Tessa Gratton is here today to talk about her newest book The Strange Maid (out June 10!). The Strange Maid is Gratton’s second book in the United States of Asgard and features a female protagonist who makes a deal with Odin to become a Valkyrie. Since we all know I like highlighting strong, proactive, awesome female characters on the blog, Tessa is here to write about strong women both in Norse myth and The Strange Maid. (And also there might be a giveaway at the bottom of this post. Just saying.)
Without further ado, here’s Tessa:
To talk about strong women in THE STRANGE MAID, I have to start with my favorite one from Norse Mythology: Signy Volsung.
From the Volsunga Saga, Signy was the twin sister of Sigmund, the star of the saga and father of the more famous Sigurd. When she’s young, Signy’s father marries her to the evil king Siggier, about whom she says “My heart does not smile with his” as a warning. After the wedding, Siggier invites Signy’s family to visit, but treacherously he kills her father and captures her brothers. She arranges for them to be put into stocks instead of executed, but every night a giant she-wolf comes and eats one brother. Each one dies this way until it’s Sigmund’s turn. Signy has a servant spread honey onto Sigmund’s face so that the she-wolf licks him instead of eating him, then she helps her brother escape and hide in the woods.
Years later Signy sends her son to the woods to Sigmund so that together they can kill Signy’s evil husband. But when Sigmund declares her son is unworthy, Signy has him killed. Sigmund declares her youngest son unworthy, too, because of his evil father, and kills him. To get a strong, worthy son, Signy changes her shape into that of a sorceress and goes to the woods to sleep with her twin brother Sigmund. They sleep together for three nights, after which she goes back to the castle pregnant. Nine years later she sends her son to Sigmund and together they plot to kill the evil king.
Once the king is dead and the castle burning to the ground, Signy tells her brother about the incest and then walks into the fire, knowing her magic and quest for vengeance has left her no right to live now that she’s succeeded.
She is so bad ass.
So when I tell you I named the hero of THE STRANGE MAID after her, because that’s her ideal strong woman, you can have an idea where I’m coming from.
My Signy is a girl who, in a fit of grief and fury, makes a dangerous bargain with Odin, the god of madness and sacrifice, to become his first new Valkyrie in a hundred years. To Signy, being a Valkyrie means embracing death and madness, and because of that, she worships the old, wild Valkyrie like Signy Volsung, or like Valtheow who fought at Beowulf’s side to defeat Grendel’s mother, or Skuld who wove cloaks out of her enemies guts.
But in the modern United States of Asgard, being a Valkyrie has come to mean a different kind of strength: the eight Valkyrie on the council are strong in the arts of politics and history, they are mediators and celebrities, they deliver Odin’s words to the president and Congress, but they no longer ride at the head of armies, they no longer revel in death and sacrifice. They are Odin’s Voices, not his violent weapons. Signy thinks they’re weak because of it, and wants to revolutionize the image of what it means to be one of Odin’s Death Choosers.
It was fun – and hard – for me to write about a teen girl struggling with what strength means for women in her culture, partly because it’s such a hot topic on the internet these days, and partly because I was writing about a warrior culture that is like our own, but not quite.
The current surge of writing strong girl characters is an overt response to hundreds of years of literature in which girls and women are weak because of their biology and psychology. It’s hard to use the phrase “strong female protagonist” without remembering that it exists because the default archetype of women in Western literature has for so long been weak.
In my alternate America, the oldest literary women characters are the Valkyrie. They were queens and monsters and mothers and wives.* Not the other way around. They rode on wolves and chose which warriors deserved immortality. Over time that image not only diminished and was relegated to Hollywood-style caricatures and revisionist history, but was actively put down by the Valkyrie themselves in order to find new methods of power in service to Odin. THAT is the problem Signy faces: she must be a weapon and a voice by embracing the dark parts of herself and history without becoming a monster like the troll mother stalking her.
Signy must find a way to be not either a hero or a villain, but somehow both. It’s hard for anybody, but for a girl – so often forced into a false dichotomy of virgin or whore – sometimes it feels impossible.
So that’s what I wrote my book about. Also troll queens, riddle-masters, and kissing.
*this is where I could go on a ten minute rant about the best analysis of Beowulf I ever read, which basically stated it was a poem all about the ladies. If anybody wants a blog post about THAT, just let me know. :D
Thanks again to Tessa for the awesome post. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m even more excited for this book!
Now about that giveaway:
Tessa has very kindly offered to giveaway a copy of The Strange Maid here on the blog.
Giveaway is open to any readers over the age of 13. US only.
Giveaway will run from June 9 to June 13. Winner will be notified June 14. If I don’t hear back from the winner by June 15 I will pick a new winner from the entry pool.
This is a Rafflecopter giveaway. Details on how to enter can be found by clicking “enter” above or clicking the photo!