I just finished a wonderful book called Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. I’ll wait on the review, because the book doesn’t come out until October, and I don’t want you to forget about it because you can’t read it right now. (I don’t have a lending copy, unfortunately.) But I was talking with Rebecca (who lent me Graceling) tonight, and we wondered aloud about fantasy birth control methods. And that? Is clearly a subject worth discussing with the internet immediately.
In every fantasy novel that we could think of in which characters have sex and don’t get KID (as my boyfriend so charmingly puts it), they either a) ignore birth control entirely, or b) have some herb or spell that magically eliminates pregnancy as a possibility. 100% effective, easily obtained, no side effects. Wouldn’t we all love to have birth control like that?
As a plot device, it’s invaluable: you can be responsible by bringing up the issue of pregnancy, and then sweep it off the table easily, leaving the characters to grapple with the more emotionally interesting reasons to have sex or not. But I would love to see a fantasy novel deal with the modern (and age-old) fact that sex isn’t just an emotional risk, it’s also a physical risk.
(The only counter-example I can think of is Pamela Dean’s Tam-Lin. I read it a decade ago and don’t remember the details, but as I recall, Janet’s magical birth control fails (does Thomas make it fail on purpose? I forget). In the end, though, she’s happy about the pregnancy, despite being in college. Correct me if I’m wrong here, people who are more into this book than I am.)
Most fantasy (and historical) novels, of course, eventually get around this by having the heroine decide that she wants kids after all. She meets the right man and decides to slow down from her adventuring days. Alanna does it, Sabriel does it, Catherine-called-Birdy does it. In Sean Stewart’s Nobody’s Son, Gail’s decision to have a child is the happy ending on the very last page (and in that world, there is no magical birth control, so Gail has been denying poor Mark not just sons, but booty). These are all totally reasonable decisions for the characters to make. Often the woman is heir to something and has little choice, so you’re just glad she’s found a way to be happy with her destiny. As a woman who doesn’t want kids and (at almost-30) has yet to change her mind, though, I’m invested in seeing more characters choose to remain childless. Even if that does limit the possibility for multi-generational sequels.