Study Guide

Alanna: The First Adventure Themes

By Tamora Pierce

  • Friendship

    Friends make the world go 'round, even fantasy worlds like Tortall. We get the sense that growing up, Alanna's only friend was her twin brother Thom. Now that she's at the palace, surrounded by kids her own age, Alanna: The First Adventure is all about the joys of friendship, as Alanna makes friends with adults too, such as Sir Myles. Come to think of it, Alanna makes friends with practically anyone in her path, except for Ralon and Sir Roger. Maybe Alanna's friend-radar is actually a highly sophisticated moral detection system. Can we get one of those for the FBI?

    Questions About Friendship

    1. What do all of Alanna's friends have in common? Is there some common trait that attracts her to them?
    2. How do the concepts of duty and chivalry affect friendships in the book?
    3. Who do you think Alanna's best friend is? Why?
    4. How can Alanna be such good friends with the other pages and yet not trust them with her secret?

    Chew on This

    Any character who does not end up as Alanna's friend in the book is bad news.

    Alanna's ability to make friends transcends class boundaries.

  • Society and Class

    Hey, Shmoopers. You know, we'll never be royals, but it's cool. We can still live that fantasy, thanks to Tamora Pierce. The medieval society she creates Alanna: The First Adventure is heavy on class distinctions—just like a real medieval society. You're either born a noble or you're not, commoners are destined to lead lives of hard labor, and all that good stuff. Since Alanna is noble-born, her life is pretty sweet: she's well-fed, well-clothed, and well-educated. But class issues still make their way into her life in other ways. She has to learn the right etiquette while at Court, and she discovers when becoming friends with Jonathan (the crown prince) that being royalty can be a royal pain. At the same time, Alanna is buddies with George, King of Thieves (hint: it's not an inherited position). Because of this friendship, Alanna also learns to see life from the less-privileged point of view. And being able to navigate situations among different social classes helps make Alanna one of the most popular nobles around.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. What is Alanna's reaction upon first meeting the crown prince? Why does she react this way?
    2. How does social class in Tortall work? What kind of restrictions are on there on mingling with people who aren't in your social class?
    3. Do the thieves and poor people have their own kind of society? Why or why not?
    4. How much of noble life is spent in the pursuit of social status and proper behavior? What kinds of status-seeking behavior do we see people doing?

    Chew on This

    We encounter mostly upper-class characters in the book, because their lives are more interesting.

    The best characters in the book don't care about social class. Only people like Duke Roger and Ralon are status-conscious.

  • Gender

    No gender, no Alanna: The First Adventure. If gender didn't matter in the society of Tortall, Alanna would declare her intention to become a knight, follow through, and everyone would live happily ever after. But that's not how it works. Noble girls are supposed to learn a little magic and a lot of etiquette, while noble boys are supposed to become knights. The thing about gender roles is that they're great if you fit in with their requirements, but they're annoyingly restrictive if you think outside the box. Alanna, as you might guess, is a wee bit outside the gender-role box. Okay, a lot outside. But she's not going let something like being a girl stop her from achieving her dreams.

    Questions About Gender

    1. Would you rather be a noble girl or boy in Tortall? Why?
    2. Do you think Alanna's being a girl affects her training as a page? How?
    3. Why do only boys train to be knights?
    4. If you were Alanna, who would you have told or not told about your gender?

    Chew on This

    Alanna is a better page because she's a girl.

    In the world of Tortall, men and women are inherently different from one another. Alanna is an exception rather than the rule.

  • Principles

    Learning to be a knight in Alanna: The First Adventure apparently involves a lot of chivalry, honor, duty, and all that good stuff. It's not just bashing things with swords, since knights are called on to be teachers, diplomats, and leaders. The Code of Chivalry gets a lot of talking-time in this book, and for good reason: it's the manual for how knights must conduct themselves. Kind of like a driving manual, but with fewer diagrams. Alanna (along with the other pages and squires) is hungry for this kind of instruction, while older knights like Sir Myles are skeptical that the Code of Chivalry provides everything they need to live fulfilled and happy lives. Read on and judge for yourself whether Tortall's knightly principles are awesome or awful.

    Questions About Principles

    1. Why do you think Sir Myles is so opposed to living life according to the Code of Chivalry?
    2. What are the main ideas in the Code of Chivalry as far as you can tell?
    3. Why is it so important to Alanna to fight her own battles?
    4. If you were in Alanna's shoes, would you continue to take beatings from Ralon, or ask for help in the way she did, or ask for help in some other way?

    Chew on This

    The Code of Chivalry requires too much sacrifice to be a sustainable life philosophy.

    As the underdog, Alanna is better equipped to understand and enforce the Code of Chivalry than any of the other pages or squires.

  • The Supernatural

    Alanna glows purple sometimes. That's really all the evidence you need in the case that there is some supernatural and magical stuff going on in Alanna: The First Adventure. Oh, and there's like deities and magic spells and hypnotism and stuff. (No elves or dragons though, sorry.) Since Alanna lives in a world with magic, and she herself is born with a magical Gift, she has to confront supernatural things throughout the story—and sometimes, those things are inside her. DUN DUN DUN. But seriously, Alanna wants to be a knight, so she's not thrilled about also having to cultivate her magical abilities, and this is yet one more example of Alanna's internal conflict. Who knew magic could be so angsty? Okay, maybe Harry Potter does.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. Do you think Alanna's actually better suited to become a knight, or should she have gone to study magic at the City of the Gods?
    2. If you lived in Tortall and were born with the Gift, what would you do with it?
    3. Which deities are important in the lives of Alanna and her friends?
    4. What makes the Ysandir scarier: their magic or their cruelty?

    Chew on This

    Alanna would be better off if she hadn't been born with a magical Gift. In Alanna, magic does more harm than good.

    Whoever's distributing Gifts must be elitist, since practically every character born with the Gift is noble.

  • Perseverance

    Alanna is one determined kid: she knows she'll have to masquerade as a boy for the eight years it'll take her to become a knight while also enduring some of the most physically demanding tasks of her life. Whew. We're exhausted just reading Alanna: The First Adventure. Training for knighthood isn't easy, and we see the toll it takes on Alanna in various ways: physical fatigue, broken bones, and bruises among other things. But she sticks with it because she's ridiculously stubborn—and because, in her view, taking a beating some of the time beats having to act ladylike all the time.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. If you were training to be a knight, which part do you think would be the most challenging for you and require the most perseverance?
    2. What is Alanna's response when Ralon breaks her arm? Why does she respond this way?
    3. Is Alanna's stubbornness ever a bad thing?
    4. Alanna isn't the only determined character in the book, is she? Which other characters might fit that description, and why?

    Chew on This

    Alanna's level of stubbornness is absurd and perhaps unhealthy.

    You wouldn't want someone to become a knight who wasn't able to persevere through the challenges presented in training.

  • Family

    Who needs a family when you've got friends like these? In Alanna: The First Adventure, Alanna's family inadvertently pushes her into becoming a knight. If Alanna didn't have a twin brother, her plan to take his place in knight training never would've worked. And if their father hadn't been so distant and out of touch with his kids, they would've never needed a secret plan to switch places and pursue their heart's desires in the first place—and Alanna never would gotten away with it. But once Alanna reaches the capital, family relationships remain in the spotlight: she becomes friends with Jonathan (son of the king and queen), she also befriends Gary (son of her benefactor Duke Gareth), and she turns to Sir Myles as a father figure and mentor. She also stays in touch with her brother Thom while he learns sorcery. Alanna's family might be a tad dysfunctional, but she makes the best of it, and learns that other families work differently while on her journey to knighthood.

    Questions About Family

    1. Which sibling would you rather have in your family, Alanna or Thom? Why? How would you characterize their relationship?
    2. "Like father, like son" is true for which families in the book? Why are there so few mothers in the book?
    3. Which family relationships appear the healthiest in the book?

    Chew on This

    If Alanna's mother hadn't died in childbirth, Alanna's life would have turned out very differently.

    Alanna is so single-minded about becoming a knight that she'll never have a family of her own.

  • Coming of Age

    Oh, ten-year-olds, with their Lisa Frank and their Monster High dolls. Aren't they just so cute and innocent? Well, unless they're pages-in-training. In Alanna: The First Adventure, Alanna may look like a wee little ten-year-old, but she grows up right quick. Sure, she learns how to fight and defend herself, but she also learns to understand people and be more secure in her identity. Her buds Jonathan, Gary, Raoul, and Alex also mature over those couple of years. Of course, since they're boys, their maturation happens a little differently on the physical realm than Alan's, er, Alanna's does. (Hint: no Lisa Frank involved.)

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. How do the passing years affect Alanna and her friends? What does growing up look like for a knight-in-training?
    2. At what point in the story would you say Alanna truly begins to mature?
    3. Who is Alanna's most important mentor as she grows up? What does this mentor teach her?
    4. Why is Alanna so unprepared for puberty and womanhood? Does "womanhood" mean something different from "manhood?"

    Chew on This

    If not for puberty, Alanna could have maintained her masquerade forever.

    Alanna has to go to court to grow up. She would never fully mature if she'd gone off to the convent or stayed in Trebond.