V a l a q u e n t a ∟Varda and Manwë, Queen of the Stars and the Elder King
Manwë is dearest to Ilúvatar and understands most clearly his purposes. He was appointed to be, in the fullness of time, the first of all Kings: lord of the realm of Arda and ruler of all that dwell therein. In Arda his delight is in the winds and the clouds, and in all the regions of the air, from the heights to the depths, from the utmost borders of the Veil of Arda to the breezes that blow in the grass. Þúlimo he is surnamed, Lord of the Breath of Arda. All swift birds, strong of wing, he loves, and they come and go at his bidding.
With Manwë dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars, who knows all the regions of Eä. Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Ilúvatar lives still in her face. In light is her power and her joy. Out of the deeps of Eä she came to the aid of Manwë; for Melkor she knew from before the making of the music and rejected him, and he hated her, and feared her more than all others whom Eru made.
It’s been a weird few days. A tweet of mine, what I thought was a completely mild, innocuous tweet, took off and has so far been retweeted something like 1800 times. A screenshot of that tweet was featured in a tumblr post that so far has about 140k notes.
In the tweet I’m talking about Charlotte Corday, of course. She’s the assassin that killed Marat and whose murderous act inspired the most famous piece of art to come out of the revolutionary period, David’s The Death of Marat(1793).
I’ve never been associated with anything like these numbers before, and, as you can imagine, I’ve been receiving lots of eloquent and polite correspondence on twitter as a result. Nothing as bad as if I happened to be a woman saying the same thing, of course. I’ve mostly ignored it, but I wanted to do something to catalogue some thoughts in response.
So here is an encyclopaedia of ignorance that I’ve seen so far, and some unorganised thoughts in reply.
You don’t know anything about Assassin’s Creed. In previous games you don’t play as a real person. I know. No-one’s suggesting you play as Charlotte Corday (though that would be cool, wouldn’t it?). The point is that Ubisoft have assumed that a male assassin is the default, whereas the actual history of the period suggests the complete opposite. Maybe Ubisoft should be forced to justify why they’ve chosen a male assassin over the more logical and historically relevant decision to play as a woman. Why have they reorganised history?
Ubisoft can’t be sexist. In Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, you played as not just a woman, but a non-white woman too. I do know this. I briefly got to know the writer of Liberation, Jill Murray, at an event we both spoke at earlier in the year, and I can’t imagine a smarter choice of writer to be involved in the series.I hope she is doing some great work on this very point behind the scenes right now. But you know the fact the AC games have had a woman protagonist before actually makes this decision—and its accompanying excuse—worse, don’t you? It’s not a precedent which excuses all subsequent offences. It’s a building block from which to move forward—and a pillar that proves that excuses of cost or workload when it comes to playable women are laughable.
Charlotte Corday will probably turn up as a character in the game. Yep, it seems likely. That doesn’t change anything, really. I just hope that we don’t assassinate Marat with her looking on, as we rode Paul Revere’s horse for him in Assassin’s Creed III. That would, for obvious reasons, be bad.
Because Charlotte Corday is famous/was caught, she wasn’t a good assassin. Or, as one person tweeted at me this morning, she apparently wasn’t an assassin at all (for reasons best kept to himself and his six followers). This actually really concerns me, because it suggests that there are people out there that truly believe that there have been real Assassin’s Creed-style assassins throughout history, the kind that successfully knock off dozens, if not hundreds of important targets and slip away into the crowd, or parkour off into the distance, to be unrecognised both by their contemporaries and by history. Seriously, if you believe this—especially about such a well-documented and widely-studied era as the French Revolution—then I implore you to pick up a book and read, and expand your understanding of history beyond the Assassin’s Creed games. I love the AC games. I have at least 20,000 words on them through my PhD thesis. They are fantasies of history. Real assassination is utterly unromantic and flawed. Charlotte Corday is the image of a real assassin—a newcomer to violence, working for all intents and purposes by herself, who either intended to be caught or understood it as an inevitability, and who planned accordingly so as to make a statement. Ezio is not reality.
Most importantly of all: by creating an all-male-protagonist French Revolution videogame, Ubisoft have entered a long-held tradition of downplaying or marginalising the role of women in the Revolution. This happened both at the time and through the writing of history subsequently. After her execution, Charlotte Corday was examined to find out if she was a virgin—if she had been ‘sharing her bed’ then surely we would find a man’s hand behind the assassination (this was not the case). Could a woman really have come up with this plan herself?
Women were repeatedly denied rights, both before the revolution, during it, and after it. The famous Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen remains silent on women, despite a preceding petition calling for equal rights for women. This situation lead to Olympe de Gouges’ complex and witty Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, which is ironically dedicated to Marie Antoinette, and declares (remember, this is 1791) that “This revolution will only take effect when all women become fully aware of their deplorable condition, and of the rights they have lost in society.”
Groups like the Society of Revolutionary Women were formed, and in 1793, outlawed and abolished by the Jacobin government. Then, the Napoleonic Code of 1804 reinforced French women’s status as second-class citizens.
And of course, then came the many conservative historians who had either an interest in downplaying the role of women, or whose privilege meant it was a question easily ignored. As Shirley Elson Roessler writes in her excellent Out of the Shadows: Women and Politics in the French Revolution, 1789-1795,
The topic of women’s participation in the French Revolution has generally received little attention from historians, who have displayed a tendency to minimize the role of women in the major events of those years, or else to ignore it altogether. In the nineteenth century those who did attempt to deal with the topic chose to approach it with an emphasis on individual women who had for some reason attained a degree of notoriety.
So you see that even a focus on someone like Charlotte Corday or Olympe de Gouges is a strategy that has been used to downplay the role of women in the broad fabric of the revolution. I’m pleased to see the historically-accurate presence of women in the Assassin’s Creed: Unity crowds, in the storming-of-the-palace scenario we were shown at E3—but the fact that women remain unplayable, as a hands-off role, as actors-but-not-protagonists, indicates that Ubisoft is taking a regressive step with Unity, not just for the Assassin’s Creed series, not just for the representation of women in videogames, but in representation of the women of the French Revolution.
♕Weirwoods are considered sacred to the followers of the old gods. The children of the forest are said to have carved faces in the weirwoods during the Dawn Age, before the coming of the First Men across the narrow sea. It is said that through the faces the old gods watch over the followers and bear witness to important events. The greenseers of the children of the forest can see through the eyes of weirwoods. Since trees have no sense of time, the greenseer can see into the past or present when looking through the eyes of a tree.
It sounds simple but many a writer has forgotten this. Say it with me; every body has it’s natural limits. Can your character still run with a dislocated knee? I’m going to hazard a no, mainly because the dislocation of a joint destabilises it i.e your character does not have that leg to stand on.
Another uncomfortable fact for you; It takes roughly 1000lbs of pressure and the drop of the body to break the neck when hanging a person.
With that in mind ask your self this; is it realistic that my (badass) character could do such a thing with their bare hands? Just another one of those questions that will draw strange looks for others if you utter it aloud but, trust me, it’s one you should ask. Nothing will undermine the realism of your story more than characters that, while being apparently unremarkable, suddenly sprouting super powers.
Don’t get me wrong, you most definitely can have a non-hulking man do such things or, further still, a tiny woman besting such feats but you must account for it.
Consider the following;
Is your character male or female?
How old are they?
Are they healthy and fit? (in this category also consider weight, previous injuries, senses and psychological factors. E.g a healthy, fit young woman who regularly weight trains and takes self defense classes would have more of a chance of fighting off an attacker than an overweight, older man who was partially blind.)
What size are they; weird question I know but think about it; a very small man has different combat/maneuvering options compared to his larges more muscle bound compatriots.
I wont bore you with the facts about how much damage a body can take before it becomes incapacitated (though there are resources detailing this at the bottom) instead we will look at the active capabilities of the human body in practical terms. Lets stipulate, first, that for now the character in question has no superhuman abilities whatsoever; we’re taling entirely tabula rasa. No training, no powers. there will be alot of things they simply cannot do but this doesn’t mean they are not impressive.
Consider this example;
Four subjects are locked in identical rooms and need to escape; the rooms have one door (locked with old, shaky hinges), one window (not locked but high above the ground with only a rickety series of ledges to descend by), one ventilation shaft (covered) and a steel framed bed. They are all equally intelligent; what matters here is physicality.
One is a large man (perhaps six foot fours, weighing two hundred and thirty pounds) he is well muscled and extremely strong (and heavy!). he has bad knees. He cannot shimmy through the ventilation shaft to freedom as he is too physically large, neither can he exit the window as, though it has a small ledge, his size makes it unlikely it will support him. Bad knees make it unlikely that he can kick the door down, despite his strength, for he could well hurt them further. This leaves him two options; pull the door from its hinges (if it opens inward) or use the bedframe to put pressure on the hinges and pull them from the door frame.
The second character is a large woman; maybe five eleven and one hundred and eighty pounds she is also strong but less so than her neighbour. She has an old shoulder injury. The likelihood of her pulling the door open with brute force is very small; even if we discounter her shoulder injury…unless she were a veritable Goliath then this is unlikely, though possible! She might however kick the door down as the legs are often much stronger than the upper body. She too could put pressure on the hinges with the frame. However her size may prevent her from using the grate or the window.
Character three is a smaller man (five ten, one hundred and seventy pounds) missing his left hand; though still too big to fit through the grate he could also use the bedframe, kick the door or pull the door (though pulling a door off its hinges requires so much force that I would say this is unlikely, though not impossible). He could not realistically and safely, however, drop down the ledges to the ground.
The final character is a small woman (five four, one hundred and thirty pounds) relatively agile but not overly well conditioned. This character could use the grate and stands a fair change of applying enough leverage with the bedframe to escape though her chances of using brute force to break the door down are slim. She, however, stands most chance of using the shaky ledges being small, light and more agile.
All characters are capable of being formidable if put under enough pressure, they simply have different capabilities which leads me to an important point; bigger is not always better- a character need not be a powerhouse to be remarkable.
Next time - characters who do more than they are (technically) capable of.