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Author Comment
Registered User
(2/17/03 12:14 pm)
Re: more hero stuff
Hi Jess

>>>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"<<<

Like with all generalisations I am bound to be proven wrong on this one. There are definitely female heroes of fairy tales that are very active in the bussiness of heroics. In Snow Queen Gerda sets out on a quest to resque Kay, who is in this case a sire? in distress. And of course movie femmes have been fatale since the first flicks.

But I do believe that the portrayal of women in movies has changed over the years.

I saw the original version of "Ransom" the other day. A millionaire's son is kidnapped for a ransom. The father is the hero while the mother collapses in hysterics, and is doped and put to bed by the family doctor. In the original version of "Father of the Bride" the bride is given the following advice: "To keep your wedding ring in good condition, dip it three times a day in dishwater."

I cannot remember seeing a stereotype like that in a modern movie.

This is my own, scientifically unverified opinion.

Unregistered User
(2/18/03 8:13 am)
women in films
Lol. I remember that line from O "Father of the Bride". While this discussion is getting a little away from the topic of women heros in fantasy, I have to respond. My observations are also non-scientific, not substantiated by statistics, but...

What I have observed, in general, is that women were not portrayed particularly weakly, although they may have been more overtly feminine, until post WWII. In post-WWII movies there seemed to be a period of about 15 years where women were marginalized, especially in movies that were taking place in the current time. Interestingly, during this period strong, independent women were often demeaned, or shown to have alterior motives. Nevertheless, you still see strong women characters in costume dramas and in historical, especially 19th C roles, or in earlier works that were just reaching film at that time. There are, of course, exceptions. After about 15 years of this, more and more strong women roles began sneaking back on the screen.

Here is my theory, which is probably all wrong, but...

In the early part of the century there were a lot of varying female roles, just as there are a lot of types of real women. There were a number of influential women writers in Hollywood and Europe, who, I think, probably didn't particularly want to represent themselves as helpless, hysterical, or scullery maid types. This continued, more or less, through the 30's. I could make more comments about movies of the 30's but I would go farther off thread. During the WWII years, women were often portrayed as the heros back home (taking on that additional role again) making it possible for the men to go off to war. There is a whole genre of these films. Post WWII, however, brought a differing attitude. Women who had gained freedom and independence during WWII were now "encouraged" to give this up for the men returning from the war. Thus, we hit a low point of women in film. As women slowly began to raise objections to this straight-jacket isolating life of the post WWII woman as it is projected in the media, and to some extent in real life (if you haven't read it, read the feminine mystic, very interesting), film began to reflect these changing attitudes, or rather adjust back to reality.

There are some really interesting things you can note in watching movies from a variety of periods. If you know history, you can see two thing occuring, although rarely in the same movie. The first, is the use of film as a propaganda tool trying to shift attitudes; the second, is that it can sometimes be very reactionary reflecting, after the fact the undercurrents of society.

Okay, way off thread. I am sure the sociologists and anthropologists that puruse these boards will probably disagree with my "theory". I would love to hear what some of them say.


Registered User
(2/19/03 1:11 pm)
Re: women in films
Jess -

Perhaps the anthropologists, etc. will disagree with you, but I certainly have questions along that direction: "how free were women (people) when?"

For example, I understand that women were generally not permitted to own real property in the late 1800's in the West, but had to rely on the sometimes dubious generosity of male relatives and friends. In the same period, I believe there was more than one "women only" town founded in Oklahoma.

So I end up thinking that freedom, for anyone, can be hard to find, but often possible to create. When you are willing to work hard and sacrifice for it. Which brings us back to the hero and qualities of the heroic.

Alan Lattimore

Registered User
(2/19/03 1:16 pm)
Re: more hero stuff
Bielie -

I am a little concerned how to represent "common culture," if there is such a thing. Do I look at top grossing movies in a period? Read the most popular books? Because I think there will always be "outliers" (if that is a word) that do not represent the ethos of a period, but instead represent some form of wish fulfillment.

I would imagine that the more repressive a society was, the more "freedom" oriented the outliers within a literature might become. Oh, not the ones intended for mass consumption. Maybe Midori is right and I need to look at oral forms. But it seems to me that subversion will express itself, whether a dominant culture wills or no.

Alan Lattimore

Registered User
(2/19/03 1:36 pm)
Re: hero vs culture hero
Midori -

I like the idea of a "culture" hero. What could be more difficult than to visualize a different direction for society, especially as a member of it. I would think it would be much easier if you were an outsider or an outcast.

And then to shift the monumental weight of a culture?

But I'm also wondering if there is a difference between a person-as-hero and a fictive character-as-hero. Do we have different standards for them? In fact, are the standards for fictive heroes more regressive and conserved than the standards for "live" heroes?

A modern law enforcement officer who displays racist or sexist behaviors can expect to be subject to diciplinary action. However, I think there is a surprising tolerance for many forms of non-heroic behavior in, say, Hollywood movie cops, including behavoirs that would get them banned from the force.

Alan Lattimore

Unregistered User
(2/19/03 1:43 pm)

It is always dangerous to ask a lawyer about "rights". Suffice to say that property rights are generally left to the states and there was and is a wide variety of protections for family members, but also the laws have had a history of being discriminatory, not just against women but all kinds of people. I think I will leave the discussion here before I have researched enough for a law review article, and since I still have a brief to read before I can report back on certain intangible property rights on a different thread.

As for what "makes" a woman "hero" in popular media, I stand by my earlier three broad categories. If I think of any more, I will let you know.


Unregistered User
(2/23/03 3:25 pm)
Postcolonial heroes
Argh, I'm trying to remember when the Married Women's Property law came in in England and I can't! Well before the close of the century though....

RE: Jess' comments about "female heroism" and war- what about the Women's Land Army? You had an equivalent in the US, didn't you? All those recruitment posters and all that news footage of sun-tanned and muscular young women working the land while their fathers, husbands and sons defended the empire?

This is really a HUGE subject and I think any discussion of new and old world heroes will add even greater complexity. The paragraphs Heidi quoted from Middlemarch made me think of Gangs of New York, which I saw the other day- the end of that film has a very "Elegy in a Country Church Yard" air about it- that whole "ordinary people have their struggles and live their lives and are forgotten" notion- I think (cue massive generalisation) that this is an idea which infuses many of the "heroic myths" of the new world (at least the white part of it anyway). An example which immediately springs to mind is the Anzac "myth", which you will often hear referred to in Australia and NZ as "the nation's coming of age". Thousands of young troops are told to land on the wrong beach in the Dardanelles and wholesale slaughter ensues- and even though we were defeated, we valourise this incident, we hold state funerals for the veterans of that campaign... and I think a large part of this has to do with the fact that they were "ordinary people", nineteen year old boys much the same as your brother or the kid next door.
Then there's the whole "outlaw" myth in the US- Billy the Kidd, and Co.- which has a direct parallel in the Australian Bushranger story- Ned Kelly, a common thief raised to iconic level- surely there's a very strong air of "ordinary" people getting one up on the toffs about all of this? I think, in considering the notion of the "hero" in the new world, you have to consider the rather strained relations that new world societies often have with Authority (with a capital A)? I would probably even go so far as to argue that the idea of America as a golden land of opportunity where anyone can make their fortune, where anyone can be a hero feeds into these underlying tensions. It's curious that displaced Europeans turn to the new world as the place where they can (re)make themselves in a "heroic" image, given that scepticism about the very possibility of heroism was at an all time high after WWII- think of Adorno and Orwell's 1984, a world in which, when it comes to the point of torture, there is no heroism and you tell them everything they want to hear....


Registered User
(2/24/03 12:04 pm)
Common culture

The scientific answer would be within two standard deviations from the mean, or median, or whatever. Thank goodness I forgot most of that stuff.

I believe you have to define your population first, and then look at the most prevalent expressions of culture within that population. So the highest grossing movies or bestselling books (even though it may be, in your opinion, bad movies or books) may be a good plece to start.

It is interesting how the "alternative" culture of today may become dominant and "common" tomorrow.


Judith Berman
Registered User
(2/24/03 8:12 pm)
women, outlaws, etc.
Lots of interesting stuff going on in this thread. Two thoughts right at the moment.

Jess, I think you are right about shifting attitudes toward women in the media over the course of the 20th century. Whilst reading turn-of-the-century newspapers for a research project I was often struck by the way successful women in unusual roles were treated admiringly rather than condescendingly. In one Philadelphia family (the Weightmans), grandpa, who had built a fortune making quinine for the Union Army, chose to pass over his grandsons and leave his pharmaceutical business to his daughter, who thereby became one of the wealthiest women in the world at the time. She ran the business (and it was clear that she RAN it) for several decades until she decided to remarry, whereupon she sold it, went to Europe with her diplomat husband, and spent WWI nursing soldiers. Her sister-in-law, a high-society type, contested the will on behalf of her sons, and there was a huge and highly publicized lawsuit between the two vastly different women. The newspapers managed to cover the trial without making any moral judgements about either's life choices, or turning the whole into a morality play.

My favorite piece was about a young (about 20) female sheriff in Utah or Colorado, how she had become famous among outlaws, and how she handled herself. What particularly struck me was the casual aside about her mother, the doctor. This was ca. 1900. I wondered if this publicly admiring attitude was possible because of the rarity of such women at the time -- their existence didn't threaten the gender status quo.

Regarding outlaws and the colonies, I think you could also argue for a subversive trend in the British Isles itself. What about Robin Hood, for goodness sake? But he's by no means the only valorized outlaw or subversive outsider. I've always been fascinated by all the "Black Jack Davy" ballads and their variants. Then there's the female outlaw-for-a-day in "Sovay," who dresses up as a man to go hold up her true love in order to test his love for her. "If you'd given me that diamond ring, I'd have pulled the trigger, pulled the trigger and shot you dead." Many more, I'm sure, but this is what floats to the surface at this time of night.

Registered User
(2/24/03 9:02 pm)
Re: women, outlaws, etc.
Judith, glad to have you aboard! Since at least part of this discussion is about heroism in a cultural context, I hope you will have more insights to share.

Over the last few days, I've found myself wondering if "heroic" has been commodified.

I know that in art history, there was a phenomena of "commodification" of art. Art, with a lower case "a" was available to anyone who wanted to decorate items of daily use. Judith might be able to offer more elaboration, since the decoration of daily items continues in many economically underprivileged populations.

Then along came "Art," with a capital "A," practiced only by the initiated and admired from afar by people who no longer feel themselves capable of creating art, either lowercase or uppercase. Although the transition in Western culture had been evolving slowly through much of the 19th century, the separation between producer of art and the consumers of art widened with the dawn of assembly line work and worker/task specialization.

So I'm wondering if the "heroic" was, once upon a time, more accessible to the average person but has become estranged from the public. Once anyone could be a hero, given strength and courage that are available to us all. But now the cultural messages are "You are an ordinary person. You cannot be a hero."

I think this mindset is ruinously pervasive, perhaps thanks to Hollywood (and the other cultural outlets) and the need to stimulate a progressively hardened audience. I am angry that the monomyth popularized in "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," probably the most influential archtype of the hero and the hero's journey, requires the hero to be exceptional, permanently removing heroism from the grasp of the average person.

Alan Lattimore

Judith Berman
Registered User
(2/25/03 7:31 am)
heroes on the fly
Just a few more thoughts, as I'm supposed to be doing something else. (I'm ALWAYS supposed to be doing something else, but that's another story.)

AL> I think this mindset is ruinously pervasive, perhaps thanks to Hollywood (and the other cultural outlets) and the need to stimulate a progressively hardened audience. I am angry that the monomyth popularized in "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," probably the most influential archtype of the hero and the hero's journey, requires the hero to be exceptional, permanently removing heroism from the grasp of the average person.

JB: I think, with respect to myth in socalled preliterate societies (and in postliterate ones as well), that heroes ARE removed from the ordinary. Coyote, for instance -- an ambiguous hero, but an extremely important one. If they are not superhuman when they start, the mythic events REMOVE them from the ordinary. But the thing about ritual in mythic contexts is that they place the ordinary person in the myth and in myth time. The effectiveness of shamanic healing (and I'm talking about authentic in-context practitioners, like Navajo singers) is based on that translocation of the person into the story and his/her identification with its mythic characters.

I'm going to invoke Northrop Frye again, since I've always felt the properties he describes in ANATOMY OF CRITICISM are helpful in looking at non-western literature in a way that much western literary criticism is not. He talks about degree of "displacement" as the distance between a given story and the mythic, divine, or superhuman, and how in the west it's one factor that's changed with literary fashion and historical change. The Greek playwrights were dealing with real gods and mythic heroes. With the rise of the bourgeois novel in Europe you have displacement tending toward the opposite extreme. At any given time, of course, you have a range of genres whose conventions cover the whole span from superhuman to ultra-ordinary. Crowley's LITTLE, BIG (one of my favorite books about Faerie) starts with ordinary characters at one end of the spectrum, who get progressively more and more mythic as the story goes on, eventually making a transition into another circle of existence (the further in you go, the bigger it gets).

Some people feel more affinity toward one end of the spectrum or another. I have to think some of Hollywood's attraction to the superhuman hero is the (extremely lucrative) overseas market where big, noisy, and simple translate across cultural and linguistic boundaries where quieter movies do not.


Unregistered User
(2/25/03 10:57 am)
Quiet Heroes
A few comments, on topic, but not related to the most recent posts:

I have always resented that women are expected to "shoot and ride like a man" in order to be considered heroic. There are heroes of all shapes and sizes.

The usual princesses receive a lot of criticism for their role of "homemaking." The message most people pick up on is that they are fulfilling traditional roles and their docility and submissiveness is rewarded by marriage and prince with a big paycheck at the end of the day.

I always thought these stories were more about survival. A child/princess is reduced to the circumstances of a child/slave is able through its wits and resourcefulness to survive tragedy and build a life for itself, which includes a birthright worth claiming. (Though I personally have always had doubts about the prince, who also often lacks heroic qualities and merely seems to be in the right place at the right time.)

This rags to riches story is particularly prevalent in children's novels. Think, A Little Princess, Peppermints in the Parlor, Wolves of Willoughby Chase. The survival of these "orphans" whether abandoned literally or emotionally, was a story I found immensely empowering as a child, along their fairytale/folklore equivalents.

As for recent examples of quiet heroism, Gail Carson Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre is about two princesses who are sisters. One is docile and timid, the other a warrior. The warrior sister falls sick and must rely on the courage of her shy sister to save not only her life, but the kingdom. I think it's a great example of the quieter sort of hero, who, as is has been commented in recent posts, is hard to hear over the din of special effects.

Heroes should not be confined to gender roles. Gender roles should not prevent people from being heroes. Living is difficult enough without requiring a blaze of glory.


Rosemary Lake
Unregistered User
(2/25/03 11:23 am)
Russian female heroes, misc
In haste.... Saw a site on Russian tales that made a point about "female hero" tales having a different sort of plot than "male hero" tales. It ought to be somewhere in the links below, which I pasted from a Google search for "Russian tales female heroes".

As the thread is gettng away from fairy tales anyway, might look at Ayn Rand's definition of 'heroism' in _Atlas Shrugged_. Something about it not being rescues but earning ones living. Louis L'Amour somewhere seemed to define it as 'courage to endure, to survive'; that is what his protagonists seem to value in others.

The point about taking on unconventional roles or burdens fits a lot of plots.... I see a lot of stories where a fearful person's struggle to do something normal is presented as heroic, and those stories are very moving. (I loved the little account in Collette about the nervous old woman in Paris duirng the occupation who gave a sniper the key to her apartment and told him to be careful not to let the cat out.)

Very, very personally, as a child of the 50s, I personally prefer Tarzan and Superman: heroes who find it easy to do things the rest of us can hardly do at all, personally.

I also have a theory that something like this was part of the old chivalry thing. Not to sacrifice oneself for the queen, but to keep in training so as to have the skill to save her and see her safely home, both. Or as the Patton movie put it, not to die for ones country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his country.

I could rant on and on about this... Lewis's old moral code in _The Abolition of Man_. He was against sacrificing one value to another (which was also sometimes labeled 'moral heroism' or such in Victorian stories). The thing was to keep all of the precepts. Which imo means attending to ways and means, practical solutions. The old heroes were like Wily Ulysees or Captain Kirk or James Bond, who figured out clever ways to not have to sacrifice anything to anything....

Sorry for the rant, I had not time to write shorter....


Russian Folk Tales
... There are no fairies in Russian folklore, so there are no fairy tales. There are
tales, though, with male heroes, and with female heroes, with animals that ... - 14k - Cached - Similar pages
Animal Tales
... word: therefore foxes in Russian folk tales are always female. ... male hero is addressed
in folk tales about male ... is my translation of the Russian "dobryi molodets ... - 18k - Cached - Similar pages
[ More results from ]
Russian crafts and history links
... There are no fairies in Russian folklore, so there are no fairy tales.There are
tales, though, with male heroes, and with female heroes, with animalsthat talk ... - 23k - Cached - Similar pages
Sergiev Posad style of Russian nesting dolls
... boyars (old Russia noblemen), legendary heroes bogatirs (warriors ... Gradually female
character became the main type ... a great book about Russian matryoshkas divided ... - 13k - Cached - Similar pages
Yahoo! Regional > Countries > Russia > Society and Culture > ...
... Russian Folk Tales and Folk Belief - tales with male heroes, female heroes,
animals that talk and behave like humans, and journeying soldiers. ... Mythology_and_Folklore/ - 8k - Cached - Similar pages
Yahoo! Regional>Countries>Russia>Society and Culture>Mythology ...
...; Russian Folk Tales and Folk Belief Open
site in a new window - tales with male heroes, female heroes, animals that ... Mythology_and_Folklore/ - 11k - Cached - Similar pages
Review Two
... Many Russian wondertales concern a young man or woman ... what levels does silence appear
in the Grimmsí tales? ... the difference between male and female silence in ... - 7k - Cached - Similar pages
Russia-IC :: Travel :: About Russia :: Folk art
... Animals in Russian folk tales often represent an embodiment of some particular human
features. ... Tales with the main female or male heroes usually represent ... - 23k - Cached - Similar pages

Unregistered User
(3/5/03 10:47 am)
Heroic women are as old as fairy tales
I bought Patricia McKillip's complaint (Stepping from the Shadows) that fantasies were about males, and the females were passive. I should have noticed that her revised fairy tale looked a lot like Snow White and Rose Red ... anyway, eventually I went looking for stories in which a boy defeated a bad woman (witch, whatever) in fairy tales. I couldn't find any. Somebody here told me there was a Russian one, but I didn't find it.

So I went looking, and found that when the thing to defeat is male, the protagonist is usually male, and the same for females. Hansel and Gretel encountered a witch; so Gretel rescued them. This makes sense to me. It takes good feminine to defeat bad feminine, and good masculine to defeat bad masculine.

It's true that the heroines don't win by modern, literal tactics, but then neither do the heroes. Kissing frogs, pushing old ladies into ovens, stealing, guessing names ...

Jane Yolen
Unregistered User
(3/6/03 3:51 am)
The thesis that boys defeat male monsters, girls female in fairy tales doesn't hold up I'm afraid. Mollie Whuppie is a prime example, getting the better of an ogre. And Nana Miriam defeats a monstruous male hippo, and the pirate princess defeats a succession of male enslavers, to name just three.

That's the trouble with any large thesis about folk/fairy tales. The subject is so broad and so protean that counter examples can always be found.

And as for females taking a more active (rather than sneaky) role in defeating the particular evil--look at the final two mentioned above. You can find them in my book NOT ONE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS.

Or check any of the other feminist volumes of stories, like TATTERHOOD or MAID OF THE NORTH, etc.


Rosemary Lake
Registered User
(3/8/03 11:25 pm)
Pirate princess? I'd love to hear about that.

The idea of the sex of the hero matching the sex of the villian sounds vaguely familiar, perhaps from Maria von Franz or someone like that? I wonder if there's a subset where it does predominate, such as European tales of rescung someone by a direct contest with a witch/wizard.

Femalo hero vs witch fits Calvino's "The Crab Prince", Grimms' "The Enchanted Tree," iirc their "Iron Stove", the Italian Rosella who helped the prince saili away from her aunt the witch, and "Hansel and Gretal." Male hero vs male wizard fits the Russian Ivan vs Koschev sort of tales.

Irrc it doesn't fit "The Three Chicory Gatherers", tho there the contest is less direct, or most of the Master Maid kind (and Rosella did have an uncle too).


Jane Yolen
Unregistered User
(3/9/03 3:37 am)
Pirate princess
The Pirate Princess is a Jewish tale, and my version can be found in NOT ONE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS. A fuller version is in one of Howard Schwartz's collections. (Can't remember which right off hand.) There are full notes in my book, which is down two flights of stairs.


Laura McCaffrey
Registered User
(3/9/03 6:09 am)
Re: Pirate princess
No need to run down the stairs, Jane. The Schwartz book that has the "Pirate Princess" is ELIJAH'S VIOLIN AND OTHER JEWISH FAIRY TALES.

Laura Mc

Edited by: Laura McCaffrey at: 3/9/03 6:10:54 am
Deborah O
Unregistered User
(3/19/03 12:44 pm)
girl Robin Hood
A terrific girl fantasy hero (not supernatural-type fantasy, but a brilliant invented world) appears in Cynthia Voigt's Jackaroo. Teenage Gwyn, living in a repressive, corrupt feudal society, finds old clothes that look like the garb of the legendary hero Jackaroo, who would appear when the peasantry were being mistreated and would ride about in a red cape doing swashbuckling deeds to protect the poor and punish the cruel rich folk. Gwyn secretly becomes Jackaroo and does wonderfully heroic but plausible things to help her people. What's really interesting is that the definition of hero is enriched and changed in this book: two other Jackaroos appear at the same time, one of whom saves Gwyn-Jackaroo in a desperate situation. The reader learns that heroism is communal, not just one person's dramatic actions; that a society needs its heroes to interact in complex ways if anything lasting is to emerge from the heroism. It's not a coincidence that this book offers both a female hero and a different view of the hero's kind of significance. Jackaroo is the first book in Voigt's Kingdom quartet--all excellent books that turn convention upside down, especially the hair-raising last book, Elske.

Since there seems to be interest, here and in other threads, in cultural images of female characters, I'll mention a book that discusses old-fashioned passive girl characters in children's fiction compared with more recent characters. Some of the books considered are fantasies (such as Oz, A Wrinkle in Time, etc.); others are "realistic"--but I see people even discuss Little Women here from time to time. I'm referring to Good Girl Messages: How Young Women Were Misled by Their Favorite Books (Continuum, 2000), by Deborah O'Keefe (me). It's all connected with themes of heroism and heroine-ism, which seems to be the topic here.

Alan Lattimore
Registered User
(3/19/03 2:02 pm)
Re: girl Robin Hood
Deborah: thanks for the suggestion. The local library system has a copy and I look forward to reading it.

Jane: I'll take a look at "Not One Damsel."

Laura: Thanks for the title to "Elijah's Violin."

Alan Lattimore

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