Boy books vs. girl books

Kathryn Andersen kat_lists at
Thu Jun 20 20:14:14 EDT 2002

On Thu, Jun 20, 2002 at 12:34:30PM -0600, Melissa Proffitt wrote:
>[snipping the non-girl questions]
> 3. If you began reading science fiction and/or fantasy as a young teen, what
> interested you in such books?  (Boys or girls)

Well, you can blame my parents and my elder siblings.  First of all, my
father would read to us in bed, the Narnia stories, Tolkien, the Fairy
Then I went and borrowed one brother's Edgar Rice Burroughs (mostly
Tarzan, but also the Venus books) and another brother's Asimov and
And then some unremembered but wonderful person gave me an Andre Norton
for my 12th birthday, so I went off and devoured everything by *her*
that I could find...

Though of course all that would have been moot if I wasn't actually
interested in any of that stuff...
I just wasn't interested in fluffy girl books, really.  I mean, I read
all my brothers Hardy-boy books as well... though I did actually read
Enid Blyton when I was younger.  And I did borrow my sister's Laura
Ingals Wilder books -- but there you go, I think there's a reasonable
correlation between liking SF&F and liking historical novels too --
they are non-mundane in that they are not talking about the normal
present-day either.  (Ah, Rosemary Sutcliff, there's another fond

> 5. Girls: I've noticed that female protagonists in fantasy are frequently
> described as being different physically or intellectually from their
> families or immediate social group.  Did you feel similarly unique, and was
> that an element of your interest in fantasy or science fiction?  (This has
> nothing to do with the issue at hand, but I've got this book upstairs I've
> been trying to read and the whole "she was dark and tall compared to all the
> petite blondes in her adopted family" is sticking in my craw.)

I wonder if the reason that it is sticking in your craw is more of the
"Mary-Sue" factor?  In that this protagonist is "too good to be true"
and therefore is just irritating, rather than being a character who
engages your identification/sympathy?  Is her darkness and tallness
something she is proud of, or not?

I mean, certainly one of the reasons I've loved DWJ's books is that she
has the theme of the Ugly Duckling; that the protagonist, who feels
fumble-fingered and awkward and not good enough, turns out to be special
after all.  "Power of Three" sticks in my mind as a particularly good
example, where Gair thought that he was ordinary, and was always putting
himself down compared with his siblings.

Perhaps it isn't just a question of "different", it's also a question of
being different with humility.  After all, how many villains consider
themselves to be different, also?  Yet villains take that difference and
either use it as a fuel for their bitter resentment and revenge, or
use it as an excuse to treat others with contempt.
But I'm wandering away from the topic here...

Different.  I think most teens feel different, and I applaud the
analysis of another post which points out that in SF&F, different is
often good, while in "mundane" teen fic, different is something to be
So maybe factors in going for the mundane are:
- how much one desires to fit in
- how possible one considers it is to fit in
- how precious that difference is, as to whether one wishes to embrace
  it or overcome it, and how much support one gets for that difference

For example, for me, the chances of me fitting in were pretty slim.
We moved a lot, and I was also too brainy for my peers  (I considered
that "antidisestablishmentarianism" was a long word; they considered
that "vocabulary" was a long word.)  Yet I got a lot of support from my
family, so it wasn't as if the esteem of my peers was what I based my
self-image on (though it was awfully lonely too).
But one can consider the influence of family again -- after all, my
father read us fairy stories, where the protagonist is usually...

Kathryn Andersen
"It's me. We got a little problem -- she won't leave."
	-- Blair Sandburg on phone to Jim Ellison (The Sentinel: The Debt)
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