News

Archive for themes

Women Who Work Magic

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2017 highlighted

In fantasy literature, magic is, in many ways, the most ready analogue for real-world power.

Mages have magic: the ability to call the storm, raise the dead, or control minds. They are awe-inspiring, intimidating, terrifying. Special. They are often kings, sometimes in direct violation of laws designed to prevent that amalgamation of power. Even mages who aren’t kings are so often shadow kings, advisors to kings, or adversaries of kings. And didn’t we all share Harry’s thrill when Hagrid said, “Harry—yer a wizard”? Of course we did, because having magic gave oh-so-miserable Harry the chance to change his life.

Magic, fundamentally, is power.

So consider, for a moment, female magic-workers in fantasy literature.

Most commonly, they are witches, and—even today, even in fantasy literature, even in fantasy literature by female and nonbinary authors—the word “witch” is so commonly a slur. In contemporary fantasy. In books reexamining historical periods. In all sorts of books with fantasy-world settings. Witches—or you might say women who work magic—are dangerous. They are often solitary, often old, and often ugly. They are in the business of crop-wilting, cattle-killing, storm-bringing, and baby-eating. They deserve the village’s righteous justice: burning, drowning, hanging. These women who have magic must be redeemed, so often through death.

Just for having magic. Or, if you will, just for having power.

Having magic gives women the power to subvert expectations. It gives them a way to forge a living, allowing them to choose marriage if they want, rather than relentlessly pursuing a husband (always a husband) for food and shelter and protection. It gives them the opportunity to seek their own path, set their own priorities, and establish their own identity. Magic gives these women choices and independence. And untethered women—women with resources, with skills, with wisdom, with freedom—are dangerous.

May all women have such magic.

Fantasy literature—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not—has an awful lot to say about gender, magic, and power.

  • Witches in our real world—or reexamined versions of our real world: So many fantasy works examine the mythos of witches through the lens of our world. From very traditional tales of witches (Of Sorrow and Such) to criticism of historical societies (Sorcerer to the Crown, Redwood and Wildfire) to modern-day stories of witches and all-too-real expectations (Labyrinth Lost, All the Birds in the Sky, Practical Magic). From new tales of legendary witches (Vassa in the Night) to new legends of all-too-familiar tropes (This Strange Way of Dying, The Girl Who Drank the Moon). From May-December romances of young witches and mentor wizards (Uprooted) to witches finding late-in-life love together (The Memory Garden) to witches spurning traditional betrothal to seek their own way (The Bear and the Nightingale).

  • Witches in fantastic worlds: Sometimes, fantasy works take the witch archetype and build it a new world, one that may be more but is sometimes even less sympathetic to magic-working women: good witches (Sister Mine), evil witches (Sarah Pinborough’s Beauty), and witches still figuring things out (Bayou Magic). Witches who rule their world (Forest of a Thousand Lanterns) or who would rather live quietly at home (The Beast Is an Animal). Witches who seize their own fate (The Bone Witch) or who are a formidable, desired commodity (Truthwitch). Adventurous witches (The Magical Misadventures of Prunella Bogthistle), ambitious witches (Born Wicked), vengeful witches (The Shadow Queen), desperate witches (Chime), wise witches (The Color Master).

  • All manner of other sorceresses, illusionists, and magic-workers: In fantasy literature, beyond the witch archetype, women work magic in a thousand ways and for a thousand reasons. Because of slavery (The Fifth Season, The Forbidden Wish) or for vigilante justice (Slice of Cherry), because of talent (Last Song Before Night) or tradition (Three Dark Crowns), because of a bet (The Night Circus) or a hereditary gift (The City of Brass). Reluctantly (Jade City), mistakenly (The Young Elites), genteelly (Shades of Milk and Honey), cleverly (Passing Strange), with great responsibility (Fire) or great skill (The Mistress of Spices) or great grief (Sorrow’s Knot). Sometimes, the magic they work isn’t even theirs (Monstress).

In 2017, the Sirens theme was women who work magic. Not only women who have magic, but women who work magic. They might work it quietly or shyly or slyly. They might work it with great purpose or great intent or great pride. But these women have power and they use it.

This theme might speak to you in a number of ways. It might be about talent or training or skill. It might be about creation or innovation. It might be about goals and aspirations and drive. It might be about dreams or quests or bargains. It might be about oppression or revolution or revenge. It might be about independence.

And we hope, as we approach this year’s Sirens reunion, that you’ll contemplate women who work magic, as well as the other themes of our past four years, in your reading, your conversations, and your programming proposals.


At Sirens, our reunion years are an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. This is the last post on these themes—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2017 Women Who Work Magic book lists, Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge.

 

Lovers

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2016 highlighted

So often, whom we choose to love changes us.

Sometimes for the better: brighter, happier, kinder, more buoyant. Sometimes for the worse: angrier, melancholier, more uncertain, more anguished. Sometimes just different: more confident, more curious, a new passion for dance or art or hiking.

This idea—that your lovers change you—can be true for anyone. Regardless of gender. Regardless of sexuality. Regardless of age, or race, or ability. Regardless of the intensity of physical or emotional connection, or both, or neither. Regardless of whether we have dragon wings or mermaid scales or selkie skin or wolf fur.

Which is why, in 2016, the Sirens theme was lovers.

First kisses. Last loves. Multiple loves. Midnight rendezvous. Forbidden assignations. Thousand-bell weddings. Marriages worth saving, or worth it no longer, or not at all. Discovering sex. Re-discovering sex. Having the best sex of your life. Having no sex at all, and loving someone deeply. A companion—or companions—to last one night or a lifetime.

Love and sex and tumult and desire. Comfort and romance and friendship and home. Ache and wisdom and loss and grief. Life-changing connections. Love as a political act. The idea that what is sexy or romantic means honoring one’s desire, whatever form that may entail.

Fantasy literature explores all of these and more:

  • The naiveté and abstraction of love in children’s books. Medieval worlds in picture books where princesses wait (or increasingly often, don’t) for true love (The Paper Bag Princess) or receive delightfully dangerous courtship gifts (Dangerously Ever After). Or chapter and middle-grade books, where hair-pulling still runs rampant, but magical peril also leads to a grab of a hand: Amira and Sadie’s adventures abound (Princess Princess Ever After), Mary readily forgives Percy’s haplessness (The Case of the Missing Moonstone), and Mal and Molly earn their badges … together (Lumberjanes).

  • The complex intersection of love, identity, and coming-of-age, in the vast array of young-adult novels. From the first flush of first crushes (on uncommonly hot angels, demons, faeries, fellow magicians, and more) to birth-control charms (spells and potions and charms, oh my) and deconstructions of virginity worship (hello, unicorns). When legend says you should fall for the prince, but you fall for his huntress instead (Ash). When Beauty is fiercer than the Beast (Dark Triumph). When loving the Erlkönig comes with both transcendent musical skill and a life underground (Wintersong). When you discover your childhood love is a transgender boy, and your love for him never wavers (When the Moon was Ours). When you realize that love can be possessive, destructive, even fatal—especially combined with a young woman’s beauty (Bone Gap). Or when years later, you come across a reading of a beloved lady knight’s aromanticism (the Protector of the Small series).

  • The gamut of adult works exploring love, romance, and sex in all its forms and possibilities. From fantastic erotica to late-in-life second chances with the witch of your dreams. From paranormal romance to epic intergenerational sagas featuring main characters with one, multiple or no lovers at all. Redwood’s lifetime love of Wildfire (Redwood and Wildfire). A delicate tale of lesbian love in historical San Francisco (Passing Strange). Emras’s revelation of her asexuality, as part of her identity as well as her profession (Banner of the Damned). The conflagration of Tita’s passions (Like Water for Chocolate). Hero and Cherry’s tale of love and revolution (The One Hundred Nights of Hero). Syenite, Alabaster, and Innon’s unstigmatized and loving polyamorous relationship (The Fifth Season).

While we always celebrate love in its many forms, we hope that, as we approach this year’s Sirens reunion, you’ll reconsider the role of love and sex, as well as the other themes of our past four years, in your reading, your conversations, and your programming proposals.


At Sirens, our reunion years are an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Please look for more posts on these themes in the upcoming weeks—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2016 Lovers book lists, Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge.

 

Rebels and Revolutionaries

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2015 highlighted

We need a revolution.

Our world has been designed to diminish women and nonbinary people. Societal traditions, expectations, and structures prefer commanding, charismatic men—and women who are silent, passive, pretty, chaste. So often, other people control not only our opportunities, our ambitions, and our compensation, but everything even more fundamental: our bodies, our stories, our power, our value. Others get to be heroes, leaders, players, while we are somehow lesser: mothers, wives, daughters, sidekicks, love interests, sluts. At best, we are a relationship in someone else’s story. At worst, we are erased.

We need a revolution.

And in 2015, Sirens chose rebels and revolutionaries as its theme.

Want a matriarchal line of rulers? A fantasy author wrote that. How about a failing matriarchal line? An evil queen? A displaced monarch relentlessly working to regain their place with their people? Fantasy authors wrote those, too. Want a different society? One where all genders are equal, or women are responsible for commerce or diplomacy or war, or war isn’t necessary because a nonbinary diplomat brokered peace? Fantasy authors wrote those. Want stories where gender isn’t binary or isn’t important or is so vitally important because someone on the page—a woman or a nonbinary person somewhere on a page—is doing something that our real-world society doesn’t allow? Fantasy authors have written legions of them. Legions of stories filled with complex, complicated people, who make choices, who rise and rule our way, with our skills and our goals.

If you want a revolution, look at what the authors of fantasy literature are writing today. Revolutions led by female or nonbinary characters, about gender, over repressed people’s rights, in order to place a new ruler on the throne. Revolutions that failed, revolutions that succeeded, and revolutions that succeeded in an unexpected way. Noisy, violence-filled revolutions and quietly convincing revolutions and everything you can imagine in between.

And then perhaps go a step further. Every year at Sirens we discuss reading our own revolution. We read widely, diversely, inclusively. We question what is published, reviewed, and available in bookstores and libraries—and then demand more. We seek female and nonbinary fantasy authors’ works and the works of female and nonbinary scholars. We talk to librarians and teachers. If our local independent bookstore doesn’t have what we want, we order it.

Sirens chose rebels and revolutionaries as a theme because every one of you, every single day, is the revolution.

In founding Sirens, we knew what we wanted: a place where people can, without shame or irony, declare themselves queens, dragon-masters, generals. A place where people aren’t constrained by what our real-world society demands. A light in a world that frequently excludes us. A blazing sun devoted to discussion, debate, and celebration of the remarkable diverse possibilities of fantasy literature.

And a community. A thoughtful, smart, warm community that welcomes people of all genders, sexualities, races, abilities, and identities. A community that discusses, with respect, what fantasy literature by and about women and nonbinary people has done—and what it can and should do in the future.

We are the revolution.

And as we approach this year’s Sirens reunion, we hope that you’ll contemplate rebels and revolutionaries, as well as the other themes of our past four years, in your reading, your conversations, and your programming proposals.


At Sirens, our reunion years are an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Please look for more posts on these themes in the upcoming weeks—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2015 Rebels and Revolutionaries book lists, Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge.

 

Hauntings

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2014 highlighted

Ghost stories are often pulp, supplying fun shivers late at night. Consider, as an easy example, their immense popularity in Victorian England: assisted by the rise of the periodical, not to mention creaking houses and gas-lamp hallucinations, the ghost story was so prevalent as to be traditional English Christmas Eve entertainment. The women of the time, in the wake of Mary Shelley and her classic tale of a man haunted by his own creation, turned out ghost story after ghost story for publication in literary magazines—magazines then read primarily by women.

The Victorians are but one example. The ghost story appears again and again, in myriad cultures, in every region of the world, often handed down by women as oral history, myths and legends. Even in America, we have our own omnipresent, so-often-female ghostly tales: la llorona, the phantom hitchhiker, the dead prom queen.

Time and time again, women have used the ghost story as allegory, as metaphor, and as cautionary tale.

Ghost stories are so much more than pulp, and if you expand your query to all manner of shades, spirits, remembrances, and things that go bump in the night, you’ll see why Sirens chose hauntings—and what it means to be haunted—as its 2014 theme. It was perhaps one of our more surprising themes, but also, unexpectedly, one of our more literary themes. Not only have women authors such as Toni Morrison and Shirley Jackson written brilliantly and incisively of ghosts and women, earlier writers such as Daphne du Maurier and Edith Wharton wrote ghost stories, and just last year, Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing, a ghostly exploration of the ravages of slavery in a post-Katrina south.

For centuries, women have been using this genre—sometimes fantasy, often horror—to explore deeper themes. Their subversions, if you will, illustrate revolutionary ideas disguised as ghosts and other hauntings. Consider, for example:

  • A mother missing, an unhappy daughter, and a jealous house. In some ways, a shockingly good haunted-house story, and in many ways, a powerful statement about the sometimes predatory, jealous relationship between a woman and her home. (White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi)

  • A husband so forcefully demands that his wife, killed in a car crash, not be dead that she comes back. A ghost story, and a sometimes funny one at that, but also a biting commentary on the limitless expanse of wifely duty. (“Clay-Shuttered Doors” by Helen R. Hull)

  • A Cuban-born journalist in Miami investigates a phantom house. A classic haunting in many ways, but also a vivid exploration of Cuba’s history and diversity and what it means to be separated from your homeland. (The Island of Eternal Love by Daína Chaviano)

  • A girl killed in a car crash, left to haunt the highways and roadside diners of America. A variation on the classic hitchhiker story, but also a sophisticated exploration of a woman’s role as caretaker for a seemingly endless parade of men. (Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire)

  • A mother dead and risen again as a horror. Assuredly a nightmare, but also a study of how tightly our grief binds those we have loved. (Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow)

These explorations illustrate only the beginning of the depth and breadth of our conversations about hauntings in 2014. As we approach this year’s reunion, we hope that you’ll contemplate hauntings, as well as the other themes of our past four years, in your reading, your conversations, and your programming proposals.


At Sirens, our reunion years are an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Please look for more posts on these themes in the upcoming weeks—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2014 Hauntings book list, Suggested Reading.

 

Reunion

Sirens logos 2014-2018, 2018 highlighted

Ten years ago, we dreamed.

 

And when we dream, we dream big and bold and bright.

 

We dreamed of an annual conference dedicated to the remarkable, diverse women of fantasy literature.

 

That conference is Sirens.

Each year, Sirens selects a theme: something we can use as inspiration. Something to spark programming ideas, and conference artwork, and guest of honor selections. Our first year, that theme was warriors, and we discussed how most of us feel, in our daily lives, like warriors not so different from Alanna. Whether we’re suited for combat or not, life is so often a battle.

We followed warriors with faeries and monsters, tales retold and hauntings. We examined ruthless faerie queens and what it means, as women or nonbinary people, to be monstrous. We analyzed retellings of some of the world’s oldest tales, and we discussed the early incarnations of the ghost story, a screen for women to discuss feminine issues. We shared how, in so many ways, we are revolutionaries.

But given that Sirens is often less a conference than an annual gathering of a community, it is perhaps inevitable that our theme would occasionally be not rebels or lovers or witches, but reunion. This year, our tenth year, we want to celebrate the Sirens community: the readers, scholars, professionals, and authors who, each year, contribute their time, their energy, their thoughts, and their hearts to sustaining a community that is welcoming, smart, and unabashed.

We have often said that Sirens is an annual respite: a place where you can repair your armor, replenish your magic, and remember how truly remarkable the women of fantasy literature—from readers to faerie queens—are.

If that is true, it is because of our community: truly remarkable (mostly) women and nonbinary readers who join us, sometimes every year, sometimes occasionally, to use fantasy literature as a springboard to discuss gender and power and ambition and, yes, big and bold and bright dreams.

There is nothing more important to Sirens than its community, and so in 2018, as we plan our tenth year, we raise our glasses and declare this community something worthy of discussion, debate, and celebration.

At Sirens, our reunion years are also an opportunity to reexamine the themes of the previous four years, in this case: hauntings, rebels and revolutionaries, lovers, and women who work magic. Please look for posts on these themes in the upcoming weeks—but please also know, as you begin to plan your programming proposals, that proposals need not focus entirely or even at all on theme topics. All proposals related to women in fantasy literature are welcome. Get inspired by our 2018 Reunion book lists, this year’s Suggested Reading and Reading Challenge.

 

Presented by Narrate Conferences, Inc.

 

RSS Feed

The news archive for Sirens is linked below as an RSS feed. If you need instructions or would like more information, please click here. If you have questions about our RSS feed, please email us at (web at sirensconference.org).

RSS Feed Button

 

Archives

2018
November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2017
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2016
December, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March

2015
November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2014
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, March, February, January

2013
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2012
December, November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2011
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2010
December, November, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

2009
December, November, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January

 

Tags

annual programming series, attendee perspective, auction, book club, book list, book reviews, books, bookstore, boot camp, chat, community, compendium, deadlines, giveaway, guests, guests of honor, hotel, inclusivity, interview, meet-up, menus, narrate conferences, newsletter, perspective, professionals, programming, read along, recap, registration, review squad, schedule, schedules, scholarships, sirens, Sirens 2009, Sirens 2010, Sirens 2011, Sirens 2012, Sirens 2013, Sirens 2014, Sirens 2015, Sirens 2016, Sirens 2017, Sirens 2018, Sirens 2019, Sirens Shuttle, Sirens Studio, Sirens Supper, site visit, skamania, special edition, sponsorship, support, testimonials, themes, things we're excited about, travel, volunteering, website, where are they now
Meet Our Guests of Honor
About the Conference
Attend
Sirens Twitter
Present Programming
Sirens Facebook

Connect with the Sirens community

Sign up for the Sirens newsletter

Subscribe to our mailing list