Thursday 13 July 2017

Heroine Fix: Alice: Out of the LIbrary and Into the Fray

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at the characters who I admire and who influence my own writing.  (Warning: this article contains spoilers.)

For those who haven't found it, The Magicians is an urban fantasy television series where magic is real and practiced in secret by both magical families and the occasional surprised "normal" person.  There is also an alternate dimension world, called Fillory, full of magical creatures and gods.  However, this isn't a cheerful blend of Harry Potter and the Narnia books.  The series is aimed at the adult crowd and tackles some very dark topics.

Alice is one of the main characters in the series.  She comes from a magical family and is the top student in Brakebills, the school for magical studies.  At first, I thought she was essentially a Hermione knock-off and I wasn't paying much attention to her, but I quickly realized there was more to her than being a plot device whenever the characters needed to do something magically difficult.

Alice's appearance is tied in to her backstory, rather than being a shorthand for her personality.  She dresses in a very preppy, covered up way but isn't a strait-laced or prudish person.  Instead, she dresses in that way because her parents are self-absorbed hedonists who have open orgies and multiple partners.  Her clothes are a way of distancing herself from her parents but are somewhat of an ill-fitting mask.  They are armor rather than an expression of herself.  

Alice's magical skills are particularly impressive.  She is easily one of the most skilled magicians in her lifetime.  Unlike many skilled heroines, her abilities aren't used mostly for research and behind the scenes support.  Alice is on the front lines.  One of my favourite moments in the series comes from the end of the first season.  Quentin, who is the ostensible hero of the series, has the opportunity to boost his magic so that he can defeat the Beast.  As he's about to quaff the potion, he pauses and hands it to Alice, telling her that she is the more talented and has a better chance.  He says that he might want to see himself as the hero of this story, but she is the real hero.  I wanted to stand up and applaud.  So often, it doesn't matter how skilled the female characters are, they take second place to the males.  They fight sidekicks, not the Big Bad.  Alice went up against the Big Bad himself and ultimately took him down.

Alice is also a bit of a rebel and very loyal, two qualities that I always like in my characters.  She enters Brakebills with a secret mission.  Her older brother, Charlie, and most of his class, disappeared.  She's determined to find out what happened to him and uses her abilities and magic in direct defiance of the teachers.  When told that it is impossible to help her brother because he's been consumed by the magic and turned into a Niffen, Alice refuses to believe it, putting her impressive mind and skills into finding a way to help him.  She puts herself on the line, ready to sacrifice herself if it means that her brother has a chance.  She does the same thing when fighting the Beast, defying all presumptions of what should happen.

I chose Alice for this month's Heroine Fix because she's a reminder of how characters can defy audience expectations and grow beyond them.  It's easy for an author to get caught up in the short hand of character development: want to show someone is a good person, give them a pet, want to show they're authoritarian, have them wear a suit and be in an office, etc.  Alice appears to fit in the good-girl, smart-girl, follows-the-rules stereotypes, but in the end, those are only disguises, done for a reason which is explored in the story.  It makes her more real than those characters which rely on the stereotypes.

It reminds me that every aspect of a character should have a reason, not just a plot function.  And Alice shows the world that not every brainy girl was meant for the library.

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Next month, I look at Kitty from Gini Koch's Alien series.

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