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Literature / Jirel of Joiry

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Jirel of Joiry is riding down with a score of men at her back,
For none is safe in the outer lands from Jirel's outlaw pack;
The vaults of the wizard are over-full, and locked with golden key,
And Jirel says, "If he hath so much, then he shall share with me!"
And fires flame high on the altar fare in the lair of the wizard folk,
And magic crackles and Jirel's name goes whispering through the smoke.
But magic fails in the stronger spell that the Joiry outlaws own:
The splintering crash of a broadsword blade that shivers against the bone,
And blood that bursts through a warlock's teeth can strangle a half-voiced spell.
Though it rises hot from the blistering coals on the red-hot floor of Hell!
Jirel's Bragging Theme Tune from Quest of the Starstone.

Jirel of Joiry is the heroine of a series of Sword and Sorcery short stories by C. L. Moore, running from 1934 to 1939 in Weird Tales. Notable for being the first female Fantasy hero. The stories are:

  • Black God's Kiss (October 1934)
  • Black God's Shadow (December 1934)
  • Jirel Meets Magic (July 1935)
  • The Dark Land (January 1936)
  • Hellsgarde (April 1939)
  • Quest of the Starstone (November 1937) - A Crossover story with her other famous character Northwest Smith, co-written with her husband Henry Kuttner.

Modern readers may have been introduced to Jirel through the popular Filk Song "Jirel Of Joiry" written by a young lyricist who later went on to become a noted Feminist Fantasy author herself, Mercedes Lackey.


Tropes found in these stories:

  • Action Girl: Jirel. Badass enough to give Xena a run for her money. The Ur-Example in fantasy literature.
    • Jirel is stablished as a dreadful military leader of acknowledged fighting skills, but that kind of action keeps happening right before the stories start. Jirel barely fights and when she does, she usually loses as her enemies use to be much more powerful supernatural beings. You could make the case that she borders Faux Action Girl.
  • Amazonian Beauty: Jirel herself is very much this. Northwest Smith even compares her directly to an amazon during their meeting.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Every story ends with Jirel safely travelling back home, ready to continue her adventures another day. Perhaps deliberately, the series never provides an "ending" for the title character, aside from Northwest Smith sadly-but-logically musing that she's probably long dead by his — far future — time.
  • Badass Normal: Oh yes. No matter if it's demons, elder gods, beings from alternate dimensions, wizards from the future, or just plain foreign invaders, she'll fight tooth and nail to protect her people.
    • Empowered Badass Normal: She also becomes this on occasion — generally towards the climax of the story — by being possessed by some entity (Black God's Kiss) or by being in another world where the laws of physics are different (The Dark Land).
  • Chainmail Bikini: Averted, no matter what the cover art of the Planet Stories edition would have you believe. Jirel is said to wear heavy armor into battle, to the point that the villain of her first story doesn't even realise that she's a woman until her helmet is removed. Her adventuring outfit plays this trope a bit more straight, as it includes a chainmail vest and metal greaves, but still leave parts of her thighs exposed. Some artists, however, have put her in literal metal bikinis which have no precedence in the actual writings of C. L. Moore.
  • Crossover: With Moore's SF character Northwest Smith. This is not as mad as it sounds - both characters often end up in strange realms facing powerful, mysterious creatures and the word "magic" even pops up a few times in the Northwest Smith stories. Not to mention that Jirel Meets Magic established that both Time Travel and other planets exists in Jirel's world, as much as the characters themselves may think that they inhabit a Flat World.
  • Dark Fantasy: As with the the Northwest Smith stories, a Lovecraft influence is obvious with the evocative Purple Prose, Alien Geometries, and strange and otherworldly forces man cannot comprehend.
  • Dark Is Evil: Generally speaking, if something or someone has "dark" or "black" in their name, they're not to be trusted.
  • Dating Catwoman: Jirel hates Guillaume the Conqueror who conquered her castle and humiliated her, and is determined to kill him - which she succeeds to do after undergoing many dangers and perils. Only when seeing him dead does she realize she had been passionately in love with him. It's implied that this is the price she pays for the curse she used to kill him.
  • The Determinator: Jirel's most notable trait might be her utter refusal to ever give up. Her Heroic Willpower is probably the most consistent "superpower" she has. She'll reach her goal, whatever it is at the moment, or die trying.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Black God. Pav might also qualify.
  • Eldritch Location: Moore loved this trope. Part of the fun of the stories is finding out what creatively weird and fantastical landscapes the author could come up with next.
  • Escaped from Hell: Jirel, the first pulp fantasy heroine, fought her way out of Hell. Repeatedly, in several variations.
  • Everyone Has Standards: When you get down to it, Jirel is a pretty cruel and brutal Lady of War in her own right, but there are some behavior even she considers morally repugnant. Namely cowardice, treachery and a willingness to hurt the innocent.
  • Feminist Fantasy: One of the earliest on record.
  • Fiery Redhead: Jirel herself. The "fiery" part is pretty much mandatory for a literal Blood Knight, after all.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Jirel may be The Hero, but she has few qualms of killing her enemies if she feels that they deserve it. Joiry Castle is even repeatedly described as having its' own, very-much-in-use Torture Cellar, though it never plays any direct role in the plot.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The guards of Joiry are repeatedly shown to be either unable to score important victories, or too cowardly to provide any assistance to their commander during her journeys. Though one could argue that Jirel is the one who has Suicidal Overconfidence, but is just enough of a badass to pull it off consistently.
  • Heroic Fantasy: Notable for introducing the first female protagonist in the genre.
  • In Medias Res: Most stories open up in the middle or even after an otherwise unseen comflict. Black God's Shadow is an exception, as it's a direct sequel to Black God's Kiss.
  • The Late Middle Ages: Set in a highly mythologized version of this era, (Quest of the Starstone explicity gives the date as the year 1500,) filled with evil gods, wizards and demons.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Generally used whenever a character utters some rude exclamative.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Jarisme's tower returns to its original location after her death.
  • Purple Prose: Like the better authors at the time writing for Weird Tales, Moore could actually pull off lush and haunting description especially pertaining to emotions and fantastic landscapes surprisingly well.
  • Religion is Magic: Wearing a crucifix will protect one against the Black God's realm - in the sense that the realm can not be entered or even seen while wearing it.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Jirel's introduction in Black God's Kiss, which keeps her gender and her identity secret from both Guillaume and the reader until she's unmasked.
  • Save the Villain: Jirel's second adventure sees her return to Hell to free Guillaume's soul, though she's not bringing him back to life, just releasing him from his torment.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Jirel's beauty probably played a part in providing her with her decently-sized list of offscreen lovers, but it also leads to some unwanted attention from a worrying amount of evil entities — human or otherwise — who care nothing about her own consent...