How The Bechdel Test Inspired Sarah Kozloff To Write An Epic Fantasy Series

Book covers of the Nine Realms fantasy series
The Nine Realms series tells the story of a young princess who must grow up and fight her way back to the throne. Images courtesy of Tor Books
Book covers of the Nine Realms fantasy series
The Nine Realms series tells the story of a young princess who must grow up and fight her way back to the throne. Images courtesy of Tor Books

How The Bechdel Test Inspired Sarah Kozloff To Write An Epic Fantasy Series

You may be familiar with the Bechdel test, which calls attention to gender inequality in works of fiction by asking a simple question: Are there two named female characters that talk to each other about something other than a man?

Sarah Kozloff was a film professor at Vassar College when she learned that The Lord of The Rings movies, which were adapted from one of her most beloved fantasy series, fail the Bechdel test.

So she decided to write her own.

The result is The Nine Realms, a four-book series of fantasy novels about a young princess who must grow up and fight her way back to the throne.

Nerdette host Greta Johnsen talked with Kozloff about the books, her career change and why she released all four novels in the same year.

Why she changed careers

Sarah Kozloff: I was sitting in class — this was a very select seminar of seniors. We were studying women filmmakers and we were looking at this list of movies that did not pass the Bechdel test. And one of them was The Lord of the Rings. And people said to me, “Wait! There are great women in The Lord of the Rings!” And there are. There’s Galadriel, and there’s Éowyn, and Arwen Evenstar.

But they never talk to each other. They are all in separate storylines. And if they did talk to each other, they probably would be talking about a dude!

So I saw that, and I can remember that moment so clearly. I’m sitting in class, I’m looking at the list, I see The Lord of The Rings, and I’m like, I’m going to write an epic fantasy that does pass the Bechdel test. And of course, there are hundreds of fantasies that do pass the Bechdel test. But this one is mine.

Why she released the whole series at once

Kozloff: I don’t remember the second Patrick Rothfuss book. I’d have to go back and reread it. And I didn’t want that for my reader. I guess, Greta, I wanted them to have the experience that I had when I was an 8-year-old. We would sort of sprawl on the floor, lie upside down on the couch or whatever while my brother was reading, and he read us the whole Lord of the Rings series. And there was no waiting 18 months, two years, five years to find out what was going to happen.

On going for it

Kozloff: I didn’t have anything to lose, Greta. I had already made my career as a film professor. And I was doing this sort of for myself. And it wasn’t until it was all finished that I started to get ambitious about finding an agent and finding an editor and publishing it.

One of these blog sites, Women Writers, asked me to write something about how I happened to do this. And I wrote about when I was five and I thought I could swim, and I jumped into the deep end of the pool. And the teenage lifeguard jumped in and pulled me out. And I was very very offended. Because I was not drowning! I could swim!

So somehow, writing these four long, epic fantasies is like jumping into the deep end of the pool. Right? Now, how would I feel about it if I’d never gotten an agent, if I never got it published, if nobody ever liked it? I don’t know. But I hope I would have still thought that those hours of writing were worth it in my happiness.

Just do it. Whatever your dream is. If it’s to paint, to dance, to swim, anything.

This conversation was lightly edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button to hear the full episode.