Femme Fatality?

So, I think I’ve gone through the entire definition of sword noir. Over at Sword’s Edge, I’ve even got a story going up to which much of the definition applies. Funny thing is, I wrote it long before I was even thinking about sword noir, and actually before I had seen either of my noir touchstones (the Maltese Falcon and Out of the Past). But you know what is missing from all of this? The femme fatale.

And why is that? It’s something I’ve only just realized. This is obviously a major blind spot for me in regards to sword noir. The femme fatale is a pretty ubiquitous trope in film noir. It’s pretty common in sword & sorcery as well. Given that, one would expect it should appear in sword noir as well.

Now I’m not saying that you’re not going to have the femme fatale in your sword noir campaign, or in something inspired by sword noir. What I’m saying is that it didn’t occur to me and likely won’t appear in anything I create for sword noir.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a femme fatale is “an attractive and seductive woman.” Given this definition, I may, in fact, include the same in a story or a game in the future. But that’s not what I mean by femme fatale. I find Wikipedia actually closer to my mark, saying she is “an alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.”

Now there are nuances, for certain. There’s nuance in everything, and I’ve only been talking in the general. However, if you look at the Wikipedia definition, the femme fatale is just a kind of MacGuffin.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with using an attractive member of a particular gender to get the story going, or to pick it up when it’s fallen down. In considering the important aspects of both noir and S&S—from which I derived sword noir—the fatale just didn’t register. That’s because I don’t think I’ve ever created a character to fill that role.

An important character from the follow-up story to “For Simple Coin,” which may or may not ever actually get written, might fall into the femme fatale role, but she does not lead her lover(s) into anything. They find themselves there based on their beliefs and assumptions. In a way, I guess, my perception of the fatale is such that they are a scapegoat. Used correctly, that may not be so, but by the very definition, it is the fatale who is to blame for the lover’s predicament—be it compromising, dangerous, or deadly.

Personal responsibility is important to me, and I think that is reflected in my writing. I’m not preaching it at the reader, but I can’t help but have it seep into my works. Characters get themselves into trouble. They might try to blame others, but it is usually evident that this is the shirking of blame. The fatale allows for characters to shirk personal responsibility, and I don’t like that. Whatever the attraction or however tempting the seduction, the character makes the decision.

So, really, the lack of the femme fatale is all about me preaching personal responsibility. As with all things, feel free to ignore my predilections.

But for those of you out there—Google Analytics seems to think there are some of you—do you feel that the femme fatale (or simply the fatale) is a necessary ingredient in sword noir? If so, why?

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  1. I think the fatale only has a place in fiction, not in RPGs. You’ve already pretty covered why: PC personal responsibility.

    1. I think something like the fatale might have uses, but along with the whole abdicating responsibility, is the willing suspension of disbelief–which you mention over at SE.

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