[Ruth’s post reflects her own opinions and not the opinions of the entire FanLit staff. We love Ruth, so we sometimes let her rant here.]

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsJustin, I love you like a brother, you know that right? That said, your claim that “I may have agreed with her 15 years ago, but I think the gender bias in epic fantasy has balanced out pretty evenly” in regards to N.K. Jemisin‘s post about the feminization of epic fantasy struck me a bit as “the lady doth protest too much.”

Now, I don’t read much epic fantasy, but that is because of the problem that you said doesn’t exist anymore. Long doorstopper bricks of a novel, in my experience, tend to feature manly men and the women who are (contractually obligated) to love them.

My completely non-scientific sample of epic fantasy includes the following male-centric works:

  • J.R.R. Tolkien — Not many women folk of any race running around in those, other than as objects of inspiration or desire. He does get bonus points for Eowyn, though.
  • Piers Anthony — I stopped reading him because of all the suicidal teenage girls.
  • Patrick Rothfuss — Brilliant author. Main female character is a professional.
  • C.S. Lewis — Yes, Lucy and Susan are there, but kept at a distance from the main action. And then Susan grows up and commits the sin of *gasp* liking boys so she gets kicked out of fantasy land.
  • George R. R. Martin — Lots of man violence and rape.
  • Robert Jordan — ’nuff said.
  • Terry Brooks — I admit to not having read these.
  • Stephen R. Donaldson — Establishes manliness through raping a woman.
  • David Farland — I DNFed these in my pre-FanLit days.
  • Terry Goodkind — *gag* smashing babies — not a particularly feminine attribute.
  • Robin Hobb — Another fantastic author. Mostly male leads.
  • Ursula K. Leguin — Earthsea — I’m specifying a series here, because LeGuin does amazing work with gender in other books, but as an example of male-centered epic fantasy, I have to include this.
  • Patricia McKillip — The Riddlemaster of Hed.
  • L.E. Modesitt‘s — The Saga of Recluce.
  • Janny Wurts — The Wars of Light and Shadow.

Now, you’ll notice that I am not saying that this is a problem with male authors, because there are several females on my list. I love some of these books, but I think they all feature male protagonists. At least the ones I’ve read.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSo, my questions this week are multiple: Are there epic fantasy series out there featuring women that I am just missing? Or is there something about the epic fantasy sub-genre that requires male protagonists? Epic fantasy is usually about saving the world, the battle between which is more powerful — good or evil — and which will come out victorious. Combined with the typical trappings of some sort of feudal monarchy — medieval European setting, it’s not surprising to see that so few authors manage to escape standard constructions of power = male. But that is what we get. In the few epic fantasies featuring women, they are basically men without penises in all but fact — muscular, aggressive, large — that they don’t get beyond the gender divide in any meaningful way.  C’mon, Justin, I want to believe you that all is happy in fantasy land, but I’m discovering a dearth of evidence that supports your claim. Maybe our dear readers can help you out.

Join in what I am sure will be a respectful and courteous comments section and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a book from our stacks!


  • Ruth Arnell

    RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.