Alanna: The Woman Who Rides Like a Man

by | June 1, 2015
filed under Books, My Reality

Cover of The Woman Who Rides Like a ManMy greatest desire as a kid was to live in a fantasy world where I could ride around on a horse, swing a sword, and use magic to defeat my enemies. I eventually accepted that this wasn’t a realistic career prospect. Mostly because magic isn’t real and I’m eyes-swelling-shut allergic to horses. I could still get lost in literary fantasy lands, though. One of my favorite characters to meet was Alanna of Trebond, from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet. Alanna was my first feminist role model before I knew what feminism was.

For the longest time I thought I knew that I was going to be a pastor’s or a missionary’s wife, have five kids, and go about helping the world find Jesus. I never really liked that plan. I secretly thought being the subservient partner sounded stupid, but accepted that I should just deal with it.

At the same time, Ialways loved stories with cool women or girls in them. The Lord of the Rings was my first great nerdy love. I was infatuated with Galadriel and Eowyn, but they were only supporting players. When I was introduced to Tamora Pierce’s writing and found that all of the protagonists were girls or women, I was thrilled. This is where the slow shift in my thinking started, through fantasy novels.

Alanna is first introduced as a ten-year-old noble, one half of a set of twins. She and her brother, Thom, are to be sent away by their emotionally distant father. Thom is to go the capital and learn to be a knight, and Alanna to a convent to learn to be a lady. Both of them hate this idea, and scheme to switch places. Alanna would much prefer to learn horseback riding, swordplay and fighting than sewing and dancing.

With the help of some trusted allies she gets through her training disguised as a boy. At the end of her knighthood ordeal, when her sex is revealed, she becomes the first female knight in her kingdom in over a century.  Because she has proven herself skilled and trustworthy, she is permitted to keep her shield. Her sigil earns her the nickname Alanna the Lioness.

Her adventures continue, and she ends up saving her kingdom from disaster, becoming the first female King’s Champion, and generally kicking ass. She’s good at fighting, has a powerful magical gift, and a fiery personality. Alanna was, in short, everything I wanted to be.

The world she lives in isn’t a high fantasy world as you might think of it. Alanna has to deal with her first period, first kiss, and later, even sexual encounters. She has a temper and frequently says what she shouldn’t. She alsomakes bad choices, but eventually turns out well. Basically, she seems like a real person.

I loved every word of her story and have read all four books more times than I could count. It was a sword and sorcery adventure made just for me. On the surface it seemed like harmless fun, but deeper down there was something more important

I’ve since read everything Tamora Pierce has written. I credit her writing, especially Alanna, with teaching me girls can do the same things boys can.

Long story short, I didn’t go to a religious college to find a husband, nor did I choose my degree based on that husband’s goals. I did what seemed right to me. Alanna helped me learn to trust myself and my own decisions. Through her I learned that girls don’t have to focus on finding a husband and wearing pretty dresses, but can go out and become the hero in their own adventures.

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series of articles where contributors discuss their early feminist role models or figures who influenced their early feminism. Check back over the following weeks for articles on our various role models, from Captain Janeway to Coco Chanel.  


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  • Michelle

    My little fan-girl heart is all a-flutter that I’ve gotten a response from the author herself! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!
    I’ve since found some of the books you mentioned, among others. YA fiction seems to be greatly widening its perspective and scope lately, which is great. That’s part of why it’s still my favorite genre, even now in my late 20s. I only wish I’d realized a lot of it was there sooner. I’m introducing some of those books (yours at the top of the list) to my young family members in the hope of showing them a more open-minded perspective. I hope they can do for them what they did for me!