Alim in Herland, Chapter 12

Visitors to a new planet.
“What’s he doing?” Fiona hissed as Terry’s long legs ate up the square.

I shook my head, disbelieving. We watched as Terry entered the temple. The mentors muttered together. One of them sent a messenger to fetch scouts, who began to filter into the square.

(“Are we the first invaders?” Terry said once. “Why else would you have scouts?”

I explained that the scouts were there to assess possible dangers from the north. To destroy wild animals that strayed into Herland. To move people to safety in times of bad weather. To settle occasional disputes.

And yes, to lock up dangerous men.)

Terry appeared in the temple entrance. He held up the necklace, the main stone catching the sun with a flash and glitter. Our eyes met across the square, and he grinned.

Then the scouts took him into custody.

I was a miserable coward. I ran away. Not only from what Terry had done and the mentors’ disapproval. I couldn't bear myself: my fears, my inability to argue, to admit the truth.

I ran and spent two days with the pruners in the forest; I hauled away detritus, and they thanked me gravely, then asked about the “visitors.”

I couldn't say anything without getting mad, without raging about everyone's unfairness, without saying, “Terry was just getting back what I won! I know I gave the necklace up, but I didn't want to, and he's the only one who noticed!”

“Fine,” I said instead. “Interesting.”

“Do they have opinions about forestry? New methods? Better ways to use timber?”

“I guess. They have opinions about a lot of things.”

Finally, I ran from them and their questions. I hiked to the edge of the southern cliff and looked down at the broad lake below. Should I scale the cliff? Keep running? Where would I go? How would I support myself? Who would even want me?

I trekked to Terry's still-covered plane and wondered if I could fly it without killing myself. I got the cover off and sat at the wheel and felt absolutely useless.

Celis found me there. “Looks like a car,” she said, peering over my shoulder at the controls. “Only less practical.”

“You want to try it?”

“No. But then I don't want to leave, remember.” She ruffled my hair. “I heard about Terry rescuing your prize. You never wanted to donate that necklace, did you?”

“No.”

“Be sure to thank him.”

I should. I knew that. And yet, Why couldn't I reclaim the necklace myself? Why can't I announce to Herland who I am and accept the fall-out? Why can't I act more like Terry?

I glanced at Celis, gold curls bouncing as she surveyed the plane's instruments. She dimpled at me.

“I wish I could be honest,” I told her.

Maybe I would have gone on. Maybe I would have said, I'm a boy, Celis. I'm nearly a man.

Celis's finger pressed my lips.

“Nobody is honest,” she said, her eyes meeting mine squarely. “Not completely. Well, Ellador maybe. Do you know why the mentors praise her so much?”

“She's smart. She works hard. She—”

“Yes. And the mentors value those things. But it's more than that. You know why Ellador ran to the temple for guidance? The theological issue that upset her?”

I never paid much attention to Ellador and Van's philosophical discussions. I shrugged.

“Van, bless him, tried to explain to Ellador about infant damnation. It's a belief from out there—” Celis gestured towards the cliffs. “A belief that unbaptized children—children who are not inoculated against the sins of their ancestors—are doomed to hell.”

“That's unpleasant,” I said.

“Of course it is. But it's part of a wider belief system, a bigger understanding of how people think. Religions are complex. People are complex. Yet Ellador ran off in hysterics to a Temple Mother.”

Celis's tone was fondly exasperated.

“And of course, the Temple Mother told her, 'No, no, that sort of thing can't be true. Only ignorant people ever believed it.' Ellador's no fool. She realized immediately that dismissing the idea wasn't going to make it easier to grasp or improve her understanding of the outside world. That big picture she's always pursuing.”

I nodded.

“She should have known better than to flee to someone who wouldn't talk to her as honestly as Van. But she did. That's why mentors like Tyra put up with her. Because Ellador is appalled by the right—or, rather, wrong—things. She's offended when appropriate. Appreciative when appropriate. She's a 'good' girl.”

I considered that, hands stroking the plane's wheel.

I said, “I like Ellador—”

“So do I. Ellador's genuine. She genuinely exhibits the characteristics Herland wants to create: questioning, progressive. But not everyone—not every girl—is an Ellador.”

I eyed her. She gave me a rueful smile.

She said, “Why do you think the mentors are always trying to eliminate the old games?”

“The old games aren't rational. They don't serve a purpose.”

“They don't fit our rhetoric: 'service,' 'improvement,' 'development.' The old games crawl out of the imagination full of primitive jokes. A good society makes certain assumptions in order to operate smoothly. Real games challenge those assumptions.”

Everything is so homogeneous , Terry complained about Herland once. Real life isn't like that.

Maybe I have some Van in me; I said, “The mentors do ask questions. They want us to think.”

“But not creatively—”

I started to protest. People innovated. They changed the designs of houses. They improved machinery. They came up with new educational techniques.

“Not outrageously,” Celis said. “Why do you think the old stories are never told in Herland's theaters? The ones with unkind stepmothers and brutal kings and rampaging monsters? The mentors are always drawing lines. There’s an edge of the world. If we fall off it, we're lost.”

“People tell the stories anyway.”

“Sure. But the fear is always there. Nobody, not even your Terry, believes that a person can explore an idea and not become it.”

“Maybe they do become it. I met Terry and now—”

Now I want to leave.

I always knew I had to. Now I had a reason to think I could.

Celis shrugged. “Maybe we change based on what we learn. But I couldn't possibly become all the things I ask and think and want and say any more than the story tellers can. You can't be the hero and the villain and the monster and the deviant all at once. Not in reality.”

Unless people are heroes and villains and monsters and deviants all in one.

Still, I knew what Celis meant. I once suggested to Marta—not Tyra, thankfully—that maybe we should drown some of the smarter cats who were violating their breeding and killing songbirds. Marta sat me down and explained in detail why “breeding” was the answer to Herland's difficulties rather than “aggressive reaction.” I nodded and nodded and nodded, terrified that my suggestion had been too male. Except I wasn't devoted to the idea of slaughtering cats. I simply tossed out the idea because—

Because Celis mentioned it. And Celis liked cats.

I eyed her, and she gave me another half-smile.

“Herland hasn't gotten rid of 'femininity'. It simply changed the definition. And some of us still don't match it. Whatever the mentors might tell Terry.”
Betty Robinson

“I think even Terry would agree that women have more opportunities here than out there—”

“Probably. But suppose I decided to be one of those religious women—Van mentioned them—a Catholic or a Jew, a woman devoted to religious beliefs, prayers and services, ancient patriarchal sacraments, her family, all outside of the public gaze? Or suppose I was a woman who decided to compete, like a man, at flying planes or winning races in what Van calls 'the Olympics'? Or suppose I was a woman who owned a business and treated all my employees—even the working mothers—exactly the same? Do you think Herland would take me seriously? Or do you think they would decide I was wrong-headed, badly educated, poorly mothered and shouldn't be allowed to breed until I was 'better'?”

“Do you want to do those things? Go to church? Compete in the Olympics? Run a business?”
Effa Manley, Sports Executive


“No. I like it here. I like what I make of it. People like Tyra—I keep them out.”

“You say the right things.”

“Call it self-protection. Why should I give up comfort and a good job—and now a decent man—for the sake of expressing myself loudly and non-helpfully?”

Yet Celis's failure to “express herself,” to utilize the kind of self-reflection that Herland valued and encouraged, had earned her some criticism. A “good” girl (like Ellador) questioned, then thoughtfully and philosophically repackaged what she learned into the progressive pattern that Herland had perfected.

Maybe that's what all societies did. They rearrange the world to fit their understanding. Even Terry compared Herland to what he already knew. It wasn't as if any of us could do anything else.

Not looking at me, Celis said slowly, “Besides, I want to have a child and rear that child the way your mother did—”
Calista Lockhart
“You know!?” I jerked, my knee hitting the wheel. “Not just about my, uh, biology? You also know how I was born?”

“Sure. Someone had to look after you when you arrived on the plains. Juste thought it should be me. Actually, she thought it should be my mother, Coraline. She and Juste—and me, of course—go back to the same ancestress. Coraline passed the duty off to me.”

So much for mothers not being invested in their specific children. There was an entire network operating beneath the surface of Herland, running counter to the official fiction that every woman was every child's mother, that children knew their heritage as a matter of record, not emotional fact.

I never noticed—and yet—

The women in Har prepared me carefully to work on the plains. Ellador and Celis, three years older, requested me to work with them within a matter of months of my arrival.

“Does Ellador know? About—” I gestured at myself.

“I think Ellador thinks you are a girl with . . . extra bits.”

I stared at her. I got ready to shout, I am not! Then I started to laugh because I felt offended—as I knew Terry would be if anyone accused him of being a man with female parts.

“There are, you know,” Celis said. “People like that in Herland. Nature is far more variable than the mentors pretend. And ready to force its hand. The leaders decide, Oh, those babies must be girls, whatever they might think. But you—you're—” she waved a hand; apparently, we weren't going to say the word boy out loud “—as much as I'm a girl. Good thing Jeff showed up. Once you got a bit older, I might have started experimenting with you—”

“Experimenting?” I said, shaken to the core.

“You think girls in Herland don't experiment? I know the mentors like to sell the story of 'no sexual feeling.' Poor Terry. He must be pulling his hair out, believing that. Did you tell him it was nonsense?”

Face burning, I said, “I thought it wasn't nonsense—in the plains at least.”

Now Celis looked offended.

I added, “I thought it was just me—feeling stuff—”

“Ridiculous. Do you know how many mentors have lovers? And how many girls peer at the old carvings of men in the temples to the west? As if a philosophy of niceness can cut off desire.”

She was so blessedly scornful. But this unloading of sensible sexual female feeling was too much for me. I held up a hand, and she laughed and stopped.

A few minutes later, she whispered, “If there is a girl on your mind—”

“Shut up,” I squawked, and she giggled and patted my arm.

“I want to leave Herland,” I said after a few minutes. “I need to leave. And soon—”

“Ellador told the mentors that you and Terry are engaged. Maybe that will help.”

Next Chapter 13: Terry