The blog tour of (female) champions.
This month’s Christian Science Fiction/Fantasy Blog Tour features Sharon Hinck’s novel, The Restorer. See Sharon Hinck’s blog here.
Yesterday, I reviewed Hinck’s novel. Today we’ll discuss its central conceit, the Woman Warrior.
The Restorer, as previously discussed, is loosely based on the story of the judge, prophetess, and warrior Deborah from Judges 4 and 5. In Hinck’s alternate universe, the soldiers, forming something like a looseknit formal militia, are known as “guardians.” Female guardians are common in Hinck’s world, which tends to mask the uniqueness of Deborah’s role and that of Hinck’s protagonist.
Though women riding into battle were not a mainstay of ancient oriental warfare, the story of Deborah and her counterpart Jael have a thematic relationship with the stories of other women in the Old Testament:
After Barak and Deborah ride to war and rout the forces of Hazor, the Hazorite captain Sisera flees to the tent of Jael, who he expects to be an ally. After he’s asleep, she drives a tent peg through his skull (Judges 4.17-21).
A woman throws a millstone off a wall and cracks the skull of Abimelech in Judges 9.53.
Isaiah 51.9-10 is a hymn to the arm of the Lord. Dr. Seth L. Sanders, who used this passage in a lecture he delivered at the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations about three years ago, discussed this passage and its connection with the Combat Myth. With Dr. Sanders’s emendations, the NRSV version of the verses would read as follows:
Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the Lord!
Awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago!
Are you not she who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon?
Are you not she who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep;
who made the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to cross over?
The address is to a feminine figure because arms in Hebrew are feminine, but Dr. Sanders suggests the poem is an invocation to Deborah.
Then of course there’s Judith, the Old Testament’s greatest wise woman except for Woman Wisdom Herself. With her wiles and the help of God, Judith slices off the head of Holofernes, chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s Assyrian army in Judith 14.6-9. The story of Judith is pure fiction; even if it contains an historical kernel as some have suggested, that historical kernel is irrelevant to the final product. Judith brings together recognizable names from Israel’s historic enemies and has them band together as one to make war against the people of God in a romanticized geographical setting where they are defeated by a wise woman whose name simply means “Jewess.” The Book of Judith is therefore the premier example of fantasy writing in the Bible.
In Christian thought and iconography, these Old Testament women who bash heads and take names are types of the Virgin Mary. In particular, Judith’s fictional story and general name lend to typological reading. Some versions of the Latin Vulgate and subsequently the Douay-Rheims Bible (mis)translate Genesis 3.15 as, “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” The footnote of the Douay-Rheims admits this may not be the best rendering, but also advises that it doesn’t matter much, “for it is by her seed, Jesus Christ, that the woman crushes the serpent’s head.” For this reason, many of our icons feature images of Mary treading on a serpent.
This “happy misreading" or superreading or whatever you wish to call it is similar to several other Old Testament passages that have gone through a creative interpretive process. This particular one places the Virgin Mary at the end of the line of women who fight evil by attacking its head and ties the stories both to the Fall and to the Redemption, so that Jael, the unnamed woman on the wall, and Judith form a thread connecting the first and second Eves.
Considering that she is drinking at the font of biblical woman warriors, it is curious that Hinck uses no head-knocking imagery in The Restorer. The protagonist Susan never encounters her opposite number during the last battle with the Hazorites and so has no opportunity to cut his head off (or pull some wire-fu moves, which I was waiting for through the whole book). Indeed, the Hazorites have no personalities at all; they are a faceless swarm.
I would like to give a list of great woman warriors from fantasy, but they are so numerous that any list would necessarily be incomplete. Besides, John C. Wright, the admirable sf writer who recently became a Christian, has already posted a litany of swordmistresses at his blog. I find a few of Wright’s posts to be in poor taste, including this one, but, well, it’s a homage to swordmistresses. I would only add to the list my own all-time favorite female swordfighter, Thorn Harvestar from Jeff Smith’s Bone. No, on second thought, Thorn’s got close competition in Nalyn from Neotopia. Oh, I do have to warn that the links here include images of women in what might be considered immoderate clothing. Call me a prude, but, much as I appreciate attractive women, I find posting images of them on the Internet a little voyeuristic.
The point I’m getting around to is this: some Christians may think the sword-wielding warrior woman is a character born either of an overactive teenage male imagination or of a feminist fantasy. Au contraire. The sword-wielding woman is an important Christian image, especially if she knocks in some heads. (Thorn Harvestar mostly managed to get her own head knocked in, so I think she’s slipped a notch below Nalyn.)
But now I’ll end this brief homage to head-bashers with a paraphrase of that greatest of head-bashers, the warrior poet ‘Antara ibn Shaddād, subject of the Romance of ‘Antar and author of one of the legendary Bedouin Hanging Odes that, embroidered in gold on Egyptian silk, waved over the shrine of Mecca:
My sword is the greatest cure of headaches, head colds, and all diseases of the head!
It cures the sickness by removing the problem in its entirety!
The blog tour that just won’t stop:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Heather R. Hunt
Lost Genre Guild
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Daniel I. Weaver