The Goddess Project -- Virtual Book Club Discussion

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
Staff member
Nov 10, 2008
nearly the New Forest

It's six months since The Goddess Project by Bryan Wigmore, aka our very own HareBrain, was published, and a good many of us here on Chrons have now read it. So I thought it would be a good time for us to have a Virtual Book Club session and start nattering about it. Bring your own wine and nibbles, virtual or otherwise.

One of the issues I raised when I did my review back in March (which is here for those of you who haven't yet read it) was the female energy in the book. We have well-drawn strong female characters in the shape of Cass, Hana, and Vanessa, of course, and while strong isn't an apt word for Thera initially, she's as deftly characterised as the others, and clever writing means that notwithstanding her treachery we have some sympathy for her predicament and her agonising decision to relinquish Sparrow. It's perhaps a pity it takes so long in the book for two women actually to talk together, but it's effectively a 1900s world, after all, where male domination is hardly news.

What worries me a little more is the female energy shown in the psychosphere. Hana regards the Mother as nurturing and Seriuz's wished-for goddess would be an embodiment of justice, but these female aspects are told to us, rather than revealed. What we actually see is: a quasi-demonic entity which wants to keep Orc in the ziggurat, and requires propitiation with human sacrifice; Three-Eyes who is a demon to all intents and purposes; and Skalith who is unspeakably disgusting and destructive. Far from life-giving as Hana would argue, all we see if life-taking by the female entities, and the physical description of Skalith could have been penned by the most virulent misogynist at Bismark or Highcloud.

I appreciate that in effect the female = nature in the book, and nature isn't all cuddly bunnies; it's teeth, claws and lots of blood, and birds frozen to death in ice-storms, small mammals drowned in floods. Yep, death. No problem with that. And nature can't be confined within human views of morality and goodness. I get that, too. But... where is shown the countervailing argument of nature's life and beauty? Did I miss it? Have I forgotten something? Am I being unfair, since the male energy of the psychosphere is hardly warm and welcoming? Does it matter anyway?

NB Although I am raising the issue of female representation in TGP, just a reminder that since the World Affairs debacle we don't discuss wider social issues anywhere on the site, so please no going off on a riff about female protagonists or representation generally within fantasy, whatever your views on the subject.

Right, I'm sitting here with my Danebury Madeleine Angevine** and pack of salted cashews. Anyone want to join me?

** sadly, virtual only :(
I miss WA :(

I thought Hana was in some senses the countervailing positive face of the Goddess? Particularly when she lived on the island and was running around with Hare, she gave a different vision of the feminine and one that was more innocent and joyful than the 'actual' Goddesses we encounter.

To clarify: when I was reading, I felt she was more than simply a female character -- she contained aspects of the Goddess and represented her as well.

EDIT: another thought. That's two thoughts before breakfast. I'll probably need to go and lie down after this.

Maybe you said this, TJ, with your point about the psychosphere, but is it also a case of the world getting the Goddess it deserves? So the highly masculine world of dreadnoughts and monasteries, which contains and condemns feminine (female?) energy, creates, or elicits, the monstrous face of the Goddess?

Bizarrely, also, although it was horrifying, there was also something joyful about the legends of the sacrificial king (in the visions/experiences Orc has) -- the idea of ultimate sublimation of self, maybe -- so that aspect of the Goddess wasn't wholly horrible, just alien.

(not sure that was a very coherent thought -- maybe I do need breakfast)
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I agree with Hex. The Goddess represents nature, in all its power, and we are told about the nurturing and life-giving aspects of this power, but human choices distort and pollute the Goddess, so that we only see an unbalanced manifestation of her. The crisis in the story occurs in the centre of the Goddess's power, so it is reasonable that we see less of masculine gods. I thought the representation of male gods or demons trying to manipulate Tashi was refreshingly at odds with those traditional narratives in which female power is portrayed as manipulative.

This is a narrative of virtue - courage, humility, loyalty - warring with power, with virtue prevailing despite its apparent frailty. Hana, Cass and even Sparrow are amongst the female representatives of virtue, and their impact on the psychosphere outweighs their power.
Can I join in? I have read it, I promise.

But... where is shown the countervailing argument of nature's life and beauty? Did I miss it?

I think what there is is fairly well scattered, and perhaps could be missed because the POV character at the time isn't thinking about the beauty of nature. All the examples that come to mind are bound up with a sense of the divine, or of awe. To me, the following show the beauty of nature, though of course they might not to anyone else. They're all from Orc's POV, and I think all of then suggest some kind of presence beyond the thing being described (in the second example, "held" does this, to my mind). But for Orc, this awe is tainted with dread, of course, though a different kind of dread than Tashi's view of the island.

Beyond the window, the water had retreated as though it had never risen. Night entombed the world. [...] A sea smooth as black oil stretched out to the horizon, where showed a small cluster of lights.

A half-moon held the southern sky, its light gleaming on the aft gun and deck fittings.

The cicadas' shrill noise bombarded from the slopes all around. Orc had the disturbing impression of a single voice projected upwards from the partial funnel of the heights, a hymn to some vast power.

The night was brilliant with stars. To Orc, they looked too close, not science's distant balls of flaming gas but tiny lights on the nearby dome of the sky, part of the goddess's domain.
*slinks in late to the party*

I am going to express this badly, I can tell, but -

Things in the psychosphere react to people's expectations and as such, I think what we see has to be judged as the expectations/desires of the PoV characters rather than the objective truth of the being. Therefore what we get is Orc's fear of being sacrificed and sublimated into the greater whole and Dagadoodoopushpineappleshakeatree (I'm not always great at remembering names) desire to create a weapon from feminity and men's fears of it. I think the more we see of her from other view points, the better and fairer our view of the Goddess will be. Although I'm still not expecting her to be nice. My initial guess is that both the Male Divine and Female Divine will get plenty of unflattering moments, and the criticism is aimed more at the Divine part than the Gendered part.

Which doesn't really change the portrayal in the first book, where I think Bryan maybe took a few risks in how much you can show of the unflattering views of women held by (some) men.

I loved Thera though. A strong depiction of a weak person.
I did not interpret male/female energy to be inherently imbalanced. The manifestations are reflections of psychic energy of the people around. Neither the Male nor Female energy were truly independent deities, they had no wills of their own. They were as imperfect as those who created them.

The Goddess did have plenty of focus as positive energy. The entire island - once a land mass - was shaped as a pregnant woman. Hana had meditated and scaped safely there for a long time in the security of the "navel". Tashi had absorbed an imbalanced form of male energy - that Mountain he revered was cold and without love. Hana was able to bring him a bit of comfort, though the two weren't together enough for him to truly understand her in a "mother" role.

Cass and Orc had an imbalanced relationship with each other, having taken a sexualized priest/priestess role as siblings. Ranga is weak and submissive to Vanessa. Thera is weak and submissive to her father.

The story is full of imbalanced male/female relationships, but I don't see one favored over the other in the storytelling. It is central to the theme.

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