Pendragon's Heir Character Spotlight: Blanche Pendragon
Greetings, fellow inklings! I am really excited about today's guest- post :). It's a pleasure to feature the wonderful Suzannah Rowntree from her glorious nook on the blogosphere Vintage Novels, on her blog-tour in honour of the publication of her novel, Pendragon's Heir! I have been building up a heap of anticipation in time for the release of Suzannah's epic Arthurian tale; I must say that my excitement has reached quite a peak with some of the delightful posts in the tour regarding her book. Be sure to check them out, especially - Interview Feature - Suzannah Rowntree on Tales of Goldstone Wood, Romance Fixin' on The Inkpen Authoress, Recovering Allegory on Literary Lane, and a Round Table Discussion with Suzannah Rowntree on My Lady Bibliophile,
So today, I am honoured to have Suzannah share with us on Fullness of Joy, a character spotlight of her main female character from Pendragon's Heir.
Meet Blanche Pendragon!
Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of—or wanted.
Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it?
Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?
Today I’d like to introduce you all to the main character of Pendragon’s Heir, Blanche Pendragon herself. Actually, I had better reveal that Blanche isn’t her real name—in full, it’s Blanchefleur, and she comes to prefer this to the shortened form. But that wasn’t so handy for publicity purposes, so let us go with Blanche for now.
As a main character, Blanche has gone through several big changes—not just over the course of the plot, but also over the course of the ten years during which I wrote the novel. It would not be too much to say that she was the character on which I learned how to write characters. In fact I’d be willing to bet she has ended up with some fairly typical first-born personality quirks!
As my main character, Blanche comes with, I hope, a complex and multifaceted personality. The specific aspect I want to talk about today is a self-imposed limitation I decided to adopt quite early on in the writing process.
You see, even eight or nine years ago when I made this decision, there was a fair bit of debate on the internet about what exactly constitutes a Strong Female Character—with as much lack of consensus then as now. Then, as now, too many authors and filmmakers seemed to think that you could just put a sword in a girl’s hand and poof! she would turn into not just an enemy-mincing war machine but also a Strong Female Character, a Good Role Model For Our Girls, and who knows what else.
Then, as now, I was impatient with this approach to characterisation. It seemed that all too often, attitude, shrillness, and the ability to slice through enemies was made to take the place of real characterisation. In addition, although I enjoyed the presence of the odd lady knight in such tales as The Faerie Queene, The Lord of the Rings, or Till We Have Faces, I had done enough research to know that in the real world it is actually physically impossible for waiflike Hollywood action heroines to fight as effectively as the average man. And I also believed, with CS Lewis, that “battles are ugly when women fight”—that this is not something which women should be encouraged to participate in.
Meanwhile, I was always fascinated when I stumbled across a good action movie—the Bourne films, for instance—in which the female characters did not join in the fighting. I had read Robert McKee’s Story, and I knew that film is an unforgiving medium: anything not directly related to the resolution of the plot must be left on the cutting-room floor. Clearly, keeping the ladies out of the fighting put a huge burden on the filmmakers to justify their existence in some other way—and that, it seemed, was when they really became characters in their own right.
So I set myself a challenge.
I was going to write a thrilling tale of action and adventure in medieval Arthurian Britain featuring a female protagonist—not a sidekick, not a love interest, but a protagonist—who would have trouble knowing one end of a sword from another.
And I was going to do it in such a way that none of my readers would think any less of her for it.
“I sometimes think that Sir Ector sees himself as some medieval lord, and me as a medieval princess. What will he ask me to do next? Intercede with him for the peasantry, as Christine de Pisan recommends, or learn siege warfare so that I can defend the house while he’s away?”
The problem I immediately ran up against was how Blanche was going to be an active and meaningful part of this action-heavy plot despite her physical inaction. A big part of the picture fell into place when I listened to a sermon from Gregg Strawbridge (“The High Place of Women in Redemptive History”, I believe, available free on Wordmp3.com) discussing, among other things, the role of women as deceivers in Scripture. Tamar, Jael, the Hebrew midwives, Rahab, and countless other women are pretty solid on the “wise as serpents” part of the equation, and as I listened to this sermon I began to see all the ways in which a serpent-wise woman might hold her own, even without the use of weapons, in a world of warriors.
Even with this to go on, however, the final pieces didn’t fall into place until I discovered this wonderful medieval French book by a noblewoman named Christine de Pisan. The Treasury of the City of Ladies is a bonafide manual for medieval princesses (and women from other walks of life) who want to know how best to fulfill their duties. Full of encouraging hints on how to prevent a young lady’s affections straying from her lawful husband, when to send alms secretly and when to send them openly, how to educate children, and how to extricate a husband from bad company, The Treasury of the City of Ladies is a must for anyone who wants to know exactly how real medieval noblewomen were expected to behave. Certainly there was more to it than sitting around embroidering banners and dropping handkerchiefs to be picked up by passing knights! Among the more fascinating occupations it’s recommended a lady employ her time in are such things as—
- Negotiating peace with the people the princess’s lord is about to go to war against;
- Persuading her enemies that she is really their friend and would never expect them to do her harm (“It is best to do this with the appearance of sincerity so that it does not put them on their guard”);
- Lobbying the prince on behalf of her people, bringing their petitions and complaints to his attention and seeking relief for them;
- And yes, learning siege warfare so as to defend the house while the lord is away.
With such a wonderful quantity of information on how real medieval women defended their homes and assisted their husbands, I had more ideas than I needed to make Blanche a force to be reckoned with. My heroine would fight battles of wits, not battles of blades. She would employ diplomacy, not force. And, if I could manage it at all, she would wind up an inspiring picture of grace under pressure.
Did I succeed? I think so. When I drew my line editor’s attention to the fact that my heroine never fights, she was stunned—the fact was simply not obvious to her. And some of my most treasured snippets of feedback come from young women who found Blanche a truly inspiring role model. For them, Pendragon’s Heir stood as encouragement that yes, even fearful and selfish young women can overcome their failings and take a bold stand for their principles.
“Sir knight, will you joust?”
“That I will, and gladly.” Perceval drew on his gauntlets. Blanchefleur went forward in silence to lace on his helm.
She finished and stepped back. She could not see Perceval’s face, but when he thanked her there was something abrupt and almost shy in his voice. She stared at the featureless iron and felt more keenly than ever the distance between them. Now. Now was the time to say what might be the last words he would ever hear from her.
“Fight,” she said at last. “Win.”
When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at and is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, released March 26.
Oh my! Thank you so much for a lovely spotlight on Pendragon's Heir's main character, Suzannah! Blanchefleur sounds like a character I'd very much wish to meet within the pages of a novel. It has been lovely having you on Fullness of Joy today :). And friends, if your interest has been in any way piqued, then you should definitely check it out because. . .
Pendragon's Heir is now available!