It started with a song. Later we’d flesh out the concept to examine the wider range of definitions that make up Wicked Women* but first, there was a song. Specifically, ‘Wicked Girls’ by Seanan McGuire. Now I’ve never actually heard it sung, but the lyrics have always struck me. They tell of the girls who returned home at the end of the stories, those brave adventurers who had to settle back into a life less colourful, and be good and conform to their expected roles. Except… maybe not.
‘Dorothy, Alice and Wendy and Jane,
Susan and Lucy, we’re calling your names,
All the Lost Girls who came out of the rain
And chose to go back on the shelf.
Tinker Bell says, and I find I agree
You have to break rules if you want to break free.
So do as you like — we’re determined to be
Wicked girls saving ourselves.’
It’s the stories after the stories that have always interested me – how exposure to those wild lands of magic and danger could change the plucky hero, and how those changes alter their experiences with the world they’re returned to. And I’m far from alone in this.
Much has been written on Susan Pevensie: the good queen who ruled wisely and well, then had to return to be a child in England; Susan who had to live on once the rest of her family were brutally snatched back to Narnia. A punishment for not towing the party line, or so it was once said. But Susan was never forgotten and the stories of how this wicked girl saved herself are many – Neil Gaiman has written on ‘The Problem of Susan’ in Fragile Things, and many others have taken up the baton of Susan’s fate, showing how a queen bereft of her queendom can make a new one. Susan lived and went on to inspire, she had new adventures, surviving wars and a society that she wasn’t quite the right fit for. Taking everything she’d learnt in Narnia and building something magnificent.
But that’s Susan. There are other wicked girls saving themselves. Girls who became women who refused to be bound by constricting social conventions, women who rebelled, women who forged the life they wanted in defiance of the life that others wanted to force on them. Women who aim to misbehave. And that’s the core of Wicked Women. Some of our stories have women who are unapologetically evil, some have those who are simply perceived as such due to the society they’re living in, but all our women are most definitely saving themselves.
‘For we will be wicked and we will be fair
And they’ll call us such names, and we really won’t care,
So go, tell your Wendys, your Susans, your Janes,
There’s a place they can go if they’re tired of chains,
And our roads may be golden, or broken, or lost,
But we’ll walk on them willingly, knowing the cost —
We won’t take our place on the shelves.
It’s better to fly and it’s better to die
Say the wicked girls saving ourselves.’
*on which, more will be said on the Fox Spirit blog in January…
‘Wicked Girls’ lyrics © Seanan McGuire