The Girl of Triggers and Thorns

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Madeleine Cassier
Producer
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“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” (The Fault in Our Stars)

When Rebecca posted her piece on body image, and the inclusion of a “fat heroine” in Rae Carson’s The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I started thinking back on my experience of first reading that novel. Nobody had told me that Elisa was “fat” or that body image and self-love played a crucial role in her character development. Nobody had also told me that, in the first novel, there are instances of Elisa emotionally driven to bingeing upon food to the point of physical pain and later vomiting it all back up. (Please note that all bold-typed emphases within utilized quotations are my own.)

I’m not sure how long I stand there, joined to the serving table as if by design. Eventually, I feel Ximena’s gentle hand on my upper arm.

“Let’s go, my sky.”

I don’t resist when she pulls me away, and I stumble after her, so full I can hardly breathe.” (Thorns, 120)

At the time that I picked up The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I was a still-recovering bulimic; I had not yet reached my one year anniversary of entering treatment, let alone being considered “clear” or “healed.” I went into this book, one that I had seen praised from reviewers on Booktube — that corner of YouTube where people review books — with whom I shared similar literary tastes, knowing only that it was a YA fantasy about a girl with something called the “godstone” who must become queen. There was not a single “trigger warning” for eating disorders.

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The Case of the Fat, Ugly Heroines

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Rebecca Kordesh, Director
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Name a fantasy novel, particularly a fantasy novel with a female POV. Picture that female the way she is described in the story. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? Maybe she’s not as beautiful as other women in the story, but it’s okay because enough people find her beautiful that she gets to claim the epithet. Maybe she doesn’t find herself beautiful, but she’s lucky enough that other characters will make sure she knows they find her beautiful.

It’s easy enough to understand why this is: fantasy is fantasy. We have magical, magnificent worlds and we might as well fill them with pretty people. And by “pretty,” here, I’m referring to people who are described using adjectives such as “pretty,” “beautiful,” or “lovely.” What this looks like to authors varies considerably, but the important part is their use of those identifiers. No matter how else the character is described, when the author uses these adjectives, the assumption is that the character is objectively attractive.

What I find interesting is the persistence of characters identified as beautiful, even in modern fantasy where the genre has taken a dark turn. Worlds have become grotesque, often horrifying. Sometimes heroes aren’t heroes, sometimes stories are dark and tragic. And yet, despite this, beautiful women seem to persist in the vast majority of fantasy literature. So much so that when the main female character is described as “ugly” or (horror of horrors) “fat,” it stands out. So I’d like to take a moment to think about two such characters — Kelsea from the Tearling series and Elisa from The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy — and what I especially enjoyed about their portrayals.

Spoiler-warning

The discussion that follows will contain minor spoilers for these series. I will not include any plot spoilers or major story arc spoilers, but I will discuss a bit of character development, so if you have not read either of these series, proceed with caution.

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