zodiacal_light: A map of Tortall (tortall)
Of all the Tortall series, I fic most for SotL, so I have to spend a lot of time thinking about Alanna. After Kel, she's my favorite of the heroines, but I always feel at least a little bad writing her - it always feels like I'm taking something away from her, because I mostly write AUs, and things go so ridiculously, implausibly perfectly for her in SotL that literally any change makes things start falling apart. (Not that this means her life in these AUs turns out bad, just different.)

So I guess, in retrospect, what bothers me most about Alanna is how contrived her life is by the end of SotL. Also, in getting my thoughts in order to make this post, I came to realize that I unabashedly like SotL-Alanna; it's the glimpses we see of her later that drive me nuts. She really starts going off the rails for me in that first scene in FT, where it seems she's almost become a parody of herself.

I don't find even early Alanna unproblematic, though. It bothers me endlessly that the story never grapples with her biggest flaws - her temper (which is treated as cute), her self-righteousness (she's always right), or her hypocrisy (she's all about duty, supposedly, yet repeatedly runs away and encourages others to do so). The story also never grapples with how her ambition and her drive are double-edged swords. I think that her being made Champion only serves to exacerbate these flaws, not temper them; I can think of few jobs she's more ill-suited to. I honestly think she would have been better served and even more useful as an ordinary knight.

This next thing is a problem I have with all the heroines, but I might as well mention it here: they never seem to lose anything, never seem to give anything up that actually matters. That's one of the reasons I'm so mean to Alanna in fic; I want to see what she'd do if she actually lost something - an opportunity, an accomplishment, a person who actually impacts her. I firmly believe that it's how we react to failure that really matters - but Alanna never really fails.

I am endlessly intrigued by the little glimpses of more depth to Alanna that we get in SotL - I am especially intrigued by her clear interest in the Old Ones and Myles' ruins, and I wish all that hadn't been dropped like a hot potato.

Head-canon
-A lot of Alanna's success is, actually, due to the fact she's god-touched. If nothing else, it's the only way I can satisfactorily explain away the progress reports.
-Alanna doesn't have a great relationship with her kids. At the least, it's a distant one fraught with a lot of misunderstanding. How bad it is, exactly, depends mostly on how angsty I feel like writing at the time.
-Jon only sent Alanna off on that diplomatic trip to Carthage because she was getting on his nerves and he wanted her gone for a while. (In fact, I think that explains everyone he sent, since that envoy's filled with a lot of dumb choices.)
-I sometimes like to think that later, if she ever actually matures a bit, Alanna ends up retiring from being Champion to take over Myles' role as history teacher. I liked the glimpses we saw of Alanna the teacher, though I think she'd be a shitty training master, and I liked the glimpses we got of Alanna being interested in history. (I can see basically two paths for Alanna - she never really grows up, and so never really retires, or she eventually learns to accept aging with grace and finds some other way to be useful.)
-She was never afraid of magic, but she used it as an excuse enough (because she didn't like practicing it) that she half believed it. Honestly, though - even before the Sickness she's awfully quick to threaten Coram with visions, and the whole thing with the cook's visions sounds far more Alanna-ish to me than Thom-ish, not least because she seems to be the more dynamic of the twins.
-She never had the best relationship with Thom, and is not entirely sure why. I see her as a rough-and-tumble girl, and there's that line about her ducking him in the pond that she uses to basically shut him up. I suspect that what she saw as just roughhousing he saw as bullying; I also think she sees him as somewhat pathetic. She really doesn't seem to think too highly of her brother in canon.
-Alanna thinks she got over Thom's death, but never really did. (Why yes, it does rather disturb me that in canon she seems to grieve more for Liam than her own brother.) I sort of suspect that she's used to pushing thoughts of her brother aside, even while he was alive, and she just does the same here and thinks she's over it. I also suspect this colors her relationship with her eldest, because superficially there's enough similarity there to raise all sorts of old ghosts. (Again, how deeply this taints Alanna's relationship with her son depends on how angsty I'm getting.)
-I'll get into this more in a later post on the kids, but I think Alanna feels that none of them turned out quite right; I also think the one she actually understands is Aly. Alan (even my happy version of him) deeply unsettles her; Thom is different and distant in ways she can't quite get.
-At some point in the ten-year gap between LR and WM, someone actually made Alanna get some more comprehensive/official training as a healer. (Honestly, in canon this bugs the SHIT out of me - all other healers we see in Tortall are trained; Alanna isn't, but somehow that's perfectly ok, she's just as good as the trained ones. See also: WWRLAM, and how barely-trained-in-magic Alanna is suddenly competent enough to be a Bazhir shaman and teacher of magic.) Either that, or somehow despite Alanna's apparently incredible reluctance to learn, Maude somehow forced her to learn enough healing that Alanna's actually qualified to do so.

***

My Alanna Fics
Alanna is a secondary or background character in a lot of my fics, and in compiling this list, I realized that I have written a lot of fics that are about her but do not have her in them. Those fics aren't linked below, only ones in which she is a major character.
Canon compliant:
Midwinter Tradition - It's Midwinter, and Alanna has someplace to be. So of course she has to kick Neal out of bed for it.

Canon-compliant but I consider it AU:
Red and Yellow - Jon really shouldn't have sent her to Carthak.

Miscellaneous AUs:
Kiss and Tell - Delia figures out a thing or two about Squire Alan. Could, with some juggling, be considered canon-compliant.
Song of the Seer - My first "the twins don't switch" fic. I am not nice to Alanna in this fic, at all.
Stricken to the Bone - Thom and Alanna both go for page training.

Allegiance AU:
Difference - Daine comes to Tortall. Things are different, in this world.

Discovery AU:
Discovery - Lord Alan gets two progress reports.

The Iron King AU:
This AU is all about Alanna, in a way, as it is her decision to marry Jon that starts the divergence. The only fic so far directly featuring Alanna is The Iron King.

Making the Best of Things AU:
Another series heavily featuring Alanna; the fics where she is a major or main character are the only ones listed below, but she shows up in others.
First Impressions - Jon and company meet Alanna.
Odd Couple - Francis attempts to woo his ladylove.
Burning Brightly - Jon attempts to clear out the Black City.
Heroism - the major Alanna fic in this 'verse. What happens to Alanna when she goes to convent instead.
Scrap of a Dream - Alanna dreams.

Patchwork AU:
Another AU that heavily features Alanna, though so far she only shows up in the founding fic. In this 'verse, the Grimhold Mountains are their own country, and Tortall itself is very small.
Ten Scenes from Another World - A short history lesson, and what happens when Tortall sends an embassy to Grimhold.

What a Flicker Brings AU:
This AU diverges because of and centers on Thom, but you can't really write any AU about Thom that doesn't heavily feature Alanna. She's central to these two stories in particular.
What a Flicker Brings - Thom gets a glimpse of the future in his mug.
Three Months - What happens during the time skip in What a Flicker Brings.

Date: 28 Dec 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: Tortallan map (tamora pierce)
Haven't reread in a while, but I was under the impression that Alanna learned some formal healing from Baird? I always imagined that this began during the Tusaine war, when she was trying to find something useful to do with herself. (Is her work all non-magical at that point? I can't recall.)


I'm thinking there might be more to the progress reports, as well. I wrote a fic once where Lord Alan got Duke Gareth's letter and snorted with derision that the stupid sword-wielding brute couldn't keep the names straight between father and son. There's also the possibility that Alan didn't care to read them, after the first one. Or divine intervention, of course. ;)

Date: 28 Dec 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: Tortallan map (tamora pierce)
It's a shame that Maude doesn't have a more prominent role in the household (like housekeeper), so she could be the one running interference. She would be the best for it, since she was the one they turned to in the first place.

(forgot to mention to you, above, that I'm rather with you regarding Alanna becoming a caricature of herself regarding her temper - especially in PotS and the Trickster books.)

Date: 28 Dec 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
Her healing during the Tusaine War was mostly magical--she overextended herself--but also somewhat basic. My personal feeling isthat from that point on, pretty much whenever there was nothing to fight or she couldn't fight because she was pregnant or recovering from an injury, that she went to Baird and other healers for training. Since she can't stand being useless or inactive, you know. :-)

Date: 28 Dec 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
I think my biggest issues with Alanna are that she's always right, no matter how snap her judgements of people--which is a narrative problem (obviously she CAN'T always be right, but the author chooses to never show her being wrong)--and that even when she does experience a loss which should be huge (Thom!), it doesn't seem to affect her as much as one might expect.

Most of the other things that bug me, like the part where she seems to be able to pretty much run around doing whatever, where everyone else in SOTL and in POTS are very regimented as pages and squires and knights, is more an artifact of Pierce not having thought through well what the duties of a page/squire/knight in Tortall WERE at that point, and hence not really worrying about her protagonist being constrained by them. Not so much a problem intrinsic to Alanna the character, but an artifact of half-thought-out worldbuilding.

Of course, the result is the same.

I sometimes like to think that later, if she ever actually matures a bit, Alanna ends up retiring from being Champion to take over Myles' role as history teacher. I liked the glimpses we saw of Alanna the teacher, though I think she'd be a shitty training master, and I liked the glimpses we got of Alanna being interested in history. (I can see basically two paths for Alanna - she never really grows up, and so never really retires, or she eventually learns to accept aging with grace and finds some other way to be useful.)

I absolutely adore this idea and am totally going to end up incorporating it into my head-canon.

I don't think Alanna would need to be forced to get formal healing training between LR and WM. We know she doesn't deal well with boredom or downtime, and there's likely to be a fair amount of downtime in that gap, without any major wars or Immortals to fight, and without any heroic quests for Alanna to go on--plus she has her kids during that time period, and wouldn't be able to keep up her training fully during the pregnancies, or be in active combat. So I can see her going "Okay, I can't fight right now, so I will learn to heal better!" and bugging Baird and the Palace healers about it. This would also explain how she and Baird become friends, which they do at some point between LR (where they're friendly but not friends) and POTS.

Date: 28 Dec 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
I think Pierce is great at coming up with seeds for characters, and pretty at "training stories", but weak on worldbuilding, making characters flawed yet sympathetic, and plot structure.

I wish we knew more about how healing was taught in Tortall - is it an apprenticeship model, or what?

Yeah, IDK. For Neal, there's the Royal University, but before that...it must have been an apprenticeship model. Or maybe boys with a healing Gift went to the Mithrans for 4 years or so and focused on learning the basics of healing and magic in general, and then to apprenticeships? For village healers like Maude, I'd say definitely apprenticeship model.

Are any of the Royal healers women?

Date: 29 Dec 2010 03:15 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (Default)
Most of the other things that bug me, like the part where she seems to be able to pretty much run around doing whatever, where everyone else in SOTL and in POTS are very regimented as pages and squires and knights

I think there's also a distinction here in that in PotS we see a wider cast of knights, and a stricter regime for training for the pages. (my Wyldon-loving heart attributes that to him, rather than Pierce.) If you compare roles during the times of war, SotL seems to be more similar to PotS. I think Alanna has the freedom to be a knight errant that - for whatever reason - Kel and her companions do not. I don't know if this is solely a flaw of Pierce's creating the world over an expanse of time, changing as she went, or part of a conscious decision to show changes over time in Tortall based on needs. (I tend to go with a combination, personally. But then, I have a habit of justifying things so that they'll make sense.

Date: 29 Dec 2010 03:25 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (mischevious)
Justifying things is half the fun, though. :P

Absolutely! :) A friend and I were joking about writing an entire series where each story explains some major flaw in the canon - like why the squires in SotL swap knight-masters, or why Gamal insists that Jon & Alanna destroyed the Ysandir five years before, when it was really six. :P

My only concern with the changes over time is that in some ways 10-15 years seems not quite long enough.

I would agree that in most *normal* cases, half a generation is too soon for change. But I could see Jon's "reforms" incorporating an entire paradigm shift because he likes to do things *his* way. (And for the pages/squires, the paradigm shift centers entirely on Wyldon, in my book. But then, my book centers entirely on him.)

Date: 31 Dec 2010 12:17 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
...I really want to know what Wyldon was like as a page now. O_o

Date: 29 Dec 2010 03:41 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
It's true that the page-training regime is much stricter, but I'm thinking more how squire!Alanna seems to be able to wander around doing whatever, and go off on trips to see her brother, apparently without seeking permission from Jon. And except in war, she barely seems to have any duties, nor does Jon oversee her training or provide any real guidance.

And then when she goes off erranting--she doesn't seem to ask permission of Roald, or get directed by him (in my head canon, he tells her he doesn't want to see her back in Corus for at least a year and sends her packing). And that doesn't make sense to me at all. Knights in Tortall seem to be very much the property of the Crown, except Alanna.

Date: 29 Dec 2010 03:53 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
For whatever reason--Jon probably--Roald doesn't take her shield (and, arguably, by disguising herself and deceiving everyone to earn her shield, she preemptively violated the Code of Chivalry, so he probably could have), but I bet he wants her out of the way while the scandal dies down.

Date: 29 Dec 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (Default)
I always saw that as part of the narrative differences between series; Alanna's book seems to focus very much more on the important moments rather than on the everyday, as Kel's does. It's mentioned in ItHotG that Alanna's running an errand for Myles is when Jon didn't need her - indicating that she would probably need permission from her knight-master to do this.

I consistently got the impression that while we were seeing a lot of her free time, there was just as much time performing duties.

And we don't really know who's in charge of the knights - was it really just Alanna choosing to go off to the desert without permission, or did she have to okay it with someone like Duke Gareth or another person-in-charge-of-knights?

I guess I've always filled in the blanks.

Date: 29 Dec 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (Default)
Which is fun, but the problem I have is that there are so many blanks that need filling that sometimes it seems there are more blanks than anything else (like almost all of Alanna's years as a squire).

Oh, I defintely see your point. I just... (argh, trying to find words here!) I guess to me it's a case where the expanded universe makes it more necessary to ask these questions. Would we care that Alanna's years as a squire encompass things that we don't see as particularly squirely if proper squiring hadn't been laid out before us in PotS?

I'm more interested in looking at the differences and extrapolating than I am having solid answers. I can see where a reader wouldn't be as content with it, but I think my personal approach is to *like* a skeletal approach. It gives lots to think and talk about. :)

I shouldn't have to spend my time filling in the story for the author.

I can definitely see your point. I agree, but not to a full 100%, I think. Different strokes, I suppose.

Date: 31 Dec 2010 12:16 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
Would we care that Alanna's years as a squire encompass things that we don't see as particularly squirely if proper squiring hadn't been laid out before us in PotS?

Personally? Yes. Specifically, I have problems with the massive amounts of free time that a lot of the nobles seem to have in SOTL. It kind of ties into how I think the "convent school" reads more like a Victorian finishing school and less like a sensible way to teach noblewomen how to managed a fief, and how I have serious issues with the "normal" marriage age for women being ~14-16, depending on class.

My objections have more to do with how real medieval/Renaissance societies work than with the difference between SOTL and POTS. And my suspicion is that some of the differences between the two can be explained by Pierce finding out more about how real feudal societies work (although she's still clinging to marrying women off before they're old enough to be fully trained in a trade or managing a fief, whichever).

I like a certain amount of skeletal approach because I enjoy speculating, especially as a fanfiction writer--but I get frustrated if the skeleton itself is contradictory, or implausible. And I feel like Pierce's is...inconsistent. (I also feel that she passed up some real possibilities for powerful storylines; the fact that her protagonists almost never lose anything truly important to them disappoints me.)

Date: 31 Dec 2010 07:10 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (Default)
Specifically, I have problems with the massive amounts of free time that a lot of the nobles seem to have in SOTL. It kind of ties into how I think the "convent school" reads more like a Victorian finishing school and less like a sensible way to teach noblewomen how to managed a fief, and how I have serious issues with the "normal" marriage age for women being ~14-16, depending on class.

I can definitely agree to that. I think that when I first read SotL, I wasn't looking for a world based off of medieval Europe. I was looking for a fantasy world with a culture different from ours, and accepted that it was something different. Thus when more came out and Tammy began talking about relative earth-life, I became more disappointed with how she did it.

And my suspicion is that some of the differences between the two can be explained by Pierce finding out more about how real feudal societies work

I concur completely.

And I feel like Pierce's is...inconsistent. (I also feel that she passed up some real possibilities for powerful storylines; the fact that her protagonists almost never lose anything truly important to them disappoints me.)

I would whole-heartedly agree with you here. I suppose I just tend to leave more room for "maybe Tortall is different in _____ manner"; I don't know if that makes me a lazy reader or what; I spend so much of my life studying the history of our world that I want to find something *else*, so I look for the ways it's different rather than the ways it should be the same.

Date: 31 Dec 2010 07:20 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (Default)
I agree with you. There's nothing I love more than an author who sucks me in with world-building. Even if it's not ideal, I like it to be original. (this is why I've never, *ever* warmed up to the Tortallan deities.)

I wonder if the largest flaw in all of this writing is that she kept building off of something that was initially so flawed. The Circle books have much richer world-building (while still not perfect, of course) - and I think the paradigm shift our of Europe and her own continuing education since the dawn of her publishing experience helped her quite a bit.

It makes me sort of with that TIQ and POTS were in a different world...(and that the Trickster books didn't exist.)

Date: 31 Dec 2010 07:37 am (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (Default)
I've actually been thinking that if she had just gone ahead and run with the setup in SotL and not tried to fix it, there wouldn't have been much of a problem.

Yes, that's very much how I feel.

The squire-differences don't bother me so much between the books because I can get behind two facts: the training is not the emphasis *at all* during Alanna's books (thus there's really no direct correlation, given that Alanna's and Kel's squire experiences are so different by circumstances of their knight-masters) and there's a new training regime altogether. I have no qualms with the notion that Wyldon came in and declared the previous training program a complete mess, and fixed things up. We're told of outright changes he made, so I'm okay speculating that there were lots more.

(but we both know that I'm in my happiest place while speculating about him.)

I was actually just thinking about how the immortals themselves are a large part of what breaks the Tortall-verse.

I definitely agree. On one hand, it made a knight's life more interesting. But it also fractured everything else.

Date: 31 Dec 2010 06:05 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
Well, I don't want it to be just like medieval Europe--in fact, I wish authors would more often think out different-from-Earth social and economic structures. But they have to make sense--I can't just accept "this is how it works here" if it seems illogical.

For example, if one family holds a throne for 300 years without any attempts at revolts or coups, without the main line dying out and it going to a cadet branch, without any of their enemies managing to conquer them even temporarily--well, sure I can buy it happening in a fantasy world, but it's so far from human nature (and not just medieval Europe) that I would want to know why.

(I don't know that this is what happened with the Contes, but I'm slightly suspicious that Jon's Coronation is the first real challenge the Contes have had to the throne, and that makes me go O_o).

I wouldn't object to the convent-finishing-school if the text didn't also tell us that noblewomen run fiefs.

Date: 31 Dec 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] q_sama
q_sama: (Default)
I've always just assumed that there's political strife in every generation of the Contes, and there were plenty of attempts at coups and things, but the line persevered for the most part. (the Romanovs had a 300+ year dynasty with the main line being fairly dominant.)

I always thought there's something more there than what we're told because the Conte line's history from 100 years ago doesn't really matter. Learning more about Jasson or the king before him would've been nice, though. (at least we know that Alanna's learning *some* of it, in history classes.)

(and please don't think I'm just trying to be contrary - I'm really intending to sort out my own thoughts and come to conclusions about why certain things bother me and other things don't.)

Date: 31 Dec 2010 07:49 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] carmarthen
carmarthen: "Would you like my hat?" (Default)
I've always just assumed that there's political strife in every generation of the Contes, and there were plenty of attempts at coups and things, but the line persevered for the most part.

I'm trying to assume that--I just wish we saw more of it, because it would be interesting and muddy up the good-vs-bad framing of the novels some. Obviously--those aren't the kinds of books Pierce wants to write, but they're the kind of books I'd like to see more of.

and please don't think I'm just trying to be contrary - I'm really intending to sort out my own thoughts and come to conclusions about why certain things bother me and other things don't.

Not at all! All this picking away at Tortall is certainly elucidating what I want to see more (and less) of in fantasy in general.

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