We’ve all read a fairy tale at some point in our life. If you haven’t, grab a copy of Peter Pan or Beauty and the Beast, and bury your eyes into the gender stereotypes contained within. Political correctness in literature is a hot topic at the moment. A government body recently released the Respectful Relationships curriculum into Australian schools to educate our young how to critique traditional gender roles in fairy tales.
Unfortunately, many of the popular story books and TV programs our kids absorb, only reinforce out-of-date gender norms. This is one of the reasons I wrote ‘The Mark of the Maker Stone’ – a fantasy series that follows the adventures of Mary the Hairy Fairy (from my book of the same name) on a journey of self-discovery.
In many popular junior fiction novels, the central character is male and female characters are more likely to be in nurturing roles, but Mary’s character developed differently. She doesn’t ‘fit-in’ in so many non-fairy ways. She’s hairy, for a start, and she possesses few of the stereotypical traits the reader might expect to find.
You could almost call her a tomboy and The Mark of the Maker Stone is as much a book for boys as it is for girls. This was deliberate. Why should a fairy have to be pristine and sparkly, with a tiara and skimpy out-fit? Mary’s gender neutrality defines her as a character, and she focuses little on the superficial pursuits of appearance or popularity, despite being bullied by the antagonist characters of Merika and Ansom. Yes, Ansom is a play on the word ‘handsome’ and, although he’s the male fairy, he is the passive aggressor in a duo bent on making Mary’s life hell. On a couple of occasions he cries (yes boys, it’s OK to cry) and always hides in the shadow of the self-centred character of Merika. I won’t tell you what happens, but let’s just say that Merika’s bullying of both Mary and Ansom soon backfires.
Mary’s also a good leader. Despite the perilous journey that she undertakes with her friends Tully and Stinks, Mary keeps her calm and is always looking out for them. Strong female leaders are hard to come by in fairy tales so I wanted Mary to show genuine leadership and courage with a strong sense of empathy. I didn’t want her to be an alpha-female like Merika, but rather someone who shines in her own skin. I might have got this wrong – I’ll let the readers decide – but that was my intention. I prefer to let the characters – and the plot to some extent – evolve as I write. This makes writing fiction a lot more fun as things don’t always turn out as planned.
Another strong female character is the queen of a horde of snarling rat-lizard type things called meanies, and she is really important to the story. Without her, Mary would never discover her inner strength. You’ll have to read the book to find out why (book plug inserted) but things do get heated at one point, when Mary and the queen go head to head in an epic power struggle.
And then there’s Roolki – the wise old elf of the village – who the people of Fickleton see as their leader, but spoiler alert: the book ends with a transfer of leadership from male to female. Again, I don’t want to ruin the suspense so maybe buy a book and read the story (another book plug inserted); just a suggestion!
Some of the story developments around gender were deliberate and others resulted from causality, but the the back cover summarises the message pretty well: She’s not your typical fairy … and this is not your typical fairy story. I hope kids enjoy it and most of all, I hope it makes them laugh. This book is intended to be fun so don’t take it too seriously. The last thing the world needs is more seriousnessnessness.