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The Smurfette Principle: Literature

  • From 72 demons featured in Ars Goetia, only Marchosias, Vepar, and Gremory are female. And that's only from their usual forms on manifestation (respectively: gryphon-winged, snake-tailed she-wolf; mermaid; camel-riding noblewoman); the text itself still uses male pronouns for all the demons. Marchosias, Vepar, and Gremory included.
  • Deconstructed like whoa in the first Artemis Fowl book, when Holly point-blank asks Root if he's harder on her because she's a girl. He admits it, and then points out that she's the first female in Recon, and needs to set an example. It's also worth noting that the only other female up for the job Holly considers a 'bimbo'.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events averts this to the extent that it seems deliberate. The Baudelaires are one male, two female; their counterparts the Quagmires are one female, two male. Count Olaf's theater troupe contains two men, two women and "a person who looks neither like a man nor a woman".
  • The only female disciple of Aldur in Belgariad is Polgara. Well, also Poledra, but she's a Missing Mom most of the time. And these women are Belgarath's wife and daughter, so apparently to be a female member of the group you have to have a connection to a male member of the group. Although Poledra was called in her own right, and had been around for several centuries as a wolf before taking a human form and name and marrying Belgarath.
  • Shub-Niggurath is the Smurfette of the H.P. Lovecraft canon, being the only Great Old One referred to as a female in his works.
  • The Mythos also has Cthylla, who is the only "daughter" of Cthulhu's offspring.
  • In Orson Scott Card's Ender’s Game, Petra is the only girl ever mentioned at the Battle School; when Ender is first recruited, it is mentioned that girls rarely pass the tests to get in. However, Ender's sister Valentine proves to be an important character. Later books in the series introduce more major female characters.
    • Eventually, Petra winds up first a kinda-Satellite Love Interest and then a babymomma. To something like eight kids. And settles down with Peter, of all people, since Bean had to go away into space with the mutant babies and you can't have a woman alone. (Unless she's a nun. The nun was cool.) Be fruitful and multiply indeed.
  • Fate/Zero has a bit of this with Saber, a Gender Bender version of a traditionally male character to start with and the only female amongst individual servants. It repeats again with the Assassins with one female and three males on the team.
  • In the Forgotten Realms stories starring half-elf warrior Arilyn Moonblade and human mage Danilo Thann by Elaine Cunningham, aside from Arilyn herself, it seems like every single female character winds up Women in Refrigerators at some point. Aside from the Big Bad of the week, the males survive and get larger roles (including Danilo, as well as fan favorites Elaith, Foxfire, etc.) Considering the tabletop RPG market, this may be due to Executive Meddling.
  • In Good Omens, Pepper and War are the only girls in their respective groups (a gang of children for Pepper, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse for War). There are, however, several other female characters in the story.
  • Harry Potter:
    • The three main characters are two boys and one girl
    • Ginny is the only girl in a family full of boys
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series contained only one major female character for the first three books. Douglas Adams explained in an interview that he wasn't comfortable writing female characters because he didn't understand women. He made up for it in the third book by allowing Trillian (instead of Arthur, as he had originally planned) to make the deductive leaps that narrowly prevent a galaxy-wide war. Books four and five added Fenchurch and Random, respectively.
  • R.A. Salvatore's The Icewind Dale Trilogy series (of the Forgotten Realms) originally did not have any major female characters. But soon he learned that further books of his would be rejected if he didn't add one. And thus Catti-Brie was given the literary equivalent of Promotion to Opening Titles.
  • Beverly Marsh is the only female in The Losers Club in IT. This has its consequences later.
  • Occurs naturally in the Jennings series, set in a boys' boarding school. Matron is the only female regular character (though an elderly woman, Miss Thorpe, is a minor recurring character).
  • Light And Dark The Awakening Of The Mageknight: For a long time Sabrina was the only prominent female character other than Danny's mom. When she left the group, she was promptly replaced by Briza. Also, there is precisely one female among the White Rock Academy Instructors.
  • The Lord of the Rings features very few women. The actual Fellowship is completely male, and the only female character to take an active role in the sprawling thousand-page plot is Éowyn. Galadriel is powerful and important, but mostly "offscreen". Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, Mrs. Maggott, Goldberry, Ioreth, Mrs. Cotton, and Rose Cotton are trivial. Arwen barely has a speaking part. Everyone else is male.
    • Tolkien does point out that her people have a tradition of warrior women. Peter Jackson's films are actually much better examples of the Smurfette principle than the books.
    • Tolkien also mentions that there is only one known dwarf woman in history - Fíli and Kíli's mother, Dís (who is briefly mentioned in The Hobbit and in the appendices to Lord of the Rings). Others certainly exist, but she is the only one who is named. Though it's also noted that on those occasions dwarf women travel, they are commonly mistaken for dwarf men by non-dwarves who can't tell the difference.
    • The Silmarillion has a few more female characters (such as Melian, Haleth, Lúthien), but they usually end up being defined by their relationship to male characters, who get much more page timenote .
      • Eesh... maybe the first time you read it, or if you only concentrate on superficialities. Melian is the one responsible for the Teleri being Teleri (by enchanting Thingol so they hang around looking for him) and also the one responsible for Doriath remaining an unspoiled sanctuary that survives longer than all the other Elf kingdoms; Thingol is little more than a generic Jerk Ass who does little more than cause trouble by his arrogance. Haleth is a leader in her own right and distinctly Bad Ass. And Luthien takes on Morgoth one-on-one and decisively kicks his arse - the only character who successfully does anything of the kind (and the closest runner-up would be Ungoliant, also female). Similarly, in The Lord of the Rings, if you read it carefully it is apparent that Galadriel has far more power than is obvious on the surface. As a rule, those of Tolkien's female characters who have any significant role at all are in subtle ways a lot more impressive than most of the male characters, but you have to pay more attention when reading them if you are to perceive it.
  • Mildly deconstructed in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy. The setting's criminal underworld is heavily male-dominated, and as a result heroine Vin- raised to be a thief by her thief half-brother- has been the only (or one of the only) girl or woman in any given situation for most of her life. This has a very visible influence on her personality.
  • Of Mice and Men: There are a total of eleven characters mentioned in any capacity in the book. Two are women. One, Lennie's Aunt Clara, deceased, is never seen and is only a part of Lennie's background. The other, Curley's wife, doesn't get a name. And she dies anyway.
  • Technically, A.L. Phillips's The Quest of the Unaligned counts as an example of this, but though there is only one girl in the main party, there is only one boy for the first half of the story and only two for the second half. So Justified in a rather meta way.
  • In the Rainbow Magic series, this is inverted. King Oberon is the only known male fairy, though Jack Frost has been stated to be a fairy at times.
  • It took 456 pages to reach a female character in The Sword of Shannara. Even her rescuer was VERY surprised.
  • Leah Clearwater in the Twilight series is the sole female werewolf not only in her pack, but in HISTORY.
  • In Sharon Creech's The Wanderer, Sophie is the only girl among the surly crew of the titular sailboat, made up of her three uncles and two (male) cousins. And they didn't even want to take her in the first place. Their main reasoning was "wouldn't you rather stay at land, where you can take shower every day?".
  • The series of Warrior Cats alternate between playing this trope straight and averting it.
    • In the Original Series the Power Trio at first consists of Firepaw, Graypaw, and Ravenpaw, (all male) but eventually becomes Firestar, Graystripe, and Sandstorm (1:2 in favor of males.)
    • In The New Prophecy this is averted as the main characters are Leafpool, Squirrelflight, and Brambleclaw, (2:1). And the cats who journey to Sun-Drown place are Brambleclaw, Stormfur, Crowfeather, Feathertail, Squirrelflight, and Tawnypelt which is an even three toms and three she-cats.
    • The Power Trio of The Power of Three is again a 1:2 ratio comprising the brothers Jayfeather and Lionblaze, and their sister Hollyleaf.
    • In The Omen of the Stars it's even, with Jayfeather and Lionblaze still mains, but now also Dovewing and Ivypool.
    • And finally played straight again in the fifth series, which has (so far) three male main characters, Gray Wing, Thunder, and Clear Sky, with the other arguably most important character (Jagged Peak) also being a tomcat. However, it should be noted that the followers of the Sun Trail are an equal split of toms and she-cats.
  • In Water Margin, there are 108 heroes of Liangshan Marsh, divided into 36 'heavenly heroes' and 72 'earthly heroes'. Only 3 of the earthly heroes are female, and none of the heavenly heroes are. Additionally, only one of the women survives the novel.
  • A subtler version is at play in Zamyatin's We: everyone in the society is issued with an alphanumeric designation instead of a name, with one letter followed by several numbers. Men get consonants; women get vowels. Note the ratio.
    • Except in Russia, the ratio is about 2:1 - 10 vowels, 20 consonants, so it's not as extreme.
  • Isaac Asimov, until he married his second wife had issues with women due to relations with his beloved Smother. Susan Calvin was the shining exception in the 400+ books he wrote until he was old (in fact, her dealing with the sexism inherent with being the Smurfette was dealt with in a few of the short stories).
  • Tamora Pierce has stated she writes stories with female leads precisely because of this. At the time she was starting the Circle of Magic series, she saw an article that mentioned that 75% of recently published fantasy books had male heroes, so she inverted the figure by having three girls and one boy as the main characters (a male character with stereotypically "girlie" plant-based magic at that).
    • The teachers were two men and two women, though, and Sandry also had Duke Vedris.
    • However, Pierce does have a roughly equal number of male and female secondary characters in almost all the books.
      • And sometimes they overshadow her girls, especially when she gets to the romance stage. Still, she does all right. In the Trickster books even the Love Interest didn't hold a candle to Ally for character-dominance. Of course, the relationship had a really odd progression. Starting with the fact that he's a crow.
  • Terry Pratchett examples:
    • The Discworld novels includes a Violent Glaswegian version of The Smurfs, called the Nac Mac Feegle, or Pictsies. The Nac Mac Feegle, though humanoid, can be considered an extreme case of Insect Gender Bender, in which the gender of the 'worker bees' is reversed. Their hundreds-to-one sex ratio is explained in that the females are rarely born, but are "Queen Bees" (Keldas) who rule over their sprawling, brawling sons, brothers-in-law, and husband. Keldas may, when fully grown, be larger than the males of the species (Big Aggie of the Long Lake Clan, for example). It's worth noting that the books featuring the Nac Mac Feegle all have Tiffany Aching as the main protagonist.
    • The Discworld Watch books feature only two non-dwarf female Watchmen. They're even Twofer Token Minorities (one is a werewolf, the other a vampire). There ARE other female Watch Officers- a Constable Jolson may have been vaguely referred to as 'she'- but they don't get screen time.
      • Leave us not forget Corporal Cheeri Littlebottom, the unfortunately-named one-dwarf forensics department of the Watch. Of course, it's not obvious that she is a she until the end of the book in which she's introduced, but that's par for the course for Discworld dwarves. Littlebottom later starts a sort of feminist movement for female dwarves by making it obvious that she is female, which is apparently a serious taboo for dwarves.
    • Subverted with a vengeance in Monstrous Regiment, of course.
    • Kirsty from the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy is the only girl, but does not accept her status, going so far as to call the others 'four token boys'.
    • Only You Can Save Mankind inverts this trope: the Gunnery Officer on the ScreeWee ship is the token male on a ship crewed by females.
    • And of course, who could forget Pepper from Good Omens, the only girl in The Them.
      • Well, she's a Gender Flip of Ginger in the Just William books. So at least the ladies are making inroads.

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