Fires of Winter

Fires of Winter was written in 1980 by Johanna Lindsey. It is a story of continual rape set in 850 in Norway. I realize that we all have different points of view on dominant-submissive relationships, and that is fine. Other people will have quite different points of view on this story, and that is fine too. I can only give my personal point of view, and how this story reads to me.

First, the good. Heroine Brenna has grown up wielding a sword and standing strong for herself. With no mother, and an antagonistic step-sister, she has had to fend for herself and think on her feet. She takes on villains with strength and honor. She has a strong internal code of right from wrong and is willing to fight rather than give in. I love sword-wielding heroines and heroines who stand up against wrong-doing. Brenna should be my ideal kind of heroine.

Next, the iffy. While a few other reviewers extol the "historical accuracy" of this story, most of those reviewers seem to do so in order to justify the continual rape. "Of course Vikings raped all their women in the 800s, so therefore you can't complain about the raping, because it was historically accurate". However, much of this story is NOT historically accurate. Most Vikings lived in large one-room homes, which stayed warm more easily. They didn't have lots of little rooms which would be inefficient and harder to heat. Lindsey invents a house with lots of rooms for one character, but even the other homes seem to be segmented. Stables also weren't separate buildings - why waste all that animal warmth! They were connected to the main building. Like in Briton, smoke went up a hole in the ceiling. It wouldn't go through a "door".

The whole family tended to live together in that one house. It was an extended community. They didn't break off into separate locations; it would be too risky. They stayed together and helped each other out. In our modern society we tend to think "kids move away" but that wasn't the mindset at all in Viking times. In Viking times it was natural and proper that you always stayed put to help out.

The book makes it seem odd that a woman would wield a sword - but in Viking tradition this was normal. They were a warrior culture. They had Valkyries, after all! This was a shining model to all. Female warriors were called "shieldgirls".

Brenna is shocked by the tradition of exposing imperfect babies to the elements - but this was practiced ALL over Europe including in the Britons. It was only far later in the middle ages that the traditions began to change. So Brenna would have known about this practice and thought of it as fairly normal.

She also would have known about sex! In the time period in question, sex was a normal, natural function in life, like eating and sleeping. People usually slept in one-room houses. They grew up watching their parents have sex. They knew all about sex. They lived around farm animals who had sex all the time. Sex was celebrated, fertility was celebrated. There is absolutely no way a woman in the 800s could have been in any way confused about sex.

There are all sorts of other minor issues. Honey mead is an alcoholic drink made from honey. There's no barley in it. There are long expositions that are stated as if we're reading a biography text, rather than naturally learning about the characters and their traits. There is a lot of head-hopping, sometimes without warning, so you have to go back to figure out who is thinking things. Sometimes the character thinking thoughts becomes omniscient and thinks things they couldn't possibly have known.

So I would NOT call this book historically accurate. I would call it a modern day fantasy about what Viking life might have been like, based on modern thoughts.

Now to the part that I find quite unhealthy. Again, I'll say that I understand completely the draw of the powerful, controlling, alpha male. I fully appreciate the allure of that type of a character. However, there is an enormous difference between that man and Garrick. With an alpha male, the woman WANTS him. She WANTS sex with him. It is her desire to have it happen. So even if she has to hold him off for societal reasons, she WANTS him to win. What we are seeing here is the diametrically opposed opposite. The heroine DOES NOT want him. She actively fights him because with all her heart, with her core of honor and strength, she desperately does NOT want him to touch her - and he forces her repeatedly. I don't know how to even put into words how opposite this is to an alpha male situation. Every woman I have spoken to who has been raped has been traumatized by the violation and has in many cases carried that trauma with her for years to decades. It harms not only the body but the emotions and the mental state. Brenna-Garrick is NOT a secret desire / alpha male scenario. It is absolutely a RAPE SCENARIO where she hates him and does not want him to touch her. For him to then repeatedly force himself on her would have traumatized her.

There is no way that she would have asked him to continue during the first rape!! That is beyond the scope of reality. No matter what one's body is feeling during a rape, one's emotions and mind are being brutalized and the only thought is for it to stop. And to get away from the violator.

Brenna is strong, intelligent, and has for her entire life been master of her own destiny. It is entirely incongruous for her, after being repeatedly and at times violently raped, to decide she wants to marry this guy. It goes against everything her character has been about up until this time. It is as if she's had a brain transplant. So even in terms of thinking of this story as a "fantasy adventure" about an abusive rapist, it makes no sense. Our heroine undergoes severe personality changes along the way in order to make this work.

Whether it is 850 or 2012, a strong, intelligent woman who is repeatedly, violently raped would fight to get away from that man. That would be an imperative for her whether she was an educated Briton noblewoman of 850 or an educated woman from Los Angeles in 2012. Yes, rapists existed in all eras. Women who fought against them also existed in all eras, and Brenna's actions make no sense at all. Our battered women's shelters are overflowing with women who can attest to that.

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