Jennifer Rorylynn Tucker remains one of the most unappreciated science fiction/fantasy authors of the past several decades--not so much for a lack of commercial success, but for the complete obfuscation of her work's meaning by a harsh and uncaring culture.
Although Tucker's name may be recalled by many fans of the genre, most would no longer be able to accurately discuss the meaning of her work. Her tales--though occasionally enjoying widespread popularity--have been so mangled by Hollywood that now, most people who have ever heard of her would be stunned, were they forced to actually partake of her work itself.
Why, and how, was Tucker censored in plain sight? Tucker's world-bending epic The Mayfly Shield, familiar to both critics and moviegoers alike, represents the worst of this phenomenon. In particular, Tucker's intellectualism, lesbianism, and what some might have called her "too intense" interest in her own creations, made her true work unpalatable to modern producers; yet, the staggering popularity she enjoyed at one time forced them to acknowledge, if not the truth of what she had done, at least her existence. Unfortunately, this acknowledgement came with a price: the complete perversion and insidious, deliberate exploitation of everything she stood for. Mass culture celebrated the rape of Tucker's greatest works.
It is an inside joke of long-time Tucker fans to refer to her "lesbian imagery," but the reason why will surprise many people: there is actually no lesbian imagery in Tucker's work! Instead, what strikes more staid readers about her work is the veritable absence of men. Male characters play little, if any, role in almost all of her writings.
In The Mayfly Shield (as well as in its predecessor, A Queen's Concerns), Tucker creates a series of immersive fantasy realms based almost wholly around women. Her ideas of femininity permeate her work, not only from the main or "perspective" characters--who are, every single one, female--but in supportive casts composed almost wholly of women. Indeed, in The Mayfly Shield, one can count the number of male characters on the digits of a single hand!
Women, of course, do the fighting in Tucker's worlds. Women make war, march in regiments, pore over ancient tomes, and bind wounds. They make laws, cook their own food, order the occasional nameless male character around, decide the fate of the world, and--perhaps most importantly--share one another's exclusive company. The men they interact with are less a part of Tucker's novels than a brush by the side of the road.
Tucker's heroines do, occasionally, get married, or fall in love. It is a distant, idealized love, each and every time, where the details are not dwelt on. Tucker makes abundantly clear to the reader that her plots are more important to her women than the "men they come home to." The men are rarely referenced (if at all), and it is clear that they are only used for serving food in safe situations, or for breeding once the battle is over. Tucker's women know, of course, that they will need strong daughters to save the world in the next age, and so once they have defeated a powerful enemy, and made the world peaceful for a time, they are willing to go home and marry in order to produce strong daughters to train in war.
In the meantime, Tucker's characters engage in openly homoerotic interplay. Throughout the course of thousands of pages, their female-only focus is evident. Tucker's women ride together, sleep together, eat and fight and die together, and spend hours talking, huddling close for warmth, long into the night. The women of The Mayfly Shield engage in thorough physical contact, and intense emotional discussions, but through her clever use of plot and setting, Tucker ensures that it takes a careful eye to "catch" what her characters are up to. She never once comes out and says that sexual relationships have happened (whether for fear of offending the prudish audience she was writing for, or for literary reasons; her choice is open to debate), but to an unabashed or more modern eye, the female leads' intimate cuddling is easy to discern.
The Benefits of Tucker
What is Tucker able to tell us, through her writings, that other modern writers are not able to? While Tucker certainly does not speak for all women everywhere, her version of the female experience holds great intrinsic value. Female characters in today's movies are, quite often, portrayed as unreliable: they are the failed mothers of so many 1990s-2000s movies, presented for mockery because of their total buffoonish inability to juggle the responsibilities of career, child-rearing, and relationship. They are shown as slaves to the pursuit of formal heterosexual relationships, presented as miserably unhappy creatures unless they can manage to successfully trick a man into believing they are interesting, and wed him. They hatch madcap schemes with their friends to trick men into falling for them, and often fail--not only because of their personal inadequacies, but because their friends are peevish, jealous, sex-starved, and dishonest.
Tucker's stories stand almost alone among modern writing for their ability to portray women as truly, honestly strong. Her women are neither outlandishly unbelievable nor possessed of some distant male spiritual oversight that motivates them. Instead, they look to themselves, and find themselves worthy. Her characters may suffer from familial guilt, or doubts as to their inner strength, but they do not doubt their own competence, or their will to carry on. Their female friends are willing to risk their lives for one another; save one another; shed blood (their own and that of their enemies) and defy bleakness, evil, and pain, all to strengthen their bonds.
And, Tucker does this all without needing to dilute her narratives by mandating frequent rendezvouses with male warriors; insightful male leaders; rebellious young male upstarts chosen to "prove" to male readers that Tucker's stories are "male-friendly." No; Tucker had no need to pander to any of these notions. When she does wish men to appear, they are (as mentioned before) solely background characters. They may, rarely, wait table or pine for marriage, but Tucker's homosexual emphasis is evident from how very little attention she pays to men. In all of her fully-fleshed epics, amidst hundreds of female warrioresses, only one man ever actually takes to the field of battle.
Supplanting Tucker's Characters
When Tucker was "rediscovered" recently, this was simply unacceptable to Hollywood's major producers. What value did they see in a tale that focused only on one sex? Why should there be a story just about women? Should such a thing be permissible?
The answer, as it turned out, was a resounding "no." In order to make Tucker more "marketable," the male producers of what later became her movie arrangements decided to alter her narrative. Though Tucker had passed away years before the chance to see her work achieve its greatest fame, it was, unfortunately, a bitter, dishonest fame. The buyers and producers of her work made such an overhaul of it as to make it nearly unrecognizable.
All the familiar faces were there, on the big screen--and more. Male background characters suddenly found themselves thrust into the spotlight, receiving top billing and delivering lines and heading scenes that Tucker never wrote (nor likely ever, in her moments of greatest despair, envisaged). To the producers, Tucker's writing was "too lesbian" and "too female focused," so they restructured major plot elements to solve the problem in a way that would have made Tucker turn over in her grave. Namely, they took out a saltshaker full of men, and sprinkled liberally.
Why should Tucker's story be "too lesbian"? Was the modern, post-industrial West not prepared for openly gay women? Would critics, after decades of rhetoric about equality, not be able to stomach the idea of strictly homosexual relationships, and strictly same-sex character development, getting all the screen time? Network TV has been using hints of lesbianism as a subject of jokes, mockery, and eye-candy for decades, but for some terrible reason, despite Tucker's great following, those who bought and made movies felt a need to add more men.
In doing so, the entire message of Tucker's work was changed. Instead of epics focused on women--women's character development, camaraderie, emotional love for each other, and even physical love for each other--the movies that would bear Tucker's name became saturated with both sexes. Lesbian relationships faded into the background, forgotten entirely so that the producers could focus audience attention on traditional heterosexual relationships.
In almost every single instance, hints of homosexuality were scrubbed from dialogue. Even worse, in several cases, the producers made up new male characters in order to pair them with Tucker's unattached female characters.
Sexism in The Mayfly Shield
Many authors, fans, and reviewers have, over the years, accused Tucker of being sexist. And of course she was--her writing was almost exclusively about women. She quite obviously cared not to write about men, and even during her lifetime, was unwilling to compromise on this even to achieve greater fame and more widespread appeal.
However, was that so bad? The world is filled with tales of straight men, straight women, and heterosexual men/women relationships. Certainly, many varieties see more exposure in the West. What Tucker offered, though, was Tucker's work--who among us knows the full meaning of every plot twist and background happenstance she meticulously recorded? Her women married for procreation, raising strong daughters to continue saving the world--is there a clue, there, that Tucker was trying to send us, across the ages? Concealed within thousands of pages of prose, did she share some knowledge with us that we might benefit from? Even now, as lofty and knowledgeable as we are, do we deserve to erase the words of the past--to throw them down the memory hole and burn them--and replace them with our preferred version of Tucker?
Everything Tucker was has been destroyed by these movies. New generations of fans will no longer be able to look to her brave, strong, loving lesbians, and their modest relationships, as a source of strength. The intrusion of the other sex has continued to portray lesbians as Others. Where once Tucker showed us an example of how things could be, the producers have stolen that example from the future, replacing it with a nuclear-family version of their own making.
Whether or not we are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, polysexual, or anything else, the perversion of Tucker's work was morally acceptable. Had the producers wanted to write a story dotted with strong male warriors, and filled to the brim with happy, heterosexual marriage-endings, then by all means, let them write such a story.
Unfortunately, they did not. Instead, they bought a pre-existing story, turned it into a brand, and destroyed every worthy aspect, unique perspective, and deeper meaning to the work. Tucker's work was, metaphorically truly, raped in every conceivable way once it was made into movies: it was raped just enough that it could trick viewers into believing they were actually experiencing Tucker's message. What Tucker wrote--of forbidden, quiet love--was priceless. However "sexist" it may have literally been to portray all of her characters as women, it was her choice. She should have been allowed to make it, and anyone who wanted to claim to be disseminating her message--no matter how much money they had--should not have been able to so crudely alter it.
The Perversion of Meaning
Today's producers, directors, screenwriters, and actors do this. Possessed of no imagination, they find themselves unable to write their own story. Their "nuclear family;" their "diversity" or "equal blend of sexes;" their preferred ideal of the decade in which they make their "version" of someone's creation, leaves them unable to actually create. Instead, they can only pervert. Like poison, they seep into someone's brand. They throw money at people until they have control of something, and then they bend and reshape it, adding parts and discarding others, until they've produced a grotesque zombie where once there was a real person.
This, in and of itself, shows the weakness of their vision. Their oafish short-sightedness keeps them from creating something of their own. They can only feed on the dead, rebranding old things in a modern gloss, then selling them to a gullible populace.
When we face this horror, we may take heart in remembering the code of true creators. It takes skill, perhaps immense skill, to fully decipher the meaning of a work. Not merely the "who" and the "how" and the "why," but to understand the real expression an author was trying to make. Better, even, than the finest Enigma machine, or modern supercomputer-encrypted coding, is that subtle disguise of soul in deep literature. It takes thought, care, intelligence, and effort to figure something out. In that, literature disguises truth in plain sight. Where fools see a man climbing a mountain, and where the creator can publicly disavow any meaning when confronted by the Emperor, the wise reader can always draw, from the original, meaning.
In Tucker's case, we can rejoice in the often clumsy, often boring, often droll prose that gave her a unique style, and that made her too difficult for most to understand. Her women, and the hinted truth of their relationships, can hide in plain sight for as long as need be, until but one more person picks up an old book, and brings them back to life. Until digital reading and editing has replaced all original records, that power will remain to us.
Critics now dismiss Tucker's original writings as "sexist" or "clumsy" or "unreal," but her vision remains. Throwing aside the shiny, noisy dross that the zombie-perverts constantly throw at us, we may go to the original, for in the original, they see no threat: they think you are not smart enough to read it on your own. They think you are not smart enough to avoid staring at their blaring images. They are confident that your current prejudices, whatever they are, will cause you to dismiss as unimportant the crimes they have committed, and to continue patronizing the rape of Tucker.