Tuesday, January 02, 2007


OK, this might sound sexist and immature, but it's meant in good fun. When I was a teenager I enjoyed books that had beautiful female characters because I wanted to imagine such women falling in love with me. I might even have dreamed of making love to such gorgeous ladies. Some of them were perhaps a little scary, too, tough and dangerous enough to make such an activity truly exciting. I don't think I was alone in having such thoughts, and I suspect that most young female readers felt the same way about some of the male characters in the books they read. Now, as a take off on a common term that we hear these days, in poor taste as it is, perhaps I will dare call such female characters “CILFS,” with the “C” pronounced softly like an “S.” That being said, my, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, top ten list of CILFS would be the following:

1. Dejah Thoris, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs: John Carter was too dull for the glorious Dejah. I always thought she’d prefer a little bit more of a bad boy. I mean, a woman who lays eggs! Whoa!

2. Belit, created by Robert E. Howard: A mixture of sexuality and innocence, willful yet fatalistic. And the dance she does for Conan! Heady stuff.

3. Jirel of Joiry, created by C. L. Moore: Jirel would have scared the hell out of me in real life, but that flame-red hair and the so-often torn leathers. Viva La France!

4. Delia of Vallia, created by Ken Bulmer: The delicate beauty of Dejah Thoris; the whip-ass attitude of Jirel of Joiry. Delia had it all. Sometimes she wore a claw.

5. The Lady, created by Glen Cook in his “Black Company” books: Beautiful and evil. An irresistible combination for a young male. You wanted her; you feared her. But you were certainly interested.

6. Nidyis, created by David C. Smith: Another sorceress, and one who clearly enjoyed sex. You just knew that Nidyis was a slut, and you could only hope that she wouldn’t kill you first.

7. Ischade, created by C. J. Cherryh: A witch and a thief. And all her lovers die from her curse. But as they say, what a way to go.

8. The Eternal, created by David Gemmell: A bit like Glen Cook’s “Lady,” but also...well, eternal. We see her as a young woman, intelligent and beautiful, and later as the evil Eternal, but still beautiful, and still, perhaps, capable of love. The love of a good man might just...

9. Mina Harker, created by Bram Stoker: Hey, Dracula knew what he was about when he moved to seduce this innocent beauty. I wanted to protect her; I didn’t think old Jonathan had what it took.

10. (And One from a More Modern Age). Lizette Louvier, created by O’Neil De Noux: OK, so she doesn’t have a lot to do in the series. But she’s sensual, beautiful, and rich. And I think I saw her late one afternoon in Audubon Park.

Is it any accident that most of these female characters, again, were created by men? I doubt it. They aren’t women as women see themselves. They aren’t even women as men see them. They are women as men would like them to be, at least some of the time, and women that men fantasize about. And because I’m male I’m afraid that some of those same things appeal to me. Are female readers really that different? Don’t many of them fantasize just a bit about the male characters they’ve read about? And yet, ask most males and they’ll say those characters aren’t much like real men. But does that really matter when we’re talking fiction? Besides, isn’t it a bit of fun to...dream?


cs harris said...

I'm wondering, Charles, if there's a reason all these women come from fantasy books? Would these female characters have been as appealing in a more reality-based book, or would they have been too scary? What an absolutely fascinating glimpse into the allure of female characters for men. I'm going to have to study this! Although I'm not sure any female writer could create these kinds of characters; they really are products of the male imagination--probably much like romance heros written by women.

Charles Gramlich said...

I wondered about the fantasy connection myself. I read mostly SF, fantasy, westerns and animal stories as a kid and teenager so that's part of it. But there are no women from western stories on my list, perhaps because, as you say, those were more reality based. They are certainly over-the-top characters, which makes them memorable. Also, though, I think it was partly because they were so "exotic," so outside of my realm of experience, that they captured my imagination.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

CS, Charles...the reason they are all from the fantasy genre should be obvious...all fantasy heroines run around with very little on, and they all have amazing bodies. Just look at the cover art. What teenage boy wouldn't want a girl like that??? I mean, let's face it..Frank Frazetta knew how to tap the teenage male libido.

Charles Gramlich said...

The fantasy art didn't hurt, but I think it was the writer's first who knew how to tap the male libido. Or else the artists wouldn't have had much to work with.

cs harris said...

Ah, yes, Stewart; the big boobs appeal of Nora Crofts! But now I'm started to wonder about the erotic appeal of dangerous members of the opposite sex...

Sidney said...

I have not read the "Black Company" books but I keep meaning to check those out. They look interesting.