Monday, April 2, 2012

Strength, Courage, and Honor: The Appeal of Women Warriors - by Mary Reed McCall

La Femme Nikita. Aeon Flux.Buffy.Mulan.The Black Widow.Xena. Lara Croft. Katniss...

The list could go on and on, but one thing unites all of these fictional characters: They are women warriors. Some are caricatures, some possess supernatural powers... but others are based in actual possibility as experts at what they do (which includes things like killing, breaking in, stealing, protecting others, defeating evil, and surviving insurmountable odds, usually without a whole lot of outside help).

These characters go against the popular stereotype that has existed in western culture for centuries – of females as the gentler, weaker, more vulnerable sex – and there is something both startling and thrilling in that fact.

While some people believe the words woman and warrior never truly go together except in the fertile minds of fiction writers, the truth is that characters such as those mentioned above spring from a legacy of lethal women warriors in real history.

These women, documented by bards and scholars throughout time, led their clans, armies, and sometimes entire countries into battle. They were highly trained with all kinds of weaponry and in war strategy, and they directed the action not from the safety of some position far above the field of combat, but from the thick of the fighting and bloodshed.
 Female warriors from early Celtic societies in particular served as inspiration for me while I was researching and writing my own fictional Welsh warrior woman, Gwynne verchOwain, in The Maiden Warrior. My entire story developed from the question: “What if a baby was born in 1162 to a rebel Welsh prince and his wife, under all the signs of prophecy indicating King Arthur had returned to lead them to freedom…only the child was a girl?”

My character needed to grow into a woman warrior who could do serious damage with her blade. A woman who could hold her own against the most elite male combatants of her time...and win. I didn’t want a caricature or a “faux” warrior in a skirt who would come off a battlefield with nary a smudge of dirt on her face, and the real women warriors of history, like Boadicea and GwenllianverchGruffydd, provided me with some great context from which to build my fictional character.

So what do I love about Gwynne and the qualities I could explore in her, in a way I couldn't with other female characters I’ve written from the medieval era? Well, for one, Gwynne is no shrinking violet, physically. She is unusually tall, in the manner that DiodorusSiculus noted of many Celtic women. In fact, she is nearly as tall as her male, English warrior counterpart of my tale.

On my
Facebook Author page, I used a picture of Gabrielle Reece in her powerful, athletic prime to show my visualization of Gwynne’s bodily appearance (not hair and eye color). Keep in mind, Gabrielle Reece is 6’ 3”. I pictured Gwynne slightly shorter than Gabrielle, but only by a few inches.

I love the fact that Gwynne feels the call of duty and honor as strongly as any man. She is willing to lay down her life for her country and to do whatever is necessary to keep her people free. She has suffered and is willing to continue to suffer physically, with rigorous, daily training to keep her fighting skills at their peak. When she is wounded, she bears pain with stoicism.

She can hunt and fend for herself, ride into battle and kill those she must, with regret for the loss of life but without guilt or remorse. She can lift a nagging woman up by the front of her dress and bodily move her out of the way, toss a groping nobleman so that he skids on his backside ten paces across a room, and spar stroke for stroke, using various weaponry, with the hero.

However, she also has a dry sense of humor, is generous to others, protective of children, able to learn new skills (like court dancing) and can clean up beautifully to look like the true-bred princess she is, when she decides to take off her breeches, shirt, hauberk, gauntlets, and armor to don a dress and circlet instead.

So basically, Gwynne embodies everything I could ask for in a protagonist, female or otherwise. The fact that she is a woman warrior makes it all the more interesting and made the writing of her story all the richer for me.

There is so much more I’d love to write about women warriors, the pleasures and pitfalls of writing them, and the unique flavor that crafting a woman warrior as protagonist adds to a tale, but if I did that, I’d be writing another novel here!

The best I can do is to invite you to read about Gwynne, the Welsh woman warrior near and dear to my own heart, if you’d like to know more. The Maiden Warrioris on sale for $2.99 for download onto any kindle or free kindle app at
Amazon or for NOOK.

Enjoy, with my best wishes for your own brand of strength, courage, and honor, as I leave you with this question: Do women warriors in fiction unsettle you, thrill you, or cause a whole different reaction altogether? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I've added this book to my wish list. I'm intrigued. Too often the women warriors in historical novels feel like they are 21st century women dropped into a different time period.

    (All the links work, except the Amazon one.)

  2. Thanks, Laurel. I appreciate your interest. I will say that when I was finished writing this book, I had a very difficult time beginning a new story. No heroine I could envision seemed to compare to Gwynne. I was able to express a kind of power, strength, and honor that, while present as qualities in other medieval women, was present in a very different sense for her. She captured my imagination and didn't let go.

    Thanks also for the notification about the amazon link. I will contact Vijaya and try to have that fixed.


  3. BTW, The link on the title THE MAIDEN WARRIOR to the right of the cover picture actually links to amazon. Will try to get the link at the bottom working as well.

  4. Amazon link at the bottom is now fixed.
    Thanks for bringing this to our attention

  5. Thank you, Vijaya! Wow, you are speedy...I didn't even have a chance to write to you about this yet and you had it fixed. :) Thanks again.