***SPOILERS for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan, which you should all read, suggested age range be damned.***

When I read the first book in Rick Riordan’s series about Norse gods in the modern world last year, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer, I noticed something unusual: the main character lacked a love interest. Samirah al-Abbas, the young Muslim woman Riordan created to fill the Strong Female Lead role, was engaged to and in love another character. Magnus Chase, the protagonist of the new series, had no romantic options in sight.

So I knew, when I picked up Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor last week, that Riordan would introduce a new character to serve as Chase’s love interest. I just didn’t expect her to be a gender-fluid, transgender person.

Alex Fierro was assigned male at birth, but realized when she was young that she identified as both male and female. Because of her gender fluidity, her parents kicked her out, making her homeless as a mere teenager. She asks her companions to call her “she” or “he” based on which gender she identifies with more on a given day, rather than using the pronoun “they.” (She usually feels more female, hence my use of the feminine pronoun in this piece.)

Through Magnus’ well-meaning but ignorant gaze, the reader learns about gender fluidity, being transgender, the perils of transphobia, and the history of gender fluid and transgender individuals — according to Norse mythology, they’ve existed as long as Norse gods have. (Certainly longer, too.) Yet Riordan also emphasizes that Alex’s story is not every transgender or gender fluid person’s tale. She is one of many: being the only gender fluid or transgender person Magnus knows does not make her a mascot.

It would’ve been enough for Rick Riordan, one of the most popular children’s authors in the world today, to write a gender fluid and/or transgender main character. That inclusion, by itself, would have continued his intentional representation of diverse heroes. But he went a step further: Alex isn’t just a main character, she is a love interest, too.

In this book, she’s only subtly so. She’s got a lot of baggage; so does Magnus. Not to mention the fact they’re busy trying to save the world — y’know, normal teen stuff. They’ve also just met. But from the outset, the reader feels a connection between Magnus and Alex. Magnus finds her beautiful as a woman; he finds Alex handsome as a man. He is fascinated by her, he cares about her, and even though this book is meant for readers as young as 11, he is attracted to her.

Even in literature and media meant for adults, I have seen few portrayals of gender fluid or transgender people as attractive. They may be good, brave people, admirable and strong; but flat-out attractive? That one’s rare. Yet Rick Riordan, in a children’s book, broke that barrier. And he did so in a book that, today, hit Number 1 on the New York Times’ Bestseller List.

It’s almost impossible to quantify how much books impact people’s worldview, even children’s. (The Bestseller List highlighting The Hammer of Thor hasn’t even come out yet; Riordan just announced it on his Twitter.) But to give you an idea: the first book in Riordan’s Norse series, The Sword of Summer, had an initial print of 2.5 million copies. Many prints followed, meaning millions more children read that book. (And adults like me.) Since we can assume most of The Sword of Summer’s readers will get The Hammer of Thor as well, that means millions of children will meet Alex Fierro. Millions of children will be introduced to a gender fluid, transgender person for the first time. Millions of children will see a gender fluid, transgender person who is sympathetic, attractive, brave, smart, self-possessed, and wonderfully human.

That is revolutionary. That representation — to embolden gender fluid and transgender young people, to educate other children as allies — can, literally, change the world.

So you could say I got a nice surprise when I started reading The Hammer of Thor. By creating Alex Fierro, Rick Riordan threw the conventions of literary love interests out the window. And we’re all better off for it.

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5 thoughts on “In ‘The Hammer of Thor,’ Rick Riordan Throws Convention Out the Window

  1. Like most Riordan books the Hammer if Thor is an easy read and not a bad story. But the transgender “comercial” in the middle of the book came off as a bit preachy.

    The character of Alex reads like he/she was written into the story as an afterthought and has all the sterotypical attitude expected in a political “statement” character.

    Riordan’s decision to jump on the transgenderism bandwagon may seem “brave” to like minded people, but really its the safest self-promoting angle he could have taken. And to paint up a transgender character as attractive and cool as Alex without any of the very real problems associated with gender dysphoria is very irresponsible.

    Although I admire his writing skill, I would prefer he had stuck to story telling and stayed out of politics.

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    • Yes and No… sure he didn’t talk a lot about transphobia, maybe he should have done a bit more… but there was quite some transphobia in there. Wasn’t alex called a freak by quite most of the Einherji ? I definitely saw quite some transphobia. Sure it’s also a risk, maybe kids will find it “cool” to be trans or genderfluid… probably. Just like there are now people telling others they are gay, just because that’s cool. Should we thus not have any gay characters in books anymore? Because it could influence children?
      Then about genderdysphoria, I don’t know yet how much Alex has (not all people suffer from genderdysphoria, all have it, but you don’t need to suffer from it.), and don’t forget that Alex literally got crazy on the einherji when she woke up in the Valhalla, because she thought she would be stuck in the same body for the rest of eternity. That doesn’t explicitly show gender-dysphoria, but it’s quite clear too. So yeah, by making Alex child of Loki, Rick for me was quite smart, because he wouldn’t have to deal with too much problems linked to being trans AND kids would say “hey but Alex can really physically change from guy to girl, I can’t, it’s quite different for me”.

      And what on the other hand? Do you know how many movies/films there are out there, who feature a person who is trans, and that’s it, no depressive, suicidal person, or dying in the end. I can say that I’ve found one (Boy Meets Girl) and Sense8 series. Nothing more. But there are a hell lot of movies where transgender people are either way psychopaths, men in dresses (no not transgender woman (born male, but feeling a woman, aka MtF), no real men in dresses, even the director says a dammit “he” speaking about the character), suicidal people, suffering so much from dysphoria they are depressive, who are hated because they are trans, harassed for it, killed for it (the famous Boy’s Don’t Cry). Yeah. And then you are a young teenager, who is trans, who doesn’t like that especially, but hey “you can’t change who you are” and the only fucking thing that you can find are bad omens. That will really make someone happy with who they are, will it? I’m a trans boy (thus born biologically female), I have dysphoria, sure I have, but I don’t suffer with it. I’m not depressive either, nor was ever suicidal. And people call me attractive for a guy, even if I’m pré-Testosterone and 21 years old. But it took me a damn 8 years to only accept it, and have the courage of living my own live, and not some “girlmask” I made around myself, because I saw being trans as HELL, so NO WAY I COULD BE TRANS, because I wanted to be happy ! Trust me, it isn’t hell. I’ve never been so happy as I’m the last months (aka, since my coming out), it would just have made my live so much easier if I had known that when I was 13, starting to repress my whole identity as hard as I could.

      Because that’s what Alex tells us: being trans isn’t the end of the world. You just are trans. Point. You are trans, and you can still be happy, and good in your skin.
      And by the way, it’s awesome the Alex is in such a popular book, because it’ll bring a lot of kids in touch with the existence of transgender people in a positive way, a hell lot, and it won’t make those kids trans, it will just end up in those kids not harassing the transboy or girl coming out at their school. Because damn, that kid is just like Alex !

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