Crowns and cartographers: equality in the imagination

Photo of the book "Frogkisser" by Garth NixI have been reading a lot of stories recently and two of them in particular really inspired me: Frogkisser by Garth Nix and The Girl of Ink and Stars by┬áKiran Millwood Hargrave. Both are beautiful reads suitable for younger readers as well, but that shouldn’t put you off.

Both books take you on adventures, in one case following the perilous journey of a cartographer’s daughter across an unexplored floating island, in the other the footsteps of a princess who is leading a band of companions through danger to defeat evil and establish a universal bill of rights. Both books are excellent examples of accomplished, playful and lyrical story telling at its best – perfect for getting lost in new worlds of the imagination.

What they also do is to challenge the readers conceptions of established character types, such as princesses, wizards and heroes more generally. They talk of sisters, mothers and daughters – female leads are everywhere. In the Frogkisser for example, we visit the Tower of the Good Wizard, who turns out to be a young women with a preference for red boots… whilst Snow White is a retired wizard (complete with detachable long white beard). Garth Nix displays such playful mastery of the fairy tale tropes in the story that it makes you wonder where your earlier mental images came from and how they were fixed. As someone who has read A LOT of fantasy and science fiction I appreciate the flexibility and equality of stories such as Frogkisser especially.

Similarly, in The Girl of Ink and Stars, the narrative is wound around the process of reading maps, charting new territories and mapping out a lost, unknown place (saving everyone and the world in the process). The girl, our heroine, is at once capable and relate-able. She (re)writes history, shapes the narrative and her world through her work as a cartographer and through her eyes and measurements (explained in loving and scientific detail as her journey progresses) you can participate in the adventure. Stories, particularly poetic ones like this one, can create a world of greater equality, can change perceptions so much more elegantly, so seemingly effortlessly, than we can through policy or even direct action.

Like the women pioneers and activists and leaders and voices in our reality, the heroines of these stories help shape our imagination and our understanding of the world we live in. Get reading… or reading out loud to the younger listeners in your life.