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  • The Lioness and the Protector:The (Post)Feminist Dialogic of Tamora Pierce's Lady Knights
  • Whitney S. May (bio)

On numerous occasions, Tamora Pierce confides that her novels, especially her earliest ones, were written to fill a significant void in fantasy literature: even as a child, she says, she felt the absence of women heroes in her favorite books. She laments in an interview with The Atlantic that "so many of the female superheroes were superheroes because of magic. None of them was a superhero because she could hit a bad guy," and she "wanted to see female sword-slingers most of all" (qtd. in Rosenberg). Channeling this frustration in the mid-1970s, Pierce wrote The Song of the Lioness quartet, which laid the groundwork for an entire fantasy universe that at the time of this writing includes eighteen novels. Today, Pierce is regarded as one of the foremothers of feminist fantasy, with a total of twenty-nine novels spanning two richly developed universes, all of which are still in print. With a novel published as recently as spring 2018 she also remains one of the dominant producers of the feminist fantasy genre she helped to inaugurate. While she has worked admirably to fill the void that so troubled her as a child, and while her own fantasy has inspired others to do the same, there remains a remarkable absence of work specifically devoted to Pierce's impressive feminist project, an enterprise now four decades in the making. This is all the more surprising given that Pierce herself acknowledges the sweeping nature of her feminist project. For example, in an interview with Hilary Williamson, Pierce registers of her early work: "to write adventures for girls … that's what my brand of feminism brought me to!" The unique conditions of Pierce's writing career—namely its length, combined with her willingness to self-reflect on her work with regard to shifting social climates, and the serial nature of her novels—allow her fantasy to offer legitimate commentary on our real world, especially its social and ideological transformations. Witnessing forty years of feminist history, Pierce's fantasy not only records and refines real-world conversations about the superstructural intersections of race, class, and gender identity but also strives to make these dialogues accessible to her young readers. [End Page 51]

When asked in an interview with NPR if she sees social issues like #MeToo reflected in fantasy, Pierce responded in the affirmative, confiding of her own process that:

I try very hard to include elements of reality into everything I do. I think the one thing fantasy does, and science fiction as well, is we give kids exposure to parts of the real world at a safe distance, so that they can read about it and think about it, and turn it over, close the book, go away, talk about it with people they trust, then come back and think about it again.

(qtd. in Simon)

Reliably critical of the world around her and attentive to incorporating its social issues—especially feminist issues such as access to military spaces and birth control, gendered violence, and class- and race-based gender discrimination to name but a few—into her fantasy, Pierce has produced an elaborate, incisive body of feminist criticism designed to introduce these concerns to her young readers, ensuring that they never suffer from the same absence of powerful women in fantasy that so perturbed the author herself. Emerging from the longevity and seriality of that project, Pierce's fantasy has thereby developed a uniquely dialogical quality that offers forty years of attentive feminist historiography under the banner of fantasy for young adults, and further, positions her readers to recognize the future potential of feminism as they assume its mantle(s) for themselves. Specifically, by introducing interruptions, or dialogical interventions, into the repetitions normally enjoyed by serial texts, Pierce makes space for the critical moments, identified by Mavis Reimer and colleagues in their study of seriality in literature for young adults, "when generic closure is resisted, when consolidated formations are deterritorialized, when sequence is disordered, when difficult knowledge is admitted—that the heady possibilities of change can be glimpsed" (28). By virtue...


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