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Sing Me a Song of Older Female Adventurers!
Spending my fiftieth birthday on a solo camping road trip made me want to read novels about women going on adventures after midlife. I love reading fantasy. However, I found that there aren’t many fantasy novels with older female leads to be found, let alone non-fantasy novels with older women setting off on solo adventures. Here are a few suggestions for novels with adventurous older female protagonists. If you know of any fantasy novels that fit the bill, let me know!
If all is going well, right now I’m celebrating my fiftieth trip around the sun simply and solo. I have a craving for time away from the constant distractions of tech and from recent stresses since this spring. So I’m taking time away to hit the road on my own to do what I love: go out and explore, as well as have some needed downtime.
It might seem like a strange choice to celebrate a big birthday alone. I’m sure I’ll celebrate when I return; it just happened to coincide with when I could take this adventure.
Adventure. Not a big one, just a little one, but that’s enough. When you take a solo adventure, people sometimes express concern that “something will happen.” But if you constantly stay inside the confines of your little house nothing with ever happen — good or bad. Like many tales of adventure, mine will start solo but eventually be joined along the way by companions — in this case, my oldest daughter and her good friend.
Apparently, Old Ladies Just Don’t Take Fantasy Adventures!
Turning the “Big 5-0” and taking a road trip (which demands audiobooks and reading material!) led me to crave novels of older women going out and having adventures. However, adventuring in fiction seems to be the province of men and younger women.
In real life, I’ve known and known of, women who were going out hiking, driving around the US in VW magic buses, leading kayaking adventures, and the like. But in fiction, these intrepid older adventurers are few and far between, especially in the realm of fantasy fiction, which I love to read.
Why aren’t there? I think I understand. Fantasy readers tend to be younger and male, though, of course, we’re all over the map. Fantasy literature has plenty of strong female characters well past midlife. However, they tend to be secondary characters or family matriarchs. Lady Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones is fierce and awesome (don’t call her “feisty”), but not adventuring out on the road herself.
Adventuring Makes Us Young-Again
Patrick Rofthuss, author of the must-read Kingkiller Chronicles, is penning a notable exception to this rule with his Tale of Laniel Young-Again. Laniel is an older woman who sets off on an epic-fantasy adventure after her husband is gone and her children are grown (see him read from it below). Precisely the type of story I’m searching for! The trouble is, it’s not published.
My adventure, whatever, it is turning out to be, will be much less epic. Nobody will be singing tales of my exploits, nor do I want them to. Maybe I’ll bring a ukulele and write one myself while I’m on the road. However, I think that getting out on the road can make you feel young again. At least I’m hoping that will happen for me.
What novels, fantasy or otherwise, are available that feature older female protagonists? I considered Howl’s Moving Castle but rejected that one as the protagonist only appears old. She hasn’t had the changes incurred by a lifetime of experience. The later books in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon may have been a contender. Claire is older there, and continually has adventures.
I asked my husband, an avid sci-fi and fantasy reader, and he drew a blank.
So I released the question out into the wilds of Twitter, and got a few suggestions but searching, again, made me realize how little there is (and led me to write the intro to a story of my own, which I’ll likely not finish but they say “write what you want to read.”)
Here were the suggestions; perhaps I’m currently reading or listening to some of these while I’m on the road), with thanks to the tweeters who suggested these:
The Mrs. Pollifax Series by Dorothy Gilman
Thanks to Ellie the Bookwerm for suggesting this.
This series, starting with the Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, features a New Jersey grandmother who, tired of the same ‘ol, like garden club meetings (I’m with her!) becomes a spy for the CIA. Rest assured, I’m likely starting this series as this gets posted if I haven’t already.
Now is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker
Thanks to Our Traveling Zoo for recommending this one.
The protagonist of Now is the Time to Open Your Heart is 57, and so fits right into the demographic group that I want. She leaves her lover and sets out on her own and encounters (according to the summary from the inside flap: “celibates and lovers, shamans and snakes, memories of family disaster and marital discord, and emerges at a place where nothing remains but love.”). This one’s definitely accompanying me.
Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties
Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties (love the title) by Camille Pagan features a 53 year old protagonist. The book summary states this woman is “perpetually anxious” and is beset by things like “falling air conditioners” (I thought I was the only one!) However, her life is turned upside-down when her husband walks out. A trip to Rome is part of her adventure, so I think this one fits the bill! It’s still not fantasy, but I can (almost) guarantee that it’s along on my trip.
Thank you to the Uncorked Librarian for suggesting Indelible by Adelia Saunders. I’ve been on a trend, it seems, of reading novels set in France in WWII, so this one fits right in. Its premise of a woman being able to see the lives of people written on their skin is fascinating. I’m probably reading this one on my trip, but the protagonist has two small children, so she doesn’t fit into the “older woman” demographic.
Bring Me Your Tales
I plan to get in some good reading time in when I’m on the road. Perhaps I’ll update this post in the future. Hopefully, my adventure will make me feel “young-again,” in body and spirit, and ready to return to the “real world,” when the adventure is over.
Have you read any good books featuring an older female protagonist setting out on an adventure? Let me know in the comments! If you can find a fantasy novel featuring a female protagonist over 50 setting out on an adventure, you are honored above all others!