There is something beautiful about going back and re-reading the characters that really inspired me as a kid. I don’t just mean being reminded that Alanna is a spit-fire and went on grand adventures. That’s wonderful, of course, and is very inspiring still, but I started Almost Alanna when I was in a good, strong place and since then, I’ve fallen to a weak, floundering one. It’s hard to go ‘I could be her’ when she was also so strong, so determined, and I’m not.
Except, that’s just what I remember.
I’m 100 pages into ‘Alanna: the First Adventure’, and I think the best thing is finding all the little lines where Alanna ISN’T ok. She wants this, but all throughout the beginning and the mess with Ralon of Malven, she isn’t sure she can do it. She constantly feels she’s lacking. There’s something fortifying about your hero being as afraid and unsure of their own abilities as you feel.
She tried to smile. “You go on.” It was hard to make her voice sound relaxed. “I’ll be fine.”
"Of course," She replied stoutly. "Would I have said so if I wasn’t?"
"Yes," was the calm answer.
- Alanna of Trebond and Coram Smythesson, Alanna: the First Adventure, pg 33
Alanna likes to use denial just as much as the rest of us. As I do. If we just pretend hard enough that everything is fine, it will be. Promise. Totally. Except when it’s not, but that never happened, ok? Right? We’re fine.
But, like I said, her issues with Ralon really bring her home for me. It’s not the bullying. It’s not the being tough and fighting back. That’s what everyone wants to believe they’ll do - it’s something I’ve had absolute no
problem doing. (If anything, I have a problem being a counter-bully in much the same way Jon and Company behave. It’s justice, except when it really isn’t.) It’s her vulnerability, emotionally. They’re small lines, just bits and pieces that are easy to pass over, but they highlight so much about her sense of self-worth.
Keladry of Mindelan never doubts her own worth. So what if she’s a girl? She can do anything. Alanna is not so sure. The idea that she might just be a girl, be only a girl, be nothing but a girl beats at her. It’s a terrible state to exist that something so fundamental is considered a grievous flaw. It takes her years and years to really get past that mentality. I think that’s why it’s so comfortable for her to simply become a boy, because it fits the version of the world she believed - as a boy, she could do anything. As a girl, she couldn’t.
"I don’t feel like swimming." The others were watching her, wondering if she was a coward. He’ll kill me, she thought. I’m just a girl, and he’ll kill me.
Ralon grabbed her arm. “Into the water, page,” he gritted. “We’ll have some fun.”
-Alanna of Trebond and Ralon of Malven, Alanna: the First Adventure, pg 72-73.
From the cuts to the other boys, we know no one thinks she’s a coward. Everyone is aware she’s being beaten by a bigger boy and they’re afraid for her, not judging her, but here she is and her first unconscious perception is that everyone is expecting something less from her. They’re expecting her to be weak. After all, he’ll kill her because she’s just a girl.
He grinned. “I’m off t’ fetch some raw meat for yer eye where th’ ground hit ye. I’ll tell th’ lads ye’re ill.” He clapped her on the shoulder and added gruffly, “Ye’re a plucky lass. I’m proud of ye. And I think it’s time I gave ye a bit of help.”
She lay down after he left. Tears forced themselves from her eyes. This wouldn’t have happened to a real boy.
-Alanna of Trebond and Coram Smythesson, Alanna: the First Adventure, pg 78-79.
It doesn’t matter that this would have absolutely happened to Thom if he had come instead of her. It doesn’t matter that Coram thinks she’s strong, that he’s proud of her. The entire situation is her fault because she’s a girl.
Lastly, and admittedly, this is the part that caught my attention the most. This is the part that really got me thinking, that really hit me. Alanna was prepared to fail. Terrified, but accepting that it was entirely a possibility. That, in one fight against a boy she was convinced could kill her, she might have to give up everything. She didn’t go in with a surety that it would be fine. This could have been it. This could have ended everything, in her mind.
Alanna watched Ralon all afternoon as she waited for her chance. She was scared: Her face felt hot, her hands shook. If she failed, she would have to leave Court. She couldn’t be a knight if Ralon continued to beat on her.
-Alanna of Trebond, Alanna: the First Adventure, pg 94
She didn’t rush in when she felt like she was going to lose, of course. The same paragraph ends with her sense of confidence, of proper timing. But that’s how it should always feel to heroes. The fact it can be unsure and terrifying is what reminds us heroes are still people. They aren’t perfect, they don’t always feel their worth.