Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Sarah Alexander


In this thesis, I discuss the ways in which female characters in fantasy literature gain power. I argue that fantasy, as a genre with fluid boundaries and expectations, is a medium through which subversion of gender norms and social structures is necessary to female empowerment, and that no power, magical or otherwise, can be gained without defying the social norms and expectations in some way. Many traditional systems of power advantage men; women must work harder and via different routes to achieve power.

In my first chapter, I examine the intersection between female power and sexuality as shown in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Throughout the Earthsea series, the depiction of women’s magic evolves greatly. In the first novel, the few female characters are depicted as temptresses whose purpose is to disempower men by seducing them until they follow a path of evil. Witches are believed to practice an impure form of magic; their power is seen as lesser because it is different and subversive. By the fourth novel, women’s magic, now more positively linked with their sexuality, is shown to be equal in strength to men’s magic, despite coming in a different form. The connections made between the power of women and the power of dragons further separates them and classifies them as an “other”. In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, multiple female characters have had others use their sexuality against them in a predatory and disempowering manner. In order for the feminine to be powerful in a patriarchal world, the female characters must oppose the systems of oppression within their society by resisting the impulse to emulate their oppressors.

In my second chapter, I examine the intersection between female power and religion as shown in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. In The Chronicles of Narnia, there are countless allegorical representations of biblical scenes and ideas, from Genesis to the Passion to Revelation. The female characters are mere archetypes; they are either Eve or Lilith. The series sets up a system in which questioning religious faith and being other than the feminine ideal is demonized and punishable. In His Dark Materials, power is given to female characters when they question and challenge the dominant religious system. A separation from indoctrination is characterized as healthy and beneficial, and the greatest power is the autonomy to think and act for oneself.



Number of Pages

87 p.