True confession: I’m 5’3. By any standard that’s on the short side of average. Yet in recent years I’ve found myself particularly keen on stories that feature statuesque heroines — bonus points if they’re as tall as, if not taller than, their love interests (also oddly divergent from my own experience, since my husband is over six feet tall). Just where does this inclination come from? Why wouldn’t I be more interested in reading about heroines who look more like me?
I can date it from the time I started working on Nightmare Lullaby and found my imagination seized by my giantess heroine, Meliroc. As her story unfolded in my mind, I started to notice the ways tall women were, or weren’t, presented in fiction — often they’re cast as villains (something I’ve noted in an earlier post), sometimes they’re drawn as shallow supermodels, and almost always they’re presented as somehow unnatural. Taller-than-average women, I’ve realized, are underdogs in their own way, and the evidence is all around us, from criticisms of tennis superstar Serena Williams’ “mannish” physique to Geena Davis’ confiding to Jesse Thorn on NPR’s Bullseye podcast that as an unusually tall adolescent she often found herself wishing she could “take up less space in the world.”
So even though her struggle may not be my struggle, I take special satisfaction in seeing a tall heroine triumph over adversity. Here are some of my favorites:
Lady Sybil Ramkin Vimes, from Guards! Guards! etc. (Terry Pratchett). I’ve sung her praises in previous posts, but I can’t forbear to include her here. From her first appearance I knew I’d grow to love her: “Vimes knew that the barbarian hublander folk had legends about great chain-mailed, armour-bra’d, carthorse-riding maidens who swooped down on battlefields and carried off dead warriors on their cropper to a glorious roistering afterlife, while singing in a pleasant mezzo-soprano. Lady Ramkin could have been one of them. She could have led them. She could have carried off a battalion” (123).
Princess Bronwyn, from Bronwyn’s Bane (Elizabeth Ann Scarborough). Bronwyn has frost giant blood, so at twelve years old she already tops six feet, and she’s determined to be the fiercest sword-wielding warrior her country has ever seen. She has also been cursed never to tell the truth, so she has to think cleverly and quickly in order to get her thoughts across. (At one point she lets the boy she’s befriended know she wants to accompany him into danger by telling him, “My sword thirsts to assist you” — when of course her sword, being an inanimate object, has no feelings on the subject.) Despite her high rank, Bronwyn gets little respect from those she meets, but she lets nothing get her down for long, and on her journey she wins a best friend, a sweetheart, and a stronger sense of self.
Thianna, from Frostborn (Lou Anders). Her human mother is dead, so Thianna has been raised by her frost giant father — which makes her practically a midget in that community. Thianna fights with brash determination for her right to be considered a giantess, and when she finds herself among humans, nothing thrills her more than to hear people remark on her comparative hugeness. Thianna may be “the brawn” in comparison with her co-adventurer, the brainy human boy Karn, but as they face danger together she discovers she can be smart and cunning as well as strong and brave.
Norah Blackstone, from Bride of the Rat God (Barbara Hambly). A number of Hambly’s heroines are described as tall, including Starhawk and Sheera in The Ladies of Mandrigyn and Kyra in Stranger at the Wedding, but Norah, of all of them, is the most creative and introspective, a contrast to her petite, flamboyant sister-in-law Christine, a star of silent cinema. At first, Norah feels completely out of her depth in the glittering world into which she’s thrown, but over time she carves a niche for herself, discovering a knack for scenario writing and making a love connection with a cameraman who’s a few inches shorter than she is.
Princess Sarene, from Elantris (Brandon Sanderson). A political bride in a nation not her own, forced to consider herself “married” to a husband presumed dead, Sarene towers over everyone around her and is cursed with a painful sense of not-belonging. But even as she wonders if she’ll ever find a way to fit in, we see her kicking all manner of butt — defending her adopted country against both religious and military invasion, teaching the court ladies how to fence, and initiating a sea change in an oppressive economic system. In time she too comes to realize her worth. She also finds love, which here is a definite plus (though with her, as with Norah Blackstone, the romance is a vital part, but not the whole, of her story).