Male or female viewpoint characters?

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Male or female viewpoint characters?

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Edited: Feb 10, 2011, 5:01 pm

(excuse the earlier empty post - the cat did it!)

When I first read Diana Wynne Jones, back in the 70s, I remember thinking that her books had a surprisingly small number of female viewpoint characters. The Ogre Downstairs, Cart and Cwidder, Charmed Life, Eight Days of Luke all had boys as the main characters; the nearest to a female lead was Kathleen in Dogsbody, and even there, Sirius was very much the viewpoint character. I know that there has long been an idea that girls will read books about boys, but not vice versa; also, since Jones' own children were boys she might have been influenced by that in telling stories.

I think The Time of the Ghost (1981) was her first book with a specifically female lead; after that, an increasing number had female leads, and it's noticeable that the two later and more complex Dalemark books both had viewpoint female characters, where the first two hadn't.

Anyway, I think it's something she now does very well, having both male and female leads in fairly equal numbers.

Jun 27, 2011, 2:20 pm

I've just started the Dalemark series, so was interested to note the difference between the first two and the last two volumes. After only a half-dozen chapters of Cart and Cwidder I notice the darker tone and narrative pace are a huge contrast to her other fantasy, but the trademark humour still manages to creep in.

Edited: Jul 3, 2011, 5:44 pm

Now having read three of the Dalemark series (all except Spellcoats as I haven't got a copy yet) the gender balance seems to me to matter very little in the quartet. If Moril, Mitt and Maewen are the obvious leads in volumes 1, 2 and 4, gender-wise there seems little to distinguish them really: they're all resourceful when needs be, suffer from doubts and low self-esteem at times, and try not to let their lack of age and experience stop them doing the right thing. Granted, Maewen seems a bit of a screamer, unsurprising when she's attacked with a dagger, but I didn't find it hard to empathise with any of the main protagonists, whatever their gender. But then I'm not a boy any more!

I'll certainly check her other books (whether for the first time or when re-reading) for female/male lead. Other things strike me now. How many of her distinctive female characters are unlikeable, like Gwendolin in Charmed Life and Hildy in The Crown of Dalemark? And how many of her male leads are given those stereotypical female traits where having conversations matter more than actions (the stereotypical male default position)? I'll have to think about that!

Jul 3, 2011, 4:53 pm

One thing I think is interesting is that she has a couple of great male lead characters who really like clothes. The stereotype of the clueless male who needs a woman to pick out decent clothes is so common that it's refreshing to come across Chrestomanci's wonderful dressing-gowns and Howl's preening, without any subtext that an interest in clothes makes a man's heterosexuality suspect.

Edited: Jul 3, 2011, 5:45 pm

Yes, that's true! I hadn't picked up on that before, especially the similarity between Chrestomanci and Howl. Mind you, I initially found C's predilection for dressing gowns a little offputting--shades of Noel Coward and all that! But so does Sherlock Holmes I seem to remember--but I suppose it's a refreshing change from alchemists and sorcerers wearing the cliched gowns with crescent moons and ringed planets (as Merlyn does in the film of The Sword in the Stone and countless wizards before and after).

Jul 3, 2011, 8:03 pm

Chrestomanci's predilection with glamorous dressing gowns is explained in one of the books, I think? It's because he can be called away without notice when someone says his name three times - so having the fantastic dressing gowns ensures he will be wearing something decent when it happens...

Jul 8, 2011, 8:13 am

Thinking about it, I wonder if DWJ consciously or unconsciously modelled Chrestomanci on the actor Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes? Even with longer hair, C on the cover of some editions looks remarkably like the celluloid version of the great detective, and in a way acts rather similarly--both are called in (Chrestomanci three times) to solve a problem, both seem rather aloof and, well, deductive, and both have a predilection for dressing gowns.

Jul 10, 2011, 1:03 am

Her children are all boys, so it makes sense to me that she would start out telling stories from a boy's point of view. I think she had a really interesting perspective on gender - so many of her villains are very stereotypically feminine.

Jul 10, 2011, 9:22 am

... so many of her villains are very stereotypically feminine.
Aunt Maria in Black Maria springs most obviously to mind, but who else were you thinking specifically of?