...and their narrative uses.
This may meander a little, but bear with me...it does lead up to a point and a discussion of sorts about my literary endeavors.
My upbringing was a little schizophrenic. Up till the 3rd or 4th grade, my Mom sent me to school in these truly nice little dresses that she ordered once a year from a shop in Long Beach, California. There are photos of me in these dresses. They were nice. I don't regret or dislike them at all.
Now, when I wasn't attending school, Sunday or regular, I wore the sort of clothes that could bear climbing trees, playing in ditches, walking to the park and playing, you know, the sort of clothes for master chefs at making mud pies.
I grew up with an adventurous imagination, one that was fed by classic Westerns, Tarzan movies, Hope and Crosby Road pictures, Japanese Monster movies, classic Universal and Hammer horror flicks. I used to read DC comics back when they cost 25 cents an issue and the deluxe issues cost either 75 cents or a dollar. As mentioned in a previous essay: Practical Obsessions - My Hardworking Muses, my favorite was Wonder Woman. Thanks to Richard Lester's Three and Four Musketeers films, two concepts merged quite rapidly - swashbuckling adventurers and Amazons: women who were strong enough to have adventures just like men did. Since I was already pretending to go on safaris and playing in imaginary forts, this was hardly a surprising development.
Finding the territory of my imagination amenable for colonization, amazons settled in and soon rode across the plains and meadows of my imagination until a narrative landscape formed around them. They moved about this new land and soon other peoples emerged: adversaries, friends, and a lover or two. Incidents, events, like pearls, formed, and over time there grew enough of them around these restless characters that I could string together a narrative.
At the age of 17 I began writing what would become finally the epic of Fernare Araldo. It used to be called Flanion, and the island retains that title as a part of its archaic territorial name: Rand-Flanion. As I felt 'Amazon' had too much cultural baggage for my female protagonists - although I did keep 'amazonian' as an adjective in some cases* - I used the term 'Flannish', then changed it to 'Flanniard', and finally came to 'Fernarian'....Sometimes it can be maddening when you're trying to find just the right name for a person or place, etc, but I have finally settled on FERNARIAN. It'll do. It has a nice foreign sounding roll to it. (*Perversely though, more than a hint of 'Amazon' inspiration remains via the family name of the former royal house of the country Caermon: the Amazos.)
Having distanced myself from the cultural implications and associations inherent in the term Amazon, early on I grappled with how to describe the nature or and history of my Fernarian amazon women and their native strength/resilience. The solution I came up with at 17 remains unchanged...
The legend is this: Centuries ago, both their ancestral men and women were equal in strength, resilience and hardiness in a rough land. They were a strong people on the move from a land far to the east of my fictional continent, beyond the Islayan Nomad lands and Valennce, beyond a great steppe to a mountainous region along a vast lake that was almost a minor sea. By the time they had reached the West, to the place they would come to call the Sinistrous Loch in Norgel County of Caermon, two families had become dominant among the tribes: the Amazos from beside the mountains and the de Sarcs of the Fernarian steppe people.
At this point, these migrant tribes stopped to winter at Sinistrous Loch and there contracted the Dread Fever among their population. Initially, it affected both sexes and all ages similarly, but its long term effects on the sturdy and strong women from the Amazore mountain region and the neighboring Fernarian steppes became appalling evident. It left the women weaker, more frail, and it became apparent all too soon that it was affecting the next generation of unborn girls, many of whom, uncharacteristically, died at birth or shortly thereafter.
The Dread Fever forced a split. While one half of the migrants stayed in place well into summer tending to the sick and dying, the other half led by Helyn de Sarc, a Fernarian chief, whose cousin was by then married to an Amazo chief, pressed on in search of supplies, a better settlement, and perhaps help from the native Ermish peoples. Despite the harsh winter that beset the region, Helyn de Sarc was able to send regular pack trains of supplies back to the Amazos, as she had met several native clans, including the Mudoran people who occupied all lands north of the Sigel-Erenow River that runs along and cuts through parts of the 'modern' city of Ermon.
Those several months of separation proved critical. Helyn de Sarc, with her extended family, and their tribesmen and followers had become accustomed to making crucial decisions without consulting their fellow chieftains back in Norgel. In the spring thaw it became clear that neither Helyn nor her people wished to rejoin the Amazorean people and submit to the authority of their demanding leaders. Wary of exacerbating an already tense situation, Helyn continued to send supplies accompanied by mixed squads of Fernarians and Murdorans to the Amazo encampment. In the meantime, she began shifting her people toward the Mudoran's coastal territory while a sense of distrust simmered between the two groups, fueled by some misplaced resentment that the de Sarcs had managed to avoid the worst of the Dread Fever simply by not being there. Never mind that she and her mostly Fernarian group left at the behest of all the tribal chieftains to collect supplies and trade with the locals for anything that might help.
Needless to say, Helyn saw dark times coming and decided that she could lead her people independently again, as they had been in her mother's prime back on the steppes. With the help of their Mudoran allies, the Fernarians and some of those Amazoreans who chose to stick with the de Sarcs built long ships sturdy enough to cross the Channel and sail the currents circumventing the great, enigmatic island to the west or sail to the mysterious Orkon Islands to the north.
By the time the Amazoreans (and the minority of Fernarian survivors with them) came away from their accursed winter encampment beside Sinistrous Loch, only a handful of their own people lingered behind to greet them and act as emissaries between them and the Mudorans, whose territory they had entered. Under the circumstances, the new arrivals chose to maintain the peaceful relations that their renegade advance guard had fostered so successfully. Over the next two months the chieftains sent squads to track the de Sarc renegades, only to find that the trail did,indeed, end on the shores of Caermon. Whether they went northeast to the Orkon Islands or west to the island realm in the distance no one could say, not even the Mudorans who helped them build their long ships and waved them off one morning as they set sail with several of their countrymen among their numbers.
Helyn de Sarc and her mostly Fernarian, and mostly female Fernarian at that, tribe did go to that western island - where the Rand and Flanniard peoples lived in a great pristine wilderness. There they put down roots for the next few centuries and maintained an increasingly dominant presence even during their seafaring years.
And there you have it: the back story before the critical events centuries later as depicted in the two part epic Fernare Araldo, and its three sequels - Gathlon, Caermon, and Marlorat.
It should be noted that the Fernarian amazons share their fictional landscape with their Ermish adversaries from Caermon (the descendants of the Amazoreans, the Mudorans, and other nearly long lost ethnic groups from central and southern Caermon. There is a reason for this: the idea of basing a narrative strictly on some kind intensive encounter between a recognizable patriarchal culture and a strictly sexually homogenous (and potentially totalitarian) Amazon culture seemed too familiar, monotonous even. In other words, its been done. (See Kleinbaum's The War Against the Amazons.)
Aside from the obvious procreative challenges that a belligerent female-centric society presented from a pragmatic narrative point of view, there persisted the concern of what would such a culture be like on an everyday basis when set in an era equivalent to periods from the 'dark ages' to a period not unlike our 18th to early 19th centuries...but without being on the verge of 'industrialization'. As I believe instinctively and adamantly in equality between the sexes, my Fernarian amazons not only share their fictional world with foreign Patriarchal cultures that misunderstand them to the point of practicing hostilities towards them, but also with a minority population of men native to their own society.
Over the course of the epic Fernare Araldo, the reader catches glimpses of and encounters briefly the elusive male members of Fernarian society - a strong and wary breed of men with an abiding sense of duty towards their families and their society. Since the island of Fernare (Rand-Flanion) is still mostly wilderness, every able body is needed, especially in the rural agricultural regions and in the Interior wilderness settlements that occupy hard won strategic sites along rivers, streams, and lakes, or in valleys. For this reason, unlike the mythological amazons described by such people as Herodotus, these amazons do not just keep, but prize their menfolk and take as many pains in raising their sons as they do their daughters. Women outnumber men there though, so the women are the ones who go out to serve in the Queen's navy or army, while the men stay in their home territory to keep the homesteads functioning, to run the local guilds, and to aid their elders and watch over the offspring. They do form the substantial core of all native guild operations throughout the Queen's realm, working as gold or silversmiths, in the mills,or as carpenters and engineers on civic projects.
The Fernarian men also form a significant part of the last lines of defense for their people in the face of the Ermish King Derrick Mudor's invasion, as revealed in the second half of Fernare Araldo....And if you thought fighting through a well-trained and determined amazon army was tough, imagine how much worse it would be to confront an army composed of surviving women warriors, their civilian sisterhood in local militias, and their aggrieved menfolk...with the blood of their mothers, sisters, lovers, and daughters still wet upon your swords...As was pointed out to King Derrick at one point in his campaign upon Fernarian soil.
Still, the primary motivation behind these novels was to create a world in which women could have the same adventures and face the same perils as male characters do habitually. This was a reaction of the times I was growing up in - the late 60's on into the 70's - the period during which the women's liberation/equality movement kicked into high gear. I grew up very much under the perception that girls didn't do certain things or couldn't exercise the same ambitions that boys could. There was still an abundance of old films and tv shows on in which women were depicted as needing to be rescued or having to sit round and just wait while the guys did everything. Well, I wanted to swashbuckle alongside Athos, Aramis, Porthos, and D'Artagnon. I didn't want to be Constance or even Milady de Winter. I was a tree climber, a lobber of mud balls in wooded ditches, a dreamer of adventures.
That instinct, that need for adventure, produced the Fernarian realm, a largely wilderness island, and its majority Amazon culture. It created the royal de Sarcs headed by its noble, troubled Queen Eleanore de Sarc, her daughters Florenza and Cordelia, and her four sisters - the youngest in particular: Gavra de Sarc, destined to tend to the family tree alone. It created their distant cousins Captain Edria de Sarc and 1st Lt. Sethrida de Sarc, along with their comrades and friends the free-spirited, inquisitive Captain Ursula Bremond, and such characters as the Horsesoldiers Galinka Cameron and Sophia Mocsy, and Doc Johanna Menetra. It also created the hapless, reluctant adventurers Edmunda and Zenda, who appear only briefly in Fernare Araldo, but who figure more prominently in the fantasy adventures depicted in The Wandering Princes.
These restless amazon women fulfill a need and I've rather enjoyed their company as I wrote my novels.
(For better or worse, these novels can be found via lulu.com or amazon.com.)
Listening to: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Reading: 1066 And All That
Watching: this screen actually as I type
Playing: with nothing
Eating: done eating