Jirel of Joiry Critical Essays

C. L. Moore


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Among early science-fiction heroes, Moores mythical female warrior Jirel introduced the right-brain feminine fantasy element into the left-brain masculine technology. Both warrior and woman, Jirel shows that hate, revenge, violence, and repressed sexual passion are not male prerogatives alone. The hellish landscapes through which Jirel pursues her vow-quests allow the author to delve into the feminine subconscious and to dredge up both Jungian psychological archetypes and Christian symbolism.

Jirels torments are both physical and psychological. The kiss that Guillaume inflicts on her is symbolic of Jirels loss of integrity—a rape. Her implacable revenge for this rape and other masculine offenses makes Jirel an early feminist model. Relying heavily on popular culture such as Oz and Tarzan, Moore constructs Jirels descent into the tunnel from Alices tumbling into her rabbit hole, Dorothy being disoriented by the whirling tornado, and Jane being swept into trees for Tarzans sexual passion.

Moores Christian symbolism mixes with Jungian archetypes: Women turn into frogs, demented horses scream womens names, and voices wail like lost souls in purgatory. In scenes from Hieronymus Boschs hell or Dantes Inferno, Jirel must atone for her sins because her revenge on Guillaume was motivated as much by undeclared sexual attraction as by revenge.

The medieval mythical land suggests a Gallic rather than an English setting with its French names—Gervase, Guillaume, Giraud, Giles, and Guy—and Latinized French phrases. Although critics tentatively place Jirel in the fifteenth century, the setting may not be as mythical as critics suggest. The character of Jirel bears a strong resemblance to the French warrior heroine Joan of Arc, who claimed to be inspired by saints voices to lead the French army against the English. Like Jirel, when Joan found herself the only woman surrounded completely by a male court, church, and army, she adopted a soldiers armor and clothing. She was valiantly defended by her soldiers; was threatened with rape, wounded in the shoulder, and imprisoned; and suffered a descent to the netherworld of an unjust trial.

None of Moores later works has the same intensity of feminist warrior arrogance, a fact that Moore herself attributes to growing maturity and that her critics attribute to her marriage with Henry Kuttner, a partnership that produced works under seventeen pseudonyms. Moores later novella Judgment Night (1952) pits a female warrior Juille and her code of ethics against human love.