Whoosh! Issue 40 - January 2000


IAXS project #731
By Christine Pattee
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
10756 words

Xena Fan Fiction (01-03)
What's So Special About a TV Show? (04-11)
Men, Women and Xena: No Stereotypes (12-17)
Introduction to Xena on the Internet (18-19)
Historical Fiction: Exciting Morality Tales (20-27)
Early Lesbian Literature: Few And Far Between (28-32)
Personal Favorites (33-36)
1900-1955: A Trickle of Mainstream Hardcovers (37-42)
1955-1969: A Stream of Mostly Paperbacks (43-49)
1969 to The Present: A Flood in the Closet - Lesbian Presses (50-54)
Quirky Bestsellers and Current Popular Fiction (55-59)
The Passion Factor (60-64)
Xena-Inspired, Internet-Based, Fan-Written Fiction (65-69)
A Different Kind Of Author and A Different Way of Writing (70-75)
Next on the Bestseller List (76-81)

Heroic Deeds and Moral Dilemmas:
Reading About Women Before and After Xena

Xena Fan Fiction

[1] Xena: Warrior Princess, a four- year-old TV show, has generated an enormous amount of fan- written fiction on the Internet. Rewriting TV relationships to suit the author's own interests is not a new phenomenon. It started with Star Trek. But just as the characters and story line of Xena: Warrior Princess are different from any previous TV show, so the Internet- circulated fiction is also significantly different from previous writings about women. Pulse-pounding action, heart- stopping love scenes, and two women together are the unique combination that set post-Xena fiction apart from anything written before, and make it a matter of time before Xena-inspired books break into main stream bestsellerdom.

[2] Only recently have women starred as dramatic leads in their own shows. Although heroines are somewhat more common in literature, these are mostly interior dramas, with an occasional action-oriented woman in a detective novel. These female protagonists are inevitably alone, coupled with a man, or seeking a male partner. Since Xena and her companion Gabrielle came on the scene, there has been a fundamental change in writing about women. For the first time, we see two powerful women whose primary relationship is with each other, in a dramatic setting that gives the characters wide scope for action.

[3] These observations are based on my lifelong fascination with reading about heroic deeds, moral dilemmas, and strong women. What follows is an idiosyncratic tour through the reading paths of one middle-aged woman now enamored of Xena fan fiction. As a long time "bookaholic", there have been three times in my life when I could not get enough of a certain type of reading. In the fifties and sixties, it was historical fiction: Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Horatio Hornblower, and everything Mary Renault ever wrote about ancient Greece. Then came the seventies and early eighties, when Women's Liberation ushered in a whole new kind of writing, and I went on an obsessive search to find all the books listed in The Lesbian in Literature. Now, in the late nineties, I have had my bibliophilic socks knocked off once again by all the Xena stories that I have discovered on the Net.

What's So Special About a TV Show?

''Pink, it's my new obsession.  Pink, it's not even a question.''

Xena and Gabrielle showed concern for each other very early on, as in this scene from THE GREATER GOOD.
[4] How has a TV show come to have such an effect on the written word? Xena is a character with absolutely no basis in historical fact. Two men, John Schulian and Robert Tapert, created a woman warrior who could out-fight and out- think any man in Greece, and as the show progressed, in Rome, China, and Britannia, as well. She first appeared on a companion show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, where she was given a long, dark past as a power hungry, murderous warlord who saw the light and turned to good with the help of Hercules. From the first episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, in September 1995, we saw a powerful but conflicted hero who fought for justice and the weak in an effort to atone for her sins of the past. And Xena can fight! At least once per show, she takes out a platoon of soldiers or bandits with roundhouse kicks, head butts, and her trusty chakram.

[5] From the first episode of her own show, Xena has a companion, Gabrielle, one of a group of village girls whom Xena rescues from slavers. No languishing victim, Gabrielle fights the slavers and stands up to villagers who threaten to stone Xena. Gabrielle begs Xena to take her along on her travels, away from her boring fiancee, and Xena reluctantly agrees. At final fade, the two friends walk off into the sunset, into a shared life of danger.

[6] Although both women have occasional relationships with men, and Xena's can be overtly sexual, their primary relationship is with one another, and their status as a couple is never questioned by the world around them. For most viewers, whatever their gender or sexual orientation, this relationship is the heart of the show. It is the further exploration of the relationship, in various permutations and combinations, that has generated the explosion of fan writings on the Internet.

[7] The settings and stories provided by the show's writers have given fan authors much to work with. So have the powerful characterizations portrayed by actresses Lucy Lawless (Xena) and Renee O'Connor (Gabrielle), whose warm personal friendship is palpable in their on-screen chemistry. Although set mainly in ancient Greece, Xena and Gabrielle participate in events from the Trojan War in 1184 BCE [BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS (12/112)] to Queen Boudicca's [DELIVERER (50/304)] resistance to the Romans in 60 CE. Their one excursion into modern times [THE XENA SCROLLS (34/210)], an Indiana Jones take-off in which descendants of Xena and Gabrielle search for Gabrielle's scrolls, gave rise to 'uber- Xena' fiction [Note 01]. Uber is a genre in which characters are physically and psychologically similar to the originals, with different names, and are placed in modern times or other historical settings.

[8] Physically, the two actresses make a striking pair, and their distinguishing characteristics have become a staple, some would say a stereotype, of fan fiction writing. Xena is tall, taciturn, dark and beautiful, with long black hair and striking eyes invariably described as 'ice blue'. Gabrielle is short, talkative, fair, and cute, with strawberry blonde hair and green eyes. On screen, the pair are very physical with each other, in a 'hurt/comfort' mode during melodramatic episodes and playfully affectionate in comedies. Both are prodigious fighters, with Xena on the offensive with fists and weapons, and Gabrielle playing defense with her Amazon staff.

[9] Psychologically, Xena is tormented by the evil deeds of her warlord past, and she has a definite dark side, losing control when she gives in to hatred of her enemies. She is cynical, world-weary, and a loner who has killed many times. Gabrielle is young, innocent and sociable, believes the best of everyone, especially Xena, and avoids killing. Each woman is extremely protective of the other, Xena of Gabrielle's physical well being and Gabrielle of Xena's soul. Xena struggles to control her violent temper and personal insecurity, her 'dark side', while fighting for justice. Gabrielle strives to do the morally right thing and seeks always to solve problems as peacefully as possible. "Talk first, break heads later" is her motto. Xena looks to Gabrielle as a moral compass, and Gabrielle forces Xena to deal with her spirituality and essential goodness.

[10] The essence of the Xena/Gabrielle relationship is that they are beyond lovers. They are soulmates. The term appeared early in the series when Gabrielle told a male companion Plato's story of a two- headed, four-armed and -legged people who were cloven in half and then forever sought their soulmates. This plays out on the page in the long chapters it takes for the pair's relationship to be established, to make clear their sense of bondedness before they become sexually involved. Through numerous incredible adventures, including birth, death, and betrayal, the two always come back together. Not even the boundaries of Tartarus or the Elysian Fields can keep our heroes apart. After Gabrielle apparently dies while sacrificing herself for the greater good, Xena says, "Even in death, Gabrielle, I will never leave you. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. You gave my life meaning and joy. You will be a part of me forever". Then she crosses over into the Amazon land of the dead to bring back her friend. As Robert Tapert, show producer and husband of Lucy Lawless, says, "This is a show about two people who love each other".

[11] These archetypal characteristics are reflected in all of the over two thousand pieces of fiction, from short stories to novels, that have been posted on the Internet over the past four years. Having such vivid, complementary, and well-developed protagonists certainly gave a jump-start to the hundreds of bards who have tried their hands at producing stories. After all, the first hurdle for any storywriter is to create interesting, fully dimensional characters, and make them real to the reader, a task already accomplished by the creators of the TV show. However, to reach a larger audience, Xena- inspired authors will have to break out of these fan- generated conventions and write about characters who stand on their own, fully developed in the text with their own unique background and psychological characteristics.

Men, Women, and Xena: No Stereotypes

[12] Xena and Gabrielle are never constricted by the realities of being a woman in either ancient or modern times. There is no hint that it is odd, unusual, or inappropriate to lead the lives that they do, as traveling warrior and storyteller. Xena is a fantastical character. She is strong enough to single handedly defeat a legion of soldiers, a skilled healer and surgeon, and an accepted leader of men in battle. Equally as extraordinary, in its own way, is Gabrielle and Xena's ability to read and write, skills most unlikely to be found in women of ancient Greece. The TV characters are two completely independent women, who make their own lives, rely on each other for friendship and support, and fight their own battles, moral as well as physical.

[13] By ignoring historical accuracy and making the lead characters larger than life yet still completely human, the show has turned Xena into an icon for huge numbers of women. Women, children, and not a few men are drawn to these female heroes, as evidenced by the TV show's status at or near the top of the syndicated TV ratings. Net chat lines indicate that many mothers watch Xena: Warrior Princess with their children for the opportunities it gives for conversation together. Of course the show fractures history, placing its heroes across twelve centuries and two continents, but at least young viewers are getting some exposure to myths, legends, and history that older generations were more likely to read about. Furthermore, the show is well-written. Amidst the melodrama, great themes are played out: betrayal, redemption, and forgiveness. The great moral questions are also addressed: law vs. justice, pacifism vs. activism, and sacrifice for the greater good.

''Pink, on the lips of your lover.  'Cause pink is the love you discover..''

When caught in the hot tub together, The Widow Twankey asked the dressed-in-drag Autolycus and Salmoneus, 'Who do you think you are, Xena and Gabrielle?'
[14] Some of the appeal, to men and women alike, comes from what the producers call 'eye candy', i.e. scantily clad women, but it also comes from the equal distribution by gender of good guys and bad guys. Three men play important supporting roles: Autolycus, the Prince of Thieves; Salmoneus, out-for-a-buck hustler who always does the right thing in the end; and Joxer, would-be warrior who is as courageous as he is bumbling. The Amazons are a continuing presence. Early on, Gabrielle is made an Amazon Queen. For the most part, they are the good guys, with an occasional villain.

[15] The two best villains are Ares, god of war, who encouraged Xena's dark side and constantly seeks to bring her back to rule as his warrior queen; and Callisto, a warrior woman whose family was destroyed by Xena in her warlord days. With skills equal to Xena's, and occasional help from the gods, Callisto has a wonderfully complex relationship with the Warrior Princess. She seeks to hurt Xena by harming those she loves the most, mainly Gabrielle, but who also, as played by actress Hudson Leick, is powerfully drawn to Xena.

[16] It is no surprise that lesbians love Xena: Warrior Princess. In one of the great debates of the Internet chat lines, straight women maintain that two strong women together do not have to be lesbians, and lesbian women maintain that of course they are. As a true Libra, I come down squarely in the middle of this argument, thoroughly enjoying 'alt fanfic' that portrays the two women as lovers, but feeling that it would spoil the show if the two friends were to become explicitly sexual with each other. In any case, the issue is not whether or not they are sexual lovers, it is that they are lovers in the Platonic sense: where striving to be worthy of the loved one makes the lover a better person.

[17] There is no misogyny, discrimination, or sex role stereotyping in either the TV show or fan fiction. Thus, both are refreshingly free of anti-male diatribes and feminist rhetoric. I am speaking this apparent blasphemy as a long time feminist who has uttered more than a few of these sentiments herself. However, both the reality and the rhetoric detract from my reading enjoyment. Most fiction about women together focuses on the problems of their getting together and staying together. In the Xenaverse, at the click of a keyboard, all these reality-based issues disappear, save only for those delightful obstacles to lovers getting together that are part of the fun in any romantic story.

Introduction to Xena on the Internet

[18] Early in my Xena fixation, I came upon a review of fan fiction in Whoosh! The Journal Of The International Association Of Xena Studies [Note 02]. This meant that I started my reading with the recommendations of experienced fan fiction reviewers and authors, or 'bards' as they call themselves after Gabrielle's profession. For the first few months after my new discovery, I hardly read anything else, or talked about anything else, as all my friends, both straight and gay, would ever so gently remind me.

[19] An email exchange with Maribel Piloto, a.k.a. Lunacy, reviewer extraordinaire of Xena fan fiction, precipitated this article [Note 03]. After I waxed enthusiastic over how different and more exciting Xena fan fiction was than most of what I had read before, she asked for recommendations of older titles in case she ever found time to read anything beyond what she was reviewing. The question was specifically about lesbian literature, but I got to thinking that Xena fiction brings together all the literary themes that have captured my interest over the years.

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