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Registered User
(2/11/03 1:23 pm)
Women characters as heroes
I'm interested in the evolution of women characters as heroes in Fantasy from 1900 on.

(Permit me to assert a distinction between "women as heroes" and "heroines." If anyone has a better way of expressing the difference, I'd love to know.)

If anyone could suggest texts (on-line or print) offering analysis or commentary, I would be much obliged. And if you have any personal favorites, I'd love to hear about them.


Alan Lattimore

Unregistered User
(2/12/03 3:08 am)
Hmmm..this question is just abit too broad to really answer. Could you focus it a little more? When you say "Fantasy" are you asking about oral narratives (fairy/folk tales?) the rewritten Fairy Tale? or Fantasy Literature? (ala Tolkien for instance?) Are we talking Europe? or International? You might find it more useful to examine the evolution of a specific tale, (because even one tale produces quite a few variants making a comparative analysis interesting)--as well as the opportunity to look at its representation in a variety of forms--the oral tale, the artfully produced tale, images from art illustration, even music.

Perhaps too, it might be useful if you suggested what you are comfortable with defining as the heroic woman character? A tale I might consider having a "heroic" woman might be too domestic for your thinking?

Registered User
(2/12/03 4:02 pm)
Re: specificity
Midori -

That's some good advice. Thanks! I hope I can make my interests more clear rather than murky.

My direction is embryonic at this point. I have a few poorly thought out (and untested) ideas about what constitutes "heroic" for me. Mostly I have questions. What does "heroic?" mean? Has the meaning of "heroic" changed over time? (I assume it has.) If so, in what ways has the meaning of "heroic" changed? This has been a question backed up by interest but no answers for a long time for me. and I would like to apply some scholarly rigor to what I think and know.

1) Reduction of scope: regional
I'm most interested in the relationship between literature and culture: the presumption that popular media both reflects and leads culture and how that relates to a changing vision of what makes someone a "hero."

Because it feels like less of an initial leap in understanding, I would start with Western European mass media, principally Canadian, US, Great Britain. (Do I get to include New Zealand and Australia?). I also plan to contrast against selected works from France and Germany.

I don't mind--and would be excited by--other references. If you said "I just heard about a study of the _wayang kulit_ in North Bali that sounded like it was just the thing," I'd be enthusiastic about chasing it down. My only reason for starting with English-speaking traditions is that I expect the learning curve for me to come up to speed cultures radically different from my own is steep. The folktales of Japan, the Yoruba people of Benin, India, Eastern Europe, Thailand, and Indonesia are all interesting to me, but some of these places I have only visited, and I haven't lived in any of them. So the chances of me arriving at a fully informed understanding of the place of literature within a culture are remote. Ultimately, though, that doesn't get me off the hook of trying!

2) Reduction of scope: literary form
I would love to take the opportunity to ask for guidance here.

Since I'm interested in the relationship between mass media and popular culture, I would (in ignorance) tend towards examining Fantasy Literature.

It is my poorly explored belief that "fairy tales" tend to be conservative. They tend to represent and preserve cultural values from preceding generations and that an exploration of the "hero" through fairy tale would be likely to leave me tracing established cultural norms when I'm a little more interested in examining the extremes.

I admit I might mislead myself here. (For example, it is my unsupported belief that it will be easier to examine the issue of heroism in "fantasy" over other literary forms such as SF.)

3) Reduction of scope: media
I think this one trips me up. When I answer it, I seem to expand the scope instead of reducing it.

Since I'm interested in mass media and culture, I guess I could be interested in any of the main media of a period. I suppose this could include things like radio shows in the 1940's and 1950's; TV; Movies. Computer games in the 1990's. On-line role playing in the early 21st century.

All other things being equal, I would stick with written form. If I found interesting examples in the other media, I'd try to look at them on a case-by-case basis.

4) Definition of "heroic"
I'll try, but part of my interest is to get beyond my current, simplistic "I know art when I see it" level of understanding of "heroic."

I can give you my own personal definition of "heroic," with the understanding that it might not mesh well with what is regarded as "heroic" in current popular media.

"Heroic" to me is the struggle of an ordinary individual to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. It is my belief that that physical obstacles are the easiest to surmount, while the most severe are often personal or emotional.

I have a poorly articulated sense that there is a difference between "women in stories who act just like male heroes, except with a difference appearance" and "women as heroes." It is my guess that the second set could include the first, but offers a much wider variety of reactions and responses.

I can't say that I would initially understand or appreciate "domestic" heroism. I can say that I would probably learn at least a little something from the example.

Thanks for the generous gift of your time and interest.

Alan Lattimore

Unregistered User
(2/13/03 4:00 am)

Well, this is going to take a bit of thinking! My answer may be a bit brief for now, but I'll try and circle back as more ideas come to me. I do have one more question--is this work you are developing for a single paper? a larger thesis or dissertation? Or for a long term project? an article? I tend to be about focusing--but perhaps it is more appropriate for what you want to do to be as inclusive as possible? (are you writing chapters? which might allow you to explore the different possibilities of the representation of the female hero? Either within a given framework of time, or in different periods of time? or within the different genres?)

1. Scope: If you are looking at Europe/US/Canada--I would look first for those strong narratives that crossed over into the "colonies" from Europe (hence you could include New Zealand and Australia--if your base culture so to speak were Britain) to the New World. The shift from old world to new, from traditional more reactionary community to an expansive and innovative new world might reveal some really interesting shifts in the role of the female hero. But I realize I am talking here of the oral narrative traditions--not "media." But if the more modern versions come out of an experience with the tales, I would imagine that they way each country constructs the specifics of its version will tend to alter the expeirence the more modern audience has with the story. Not to mention those same tales may be subtly transformed by their interaction with indigienous tales--Aboriginal, Native American and the different influences of immigrant cultures (the French in Canada, Creole, African American, African) Hmm...which raises another interesting question...does the dominant image of the female hero in say, the US or Canada or Austrialia from the dominant white culture--and is that at odds with the figure in nonwhite cultures? For whom is this hero intended to speak? (especially when you talk "media" as that implies a broadcasting of the figure beyond the shared boundaries of a single community)

2. I would really look at fairy tales--yes they have a conservative function (in the sense of supporting and conserving the expectations and values of a culture). Yet what I find fascinating is that conservation is not always reactionary--quite often it is a form of resistence. And among women story tellers it can be an act of maintaining support, value and identity in an increasingly oppressive patriarchial society that attempts to devalue the worth and meaning of women's lives and social roles. (yeah I know that's a mouthful for so early in the morning!) Terri Windling (on the "Forum" at the site) has an interesting article on the French Salons and the women writers of the Contes de Fees--their stories were as often about imagining and reimagining their lives through the tales within a revolutionary period of French history. (there are two really excellent books...arrrgh I can't find the titles...I think one is "Fantastic Identities; Women Writers of the Contes de Fees" Terri--can you help me here?) Fairy Tales can also provide a moment of resistence to the colonial culture--offering an image of a woman hero that speaks not only for her gender but perhaps for her ethnic community as well. But all this it seems would be to provide a base--since you are interested in the modern interpretations of such images. Still--this is as you suggest a dialectical process--and in that the past images remain sublated in the modern versions--so it would be worth it to track an image in its earlier forms.

3. I am of late fascinated by the recent degredation in a postmodern world of the concept of "hero." In fact my students and I have been wrestling with it (I teach at an all boys high school). The traditional cosmogonic cycle of the male hero--seems arrested in our contemporary images--maybe in the US since the Viet Nam war. Hero seems if anything in the popular culture unable to move past a dissolutioned immaturity--or worse recognizes that his efforts are meaningless and that while he is made aware of the darkness within him--he can not escape it. While not fairy tales or fantasy--I offer as examples the narrator in T.C. Boyle's short story "Greasy Lake," the young soliders of O'Briens "The Things They Carried" and the young would-be-gunslinger of Clint Eastwood's anti-western "Unforgiven." I have only been examining the male hero--but I suspect you may find a similiar anxiety about the role of the female hero--made perhaps even more complex by the exhortation of women to shake off traditional roles. Though the only image that immediately comes to mind is Twyker's postmodern film "Run Lola Run," (which could easily be considered a fantasy when looking at the "third" version of Lola's quest to save Manny.)

Aish..I'm out of time...

Registered User
(2/13/03 4:53 am)
What is a Hero?
There is only one thing that makes a hero: courage. Whether the hero is Superman saving the world or an old lady confronting her own mortality does not matter, as long as there is courage.
For a story of heroism you need a second ingredient: a villian that forces the hero to be heroic. The villian can be anything from a twenty story high baboon to a lump in the breast.
Female heroes fight the same villians as male heroes, and a few more.
"Conservative" issues: Protecting the family/ a child/ family values etc. Fighting abuse in the home.
More "modern" issues: Fighting prejudice in society/ the workplace. (think of the suffragettes). Abuse in the workplace.
General: Female rites of passage. Puberty. Becoming independent. First date/kiss/sexual experience. Marriage. Motherhood. Divorce. Kids leaving the home. Menopause. Death.
The female hero has definity come a long way in the twentieth century. Compare Snow White in Disney's version and Cinderella in "Ever After".
Snow White is a passive victim that needs to be saved. Her most heroic deed is to clean up after the men in her life. (Which may be Very Heroic Indeed). Cinderella in "Ever After" is smart, opinionated and resourcefull. Instead of being saved by the Prince she saves him from a band of thieves by carrying him on her back. She overcomes a slave trader and escapes before her prince can save her. She does get some help from her Fairy Godfather (Leonardo da Vinci), but no one can help her to win her prince in the end. She has to do it herself.
Heroines have evolved from damsels in distress to damsels causing distress. They are now heroes in their own right.

Registered User
(2/13/03 6:47 am)
Re: What is a Hero?
During the last turn of the century (1900) the arts across Europe were going through a nationalistic period. In Britain it is perhaps best embodied through the Arts & Crafts movement, though there were similar movements going on throughout Europe where people were trying to make the arts (everything from painting to fairytales, both original and recorded) express national culture and values.

This was the result of industrialization, the increasing feeling of heterogeneity in the world. Artists (and others) were looking back to a "simpler" time, and in many ways wishing to escape the difficult challenges and paradoxes of the modern world.

Sound familiar?


Unregistered User
(2/13/03 7:19 am)
a quick thought
I am just beginning to think on this one, but this is an observation:

Women: Women are generally seen as heroic when they stoicly take on additional, often male roles, as well as traditional female roles. You see in 20th C media a recognition of this in a lot of things, but especially in stories reflecting the prior century - think "Old Yeller", or in women's magazines - think Enjouli ads. Truly there is a good deal of heroic work being done that way.

Men: Men are often seen as heroic when they leave traditional roles behind to fight an enemy as someone described above.

One thing that seemed more common in films at least in the last quarter of the 20th C was the media might portray a woman in the traditional male role, although she was often accompanying men or was disguised - think Disney's Mulan or True Grit. The women were often or abandoned or ridiculed when exposed.

There have been a few attempts, usually comic attempts, to show the men in traditional female roles without the extra role thrown on them and to show this as heroic. Hmm. An almost cross-gendered heroic role for men because it has that aspect of quiet heroism - taking on the extra role type - is seen in Bridge over River Kwai. I think with a little imagination you will see the parallels.

One other way in which both men and women are seen as "heroic" these days are when they act in a way that is inconsistent with "tradition", but consistent with self. Certainly this is not a "new" idea, Andersen dealt with it in his original "Little Mermaid", but we see it more now, I think, and more with men doing non-traditional roles.

There is a blending of some of these ideas in movies such as "Erin Brocovich" (sp?).

I am sorry if these ideas are a little jumbled. I haven't thought them through very well. Ooh, and not much "fantasy" stuff there. Oh, well.


Registered User
(2/13/03 7:47 am)
References ...
I will definitely post a more detailed response later, as this is fascinating: for now, I'll just try to help with references. Midori, did you mean Patricia Hannon's _Fabulous Identities: Women's Fairy Tales in 17th Century France_? It's one of my favorite works on the period as well. I'd also suggest Elizabeth Wanning Harries _Twice Told Tales: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale_ (as well as Lewis Seifert's book on the period, the title of which *I* can't remember). Somewhat tangentially, you might want to look at Justine Larbalestier's recent book on the roles of women in the world of s-f - the attitudes of the creators ought to be relevant to the attitudes of their characters, yes? And s-f isn't entirely at a remove from fantasy ... while it's not an exact fit, it might shed light on the actions of characters written by authors who've written in the genres of both s-f and fantasy. Good luck!


Unregistered User
(2/13/03 7:56 am)
One more thought
When women take on the male role, the conflict is often seen whether she should take on the role at all. When men take on the traditional male role, the conflict is usually whether to continue based upon some additional information or event that occurs.


Registered User
(2/13/03 2:48 pm)
Re: Whew
Midori -

You (and all of the folks who are contributing) are so wonderful to take so much time. I know how long it can take to formula these long, interesting responses.

1) Goals and objectives
This is a long term project for me. In the short term, I plan to do some essays and papers. I'm not, at the present, in a position where I can pursue a degree. However, I'm hoping that opportunity will open up in a couple of years. This material might very well end up applied to a masters.

If exciting and interesting directions come to the surface, I'd think about a book, ideally with contributions from others. (I prefer the diversity of opinion and expression.) An edited collection allows, in my mind, unity of theme while opening up the possibility of pursuing interesting tangents.

2) Longitudinal study
I have to admit that following a single fairy tale through difference cultures and permutation has a lot of appeal to me. In my mind, the advantages of folk tales are that they've been around for a long time which would make it easier to observe permutations and make sense of them in the context of the narrative evolution. There is a large, established body of scholarship, so it is pretty easy to do archaeology and find examples distributed over time.

My reluctance to embrace a longitudinal study of a fairy tale or a fairy tale type arises from a sense that the hero in fairy tales generally must adhere to a highly formalized pattern. (Once again, I must speak about the recorded, literary form. My knowledge of the oral forms of fairy and folk tale is, uh, scant at best.) I was concerned that I would miss out on revelations which might be easier to visualize in more flexible forms of heroic fantasy. (Not to be confused with the marketing category, "Heroic Fantasy.")

However, my exposure to the field of scholarly studies of folk literature is embryonic, so I welcome discussion that might counter my preconceptions.

I willingly admit that I find the idea of a longitudinal study to be quite seductive. It wouldn't take much arm twisting to convince me that I should. 

3) The Stultification of Heroism
There are many reasons why I'm interested in studying the concept of "women as heroes."

When young, I read Edith Hamilton's "Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes" from cover to cover. I enjoyed the tales of gods and heroes, but I was quite confused. I couldn't find the stories that had women doing the same kinds of things the male heroes did. I was so confused I re-read (skimmed) the whole book, trying to find the women's heroic stories and, for a while, I thought there must be another book that had heroes who were women. Which lead me to Bulfinch. Which didn't answer my question but was still valuable.

(BTW, I had the same problem with "Gods" and "Goddesses." The stories that featured goddesses were so--different--from the stories that featured gods, I didn't understand that they were really the counterpart to the male gods, and got to the end of Hamilton wondering where the stories about goddesses were, too.)

But the immediate reason that I'm approaching the question of "hero" from the point of view of women is that I expect it will be easier than to approach the question from point of view of men, at least in today's society. (This begs the very interesting question of "Where did 'hero' go, for men?")

I don't have your day-to-day experience, but I feel like the model of "hero" for men is still dominated by the Conan/Tarzan aspect popularized in the 1940;s and 1950's. Not that I think most people embrace Conan as a hero. But I think that if you described a disguised Conan to someone and asked "Is this a hero?" most people in America would automatically say "Yes."

We all know what a male hero is like, we just don't want to be one. I think that contributes to the loss of heroes and role models especially for young men. It is my preconception that the diversity and vitality of role models for young women is changing and developing faster (or at least "at all") than it is for young men.

Specifically, I think the American experience with Vietnam challenged one of the sub-classifications of hero: the War Hero or Veteran as Hero that seemed to be common in relationship to wars up until WWI.

A quick note to all: the spell checker can damage your submissions. I lost about half an hour's work. Save first!

Alan Lattimore

Registered User
(2/13/03 2:57 pm)
Re: One more thought
Jess -

I can't remember. Does the Disney movie "Mulan" make it explicit that if she is discovered in men's garb, she might be executed?

Alan Lattimore

Unregistered User
(2/13/03 3:34 pm)
Women in Greek mythology
Maybe a bit off topic, but who knows...
Here is a link to a book in
Women of Classical Mythology: A Biographical Dictionary (Oxford Paperback Reference)
by Robert E. Bell

As the title says, it's a dictionary, so maybe harder to read, but it's fun to discover a bit more about women who are just mentionned in the men stories.
Also, I'm sorry, I just discovered it was out of stock (but not out of print, apparently...)
If you're in a hurry and don't wish to buy it used and if you are looking for specific entries, I'll be glad to send them to you.

Hope it helps


Unregistered User
(2/13/03 8:36 pm)
more hero stuff

First, I ought to welcome you to the board. It will be fun to add your line of thinking to this group. I am self-educated (or rather board educated) in the finer elements of fairy tales and so I tend to shoot from the hip only to have Helen or Midori or Jane or Heidi come back with much more sagicity and with a reference. In Jane's case she invariably wrote the book - for which we are eternally grateful. Nevertheless, they are always tolerantly kind about my points of view.
I hope you will enjoy this board as much as I do.

Second, with respect to Disney's Mulan, yes, she is aware that she will die if exposed. Once exposed though, the Captain grants her clemency because she, Mulan, saved him in the previous scene. Incidentally, the animation in the avalanche scene is wonderful. The movie is worth renting to see this.

Third, when addressing Western media's conception of women heroines, it is important that we look at some of the early films of the 20th C. I know that someone made a comment comparing Snow White to Ever AFter showing how weak women were becoming stronger by the end of the century, but it ignores some great early films like "The Passion of Joan D'Arc", The Divorce with Norma Shearer which addressed double standards between the sexes, several of the Garbo movies in which women were not portrayed weakly at all. I know I could come up with more. My point is that our late 20th C biases that early generations portrayed women as weak may not be the case at all. Even the fluff Busby Berkley musicals were often about women using connections and networking to find a way to get the acting work that the men couldn't seem to come up with on their own, for example Golddiggers of 1933.

More later.


Unregistered User
(2/13/03 9:07 pm)
As always, another thought
I know I have probably gone off thread - way OT in some ways, but hopefully I am addressing some of the question you posed.

About male heros. I wonder if part of the problem is we tend to associate a hero with one trait only - physical strength, courage in battle. As we have more and more information and a better understanding of the human psychie, we, as a society expect our heros to have more than the single hero trait. Plus, mass media has stamped athletes and entertainers as heros when in many cases their accomplishments are fleeting, marginal, or even non-existent. This has confused the "hero" concept. We also understand that people with extreme bravery and skill can achieve their goals only with the assistance of many other equally-accomplished though not so publicly recognized people, for example astronauts.

The death of the "war hero" is probably a combination of these things, plus the nature of war has changed somewhat so that it is often distant and not related directly to protecting our homes, families or our values and ideals. (Okay, historians shoot me down with myths of Alexander the Great fighting in far off India) Having war brought into our households during Vietnam, understanding the non-human side of war (i.e. bombing wars without hand to hand combat), mass genocide, mutilation of children, etc., also must have had an impact. But I think the strongest element in destroying the war hero is the understanding by virtually everyone of the devastating possibilities of modern warfare. This destructive indiscriminate style of war in simply inhumane. How could anyone see heroism in that? Oops, got on a warpath there.

Another model of heroism is needed.


Jane Yolen
Unregistered User
(2/14/03 4:13 am)
Someone who has written pretty extensively on this topic (though most often for small presses--is Jessica Amanda Salmonson. You might look up some of her work.


(2/14/03 6:44 am)
Fairy tale female hero vs. modern female hero...
Not sure if these make sense, and I know they aren't all inclusive, but here's a go...

Qualities of fairy tale female heros:

Overcomes male oppressors through wit and/or wisdom
Raises children on her own
Thinks of family before self
Quick thinker
Looks beyond the surface
Dares to explore

Qualities of modern female heros:

Ability to juggle career and family
Willing to speak up for the rights of others
Thinks of herself so she can be of better help to others
Knows who she can count on to help
Can do anything that she puts her mind, heart, and self to

Well, that's all I can think of on an empty stomach. I'll try to think of more as the day goes on.

I know you mentioned you were looking specifically at women as heros in fantasy literature from 1900 until present day. Just so I'm on the same path, would you be including:

Fantasy literature (as in science-fiction and fantasy)
Modern adaptations of fairy tales, folktales, and myths
Children's picture books
Teen (YA) series fiction (for example, Buffy)
YA Fantasy

Also, will you be considering the female anti-hero? One book that comes to mind is Virtual Mode by Piers Anthony. It's the first book in the Mode series, and the female lead seems more of an anti-hero: Colene doesn't trust anyone, is depressive, suicidal, tempts fate and death, etc. However, she does pull through in the end, crossing dangerous modes- or alternate realities- to find Darius.

Just a few thoughts. Time for breakfast.

Sugarplum dreams,


Heidi Anne Heiner
(2/14/03 1:38 pm)
Re: Fairy tale female hero vs. modern female hero...
I don't have time to reflect long on this topic today, but I do always think of a few characters in literature that are heroes to me. Neither one can be found in a fantastical genre, but I'll share anyway. One is Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird," who doesn't fit easily into the "war hero" type usually assigned to men. Another is Dorothea in "Middlemarch." While she is not necessarily a hero I have tried to emulate, I have always appreciated the final two paragraphs of the novel in which George Eliot sums up Dorothea's life as a quiet, unsung hero:

"Certainly those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. They were the mixed result of young and noble impulse struggling amidst the conditions of an imperfect social state, in which great feelings will often take the aspect of error, and great faith the aspect of illusion. For there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it. A new Theresa will hardly have the opportunity of reforming a conventual life, any more than a new Antigone will spend her heroic piety in daring all for the sake of a brother's burial: the medium in which their ardent deeds took shape is forever gone. But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know.

"Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

Looking at Kerrie's attributes of a modern day female hero, Dorothea does fit into the mold in her own flawed way. I am not a great fan of Middlemarch, but the book has always been redeemed for me by these two paragraphs.


Registered User
(2/14/03 9:18 pm)
Re: What is a Hero?
Bielie -

Thanks. Right off the bat, I think I want to incorporate 'courage' into my working definition of 'hero' as an ordinary individual who courageously struggles to persevere in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

It seems to me that 'courage' implies awareness of the difficulties, the admission of possible failure and the risks of that failure. I am comfortable with the idea of awarding courage to someone who enters into the fray against a foe, whether that foe is a tumor or a storybook villain, understanding they might lose. When someone is assured of victory, I don't feel as comfortable calling them 'courageous' even when the obstacles they face might intimidate me.

For me, 'obstacles' includes both active agents--villains--and passive agents.

Alan Lattimore

Registered User
(2/14/03 9:41 pm)
Re: a quick thought
Jess -

Is it 'taking on an additional role' or is it merely breaking out of the traditional role? I think I remember an assessment that in the Civil War almost 10% of the enlisted soldiers were, in fact, women. (By some assessments this level of participation by women was common in most wars up until WWI.)

The accounts I've read, which is a dangerously self-selected group and not necessarily representative, diaries and letters home suggest that fellow (male) soldiers were often supportive, assisting in concealing gender identity, and that women were permitted as wide a range of activity as the men were. In other words, some were quite avid in seeking out action and battle. It's not like they all confined to bandaging wounds in some 'safe' hospital.

At least until they were officially 'discovered.' After that, the public applause seemed to vary inversely with the amount of gunpowder they'd used.

At first I thought this supported your position of 'additional role' but now I'm not so sure.

I would certainly agree that the air of 'heroism' is often attached to those who resist the cultural norm, for what seems to me to be good reason. For every person who is successful in resisting the pressure to conform, I'm sure there are many who can't maintain the struggle. It seems to me that some level of notoriety could bring with it a measure of security.

In some eras, the penalty for resisting conformity without achieving success could be severe. I think few of us would want to be assigned to a sanitorium in the Victorian period for no other reason than we chose to wear apparel of a gender other than our own.

And this is where I come to the images of heroism presented in popular media: what do we really treat as "heroic" contrasted against what represents "heroic" in our imagination, collective and otherwise.

Alan Lattimore

Unregistered User
(2/15/03 7:02 am)
hero vs culture hero

Not to muddy the waters further...but there is a difference in the oral narrative traditions at any rate between the hero (who could be the generically child going through the rite of passage to adulthood) and the culture hero (whether male or female) who often breaks the mold of the old society of the narrative, challenges it, deconstructs it and with the force of the hero's will, reconstructs it along new lines, sustaining it and giving it shape. Those heroes can come from the ranks of major mischief makers the tricksters--who are subtly transformed from their usual "undifferentiated energy" into an energy with a purpose; the transformation of the social order, even the larger natural world. Those heroes because the magnitude of their function in the story--a dialectical revolution of sorts--are all about the creative power of transgression. (you might want to look at some of our old threads on trangression--it was a pretty interesting topic, lots of really terrific ideas.) They are given a certain license perhaps that the more generic heroes can only dream about!

Unregistered User
(2/15/03 8:46 am)
More on "additional roles"

There is a big difference between women in "break out roles" and women with "additional roles" as portrayed in the media. The reason I used the example of Old Yellar as "woman hero in an additional role" is because it is the clearest one I could think of in my stream of conciousness style of thinking. While the movie is ostensibly about a boy coming of age and a dog, underlying the whole movie is this extremely heroic woman character: Her husband leaves her for a cattle drive forcing her into the "additional role" of mother and father during a critical time for the older boy's development. She has to make decisions that effect the economics and safety of her family. She guides the oldest son in critical decisions. Shoots wolves and helps fight off bears. I believe in the book there may have been Comanche raids and they were alluded to in the movie. Basically, she functions as both male and female and she does so with stoic grace - we don't see her break down in hysterical fits begging for her husband to come home and "rescue" her from all of this, and she rejects offers of help from a male interloper. This style of hero(ine) is a prototype seen in all kinds of movies and books - the woman who can take on all roles at once.

This differs from the "break out" roles where women take on the male role and abandon the traditional female roles altogether. It also differs from the self before tradition type roles.

I hope this helps you to understand what I am trying to articulate.


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SurLaLune Fairy Tales Discussion Board.

©2003 SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages

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