Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Poul Anderson: Elf Women Have Always Fought

In Kameron Hurley’s award winning piece, We Have Always Fought, she argues that women have always been involved in warfare. And not just in support units or in the production of planes and bombs. Name a war, and she can find examples of women talking up arms to engage in combat. In some cases, she claims, the proportion of fighting women ranges upwards of thirty percent.

Needless to say, this contrasts greatly with the conventional wisdom on the matter. Poul Anderson, in his seminal essay “Of Thud and Blunder” touches on this topic in this way:

A replicated ax, Battle of Hastings type, weighs a bit under five pounds. Nevertheless, it takes muscle to swing any edged weapon. Therefore I suspect that a woman-at-arms would look less like Dejah Thoris than Rosie the Riveter. In fact, we have no reliable records of female warriors. Joan of Arc commanded; she did not engage in combat.

In his novel The Broken Sword, a mortal and an elf actually debate the role of women in warfare:

“Can women hold a fort against storm when their men are fallen?”

“They can try– or fall like their men.”

“Not so. They have other weapons.” A cruel mirth flickered across Leea’s countenance. “Women’s weapons; but to use them we must open the gates.” (page 103)

The troll armies greedily take the bait:

When the troll host reached Elfheugh, a horn sounded from the watchtowers and the great brazen gates swung wide. Valgard reined in, narrowing his eyes. “A trick,” he muttered.

“No, I think not,” said Grum. “Few save women are left in the castle, and they expect us to spare them.” He shook with laughter. “As we will! As we will!” (page 106)

The elf women then waited to act until their scattered elf men could gather again as an army and return. Their vengeance was sudden and merciless:

Taking the horn off the wall, he opened the door to the stairs and blew a long blast. Watchmen who heard it passed the signal on, down and down the reaches of the castle… not knowing it was the call for every elf woman who was able to plunge a knife into the heart of the troll who had her….

“Do you also hear a racket behind the walls?”

“Aye,” grinned the elf. “The trolls have just found out how it was that the other castles fell so easily. However they will not catch the women, with the hiding places there are in that burh, ere we have caught them. (pages 200-201)

History will itself remain a battleground for the foreseeable future. However, based on these passages, it’s clear that as far as Poul Anderson was concerned, elf women at least have always fought. I’m not sure that this is quite what Kameron Hurley had in mind, however.

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5 responses to “Poul Anderson: Elf Women Have Always Fought

  1. Cirsova June 29, 2015 at 8:22 am

    Judith probably couldn’t have taken Holofernes in a fist fight, but…

  2. Twila Price June 29, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Some of us couldn’t use our wiles even if we wanted to. :-) Not being young anymore, and all. So I guess we’ll have to take the cook’s way out and feed them *interesting* things. Or else bash ’em on the head with our canes, since we’re just helpless old ladies.

    • Cirsova June 29, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      Counterpoint: JB Fletcher and Miss Marple show that wiles don’t fade with age, they just become so finely tuned and subtle that no one notices them until it’s too late.

  3. Pingback: That Woefully Incomplete Sampling of Appendix | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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