I love labyrinths, I really do. They pop up a lot in fantasy lit, and I’m always glad to see them. They always seem more exciting in fantasy than in real life, but such is the case for a number of settings, I’m sure. Anyway, over the years I’ve noted a number of variations related to gender: who solves the labyrinth, who’s settled in the middle of it, that sort of thing. One of the archetypal stories is of course that of Theseus, who – with the help of Ariadne – solves the labyrinth to confront the monstrous devouring Minotaur at the centre of it. If we take this as a basic pattern (albeit one that rests primarily on the European tradition of labyrinths, as opposed to those traditions from other parts of the world) we can see how such patterns are repeated in, for example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Whether the maze is made out of underground tunnels or the dead marshes, the risk of being eaten or otherwise swallowed up is significant. Does this pattern change, however, when the solver of the labyrinth is female? Meredith Ann Pierce’s The Darkangel is an interesting contrast here, where the monstrous devourer exists outside the labyrinth, and the centre is a place of science and safety.
I tinkered with this paper on and off for well over a decade, so I’m glad it’s finally been published. Let me know what you think!