Posted by: hellonhairylegs | September 28, 2008

Page Counter- For when the Bechdel test would require you to read the entire book

A while back I was given Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks as a Christmas present. Recognising it as a watery blend of most popular fantasy novels I discarded it before I read ten pages. Recently I attempted to reread it, noticing thirty pages in that the only women referred to were the dead mothers of two of the protagonists.

The story is relatively simple, a naive half elf goes out on a quest to find an ultimately powerful artifact after being warned of deep danger by a mystically powerful man. He and his small-town brother have to travel to a dwarven city to avoid the dark servants of the Warlord King. They pick up a human along the way who is a skilled tracker, swordsman and happens to be of royal blood (and he also has a dead mother). They travel through a forest and a marsh to be attacked by a tentacled thing. A mysterious, benevolent man helps the protagonist and his brother to find the dwarven city. The royal tracker human gets separated from the brothers and is almost eaten by a tree who creates the illusion of a beautiful girl to lure manly travellers into its leafy clutches. Once the brothers get to the city it is revealed that they must to go on a further quest, gathering a small skilled party of people to make a daring raid into an enemy strong hold (the safety of the world rests on their shoulders!).

The party starts their adventure, a few humans, an unknown, two elves, a halfling elf and a dwarf. It is revealed that one of the elves has a female fiance in the conversation of the following morn. DING DING DING! It took a hundred and six pages before an alive woman (of course she is referred to as a “beautiful girl”) is mentioned. Three dead mothers and a illusion siren pre-empted her, as did much story telling about the race of Man, good guys and bad guys. I don’t want to know how much of that crap I would have to read to discover a named female character (*shock* *horror*).

In summary, men suck. kthnxbai.



  1. It’s been a while since I read some of the Shannara novels. Thanks for helping me not waste my time with a re-read.

    I’m re-reading some Guy Gavriel Kay novels right now (which I last read pre-feminist awakening), and while he has the annoying tendency towards mostly male leads and pairing up het couples and only het couples, I seem to recall that there are some good Bechdel test passes amongst his oeuvre.

  2. I read that book AGES ago, when I was in high school, and I couldn’t bring myself to read the next installment, although that was more because I thought it was even more unoriginal that most fantasy, rather than because I was aware of all the gender issues.

    Speaking of unoriginal, however, I have been re-reading some David Eddings (the Elenium) lately, whom I loved in high school, because I found the dialogue very funny. The whole thing is focalised through a male character, but it does just pass the Bechdel test– the only two female characters who have a big impact on the plot frequently talk to each other in a language that the protagonist cannot understand (but of course this means that the audience never really takes much notice of the conversations that they have with each other). And all the male characters tend to spend a lot of time killing people and joking about it.

    My tolerance for books, shows and films that don’t properly pass the Bechdel test is growing ever weaker. (And on that note, SJA is back this week– YAY!!!!)

  3. Jo, I might check out Guy Gavriel Kay in my next library sweep. I’ll settle for anything that passes the Bechdel test, as long as I get to complain about it in my blog. 😉

    Beppie, unoriginal is the word. I used to love David Eddings, then I became a feminist and it made me want to throw things. I second you on the SJA Yay!

  4. Guy Gavriel Kay is a pretty good writer, particularly some of his later work. The Lions of Al-Rassan has an awesome female protagonist– she does have a few conversations with other women, although most of the relationships that develop over the course of the novel are either between men and women or between men and men. The Sarantine Mosaic has a male protagonist, but does have some strong female characters.

    I think that most of the fantasy that I read as a teenager would make me want to throw things from a feminist perspective now (I was not nearly as awake as you are when I was your age)– not to mention making me want to throw things from a clunky-writing perspective (and I generally have a VERY high tolorance for clunky prose– I like Harry Potter for crying out loud!)

    *bounces some more about SJA*

    You know what I’d love to see? A version of Torchwood where Sarah Jane was in charge instead of Jack. 🙂

  5. “You know what I’d love to see? A version of Torchwood where Sarah Jane was in charge instead of Jack.”


    I’m tolerant of clunky prose, given I spout a lot of it. The problem with Sword of Shannara was the absolute lack of character in the prose. No distinctive style or anything. Eragon was pretty clearly a knock off with nothing new, but at least it had some style.

  6. Well crap, I read that book. It didn’t have any women in it, did it? I should have burnt the damn thing.

    Know what I want? Stories with lesbians. Not pornified lesbians, real human lesbians. I’d settle for a female protagonist that remains single, or who manages to get attached to a dude without the requisite “I’ll swoon and magically transform myself into a passive barefoot and pregnant version of myself to please socially constructed views of appropriate femininity.”

  7. Oh bleah, the Shannara dreck. When I was in college a male ‘friend’ insisted on lending me his prized set of those books. I didn’t even make it through 10 pages before I realized there was no way I was ever going to read them.

    The jackass wouldn’t take them back — he kept insisting I should hang on to them until I read them. Then he kept making a big deal to all our mutual friends about how he had lent me these prized books. He was utterly deaf to the notion that I actually would not read that crap, since to him it was among the Greatest Works of All Time.

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