When I was young, I think it was after puberty, I had a vision of a young naked girl in the woods. Every boy has some similar fantasy, I’d bet, but this was a powerful, profound experience, something greatly beyond sex, because this girl felt very real to me. It was like a dream bordering on the edge of reality. She was teasing me, this girl, luring me into the dark wooded recesses of my mind. This is how, I am certain, wood nymphs were born, and fairies and mermaids. Imagination can be a powerful thing. It can create entire worlds, and give life to thought. What fascinated me about nymph girl was how wild and unrepressed she was, the spirit of youth and freedom and vitality, the feeling one has when leaving civilization to embark upon some uncharted horizon. And I knew I had to capture her somehow, on paper, in a story. She was urging me to bring her into being, and I’ve been doing just that for twenty years.
Wood nymph girl has gone by many names. She was once Chani, companion to Dynotus, and in my fan-fiction was Teela (albeit a very distorted version). As a young writer, my skills were inadequate and wood nymph girl continued to elude me. But in 1999, Thelana came into a being, in a series of short stories that began with The City by the Sea, and I have been writing about her ever since. After finishing my current novel, I will be writing an e-book novella tentatively titled: Thelana of the Feralwood, partly inspired by Tarzan and the show Naked and Afraid. Every year since 2003, I have had Thelana artwork commissioned, so for 2015 I asked Alexey Lipatov to design a cover. This is what he sent me:
The remarkable thing about Alexey is that he gives you more than you ask for. I have never worked with an artist who so exceeds my expectations. My request for this piece was for Thelana to be standing in a tree with a spear, looking at a dinosaur, and he sends me something that, quite honestly, I’d love to hang on my wall. What impresses me most are the textures and the shadows. You could just reach out and touch this girl.
The very best art, in my view, tells a story. This is why Frank Frazetta ranks among the finest fantasy artists. His paintings are moments frozen in time, where a lot more is happening beyond the frame, and I feel the same way about this piece. Something is definitely going on here. Who is this girl? What is she doing watching those T-Rexes? Thelana was born out of my mind and lives in my novels, but in a purely visual medium, she comes to life in ways I could never achieve.
DeviantArt is rife with naked warrior girls, few of whom exist for anything but titillation, and even fewer which can be truly called a character. But portraying nudity in an innocent way, in a way that feels natural to the character and the story, is no easy task. In Ages of Aenya, Thelana is said to “wear her skin like a suit of armor.” She is so accustomed to nakedness, that clothing is awkward. Conveying these ideas to an artist is difficult, but Alexey truly grasps the character, and it shows in his work.
There has been much talk on social media regarding sexism. Gamergate critics like Anita Sarkeesian decry video game culture for its sexist stereotypes. Cracked.com lists “The Five Most Ridiculously Sexist Superhero Costumes” based on how skimpy the outfits are. Heroines like Power Girl are criticized in that she shows some cleavage, as though the writers at Cracked never left their offices to visit the beach, or bothered to watch a movie ballroom scene set in the 18th century. But there is a growing trend in feminism that seeks to “take back” women’s bodies. While it is true that the female form has been used to sell sex, and every other product using sex, for decades, by desexualizing women’s bodies, by depicting nudity as natural and normal, as opposed to pornographic and hypersexualized, activists like Felicity Jones and those of the “Free the Nipple” campaign believe women would be viewed less as things and more as people. I have posted images of Thelana to feminist groups on many occasion and have yet to receive a single negative comment. In fact, these are the comments I did receive about Thelana:
My goal for Thelana is to represent a new standard, a strong role model and feminist icon, and a sexy one at that. And thanks to passionate artists like Alexey Lipatov, wood nymph girl has now come to life like never before.
Be sure to visit Alexey Lipatov’s dA page to see his other great work: lipatov.deviantart.com/