This time, she's talking about Tanith Lee. Regrettably, I haven't read any Lee despite my interest in female fantasy authors, but even so, Flood manages to get my hackles up, not least because nothing I've read of Lee's female character in the article seems appreciably superior to the best of Howard's female characters in terms of feminist qualities.
Having fought through Conan and all his lily-white wimpy women, imagine my joy to be greeted by Narasen, "the leopard queen of Merh", beautiful, a warrior, and uninterested in the male sex: "I do not lie with men," she says firmly. Of course things end up going wrong for her: she and her city are cursed to be barren, it's only if she can bear a child that her kingdom will survive but – after very reluctantly trying with many – she realises the curse means that only a dead man will be able to impregnate her. A bargain with Uhlume, Death's Master, ensues, but it all goes wrong and she's condemned to live 1,000 years in his kingdom. She never stops being thoroughly feisty and brilliant, however. Even when, later in the book, she's turned completely blue (long story).
I see little about this Narasen that seems particularly more refreshing than Valeria, or Belit, or even Yasmina, save the lack of interest in men. Barbara Barrett and Amy Kerr have explained quite well in three parts how even the lesser of Conan's women are strong in their own way. Let's not even discuss Dark Agnes or Red Sonya, and certainly not Jirel of Joiry.
But you know what grates? She talks about how she "fought through all (Conan's) lily-white wimpy women," yet cites "Red Nails" as one of the stories she enjoyed. Either she's fibbing and hasn't actually read the story beyond the first chapter, or she really considers Valeria - one of the most badass Sword-and-Sorcery heroines of any era, the equal of Conan in many ways save strength and endurance (which can't be said of many men, let alone women), and a shining example of Howard's feminism in action - to be one of "Conan's lily-white wimpy women." Either way, it's balderdash of the highest order.
From the previous article, "Conan and his lily-white women":
Let's look at some more quotes, just to put them in context:
Even the spirited Valeria in Red Nails – "as quick and ferocious as a tigress" – is popped on Conan's knee and caressed – against her will, but later, as "a chill crept through her veins", she will "unconsciously" lay her "white hand on her companion's muscular brown arm" for reassurance. And she's one of the good ones.
She was frightened, and the sensation was new to Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. So she sat on her companion's - or captor's - knee with a docility that would have amazed Zarallo, who had anathematized her as a she-devil out of Hell's seraglio.
Valeria is popped on Conan's knee and caressed against her will because she was just attacked by a fecking dragon from the depths of myth and legend. This is a woman who's seen just about every sort of horror in the heat of battle, but faced with a monster born of hell itself she didn't know what to do. She didn't know what the hell was going on, barely aware of her surroundings, faced with a vision of nightmare and lunacy. Conan, having experienced stuff like this before, was practically a rock in this instance, largely unphased by a sight that would utterly stun most people. Even if you were a grizzled S.A.S. veteran, I think you'd be in a slightly unhinged state of mind if a goddamn Tyrannosaurus rex just attacked you - and if the only guy with you happened to be a dinosaur expert, I think you'd look to him for reassurance.
This is all Flood gives Valeria in the article. She seems to completely miss all the quotes talking about how awesome Valeria was - "stronger than the average man, and far quicker and more ferocious," who "brought into action a finesse of swordplay that dazzled and bewildered her antagonists before it slew them," "the equal of any man in the rigging of a ship or on the sheer face of a cliff," "whose deeds are celebrated in song and ballad wherever seafarers gather," who commanded ships of her own, who no living man could disarm with his bare hands, who "had proved her reckless courage a thousand times in wild battles on sea and land, on the blood-slippery decks of burning war ships, in the storming of walled cities, and on the trampled sandy beaches where the desperate men of the Red Brotherhood bathed their knives in one another's blood in their fights for leadership."
Conan knew that "if he came any nearer her sword would be sheathed in his heart" and that "he had seen Valeria kill too many men in border forays and tavern brawls to have any illusions about her." After the nightmare with the dragon, "her buoyant self-confidence began to thaw out again," and "there was a swagger in her stride as she moved off beside the Cimmerian. Whatever perils lay ahead of them, their foes would be men. And Valeria of the Red Brotherhood had never seen the face of the man she feared."
It's clear that her weakness with Conan was a very special case: "For another man to have kept her watch while she slept would have angered her; she had always fiercely resented any man's attempting to shield or protect her because of her sex. But she found a secret pleasure in the fact that this man had done so. And he had not taken advantage of her fright and the weakness resulting from it. After all, she reflected, her companion was no common man."
Yet even so, Valeria was very brave. She slew the Burning Skull, a hideous apparition that would give anyone pause. Hell, she didn't even notice being stabbed in the leg until Conan mentioned it. The only people who dominate Valeria are the massive, bull-like Olmec - who gave Conan himself a run for his money - and Tascela, who quite clearly had some sort of sorcerous strength going on, being able to drag the paralyzed Olmec as if he was a sack of feaths. Let's not forget that Valeria is the one who slays the villain of the piece. As for her skill in battle...
The other three swarmed on Valeria, their weird eyes red as the eyes of mad dogs.
She killed the first who came within reach before he could strike a blow, her long straight blade splitting his skull even as his own sword lifted for a stroke. She side-stepped a thrust, even as she parried a slash. Her eyes danced and her lips smiled without mercy. Again she was Valeria of the Red Brotherhood, and the hum of her steel was like a bridal song in her ears.
Valeria fought beside him, her lips smiling and her eyes blazing. She was stronger than the average man, and far quicker and more ferocious. Her sword was like a living thing in her hand. Where Conan beat down opposition by the sheer weight and power of his blows, breaking spears, splitting skulls and cleaving bosoms to the breastbone, Valeria brought into action a finesse of swordplay that dazzled and bewildered her antagonists before it slew them. Again and again a warrior, heaving high his heavy blade, found her point in his jugular before he could strike. Conan, towering above the field, strode through the welter smiting right and left, but Valeria moved like an illusive phantom, constantly shifting, and thrusting and slashing as she shifted. Swords missed her again and again as the wielders flailed the empty air and died with her point in their hearts or throats, and her mocking laughter in their ears.
Yeah, totally a "lily-white wimpy woman."
All these quotes show that Valeria was an independent, strong, courageous, badass woman, the likes of which wouldn't be seen in other Sword-and-Sorcery stories for decades - Jirel of Joiry notwithstanding. Only the few sentences that show Valeria acting frightened, bewildered - in other words, completely out of character - deserve mention in Flood's article. And that depresses me.
I don't really want to clog up Flood's article on Lee with more fallout from her Conan one, but I hope she reciprocates by not dragging Conan's women through the muck again, especially considering her later admissions correspondence in the comments. Hopefully when she gets around to Jack Vance she'll just stick to the task at hand.