It amuses me to realize that in creating my main character, Maddie, who was specifically created as a rejection of the “Strong wyman who don’t need no man” stereotype, might actually be the sort of protagonist a feminist would approve of.
Maddie is an active protagonist throughout the novel. She is instrumental in executing the Princess’s rescue plan. In fact, interestingly enough, it is the character of Bennett who gets the passive role (coming up with the plan) and Maddie who actually gets the more active role in the plot (although the most active role of all is reserved for the character of Lance).
Maddie is, briefly, a damsel in distress but she is also an active participant in her own escape attempt. She is the character who gets the romantic subplot as well. In many ways, she is the ideal feminist protagonist.
It’s important to realize, though, that every aspect of the character dynamics in “Tales of the Once and Future King” was very, very carefully thought out. The four travelers, Maddie, Lance, Bennett, and Gavin, need to strike a difficult balance in their relationship. They work together, they trust each other, but they don’t particularly like each other. There is also no real leader; Bennett and Lance tend to jockey for the position. The idea here is that without Michael Maddocks – the new King Arthur – leading them they are a formidable but incomplete force, not up to their full potential as a team. So every conversation, every relationship, needs to be precisely balanced in such a way that it’s clear that every member of the travelers has absolute trust in one another despite the fact that they’re never particularly chummy, and bicker fairly often.
Maddie, as the only girl, occupies a unique position. A typical “Girl power” sort of hero is simply out of the question. Maddie is nobody’s fool. She is well aware that she is, simply by virtue of her physical stature in a dangerous frontier environment crawling with invaders and outlaws, the weak link of the team. She can’t act arrogant, she can’t act offended, she can’t be obnoxious, because she knows that she is essentially just being tolerated as is.
This isn’t to say that she’s always quiet. Maddie is, after all, a human being, and she has her own issues and her own strengths. She just refuses to complain, and isn’t stupid enough to put herself in the middle of fights she can’t win – and this includes within the group as well as otherwise. The one time in the story her frustration boils over and she complains that she is being ignored, she is immediately and sharply called out for her attitude.
Maddie’s role in the plan is very active and very important, but it is also distinctly feminine. Maddie doesn’t fight, doesn’t carry a weapon, and is always traveling with a man for protection. The idea of anybody passing the Bechdel test in “Tales of the Once and Future King” is laughable; the opportunity simply never arises. She utilizes her sexuality to manipulate other men and turns herself, for however briefly, into a femme fatale in order to achieve her goals.
Maddie makes mistakes, she gets afraid, she gets emotional, but she is smart, she is competent, she is brave, and she is – in her own way – tough.
To put it another way, and to get to the heart of one of her main influences – Maddie is very much a woman, but she has True Grit.
And when you read the story, it’d be good idea if you keep in mind just how carefully we thought Maddie, and everybody else through. There’s been a plan there from the very beginning.