished prose and the creative world-building that would draw me to it. Rachel Hartman does a better job in her YA novels Seraphina and Shadow Scale, particularly the latter, in which two dragon heroines play significant supporting roles. Kitten, the female dragonet who features in Tamora Pierce’s Immortals series, is also engaging. Yet despite good examples, dragon heroines are so vastly outnumbered by dragon heroes that they have a lot of catching up to do.

As a long-time dragon lover, I’m doing my part in my own writing, telling my own stories of dragon heroines. At DragonCon 2013, the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company gave the premiere performance of my play In Need of a Bard, which features a female dragon in a heroic role; formerly a princess, she was bewitched into her current form by a jealous stepmother, but she loves the change, calling it the best thing ever to happen to her, since she can battle the evil forces that beset her world far more effectively than before. In “Firegale at the Festival,” my offering for Gilded Dragonfly BooksLegends of the Dragon, Vol. 1, the dragon heroine is tasked with learning everything humankind has to say about dragons, so every year she assumes human shape and goes to DragonCon. She may not battle evil on a large scale, but her generous spirit shines through as she takes a couple of Con-going newbies under her (ahem!) wing.

At a couple of points in her story, Firegale contemplates writing a novel. I think of my brand-spanking-new project All Color as the novel she might have written, the story of a dragon who loves humans (female) and a human who loves dragons (male), friends who must venture beyond their mutual comfort zone when the theft of a talisman traps the dragon in human form. I can’t say more, since I am just beginning the first draft and untold twists and turns may lie ahead. But I look forward to the time I’ll spend in my heroine’s head.

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