Ladies in Waiting

Ladies in Waiting

Continuing my exploration of why I love my favorite characters (men can be found here), I have to say, this post was much harder than the first. There are many female characters I like but very few which I love. Many writers’ attempts to write strong female characters ends in an endless parade of cookie-cutter women, aloof, able to fight or argue but with no real personality. The main reason is their flawed idea of what makes a female character strong.

After some soul searching, here are my five favorite ladies from various media and the reasons why they get my seal of approval. As with the men, the post may be spoiler heavy in some cases. Read at your own risk.

5. Sallah Telgar – Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffrey
Why I love her:
When man first settled on Rukbat’s third world and named it Pern, they brought with them a young space technician by the name of Sallah Telgar. After playing her role in transporting the initial colonists to the planet’s surface, Sallah settles in to build a life for herself, choosing a career and starting a family. She is an average, ordinary person. Her life is unexciting. Her marriage is far from perfect. In fact, Sallah is a minor character.

Until Thread falls for the first time, wreaking havoc on the colony while the colonists struggle to protect themselves from its deadly capabilities. One day, while feeding her newborn daughter, Sallah catches rogue colonist Avril Bitra stealing one of the colony’s few remaining spaceships and stows-away on board. When Avril discovers her, Sallah is systematically humiliated, severely cut, and forced to assist the woman in her attempts to escaped the ‘doomed’ colony. In the end, she’s left stranded on an orbiting spacecraft with no means to return to her home or her family.

Given the situation, most people would probably fall to pieces but Sallah uses the last few precious moments of her life to contact the people on the planet below and launch a series of probes that ultimately help them determine how best to protect themselves from threadfall. As an ordinary person faced with an extraordinary circumstance, Sallah acts with courage. That’s the true mark of strength.

Favorite Moment: My favorite Sallah moment actually comes after her death. Her husband, distraught because he never realized her worth until she died, changes his name to Telgar at her funeral. The reason he gives for this is so that her name will be spoken every day and her sacrifice remembered. As a result of this name change, and his decision to change the last names of their children, Sallah Telgar’s name is remembered forever, eventually immortalized as the name of one of Pern’s Weyrs.

Favorite Quote: [The following takes place when Sallah contacts Pern knowing she’s about to die] (Ezra Keroon) “What’s your position?” (Sallah) “Sitting.” ; (Sallah’s Husband) “You must return!” (Sallah) “On the wings of a prayer? No. Go to Cara! Get out of the room. I’ve got some business to do. Pern business. Paul, make him leave. I can’t think if I know he’s listening.”

4. Morrigan – Dragon Age
Why I love her:
Morrigan is one of the companions you pick up by default when you play through the Dragon Age storyline. The daughter of Flemeth, Witch of the Wilds, Morrigan joins the party shortly after the destruction of the Grey Wardens to serve as a guide and assist in the trials to come. Morrigan has a strange sort of innocence; she was raised in the wilds and hasn’t interacted much with other people, despite her knowledge of how the world works.

Morrigan is often sarcastic. She’s a loner; she makes her camp away from everyone else, building her own fire while the rest of the party shares one. Morrigan has strong opinions. She gets uppity when anyone disagrees with her. Being a rogue mage, Morrigan gets annoyed at anything involving the circle mages or the chantry. She doesn’t like it when the main character is compassionate, often complaining if you take her on too many side-quests, feeling they’re a waste of time.

Morrigan’s greatest appeal is that she’s very much her own person. She has no desire to change. And while you can shape the person many of your companions become, Morrigan’s personality is unchanged even if you decide to romance her. Morrigan shows strength of character in her confidence and convictions. She’s a prime example of how strength doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with one’s moral compass.

Favorite Moment: Pretty much any interaction between Morrigan and Alistar is hilarious, but in particular when Morriagan joins the party, Alistar asks about her cooking skills (yeah, it’s a facepalm moment). Her response is that she knows how to make several poisons (even though she doesn’t have points in the poison making skill).

Favorite Quote: “Men are always willing to believe two things about a woman: one, that she is weak, and two, that she finds him attractive.”

3. Yuko Ichihara; The Dimensional Witch – XXXholic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles by CLAMP
Why I love her:
Yuko is a mysterious woman who runs a mysterious shop where she tells fortunes and grants wishes. Her customers wander into her shop because they have specific needs which Yuko can remedy, though not all of her customers are aware of their desires. When Watanuki Kimihiro wanders into her shop, Yuko agrees to help him deal with his ability to see spirits if he works at her shop until his debt for her help is paid off. Wacky hijinks pursue.

Yuko is quirky; I love her for that alone. She’s a mysterious woman with a great deal of mystical power. Though she takes her occult work seriously, Yuko likes to have fun, often playing games with and teasing Watanuki just for the fun of it. She also has a penchant for getting drunk with the black Mokona. But this fun-loving, spontaneous Yuko, hides a lonely, sad woman with a serious side that occasionally shows through.

Ultimately, Yuko knows what fate awaits her. She embraces that fate with grace, rather than trying to escape it. Along the way, despite her crazy antics, she imparts some serious, valuable wisdom to Watanuki, his friends and her other customers.

Favorite Moment: Tasked with helping a woman ‘quit’ her computer, Yuko writes “Executioner’s Sword” on a baseball bat. She explains that names have power and that an inanimate object can be given the power for which it is named. She then bashes the computer with the bat; instead of the expected action, the bat cuts clean through the computer but touches nothing else. Yuko explains this is because ‘a famous sword will only cut that which its master requires it to cut.’

Favorite Quote: “No matter what your objective, no matter who you are, if you are going to do something or not do something, that is a promise to yourself. And the one who keeps the promise, or breaks the promise, is you. No one else can be burdened with holding you to a promise that’s made to yourself.”

2. Donna Noble – Doctor Who
Why I love her:
The first time I encountered Donna Noble, I despised her. She was the loudest, most obnoxious character I’d ever encountered. She spends the entire episode yelling demands. At the time, I was of the opinion that the writers did this to soften the blow of the former companion (Rose) leaving the show. After an hour of Donna’s whining, everyone would be grateful to accept whoever they picked as the next companion so long as it wasn’t her.

But a season later Donna Noble returned to the show and almost instantly became my favorite companion. It’s sad that she only spends one season with the Doctor because Catherine Tate and David Tennant had amazing screen chemistry.

Donna is the essence of imperfection. She’s unobservant, highly opinionated, sometimes ditzy and she can be very loud. But for all that she’s well, a normal human being, Donna is also compassionate. Her stubborn nature comes in handy in critical moments, such as when the volcano Vesuvius erupts and the Doctor needs someone to smack him upside the head until he realizes saving one person can make all the difference. Aside from keeping the Doctor on the straight and narrow (which he sorely needs), Donna is funny and witty. While most of the other companions spend their time in awe of the Doctor’s magnificence, Donna is the first to criticize him for a full head, tease him when he’s made a fool of himself, slap him when he’s scared her or just plain walk away while he’s in the middle of an epic speech. In other words, she’s grounded, and that’s good because it means she never gets bedazzled the way some of the other companions do.

Favorite Moment: I honestly can’t pick just one here. I’m fond of her telling off her boss for firing her while there’s an alien invasion happening (she completely fails to notice the latter in her tirade). Also fond of her walking back into the TARDIS to get her coat while the Doctor is monologueing. Here are a couple of other highlights.

Favorite Quote: “You idiot! They’re born with their brains in their hands! Don’t you see, that makes them peaceful? They’ve got to be, because a creature like that would have to trust anyone it meets.”

1. Lyra Belacqua (aka Lyra Silvertongue) – His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Why I love her:
Disclaimer, if you recognize this character from the Golden Compass and think I’m in any way speaking of the movie, stop right now and go read the book, and it’s two sequels. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

Lyra’s is a coming of age story. To me, Lyra is the absolute avatar of strength. Lyra in her youth is stubborn and fearless. She’s a tom-boy. She has the run of her Oxford and she isn’t at all shy about it. She’s the ringleader of her group of local friends, she stirs up trouble and takes all the credit later. It’s her, and not the adults, who rules Jordan College. But it isn’t her childish behavior that makes her appealing. In Lyra’s mind, there’s nothing she can’t do. She refuses to believe that could be possible. That belief carries her as far as the world of the dead and back again.

I think there’s no better example of breaking the typical ‘strong woman’ stereotype than Lyra. Throughout the course of her journey, Lyra faces many extraordinary circumstances. And though she charges toward seemingly impossible goals without pausing to consider their improbability, she does get caught up in emotion. She often cries. There seems to be this idea that ‘strength’ equates to ‘aloof’. Lyra is perhaps the most genuine character you’ll ever meet. She feels very openly and it often results in characters being drawn to her, from companions her own age to mighty armored bears.

Favorite Moment: After being captured by the armored bears, Lyra convinces their king that she is the dæmon of Iorek Byrnison, who she knows is on his way to rescue her. She does this after Iorek goes to great lengths to impress upon her that bears cannot be tricked. Because the bear king wishes to have a dæmon, and be more human, Lyra is able to convince him to fight Iorek in one-on-one combat, saying that if he kills Iorek, she would become his dæmon. When Iorek hears of her feat he gives her the name ‘Silvertongue’, which she uses for the rest of her journey.

Favorite Quote: “And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart. Every atom of me and every atom of you… We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams… And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me, we’ll be joined so tight…”

7 Replies to “Ladies in Waiting”

  1. This is a great post! I have read all the Pern books but had forgotten about Sallah Telgar. Yes, she was amazing in that story. This makes me want to read that book again. :) Thanks!!!

    1. Thank you! :) Glad you enjoyed it! I always remembered Sallah because of the scene after she died when her husband changed his name. Just thinking about it gives me chills!

  2. I’m kind of (almost, sort of) surprised you didn’t include Polgara on your list.

    Also, have you read Mysts of Avalon yet? You need to if you haven’t. I think you’d like Morgaine (whose point of view this particular Arthurian tale is told from).

    And thanks for making me cry with that Lyra quote. Seriously.


    1. I seriously considered including Polgara on the list. I really like her and she’s a great character. But I feel like her primary role in the story is as the mother figure, and I feel like that’s a very common role for women to play. I think the most stellar characters are the ones that break the mold. And while Polgara is lovable and memorable, the second series she appears in always sort of lost me, so I decided against including her here.

      I haven’t read Mysts of Avalon yet, but I have seen the mini-series based on the book and Nathan studied it in a film class he took in university. He pointed out that the main problem with Morgaine is that the author chooses to depict her as if she can do no wrong. But I haven’t actually read the book myself, so I can’t speak to it. I didn’t include her here because Morgaine is from Arthurian lore so she’s been depicted several different ways. That makes it hard to zero in on her for a character study because you have to start looking at all the different ways she’s been depicted by different authors (which is actually an interesting concept I might try some day).

      Also that quote makes me tear up every time I read it *sniffle*


      1. I see what you’re saying with Polgara, and that’s why I wasn’t super surprised she didn’t make the cut.

        As far as Morgaine in Mysts goes – I’d have to disagree with Nathan. I don’t know if he’s actually read it (I haven’t seen the mini series, but I’ve read some reviews saying it was bad, so I’m not sure I want to), but I don’t think she comes across at all as a “do-no-wrong” character in the book. I really love her, anyway. (As if my opinion is the end-all, be-all.) :D

        Also, I’m dying to read ALL of these to (or with) my boys. Regardless of the fact that they don’t have a sister (and probably will never have one), they will grow up knowing that girls are just as smart/strong/powerful as boys. I’m just ticking away these years until they’re old enough for the *content* of these novels!! >.<

      2. Also!

        I would love to see that character study (and/or help you out with it), ‘cuz I’m a HUGE fan of Morgaine in ANY form!

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