Something to Ponder
Over at Ferretbrain, Daniel Hemmens has a very long, very detailed, and very negative review of Patrick Rothfuss's The Wise Man's Fear, the long-awaited sequel to The Name of the Wind. The whole review is worth reading, but I was particularly struck by this observation:
What annoys me about Kvothe is not so much that he's a gratuitous Mary-Sue, but that despite this fact he is taken incredibly seriously by critics. People bitch about how unrealistic it is that everybody fancies Bella Swan, about how stupid it is for teenage girls to indulge in a fantasy where powerful supernatural beings are sexually attracted to them. People laugh at characters like Sonea and Auraya because they're just magic sparkly princesses with super-speshul magic sparkle powers. But take all of those qualities – hidden magic power, ludicrously expanding skillset, effortless ability to attract the opposite sex despite specifically self-describing as being bad at dealing with them, and slap it on a male character, and suddenly we get the protagonist of one of the most serious, most critically acclaimed fantasy novels of the last decade.I haven't read either of Rothfuss's novels so I don't know whether the comparison to Twilight and other novels of girlish wish-fulfillment is apt, but it certainly seems that Hemmens has raised a fair question that deserves a little more discussion. In particular, his observation puts Penny Arcade's recent praise of the book, in the same post in which it is said, of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, that "I think I would have liked this book if I was a girl. I’m not a girl though and so it just made me mad," in a very interesting context.
Of course you can't ever really say, for certain, how a book would have been received if you reversed the genders of its author and protagonist, but something tells me that a book about a red-haired girl who plays the lute and becomes the most powerful sorceress who ever lived by the time she's seventeen, and who has a series of exciting sexy encounters with supernatural creatures, would not have been quite so readily inducted into the canon of a genre still very uncertain about its mainstream reputation.