The following is a graphic post. Go away now if you don’t want to read further.
I changed my mind about The Ten Thousand. Actually, while reading it I was uncomfortable with Kearney’s casual depiction of rape in the novel. I know the difference between the author and the work and I’m not accusing him of glorifying rape. But there is a line between looking into the abyss and not having a freaking clue. Kearney erred on the side of cluelessness.
There’s only one female POV character in the novel, Tiryn. She’s a concubine of the usurping king. According to her backstory, when she was taken from her home as a teenager (although we’re never told how old, I’m thinking 13 or 14), she was gang-raped.
Then she becomes a concubine, where presumably she was continually raped by the usurper king, and then in the course of the novel she is gang-raped AGAIN.
And then she falls in love with the good-guy general and gets pregnant by him.
First of all, we know that being raped just once is bound to destroy a woman’s heart and soul although her body will probably recover. Secondly, anyone who can type Darfur into Google knows about the rape of the women in the Sudan. I think it’s clear from the interviews with these women that they are not falling in love and having sex ever again. Their bodies have been destroyed, and even if they survive, their will and sense of self and their essential humanity have been taken.
So here is what happens with gang rape. A woman’s genitalia is severally injured and she can suffer internal injuries. She can die from these injuries. If she gets pregnant as she likely will, she will miscarry if she is lucky or, due to the internal damage, she will die in childbirth. She will probably be torn up. She will likely never experience physical pleasure in sex again, rather as if she underwent a female circumcision.
In this novel, Kearney doesn’t know a thing about the basic anatomy of human being who happens to be female. In a book that was otherwise well-written, engaging, and absorbing, this was a huge failure of the imagination. Because I can’t believe that he would have written her character arc that way if he had bothered to think about what rape really was and what gang rape really was.
And you know, there was plenty in the novel I was okay with. I was okay with the belief held by the characters that certain races were not human. That’s natural in a war setting and I thought he captured the way people dehumanize their enemies so they can kill them. The sack of the city — it worked. It felt right. It was harrowing, but it was good writing. Kearney did plenty that was right.
So even though, as I said, I didn’t think he was glorifying rape, or meaning to glorify it, he downplayed the implications so severely that I think he meant to make his target audience feel comfortable with it. See? She’s okay! he seems to be saying.
So I don’t know. As I said in my previous post, I’m done with the macho stuff for a while. I hope that men who may be reading this post will weigh in here because I can’t think this kind of thing is what you read sword-and-sorcery for.