This is the first in a series of essays about Crudrat and its literary roots and context written by our resident genre historian, Alasdair Stuart. You can listen to it in audio (with music and a special introduction), or read it below. Enjoy!
Crudrat Nation by Alasdair Stuart
Maura may be alone as the novel starts but she’s far from the only person to walk (Or run, or backflip) her heroine’s path. One of the things I love about the novel is just how effortlessly Gail creates a new, interesting action heroine but at the same time grounds her in the context of her peers. Or to put it another way, some of your favourite characters are Crudrats. Here’s four of them;
Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise
The original Crudrat, Ellen Ripley is one of the single greatest female action heroines of all time. Her comrade in arms, Sarah Conner, is only not on this list because she, ultimately, trained for war. Ripley on the other hand, had war thrust upon her.
That’s the first reason she’s a Crudrat; she’s a survivor. Ripley doesn’t choose her situation, in fact, she vigorously argues against it and no one listens. Which, of course, is the second reason she’s a Crudrat. Ripley, like Maura, is never less than the most competent person in the room. Like Maura, that doesn’t work out too well for her.
The final reason she’s a Crudrat is the strongest; Ripley builds herself a family. She’s dropped into an inconceivably horrific situation three times and each time she bonds with the people around her and draws strength from them. Ripley is never alone, even if she feels it in the later movies, just like Maura. She does the exact same thing Maura does too; choosing who she stands with and defending them to her absolute last breath. Ripley’s loyal, tough and endlessly resourceful. She even has a cat. Therefore, Crudrat through and through.
Lyra Silvertongue from His Dark Materials
Lyra, superficially, is the odd woman out here. Ripley, Katniss and Lara all have physical abilities that match or complement Maura’s whilst Lyra…is a small girl with an external soul and an unusually well developed survival instinct. She’s not the most obvious fit, that’s for sure.
Then you stop and look at her and realize Lyra couldn’t be more Crudrat if she tried. For a start she’s fearless, a tiny individual scrambling across the rooftops of a vast engine. The only difference is in what the engine is for; Maura’s engine propels spacecraft, Lyra’s hurls students headlong into a world of knowledge. Both are immensely powerful machines that run parallel to the heroine’s lives and define them without ever acknowledging them.
The rooftops aren’t where Lyra shines though. Her true grace, the area in which she has the effortless poise and flamboyance of a Crudrat is far more subtle, and powerful than simple athletics. Lyra can talk almost anyone into almost anything, her endless ability to manipulate people causing as much trouble as it solves. She’s effortlessly intelligent, articulate and ruthless and anyone who tries to out manouvere here is going to find themselves alone and wondering how Lyra could avoid them. Once again, she’s a Crudrat.
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games
The Queen of District 12, the girl on fire, the leader of the Mockingjay revolution, crudrat. All of these are accurate description of Katniss Everdeen. She and Maura are cut from the same cloth not because of physical ability or ability to lead or any of the other factors mentioned here. No, Katniss is a crudrat because she’s been forgotten and overlooked and stepped on so much as the books start that everyone just ignores her. She’s an unperson, along with the rest of Districts 11 and 12. She’s untouchable, less than human and deserving of being ignored at worst and exploited at best. She’s nothing.
That’s the first, and last, mistake the Capital, and the Wheel, make.
Katniss is exceptional for precisely the same reason as Maura. They’ve both, somehow, grown into strong, compassionate young women in an environment that has nothing but contempt for them. They’re both survivors who want to help others like them and have to make tremendous sacrifices to do that. Katniss’ sacrifice is to become an instrument of history. Maura’s, well, first sacrifice is to leave the Wheel. That selflessness, that refusal to let themselves be compromised by the people who oppress them, is a defining mark of a crudrat and Miss Everdeen can join their ranks with pride.
Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider franchise
Lara’s presence on this list seems obvious; after all any gamer above a certain age still has fond memories of the original computer games and Lara’s proto-Parkour gymnastic capabilities. And by fond I of course mean the soul clutching terror of the level in the second game which opens, OPENS, with you at the bottom of the Atlantic with no air and a hungry shark nearby.
Seriously, that one still gives me nightmares.
Her proud legacy aside, it took until the most recent computer game for Lara’s Crudrat status to be secured. It’s a nightmarish origin story that propels the teenage Lara out of a shipwreck and deep into an island brimming with horrific danger and incredible beauty. Already regarded as one of the best games of recent history, it’s a magnificent return to form for both the franchise and the character as well as an example of how to do the origin story right.
More importantly for us, it’s also filled with vintage Crudrat tactics. From the moment Lara lands, she’s forced to fight fast and smart and dirty to survive. There’s an especially chilling sequence which sees her having to make her way through a crashed aircraft suspended over a ravine. You climb up the plane, parts falling off around you as you go. You frantically change your angle of climb, leap from one handhold to the next and it’s not enough. The plane falls and you only survive because it happens to fall whilst you’re over solid ground.
Moments like this echo up and down the game as you learn to climb different ways and at times use the environment itself as both a weapon and an escape. Another sequence dumps you in rapids which, provided you live, in turn drop you into another wreck suspended over a drop. This time you have to grab the only parachute left and literally pull the chord as the plane falls around you. You get just a moment to appreciate the beauty of the island then you’re frantically trying to not get a tree in the face. Or the chest. Or the spine.
She never stops moving, never stops working and when she does, it’s only because she’s finally able to rest, if just for a moment. Like the others, she’s a crudrat.
Ripley, Lyra, Katniss, Lara, Maura. Tough women in tough situations who refuse to be broken by them. Women who run headlong at the danger in their lives and move so fast, and so smartly, that they never quite get caught. Women whose bravery is matched only by their compassion and, when needed, their cunning. Crudrats each and everyone. Here’s to them.