This week's installment of Fantasy Friday takes a look at Elizabeth Moon's Sheepfamer's Daughter.
I was looking around for something to read this week and decided on two books; one is The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and the other is Sheepfarmer's Daughter (both are re-reads). I have, naturally, read many fantasy novels over the years and have many favorites and just as many loathed titles. I've read most of the "feminist" fantasy authors and generally cannot stomach many of their underlying premises: women are better then men, men are all vicious animals, etc. etc., ad infinitum, ad nasuseam. Fortunately, Elizabeth Moon is not one of those authors.
According to Moon herself, The Deed grew out of a conversation she overheard among some D&D players about how to play a paladin. Her internal response was "That isn't how a paladin would act." And thus the idea for The Deed was born. It was, like Lord of the Rings before it, initially conceived as a single novel, but, publishers being who they are and not believing the public has the ability to read a large novel, chopped it up into a trilogy. It still works as a trilogy, but it was republished as a single volume eventually.
There is the standard fantasy trope of a humble farmchild who rises from obscurity to become a great hero, endures a fall, but rises triumphant in the end. What sets The Deed apart from other fantasy stories with a female warrior protagonist and a female author (of the 1980's and 1990's) is that Paks acts like a real person and is also a good lens through whom to view her world. Coming from a small backwater, it's not forced or contrived whenever she comes across something that she's doesn't know or hasn't experience like dwarves or the politics of the southern city-states.
In line with being a real person, Paks does not see herself as better than anyone else, male or female. Her gender and character are not defined by her sexuality; she is neither man-hater nor Lesbian nor sex-kitten. And thank God for that! Too many authors seems to think that human sexuality is the be all and end all of character definition. Paks enjoys the simple things in life and is good friends with Saben, for example, but not bed-partners. She also possesses a certain simplicity herself: why break up perfectly good furniture looking for hidden treasure?
Paks is also quite pragmatic. She accepts things as they are. she does have that inner dream of one day leading armies or somesuch, but it does not affect her perception of the day-to-day realities of soldiering. This first novel (part?) in the story lay the groundwork for what is to come in later portions and her character never really changes. she is a sheepfarmer's daughter who is destined to become a paladin in the service of Gird. Most of Paks's character and pragmatism comes in no small part from Elizabth Moon herself, who was was an USMC officer. How much of Moon is in Paks is known only to the author herself. Sufficeth to say, Moon does capture the feel of military camaraderie quite convincingly.
One thing that is disputed is how much of D&D, and more specifically Greyhawk, with the serial numbers filed off is present in Pak's world. St. Gird is obviously St. Cuthbert and Falk could be Hieroneous; the Webmistress is obviously Lloth. The second part, Divided Allegiance, has even more obvious parallels. while opinions may vary, there is more a case of homage than anything else. The characters and the deities and the setting all have things that set them apart from the standard D&D fare--wizards that can heal and produce healing potions, for example. The story plot itself is "the hero who rises from obscurity" plotline. What makes any story unique is the characterization of the cast and ability of the author to weave the story and make it entertaining. In that, Elizabeth Moon succeeds superbly.