Liath Luachra and Red Sonya

I get an email every now and again where people ask if the Liath Luachra character is based on the Red Sonya character. She isn’t, of course, but the development of the Red Sonya character is actually quite interesting in itself.

The original Red Sonya was ‘Red Sonya if Rogatino’, a red-haired woman warrior from the book ‘The Shadow of the Vulture’, which was written by Robert E. Howard (creator of the famed ‘Conan the Barbarian’ books). Published in the 1930s, it was more historical fiction than the pure fantasy of his better known works and set during the Ottoman invasion of 16th century Europe (and more specifically around the first Siege of Vienna). In the book, Red Sonya is actually a lesser character to the main protagonist – Gottfried von Kalmbach – who she helps in the defence of the city.

The Red Sonya character also drew a lot from one of Howard’s other characters called Dark Agnes de Chastillon, a red-haired woman who turned up in a trio of stories set in 16th Century France: ‘Sword Woman’, ‘Blades for France’ and ‘Mistress of Death’ (you can probably get these online but I’ve not read them so I’ve no idea if they’re any good or not).  

Much later (sometime in the 1970s), Marvel Comics picked up some rights to the Howard characters and used them to develop a new sword and sorcery character to “attract the lady fans” to their ‘Conan the Barbarian’ line of comics (which is still running today). The character apparently pulled in some readers, although given the signature (and misogynistic) metallic bikini armour she wears, I suspect they were predominantly male.

A number of books were published over the 1980s and in 1985, a film called Red Sonja was released (again, hoping to ride on the coat-tails of the Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Conan The Barbarian’ movie released the year before). That movie stared Brigette Nielsen and I can vaguely remember seeing it back in the day. I have the sense that it was ‘not great’ but to be honest, I can’t really recall.

Actually, now that I think about it, I do seem to remember Nielsen being a terrible actor … but I may be doing her an injustice. There are talks of a new film in development with the character and given the #metoo and heightened awareness on diversity, I suspect this will be very different (if it goes ahead).

I first came across the character about ten years ago as the Marvel comic did some lazy cultural theft by bringing a goddess called Scáthach into the story (sigh!). In that version it’s the …. cough … Goddess Scáthach who gives Red Sonya her heightened fighting skills.

Because of my own culture and background, the Liath Luachra character I developed is very much a character of mythological fiction, an done based on a very strong cultural basis. The Red Sonya character however rests deep within the fantasy genre. That’s a place I’ve increasingly avoided over the last few years as so many people don’t seem to understand the difference between ‘fantasy’ and ‘mythology’.

That’s something, of course, I’ll be working on over the next few years.