The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain

by 17.1.16 0 komentarze
You're getting another post in English. Just be warned. Moreover, you're getting a rant. And on top of this all, you're getting a text about a book I haven't finished reading yet. But I figure it's OK, since Foz Meadows, whose original post I'm going to argue with, hasn't read it as well. The thing is, it's not really about the book, it's more about the whole rape culture. But the book is a starting point.

I like books by Naomi Novik, even though I stopped buying them some time ago. I kind of grew out of Temeraire, if you know what I mean. But when I first heard about "Uprooted" I got excited again, because it seemed the book was written for me: retelling of traditional fairy tales (1), mostly Slavic, with a teenage girl (2) as a main character, in a country called almost as my own - I mean, what's not to like? It was like a dream come true. I finally got the Polish translation for Christmas and I started reading it yesterday - mainly so that I can read Foz' rant about it. It's still a little bit fast-paced for my tastes, but there are so many awesome things in that book in addition to what I mentioned above. It reads almost as a fanfiction (which I love, hello!), using the typical tropes in an innovative way. And it's not only fairy tales-rooted book, as far as I can tell, it's also "Howl's Moving Castle" retelling, how cool is that?

But yes, there's a rape attempt on the first 50 pages.

You have to understand that Foz' and mine experience differ a lot. No sexual abuse ever happened to me, so it's not a trigger. But I respect her point of view and I'm not writing this post to convince anyone to read "Uprooted", far from it. I just think Novik's book does not support rape culture. If you remember, I argued before the importance of Sansa's rape (3) - if it made at least a dozen girls realise that marital rape is a thing, then there's value to that scene.

And the same happens in "Uprooted". Both abuse scenes (yes, there's emotional and physical abuse in the book, bear with me) with the Dragon are pretty strong and Agnieszka is afraid of being raped both times. I mean, this is "normal": I'm afraid of being raped when I walk the streets of my city in the evening, so Agnieszka's assumptions are understandably realistic in that matter. She's the only female in the vicinity, alone with a powerful man. The fact that both times she's mistaken doesn't change her primal reaction: fear.

And then another male appears, and there's a real rape attempt. And yes, it probably warrants a trigger warning. But at the same time, Agnieszka defends herself, first with magic and then with brutal force, almost killing her attacker. Yes, I agree that the attack shouldn't have happened in the first place, but since it does, let's examine it closely before deciding whether it supports the rape culture:

1. Agnieszka is dressed in plain clothes when the attack happens;
2. the Dragon sees her in beautiful dress when he gets to her room to see what the noise was about and tries victim-blaming - but actually admits he was wrong;
3. Agnieszka is almost raped by a man who should be trusted;
4. Agnieszka is able to succesfully defend herself;
5. the rape attempt is never punished (haven't finished the book, so not sure about this one).

So, what's your verdict? From my point of view, the scene doesn't support rape culture, far from it. Heck, the fairy tales support rape culture more. I mean, what's the Red Riding Hood if not a story about how you shouldn't dress provocatively (red cape, anyone?) as not to provoke strange men (the wolf) to attack you?

Should Novik have made different literary choices? Maybe, but the whole book is rooted in fairy tales. And fairy tales, especially the ones about girls, are in majority thinly-veiled sexually charged stories. It wouldn't make sense to remove this level from the book based on fairy tales, would it? I'd preferred it if Agnieszka's had to deal with the trauma of attempted rape, but this is not what the book is about. I can recommend to read Mercedes Lackey's "Arrow of the Queen" if you want to read such a story.

So let's look at how the Dragon treats Agnieszka next, hm? He's an abuser alright, no way to deny it. I might argue his "people's skills are rusty", but I won't. I mean, it would be arguing that 'enry 'iggins was right to treat Eliza Dolittle the way he did and I just can't do it. I was always mad that she came back to him at the end of the movie, even though as I get older, I understand she didn't have much choice: there's no other place for her in the world (well, she might have tried to find a niche, like Milady or madame de Pompadour, but let's save that for another post, shall we?) And I love that story, the archetypes, alright, whether we're talking Beauty and the Beast or "The Kingsman"(4), I just think it should end differently.

And "Uprooted" gives me that plenty. The Dragon expects Agnieszka to dress nicely and to change to fit his vision of the world (5): tidy and pretty and neat and organised. And she doesn't. She makes him teach her a spell to dress herself in plainer clothes she prefers, she learns the magic she wants (teaching him something new as well), she gets out of the tower to do what she wants, she saves his life. Yes, he abuses and belittles her but that changes with time, when he starts to respect who she is. And maybe, as Foz writes, the initial abuse never gets addressed properly, I don't know that yet, since I haven't finished reading that book. But I wouldn't mind if it didn't happen at all, because the change in their relationship is there already. I mean, would you like J.K. Rowling's books better if Harry Potter didn't live under the stairs?

Rusty Angel


Ola. Fangirl. Matka smokom. Żona pisarzowi. Lubi czytać, pisać i uczyć się nowych rzeczy. Uwielbia wielkie roboty.