In a recent blog post, Christopher Nuttall, author of the bestselling Schooled in Magic series (which I proudly edit), made some assertions about Freedom and (Women’s) Rights. In it, he has this to say about my own Cassie Scot Series:
Cassie Scot is a squib, if I may borrow the Harry Potter term. She’s the daughter of powerful magicians – and sister to several more – but she has no power of her own. And this has inevitable consequences.
Throughout her four books, Cassie is constantly objectified. Not in the sense that she is treated as a sex object, but in the sense she is constantly treated like a minor child. She is powerless in her community. Her very safety depends on protection from her parents; later, when she loses that, her (eventual) love interest makes decisions for her, meddles freely in her life (sometimes without telling her) and generally continues the tradition of treating her as a cute but wilful child, rather than a grown adult in her own right …
And the hell of it is that he (and her parents) has a point. Cassie may act like a confident adult, but it’s based on other people, rather than on her inherent power (she has none) or human rights (she has none of those either). She is staggeringly vulnerable. And so is Julianne. And so were far too many women throughout history. The powerful women were often the ones who were born to power, like Queen Elizabeth.
Now let me just start by saying that Chris and I don’t see eye to eye on many things. Luckily for the both of us, I have no problem speaking my mind and he’s happy to work with editors who challenge him, whether he ends up taking their advice or now. This is the mark of a successful author/editor relationship, IMHO.
To give his article some context: In his most recent novel, Past Tense, I made some comments about a primary character that seem to have been echoed by at least some portion of the reading public. Due to editorial privilege, I won’t go into details past those Chris himself mentions in his own blog post. Yes, I said that Julianne was weak and unconvincing as a character. She came across to me as a symbol more than a person — a representation and amalgam of that which has plagued women throughout history.
From a literary perspective, this opinion isn’t a death sentence. Plenty of characters in plenty of books have been more symbolic than anything else. It’s a valid literary technique.
As an author, I shy away from that particular literary technique almost to a fault. Honestly, I spend so much time trying to make sure that my secondary and tertiary characters have clear motivations (at least to me) that it takes me at least a year to write a book … when I’m on form. If you’re in the market for fantasy you can rely on coming out every few months, check out Christopher Nuttall’s work, which involves creative world-building, clever twists, and a bit more focus on his main character.
The point is, Chris and I didn’t see eye to eye on this particular issue. And when he wrote a blog article explaining his perspective, he cited my own work (with my permission) as an example. When I okayed this blog article, I did warn him that I would have my say!
Cassie Scot has no magic. She lives in a world of magic. On a very superficial level, this makes her powerless.
On a very superficial level.
The #1 theme of this series of books was this: There is more than one type of power and more than one way to be powerful. Cassie herself didn’t understand this at first. Her family and her love interest didn’t understand this at first. And really, it’s a challenging thing to get your mind around.
In a world full of magic, wits, courage, and a bit of attitude can become a form of personal power.
Let’s go back to Chris’s points: That Cassie was treated as a minor child, that she had no power or human rights, and that the only power she did have came from the family that surrounded and protected her.
First of all: Yes, Cassie was treated a bit like a child. Because the people in her life thought she couldn’t take care of herself, because they thought they had to protect her, they overstepped — especially her parents and her love interest. Cassie had to prove to them that she could stand on her own and that she could be a value, something that she would never have had to do had she simply been born with magic like her many brothers and sisters.
But to take this a step further and assert that in the end she still has no human rights and no power other than that which is handed down to her by the community in which she lives is to misunderstand the role society plays in ALL of our lives.
Another theme in the Cassie Scot series is: No one can do it alone.
*I* don’t have any human rights that aren’t handed to me by the United States government and protected by a (sometimes fragile seeming) representative democracy built on the will of the people. My powers and human rights are further defined by my social affiliations, my husband, my skills, and my own personality.
There are women today, right now, in THIS “free” country who are not free. There are victims of all kinds of things — abuse, mental illness, fear, degradation … there is a slave trade still going on in the world today!
Power is more complex than the law. It’s more complex than society. It’s more complex than culture. Power is all of that and it’s our own personal energy.
Going the other direction, you can go back throughout history and find many examples of women who, despite their lack of status in the eyes of the law, were powerful cornerstones of their own community. Or at least a power in their own families.
Cassie Scot is not the type of woman who lets herself be walked upon. Even in a world where she almost doesn’t seem to belong, she’s got too much fire to let it happen. And that is why I love her. She’s not me — I’ve often told readers this — she’s who I want to be. In a world where I sometimes feel powerless to change the things that matter most to me, Cassie has shown me a truth that was immortalized in the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
That’s power. Strong women (and men) throughout history have known it.