Chosen One is an unauthorized guide and commentary on many top series. None of the individuals or companies associated with the books or television series or any merchandise based on these series have in any way sponsored, approved, endorsed, or authorized this book.
Valerie Estelle Frankel
Other Works by Valerie Estelle Frankel
Henry Potty and the Pet Rock: A Harry Potter Parody
Henry Potty and the Deathly Paper Shortage: A Harry Potter Parody
Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey
From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend
Katniss the Cattail: The Unauthorized Guide to Name and Symbols in The Hunger Games
The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen: Exploring the Heroine of The Hunger Games
Harry Potter, Still Recruiting: A Look at Harry Potter Fandom
Teaching with Harry Potter
An Unexpected Parody: The Spoof of The Hobbit Movie
Myths and Motifs in The Mortal Instruments
Winning the Game of Thrones: The Host of Characters & their Agendas
Winter is Coming: Symbols, Portents, and Hidden Meanings in A Game of Thrones
Bloodsuckers on the Bayou: Myths & Tales Behind HBO’s True Blood
The Girl’s Guide to the Heroine’s Journey
Choosing to be Insurgent or Allegiant: Symbols, Themes & Analysis of the Divergent Trilogy
Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey
Doctor Who: The What Where and How
Sherlock: Every Canon Reference in BBC’s Series 1-3
Symbols in Game of Thrones
How Game of Thrones Will End
Joss Whedon’s Names
Pop Culture in the Whedonverse
Women in Game of Thrones: Power, Conformity, and Resistance
History, Homages and the Highlands: An Outlander Guide
[_The Catch-Up Guide to Doctor Who _]
Remember All Their Faces: A Deeper Look at Character, Gender and the Prison World of Orange Is The New Black
[_Everything I Learned in Life I Know from Joss Whedon _]
Empowered: The Symbolism, Feminism, & Superheroism of Wonder Woman
The Avengers Face their Dark Sides: Mastering the Myth-Making behind the Marvel Superheroes
The Symbolism and Sources of Outlander
The Comics of Joss Whedon: Critical Essays
Mythology in Game of Thrones
We’re Home: Fandom, Fun, and Hidden Homages in Star Wars the Force Awakens
A Rey of Hope: Feminism, Symbolism and Hidden Gems in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Chosen One shows how heroines can triumph in the world of fantasy and the real world as well. This book, written for kids, teens, and adults, students and teachers, readers and writers, follows the stages of the world’s most popular story pattern through all the top teen franchises, following the heroine’s descent into the realm of the supernatural and triumphal restoration. This pattern, based in earth’s oldest epics and fireside tales, reflects the internal struggle through fear and trauma to find one’s inner power.
The heroine’s path mirrors the classic hero’s: sometimes identical, sometimes perfectly reversed. Her deepest goal is to restore a shattered family, nurturing and shielding her parents, siblings, lover, and finally herself. This emphasizes her quest to be a savior of her community, in contrast with the hero, who is more often seen ending the tyranny of the dark lord with weapons and violence.
Surrendering her reliance on logic, the heroine willingly enters the world of emotion and fantasy. In Beauty and the Beast tales, this means opening herself to sensuality, embracing romance and its delights. Other girls flee monsters and menacing trees, devoured by the terror of the forest. They assert themselves through chores and tests, often with guidance from animal helpers. Many solve tasks through cleverness and cooperation. This wisdom emerges from the unconscious, drawing out the heroine’s hidden desires as she battles through adolescence.
At last, she embarks on the perilous descent to the innermost cave. The heroine, alone in the dark, challenges this enemy and passes beyond. Even her death is not the end, as through it she gains the wisdom of rebirth. There, in the land of the dead, she confronts her greatest adversary and goal: the Shadow. The Terrible Mother is the possible future she must overcome but also her shadow twin—everything the youthful heroine rejects. She is the Wicked Witch of the West, tyrannous and dried out. Mrs. Coulter, murderess of children. The White Witch of Narnia, shrouding the living land in frost. She is the fairytale stepmother, the villainess, the enemy. Still, only by venturing into her stronghold and embracing her lessons can the heroine discover her own buried darkness and find the strength to reach adulthood. In this struggle, the heroine embraces the terrible, vicious side of motherhood: violence and sexuality, dominance and overbearing control. In it, she finds strength and power as well as the darker emotions. The Shadow’s wisdom, though destructive and malicious, thus carries the heroine to goddesshood.
Triumphant, the heroine claims her prize: a stolen sibling or ensorcelled beloved. With her quest complete, the heroine ascends to the world of her birth, and teaches the next generation all she’s learned. Thus she masters life and death and rules them together. In the end, the heroine’s journey offers a path for girls today as they grow to be unique, powerful women remaking the world.
Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife…When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. (Baum 1)
The first page of this beloved novel paints Dorothy Gale’s childhood in a single depressing color. But Dorothy has Toto with his twinkling merry eyes to keep her from graying as well. And so she dreams of a better, livelier land somewhere over the rainbow. That’s the nature of imagination—when we feel like colorful people trapped in a gray world, fantasy stretches forth in a vibrant rainbow that glows like Munchkinland in Technicolor.
Harry Potter too craves escape from his monochrome life. His dreary aunt and uncle care only for winning perfect lawn competitions and appearing as “normal” as possible. The mere mention of a flying motorbike nearly gives Uncle Vernon a stroke, for any imagination is forbidden. “Don’t ask questions—that was the first rule for a quiet life with the Dursleys” (Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone 20).
Harry and Dorothy don’t fit. They’re different because of their creativity, hopes and wishes, because of the deeper perception that defines Rey, Katniss, Percy Jackson. When a pile of letters or a tornado arrives, the moment is scary, exciting, life-changing. Our hero feels poised on a new world of experience and understanding, echoing the changes inside as she or he grows into adolescence. Somewhere past the familiar threshold is a world of adventure and new opportunities. The child needs only to step over.
When Dorothy lands in Oz, she instantly provokes the Wicked Witch of the West by killing her sister. As the witch threatens her life, Oz’s world of fantasy and beauty becomes too frightening, and Dorothy wants to go home. Refusing the call to adventure is common: “Hagrid, I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard,” Harry whispers (Philosopher’s Stone 47). “I can’t possibly be the chosen one, the child of destiny,” our hero protests. And yet, he is all the same. Over the course of his quest, Harry masters spells many adults only dream of and defeats Voldemort, the darkest wizard of them all. On her own quest, Dorothy rescues all of Oz from the wicked witch. Later in the series she becomes a princess of Oz, second only to the great ruler Ozma. Though such heroism may seem impossible to the extraordinary child struggling to fit in, world renown lies only a few hundred pages away.
At last, Dorothy starts down the Yellow Brick Road. It begins as a spiral, expanding outward in a symbol for the growing self. The spiral, like the snake, represented regeneration in ancient times, as the serpent could shed its skin and apparently live again. In the magic world, Dorothy must regenerate in the same way, casting off her old self like a discarded skin. She has already shed her status as helpless farmchild to become the “young lady who fell from a star,” the Munchkins’ liberator and future savior of Oz.
Harry Potter, too, grows in status upon entering the magic world. He spends his Muggle childhood friendless, stuck wearing baggy hand-me-downs resembling wrinkled elephant skin. But upon passing through the Leaky Cauldron, gateway from London to the magical world, everyone rushes to shake his hand. “Are you really Harry Potter?” new students ask on the Hogwarts Express. They give the loudest cheer of all when he’s chosen into Gryffindor House. For in the wizard world, Harry discovers he’s famous, hailed as savior of the magic folk. In a few books he’s teaching Defense against the Dark Arts to his fellow students and realizing he’s the Chosen One.
This isn’t surprising when one considers the nature of the magic world. “I had glasses all through my childhood and I was sick and tired of the person in the books who wore the glasses was always the brainy one and it really irritated me and I wanted to read about a hero wearing glasses,” J.K. Rowling told readers in an interview (“Cub Reporter”). We all dream of a place where we really belong, where we, the bookworms, geeks, and misfits, can be heroes, where no one tells us that fighting cartoon monsters or reading fantasy is a waste of time. A place where what we want and feel and dream really matters. And so we journey to Terebithia, Neverland, Fairie. These are the realm of the unconscious—the place of dreams and imagination where our most heartfelt terrors and wishes play out before us.
In the real world, one can battle through the unconscious in a nightmare, or withdraw from the world to meditate on a thorny problem. Of course, we’d rather tackle giant spiders than the roaring dragons of despair, the seeping swamps of loss. The inward journey teaches how to master the outer world—to fearlessly ask a girl out or stare down bullies. Thus our heroes literally journey into the unconscious realm of fairytales and magic, and return brimming with confidence.
Unlike our world, the fantasy world treats everyone justly: the good triumph and wicked are punished. Things we secretly believe are true there: animals reply when we speak to them and curses really work. Lighter things are true as well. As the Wizard of Oz informs the Scarecrow in the film: “Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts—and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven’t got! A diploma!” Finally, an admission that schools and degrees don’t guarantee genius! We grin because we knew it all along.
For students who have ever taken AP tests, it seems like truth in advertising that Hogwarts’ NEWTS stand for Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests. And old-fashioned school songs and principal’s remarks (often indistinguishable from nonsense) become nonsense in truth at Hogwarts. “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Dumbledore proclaims for his start of term speech (Philosopher’s Stone 92). Here we smile, not just because it’s silly, but because it sounds as meaningless as the long speeches other “geniuses” have made. Teachers who give us detention really work for the forces of evil, a magic book can carry us to a place of safety and wonder. Storms are caused by stormy moods, our deepest fears lurk in unexplored cupboards, a loving kiss can defend us from evil. Deep in our souls, we know these things, and in the magic world, they’re true.
The connection between the outer world of farm chores and inner world of fantasy is heightened in The Wizard of Oz movie, as the same actors play roles in both worlds. This is a staple of fantasy, in which friends represent missing parts of the self. Dorothy’s friends divide easily into aspects of her personality she must heal and unite: brains, love, and courage. But Harry’s friends are only a little more subtle. The “Hogwarts Professor” John Granger names “Harry as spirit, Ron as body, and brainy Hermione, of course, as mind” (Granger, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf 187). Harry takes charge in each book—he is the leader, the decision-maker. Ron is the emotional one who gets tongue-tied around girls, who impulsively shouts at Hermione, who’s aghast when his sister starts dating. Hermione is the bookworm, rushing to research the latest monster or curse, drilling Harry in his own spellcasting and homework. Harry learns from both of them, growing through their different viewpoints and advice until the three strike out together to destroy Voldemort piece by piece in their final book.
Thus aided, the Chosen One journeys through the unconscious to battle through to adulthood and return, grown to man- or womanhood. Separation-initiation-return, says Joseph Campbell, author of the greatest works on the hero’s journey. Granger notes: “In each book, Harry separates from his Muggle home on Privet Drive, is initiated and transformed in a series of magical trials and adventures, and returns to Muggledom at the end of the school year” (Granger, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf 213-214). This initiation involves a mystery and crisis, and finally a battle with Voldemort deep beneath the school. Harry suffers a loss or death and must come to terms with this, and then return to Privet Drive wiser than he left. Dorothy, too, journeys in a cycle, as she leaves Kansas and returns once her quest is done.
Once in the world of magic and acceptance, the protagonist receives a quest. Generally a great villain tyrannizes the world, and the hero must conquer him to triumph. This echoes the son’s struggle to overcome his father’s dominance and create a new life for himself (most evident in the father-son conflicts of King Arthur or Star Wars). Though Rowling has stated the Harry and Lord Voldemort aren’t literally related (what a creepy thought), they’re symbolically linked throughout the story. As Ryan Weber observes in his essay, “Harry Potter’s Quest: The Hero’s Journey and the Shadow,” the classic villain must have “a personal and psychologically irreversible connection with the hero”:
In the case of Voldemort and Harry, this is literally the case, for when Harry was attacked and scarred by Voldemort, the sorcerer permanently implanted a piece of himself within the mark. This forever binds the two, and causes Harry’s scar to throb whenever Voldemort is near.
Voldemort, as Harry’s creator, represents the tyrannical father that Harry must overcome to grow into independence.
The queen goddess in mythology was not a warrior but a creator, the earth itself worshipped as the Supreme Mother. Imitating her, the girl becomes a life-giver and protector, a goal which heroines risk everything to achieve. Dorothy saves Toto over and over, for he is her most childlike and sparkling self, her vulnerable side most in need of protection. Lyra of The Golden Compass quests for her best friend Roger; Bella Swan rescues her true love, daughter, and vampire clan; Coraline saves her parents. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games to save her sister, and Tris risks everything for her own parents and brother. These repeated rescues symbolize building a family and fighting to the death to defend it. By accomplishing her task, the heroine grows from child to mother-protector, ready to take her place as head of the household. Dorothy simply finds her way home to her worried aunt and uncle when she’s grown into wholeness, incorporating wisdom, love, and courage into herself, along with the lessons of the humbug father and wicked mother. Only then can she see the path.
Child heroes dominate the magical world through their spiritual gifts: Dorothy’s incredible kindness as she rescues her three friends, Harry’s dazzling courage and the abilities he took from Voldemort. Each child also receives a token, clearly split by gender.
Harry’s magic talisman is a wand, representing enchanted swords throughout literature, from Excalibur to the Sword of Shannara. Though Harry doesn’t learn the significance until book four, his wand shares a mysterious connection with Voldemort’s, enabling him to escape certain death through the Priori Incantatem spell and a heroic burst of willpower. Later, Harry finds himself questing for the Elder Wand, most powerful weapon ever crafted, for only the greatest warrior can become king. In the final battle, however, Harry beats Voldemort with brilliance and faith instead of arms, trusting that the most powerful wand in history won’t hurt him. “Does the wand in your hand know its last master was disarmed,” Harry asks Voldemort. “Because if it does…I am the true master of the Elder Wand” (Deathly Hallows 743). With this knowledge, Harry wins the duel with a single defensive spell.
While the hero always carries a magic sword (knife, lightsaber…), heroines almost never do. They get books and spyglasses, potions and amulets. This echoes a subtler form of questing, with cleverness, healing, and perception in place of combat. The magic slippers dominate Dorothy’s adventures, providing the key to send her home. The Wizard of Oz is about a journey down the Yellow Brick Road, making shoes the all-important tool that Dorothy literally uses every step of the way. They get her in to see the Wizard and finally carry her back home once she’s rescued her friends and all the Winkies.
In the book they’re silver, the color of moon magic and feminine strength like Artemis’s bow or Galadriel’s ring. Silver’s mirrorlike clarity suggests vision and deep knowledge, while the metal itself is moldable yet strong. The heroine’s path mirrors this: blending flexibility and endurance, yielding to authority and yet outwitting it through mind, heart, and indescribable courage.
“Remember, never let those ruby slippers off your feet for a moment, or you will be at the mercy of the Wicked Witch of the West” warns Glinda, casting the shoes as Dorothy’s protection. In the film, Dorothy’s slippers of sparkling ruby were chosen for their brightness in Technicolor. While red often represents power or even evil, here red suggests the lifeblood beating through Dorothy, contrasting her with the “dried-up” witch. The witch, all sallow in her green and black, obsesses over the slippers to the point of self-destruction, for they represent all she lacks. “When I gain those ruby slippers, my power will be the greatest in Oz!” she laughs. Her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, used the magic of the shoes to tyrannize the Munchkins until they celebrate her death with cheering and song. In Wicked, it was the shoes that fueled her self-importance and helped her snatch at power. Both witches find these are “shoes to die for.” But as a universal icon, their power is far different.
Glittering crimson or shining silver, they add magic to an otherwise arduous trip, emphasizing the fairytale nature of Oz. Shoes symbolize life, joy, and fertility, tied to honeymooners’ bumpers and coveted by Cinderella’s princes or the Twelve Dancing Princesses as they fall in love. Dorothy is life and liveliness—the brightest person in Kansas and the savior of the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion—all characters seeking more humanity. By contrast, the Wicked Witch cowers in her tower, far from humankind. Water, the source of all life, is poison to her. Thus, the slippers offer power, but it is the power of the sparkle and growth she most lacks. In the end, they offer her own downfall and Dorothy’s salvation, but it takes the entire book for Dorothy to understand their deepest magic.
Dorothy Gale skips down the yellow brick road in a gingham dress, remaining “sweet” and “innocent” even while confronting monstrous kaliadas, surly trees, and a host of other vicious creatures. Her friends are male, but she does not hide behind the Scarecrow screaming, “Save me, I’m only a girl!” No one gives her a sword; she succeeds mostly through the traditionally “feminine” qualities of kindness and generosity of heart. Even in her bravest moments, she is protecting another from harm like a mother defending her young.
Little Toto, now that he had an enemy to face, ran barking toward the Lion, and the great beast had opened his mouth to bite the dog, when Dorothy, fearing Toto would be killed, and heedless of danger, rushed forward and slapped the Lion upon his nose as hard as she could, while she cried out: “Don’t you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!” (Baum 43)
True, King Arthur would not yell such a thing. But Dorothy tames the lion and makes him a valuable ally, when a burly warrior would have killed him. Dorothy is a young girl, and she succeeds on her quest by embracing that fact rather than denying it. Created at the turn of the century, when girls were supposed to be sweet and silent, Dorothy, like Anne of Green Gables, Jo March, and Caddie Woodlawn, shines as an active, vivacious heroine still popular today. Gretchen Ritter, though writing about politics, calls Dorothy “the all-American girl from the heartland, with a big heart, independence, and daring, a fine example of the sort of woman that the suffragettes had in mind when they promoted their cause” (9).
Harry Potter too relies on love rather than violence. Thinking of his guardian Sirius gives him the strength to battle the dementors, to resist Voldemort’s possession of him because Voldemort “could not bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests,” namely, love. As Dumbledore explains to Harry “It was your heart that saved you” (Order of the Phoenix 844). And at last, love allows him to lay down his life for his friends, sacrificing himself in the final book so that Voldemort will die. One of the last things Harry sees before his own march into death is Ginny comforting a frightened girl. “I want to go home. I don’t want to fight anymore,” she sobs (Deathly Hallows 696). It is for her and all those like her that he offers his sacrifice.
Encountering the Opposite
Halfway through his journey, the hero encounters the mystical feminine, who offers him the deep spiritual insight he needs to succeed. Harry Potter sees his mother, Lily, in mirrors, photographs, and memories locked in a swirling pensieve, and then finally summons her with the resurrection stone. “Stay with me,” he tells her as he descends into the dark forest to die, and her presence banishes the dementors, fear incarnate. Lily also defends him with her blood in each novel. “Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark,” Dumbledore explains. “To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, gives us some protection forever” (Philosopher’s Stone 216).
Thus the hero’s maternal guardian protects him as she shows him how to tap the buried feminine within himself. Galadriel tests Frodo’s heart with her magic mirror, and the Lady of the Lake gives Arthur a scabbard that will heal his wounds. She is life magic, the power of creation and emotion itself. As Campbell states, “The mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero’s total mastery of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master” (Hero 120). Meeting the mother is a moment of comforting magic, a time of healing before the dark trials ahead. Her light is one the hero can summon to shield him from the darkest peril. With it, he gains protection that will aid him in confronting his deadliest adversary—his father.
Harry is surrounded by mother figures: his “adoptive mother” Mrs. Weasley offers him love and compassion, knitting annual Christmas sweaters and welcoming him into her lively family. Hermione provides unwavering sisterly support. Just as significant, of course, is Harry’s adolescent love for Ginny Weasley and her fierce blazing look, the image Harry takes with him into death. Harry has only a few weeks with Ginny, in which he’s “happier than he could remember being for a very long time” (Half-Blood Prince 535). Though Ginny willingly stays behind, her faith in Harry carries him through his final quest, teaching him the perfect nature of selflessness and courage. When Harry embraces this feminine guidance, he deepens spiritually, until he can withstand Voldemort by sacrificing himself through the power of love.
The classic heroine, however, learns a far different lesson from encountering her father. Lyra of The Golden Compass discovers that her adored father is a murderer, as he kills her helpless friend Roger. Bella, as an immortal vampire, realizes how vulnerable and human her father is. Rey sees her mentor, Han, sacrificed, and Lucy sees the same with Aslan. Meg Murray crosses time and space to rescue her blinded and confused father, and they tesseract to a friendly planet. When Meg demands that he return to rescue her brother Charles Wallace, Meg’s three witch mentors appear and tell Meg her father is not powerful enough. Meg gazes sadly at him. “I wanted you to do it all for me…I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself” (L’ Engle 187). Still, she acknowledges she is the only one who can rescue Charles Wallace, so she returns to confront the monstrous IT.
Thus the heroine must learn (ironically enough) about the feminine power she already possesses from an encounter with the father figure. By realizing that his power over her has ended, the heroine finds independence and strength.
When Dorothy returns the witch’s broomstick to the wizard, she has a similar realization. The first time she faces him, she quivers before the “Great and Powerful Oz.” The second time, she has already defeated the wicked witch, a far more terrifying adversary. After that battle, the wizard is nothing and his refusal to see them sags with weakness.
The Scarecrow at last asked the green girl to take another message to Oz, saying if he did not let them in to see him at once they would call the Winged Monkeys to help them, and find out whether he kept his promises or not. When the Wizard was given this message he was so frightened that he sent word for them to come to the Throne Room at four minutes after nine o’clock the next morning. He had once met the Winged Monkeys in the Land of the West, and he did not wish to meet them again. (Baum 130-131)
Confronting Oz, Dorothy and her friends find him a powerless fraud who has been deceiving them from the start. To Dorothy he appeared as a giant head; to the Scarecrow, a fairy; to the Tin Man, a great beast; and to the Cowardly Lion, a ball of flame. Like a politician, the wizard shows a different mask for each person he meets. But as he attempts to be all things to all people, he only emphasizes how small the human within truly is. After his dramatic displays, the shrunken man from Omaha has truly diminished. Emerging from behind his curtain, he begs the four adventurers for their help as he admits his own powerlessness. This lesson teaches Dorothy that the wizard cannot solve her quest for her. She must set out with her friends once more to seek Glinda and finish the journey she has begun.
Readers must remember that each fairytale character represents a part of the self. Just as the hero’s mother is his own sensitivity and creative force, the heroine’s father is the guardian, the intellect and system of rules meant to protect the self. Usually, in fairytales, the father fails to protect the daughter, or foolishly bargains her away (as in Beauty and the Beast style tales). He rarely understands the connection between the conscious and unconscious world: that things are not always as they appear. This lack of guidance reveals the young woman’s innocence at the beginning of her journey. At the end, she returns as a goddess or teacher, great beyond the dreams of the once-authoritative father figure. This leap in power represents the growth in soul and knowledge that the heroine has achieved.
Just as every hero has done throughout myth immemorial, Harry and Dorothy both make their descent into the unknown as the greatest obstacle. They face death, alone and unaided, to confront their shadow selves and gain the power of death as well as life. If the magical world is the unconscious, the underworld is its deepest level, the place where the hero discovers his truest self.
Harry journeys under Hogwarts at the climaxes of the first three books, then into the graveyard, the Ministry’s cellar, the Horcrux cave, and the Forbidden Forest. In Deathly Hallows, John Granger counts seven descents, from the “London underground” to Dobby’s grave, to the vault under Gringotts. Why such a pattern of battling evil underground? The underworld offers death and darkness but with it the wisdom of mortality: to truly grow, Harry must pass a fearsome initiation. As Granger notes:
Battling Quirrell, fanged by a basilisk, kissed by a dementor, tortured by the reborn Dark Lord, possessed by Voldemort in the Ministry, carried by the Inferi into the lake, and just flat-out killed by Voldemort in the finale, Harry dies a figurative death in every single book. (Granger, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf 217)
Each of these symbolic deaths changes Harry, making him pay a steep price for growth on the hero’s path. In the deserted graveyard where Voldemort reincarnates himself, Harry encounters his first real death (Cedric’s) and can afterward see thestrals, indicating his growing understanding. Harry’s final death, the deepest underworld of all, comes in book seven, where he journeys into the Forbidden Forest, Resurrection Stone at the ready, knowing Voldemort will kill him. “It did not occur to him now to try to escape, to outrun Voldemort. It was over, he knew it, and all that was left was the thing itself: dying” (Deathly Hallows 692). Alone in the dark, and surrounded by enemies, Harry gives up his life for his friends. This is the true test of courage: laying down the wand and welcoming the sacrifice.
Winged monkeys carry Dorothy up to the witch’s castle, not a descent but a climb. In many fairytales from Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” to “The Six Swans,” the heroine’s most dire struggle takes place high in the prince’s castle, far from the mysterious protection of the forest or ocean. This, like the wicked witch’s castle or the Death Star, is the world of order and tyranny, where the young heroine is truly helpless. Other heroines descend to the underworld: Lucy and Susan witness the White Witch murdering Aslan deep in the forest, while Lyra Belacqua crosses into the land of the dead. Katniss falls unconscious at the climax of all three of her own books.
In the Inmost Cave, Harry Potter battles his own evil shadow, his opposite in every way, yet bearing a symbolic connection to himself. One’s shadow is all the qualities he or she has rejected: Harry is “a true Gryffindor,” courageous above all, while Voldemort is the heir of conniving Salazar Slytherin. At the same time, Voldemort notices their connection: “Both half-bloods, orphans, raised by Muggles. Probably the only two Parselmouths to come to Hogwarts since the great Slytherin himself. We even look something alike…But after all, it was merely a lucky chance that saved you from me” (Chamber of Secrets 233). Though teenage Voldemort refers to Harry’s escaping death, his statement is truer than he knows: Harry, an abused orphan from the Muggle world, could so easily have become Voldemort. The only thing stopping this, as Dumbledore points out, is Harry’s choice.
Harry chooses love of friends over murder and power; when he battles Voldemort, he battles those choices he’s rejected in his own life. This shadow is powerful beyond reasoning, a deadly match for the untrained hero. He is evil incarnate, monster as Harry is human, tall as Harry is short, dominant in power and knowledge as Harry is a student. While Harry loves enough to suffer deeply at Sirius’s death (among others), Voldemort is love’s antithesis. “You will hear many of his Death Eaters claiming they are in his confidences, that they alone are close to him, even understand him,” Dumbledore says. “They are deluded. Lord Voldemort has never had a friend, nor do I believe that he has ever wanted one” (Half-Blood Prince 277). Rowling adds in an interview that Voldemort (unsurprisingly) never had a love interest: “He loved only power, and himself” (“Bloomsbury Live Chat”). Upon invading Harry’s mind, Voldemort cannot “bear to reside in a body so full of the force he detests” (Order of the Phoenix 844).
Voldemort symbolizes Harry’s dark desires, his ambition without compassion, greed without limit, in contrast with Harry’s simple wish for love and family, and his desire to save Hogwarts at all costs. Thus, Harry battles his own dark nature, repressed and unacknowledged. Jung writes: “The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly—for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies” (Archetypes and Collective Unconscious 285). In other words, the enemy is the part of ourselves we most dislike.
All this culminates with book five’s prophecy: Harry and Voldemort’s destinies are intertwined and “neither can live while the other survives” (Order of the Phoenix 841). Harry finds himself seeing through his enemy’s eyes in the fifth book, marveling that he wants to strike Dumbledore as he dreams of Voldemort’s dark desires. At last, Dumbledore explains that Voldemort’s stealing Harry’s blood results in his “having ensured this two-fold connection, having wrapped your destinies together more securely than ever two wizards were joined in history” (Deathly Hallows 711). Thus, Harry and Voldemort are indeed two sides: light and dark, good and evil, yet with an intrinsic bond that may destroy them both. As Jung explains, “The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness” (Archetypes and Collective Unconscious 20). Harry cannot deny its existence, only face it and learn to accept the dark side within himself.
In book one, Harry faces, not only Voldemort and the defeat of his friends, but also the Mirror of Erised and his own repressed wishes. Weber explains:
In the inmost cave lies the sorcerer’s stone, which is the power to fuel Harry’s shadow, and the magic mirror that reveals the strongest yearnings of Harry’s heart. Naturally, it is here that the climax between Harry and his shadow must take place, and since the shadow is the repressed qualities of Harry’s own psyche, only his own positive attributes, his internal and inherited love, can be used to defeat it.
Confronting Voldemort in the deepest darkness and viewing his greatest desires in the magic mirror forces Harry to confront all these feelings within himself, and thus gain self-knowledge and inner strength. This he does, emerging from the mirror chamber knowing he is truly a wizard fighting for goodness.
Dorothy faces her own shadow in the wicked witch’s castle from which no one returns. Unlike sweet, loving Dorothy, the witch herself is like the queen of the underworld, never growing or changing, never drinking water or falling in love. All obey her mechanically, soullessly.
One must face death unarmed, unprotected. The winged monkeys of the book, chaos embodied, scatter and destroy the Tin Woodsman and Scarecrow, and cage the Lion. Still, it remains true that those who love us leave their protection on us forever. When the monkeys see the good witch’s kiss on Dorothy’s forehead, they deliver her unharmed to the wicked witch’s castle rather than following orders and killing her “for she is protected by the Power of Good, and that is greater than the Power of Evil” (Baum 107). Bereft of cleverness and love, with courage chained up, Dorothy only manages to keep her innocence (Toto) and her goodness (the good witch’s kiss). She also keeps the power of her shoes but doesn’t know how to wield it.
In this scene, the two forces meet: good and evil as innocent child and merciless ruler. While Dorothy is frightened at confronting the story’s villainess, the witch is far more terrified of Dorothy’s powerful shoes: “She looked down at Dorothy’s feet, and seeing the Silver Shoes, began to tremble with fear, for she knew what a powerful charm belonged to them” (Baum 108). If the shoes represent Dorothy’s journey, then the witch is frightened because she has never journeyed herself, never gathered up brains, heart, and courage to become stronger. She is a hollow shell like the wizard, ruling through the illusion of power rather than through wisdom. If the shoes are fertility and life, the witch again cowers because she has none of those powers. She is so dried up she can’t bleed, so sallow her face is green.
Now the Wicked Witch had a great longing to have for her own the Silver Shoes which the girl always wore. Her bees and her crows and her wolves were lying in heaps and drying up, and she had used up all the power of the Golden Cap; but if she could only get hold of the Silver Shoes, they would give her more power than all the other things she had lost. She watched Dorothy carefully, to see if she ever took off her shoes, thinking she might steal them. But the child was so proud of her pretty shoes that she never took them off except at night and when she took her bath. The Witch was too much afraid of the dark to dare go in Dorothy’s room at night to take the shoes, and her dread of water was greater than her fear of the dark, so she never came near when Dorothy was bathing. Indeed, the old Witch never touched water, nor ever let water touch her in any way. (Baum 110)
The book’s Golden Cap that summons the flying monkeys suggests male authority—as a disembodied head shape it instantly echoes the Great and Powerful Oz. Whoever hides behind the pasteboard head or wears the cap gives orders and must instantly be obeyed. Gold is a masculine color, a day color, a sun color. This witch is like the wizard—authoritative on the surface with nothing beneath. Having burned though her masculine power sources of army and cap (for the three friends destroyed her hordes of bees and crows and wolves with their natural skills before the monkeys attacked), the witch longs for the feminine power, which is greater but which she cannot comprehend. She covers from the darkness and water, which are feminine realms, and she covets but cannot snatch the feminine silver slippers.
At first the Witch was tempted to run away from Dorothy; but she happened to look into the child’s eyes and saw how simple the soul behind them was, and that the little girl did not know of the wonderful power the Silver Shoes gave her. So the Wicked Witch laughed to herself, and thought, “I can still make her my slave, for she does not know how to use her power.” (Baum 108)
Dorothy has magic but not the strength or knowledge to wield it. She needs training from the most powerful, vicious woman in Oz: the wicked witch. For Dorothy, on the cusp of womanhood, has never ruled a farmhouse as Aunt Em has, has never ordered handymen about, or slaughtered animals at harvest time. To grow up, she’ll need more than “sweetness,” she’ll need training in the harshness of the adult world. For this, she becomes the witch’s servant.
“Dorothy followed her through many of the beautiful rooms in her castle until they came to the kitchen, where the Witch bade her clean the pots and kettles and sweep the floor and keep the fire fed with wood” (Baum 108). This is a common pattern through folklore, as Cinderella does her stepmother’s chores and Psyche of Roman myth completes painful tasks for her mother-in-law, Venus. Alice in Wonderland serves the Red and White Queens, following their endless instructions. Ariel needs Ursula’s charms to win her prince. And murderous Mrs. Coulter of The Golden Compass teaches her daughter Lyra valuable lessons on how to dress, wear makeup, and charm adults.
This is the heroine’s crucible, burning away her happy childhood and forcing her through the pain of growing up. Dorothy’s slavery continues until the wicked witch steals a slipper. This angers Dorothy—this vicious witch has no right to her own female power. Dorothy dashes feminine, life-giving water over her enemy, who melts away. Before a girl wielding the womanly power she’s had all along, this lifeless mock-up of authority is powerless. In the movie, Dorothy is defending her friend, healing the Scarecrow who’s on fire. While water brings life to the heroine’s allies, it’s death to the witch.
Dorothy’s first act is to free the enslaved Winkies—since she’s been a slave, she knows how miserable the Winkies must be. Her pain has taught her compassion, another lesson the witch never learned. The Winkies in turn pledge Dorothy a greater loyalty than they ever did to the witch, and help her save her friends. And so Dorothy has grown in the witch’s castle from innocent victim to wise queen of the Winkies and flying monkeys alike, learning from her suffering until she can defeat the witch and replace her as a more worthy successor. From here, Dorothy puts on the golden cap of masculine authority and commands the monkeys to fly her to the Emerald City—no wonder the Wizard’s terrified when she arrives!
Having found the Philosopher’s Stone, “Harry returns to his community, bringing renewal, wisdom, and treasures. The stone is destroyed, and his shadow, Voldemort, has temporarily dissipated” (Weber). Harry has faced his greatest desire: the Mirror of Erised and all it offers, along with his shadow-self. Now, he can return to Hogwarts and even to the Dursleys thanks to his enlightenment. Though he spends summers with them for seven books, Harry finally makes the magical world his home, becoming an Auror, marrying Ginny and having a magical family.
Likewise, Dorothy returns to Kansas. The next books like Ozma of Oz and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, see her journey from earth to the magical world and back. In book six, she finally makes Oz her permanent home and becomes one with the magic forever. Like Harry, Dorothy changes from battling through the magical land to ruling and guarding it. Both have truly mastered the realm of their own feelings.
The purpose of this journey, after all, is to achieve adulthood and balance. By defeating death and their own lingering dark sides, the hero and heroine reach the power and majesty of adulthood. As Dorothy learns about queenship and its semblance from the Wicked Witch of the West, she grows into someone strong enough to kick over the Wizard’s pasteboard head and confront the fraud cowering behind it. Harry understands and rejects Voldemort’s cruel path to power, choosing responsibility and sacrifice for himself as well.
Heroes and heroines may start on separate journeys, but they share the greatest steps that define their passage to adulthood. Both begin in the ordinary world, miserable and isolated. In the magical otherworld, they find friends and allies, but also terror, as their own dark shadows menace them. Defeating these terrible mothers and dark lords requires that the hero grow into his or her own power by descending into the underworld and reincarnating with hidden wisdom. This is the passage that defines who we are, regardless of gender.
Fans were delighted by 2014’s new Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adriean Alphona, a Pakistani girl who embodied an immigrant experience that made sense to everyone, much like My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Maya K. comments on this moment of racial change in comics, noting:
[As an adolescent] I rarely saw my experiences reflected in mass media. This was somewhat isolating because at that age you don’t understand that no matter the skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or heritage there is a common human experience called adolescence. Having diverse characters not only speaks to the minority child but to the majority child too. A white teen reading Ms. Marvel learns that the so called diverse character isn’t really that different from themselves and, in fact, they are more similar than one would think. The straight teen reading about the LGBT teen sees themselves in the fears and alienation and then understands they are them. This narrows the divide between the “us” and the “them.”
Kamala Khan of Jersey City adores the Avengers to the point of writing fanfic, but as a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl trying to fit in, she thinks, “My chances of becoming an intergalactic super hero are even slimmer than my chances of becoming blond and popular.” Kamala’s restrictive parents have her life mapped out – staying home every night, perfect grades, med school, then marriage to a man of their choice and many children. Wishing to be normal for just one night, she sneaks off to a forbidden party. This moment of rebellion, a departure from the normal world for one of excitement, signals her rocky adolescence, a desire to grow beyond her parents’ confines. Thus it is matched by the coming of her powers. “In the first stage of this kind of adventure, the hero leaves the realm of the familiar, over which he has some measure of control, and comes to a threshold” (Campbell 146). Kamala crosses over, and everything changes, forever.
“It is no accident that superhero stories appeal most to those who are in the midst of change themselves. Pubescents and early adolescents, whose bodies are changing, were the audience of the first superhero comics” (Packer 125). Penelope Parker of Earth-11 (bitten by a radioactive spider) worries she’ll be even more of a social pariah, then realizes, “No, wait…I’m a pariah because I’m an 11-year-old that uses words like ‘pariah.’” This is just another weirdo thing. I can do this.” She thus understands realizes she’s gone from weird to “weirdo-er.” She decides to save those in danger but immediately gets shy and flustered. Holding a rescued boy in her arms, she panics and turns red behind her brown bag mask in an uncertain adolescent response (Cook, “Penelope Parker”). Another young superheroine, Stature (Ant Man’s daughter), shrinks to the size of her cereal bowl when accused of wrecking Iron Man’s car, then grows to room-filling anger when she realizes he’s tricked her. Thus her mood swings are incorporated visually into her superpowers (Knisley).
When Kamala storms out of the party, embarrassed by her overprotective friend Bruno, she finds herself engulfed by a strange mist. She passes out in it and has a vision of her idol, Ms. Marvel. The superhero tells her, “You’re about to get the kind of reboot most people only dream about….It’s not going to turn out the way you think” (Wilson, “Ms. Marvel: No Normal”). In this scene she receives a mentor (or perhaps a feminine ideal, as they never meet) and superpowers, all in a burst of transformation.
Waking, Kamala finds herself trapped in a casing of black stone. When she smashes out of her cocoon, literally and metaphorically, she discovers she’s become Ms. Marvel – blonde hair, white skin, and signature outfit. Maya K. adds: “It doesn’t surprise me that her Ms. Marvel persona is currently a white young woman because it reflects her wish to look like everyone else.” As Kamala wonders, “This is what I asked for, right? So why don’t I feel strong and confident and beautiful? Why do I just feel freaked out and underdressed?” Her body is transforming, taking her towards adulthood, but like most adolescents, she feels gawky and misshapen, even in an outfit that makes other women look perfect.
Kamala transforms back to herself, but when she hears mean girl Zoe calling, she turns back into Ms. Marvel, thinking, “As soon as Zoe shows up I feel uncomfortable. Like I have to be someone else. Someone cool.” Only by putting on Ms. Marvel’s brave, assured outward persona does Kamala feel confident. When Zoe tumbles off the dock, Kamala recites her father’s lesson from the Koran about saving lives and reaches into the water. Her hand expands to the size of a boat and she easily saves the other girl. Teens gather to beg “Ms. Marvel,” as they think, for her autograph and she flees.
These growing limbs signal the “all arms and legs stage” as well as increased agency in the world. Now Kamala has the power to save a girl with a single scoop of her fingers – she need only decide how to use her new ability. There is even more happening beneath the surface. As she thinks, “It’s like I have a completely new sense. It’s not sight or taste or touch – it’s something much weirder. Something almost – Inhuman.” This too is a metaphor for adolescence, with new drives and sources of perception. The Terrigen Mist that transforms her is only an outward representation of her inner change. As Joseph Campbell describes it:
What’s running the show is what’s coming from way down below. The period when one begins to realize that one isn’t running the show is called adolescence, when a whole new system of requirements begins announcing itself from the body. The adolescent hasn’t the slightest idea how to handle all this, and cannot but wonder what it is that’s pushing him—or even more mysteriously, pushing her. (Campbell and Moyers 142)
“Maybe this is what I’ve been waiting for,” she thinks, making a giant fist. “Maybe I’m finally part of something…bigger.” At this moment, she throws off her imitation of Ms. Marvel. The blonde hair and black bathing-suit costume do not reappear as Kamala finds a way to be a superhero as herself, with her own more modest and youthful style.
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer film (like the early seasons) emphasizes these dramatic life questions. Buffy has her own words to describe it: “You know what it’s like when everything is suddenly different? And everything you—you thought was crucial seems … it seems so stupid.” With sudden superpowers and a mission to slay vampires, she too abandons her old life of cheerleading and dress shopping to make a difference in the world.
On returning home, Kamala runs for the fridge. As she says, “I’m hungry in a way I’ve never been hungry before. Ravenous. Starving. Seriously, I need a thesaurus. It’s the healing I think, it feels like I skipped a night of sleep – like the healing power comes straight out of my life force.” This too is a mark of both adolescence and transformation. However, she is also caught by her parents. As her father cries, “Tell me why my precious Kamala has suddenly become a reckless, disobedient girl I barely recognize,” she is becoming a teenager, feeling dissatisfaction with an obedient life of childhood, before enlightenment hits.
When she’s shot defending her friend Bruno from a robber (actually his punk brother Vick in disguise), she heals instantly, but Bruno discovers her secret. As Kamala grows and shrinks, she considers how she’s growing out of old parts of her life and no longer fits them. When her father tells her she’s named Kamala because it means perfection and she’s perfect the way she is, she decides to become the best self that she can. She trains and leans “how to work with this new body instead of against it” and discover what she can accomplish through her more mature physical self.
She creates a costume from her burkini (a modest swimsuit with long arms and legs plus a tunic), emphasizing that she will cover up far more than the original Ms. Marvel. However, she adds a lightning bolt as an homage to the character and takes her old name (as Carol Danvers is now Captain Marvel of course). “Maybe the name belongs to whoever has the courage to fight,” she decides. She uses her smarts and video game training as well as superpowers like a giant fist to sneak into the gang that is holding Bruno’s brother and free him. A fist is a symbol of agency and choice.
As she saves those around her (starting with her friends then expanding outward), she begins to take pride in her new identity as well as her old ones, blending the two into a cohesive whole. As she announces: “This guy thinks he can threaten us where we live? Ms. Marvel has a message for him. This is Jersey City. We talk loud, we walk fast, and we don’t take any disrespect. Don’t mess.” Nonetheless, she must soon rush off to her cousin’s wedding as she balances responsibilities to superheroing and family. Thus ends the first book, No Normal.
Ordinary teen life in Jersey City is a large part of the story, with Kamala’s high school based on real high school McNair Academic High School (though it is renamed Coles Academic High School, after the actual street McNair is on). Further, as she grows from saving friends and family to defending her community, Kamala champions her generation. As the corrupt adult called the Inventor persuades teens their only value is in being human batteries, Kamala protests, “We’re not the ones who messed up the economy or the planet. Maybe [adults] do think of us as parasites, but they’re not the ones who are gonna have to live with this mess –” (Wilson, “Ms. Marvel: Generation Why”). She tells the teens not to give up on their generation and throw their lives away but to find a way to save the planet.
By the end of 2014, she was guest-starring in The Amazing Spider-Man and soon joined the Avengers. With her cross-cultural appeal praised for drawing female Muslim readers into comics, many critics started calling her the new Spider-Man, teen icon for the current generation. Maya K. concludes: “This country has changed drastically in the almost 50 years (!!) since I was born. Almost half the population under 5 years old is not white. This is huge on so many levels because it means our mass media will change to reflect the demographic. It will have to because the market will demand it.” With African-American characters starring in Fantastic Four, The Flash, and Spider-Man this year, comics are expanding to reflect the modern audience.
While Spider-Man is the famous comic of the teen experience, there are others, starring girls. Arriving in Uncanny X-Men #129 (1980), Kitty Pryde was created to be the next generation of X-Men. As she runs away from home and protests unfair teachers, she mirrors her young readers. “She was, perhaps, the first realistic teenage superhero ever seen in comics, with all of the flaws and charms that come with youth – spunky, brilliant, courageous, while also insecure, flighty, and immature” (Madrid, Supergirls 232). Her power is disappearing – a clear metaphor for the wallflower student at the school – though Chris Claremont and Joss Whedon both find ways to turn this power into a formidable strength. Claremont’s Kitty Pryde and Wolverine (1984–1985) in particular sees her growing to fight off a demon’s influence and finally choosing who she wants to become, as Wolverine convinces her to save herself without her teachers’ aid. As he warns, “If you run away to Charley, it doesn’t matter if the cure’s successful, you’ll never be as strong again. You’ll always be dependent on Xavier, always subconsciously turn to him when things get rough. Ogun will have broken your spirit – crippled the fundamental you – in a way that’ll never heal.” She takes his advice and trains with Wolverine, then fights to save herself.
The X-Men films also focus on young people as Rogue flirts with Iceman and learns to bring her new powers to their relationship. She is the first film’s connection with teen vulnerability as Rogue runs away from home and desperately seeks a place to belong. By the third film, she’s terribly constrained by her powers, a metaphor for her changing body. Caught in a love triangle as Iceman flirts with Kitty, Rogue must choose between love and power, in a heartbreaking decision.
In the Divergent novels and films, Tris’s childhood training in the selfless faction of Abnegation informs much of her value system. “Everything – our houses, our clothes, our hairstyles – is meant to help us forget ourselves and to protect us from vanity, greed and envy, which are just forms of selfishness. If we have little, and want for little, and we are all equal, we envy no one,” she explains (Divergent 27-28). She automatically protects a little girl in her original placement test, meant to determine her future Faction. Later, in training, she takes frightened, helpless Al’s place as a human target for knife-throwing and helps Four face his darkest fears in a simulator. “It’s when you’re acting selflessly that you are at your bravest,” Four tells her (Divergent 311). “We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another,” another student says when he quotes from the Dauntless manifesto (Divergent 206). Of course, the teens in Dauntless are actually pitted against one another, and cooperation vanishes.
This is the defining factor to her. She acts in the end because to her the war is “about taking away [the Bureau’s] power to control thousands of lives” (Allegiant 408). Her heroic sacrifice destroys those who made that choice and preserves the city of her innocent childhood, where other children are growing into Divergent saviors like herself.
The first thing Tris does after discovering she doesn’t fit the world’s neat little categories is leave home forever. The author, Veronica Roth, explains:
I wrote these books at a point when I was growing up. Senior year in college, about to do what Tris does, she’s making decisions about what she’s going to do with the rest of her life, and Tris’s decisions are comparable to maybe choosing a college, but also to choosing a life path. (Codinha)
The New York Times stated that Divergent explores a “common adolescent anxiety – the painful realization that coming into one’s own sometimes means leaving family behind, both ideologically and physically” (Dominus).
Critic Leila Sales explains that “Dead parents are so much a part of middle-grade and teen fiction at this point, it’s not even the ‘in’ thing. … It’s just an accepted fact: kids in books are parentless.” Unusually in fiction, Tris comes from a stable happy family, with two living parents who love her. Gone are Bella and Katniss’s checked-out parents, or Harry Potter’s comically horrid relatives. This makes Beatrice’s choice far more wrenching as she chooses to leave them behind in favor of her own personal growth.
Though she’s left, Tris continues to channel her parents’ lessons, often doing the selfless thing like comforting Al and scrubbing the dormitory floor after Edward’s stabbing, which she realizes is something her mother would have done. “If I can’t be with her, the least I can do is act like her sometimes,” Tris decides (Divergent 209). Roth of course dedicated the book to her own mother, whom she sees reflected in Tris’s:
The only one that’s close to someone I know is Tris’ mother is a lot like mine, because my mother was always self-sacrificial and very kind and helpful to us. But when I got older, I realized she was also a badass, and I think that experience motivated a lot of the aspects of Tris’ mother that we see, so she’s a little like my mom. (Rachel)
“I love you. No matter what,” Mrs. Prior tells Beatrice at the Choosing Ceremony (Divergent 41). When her mother visits, they relate in a new dynamic, more as friends than mother and dependent child, and Tris discovers secrets of her mother’s past.
A New York Times reviewer notes, “It is not a coincidence that Tris falls in love while undergoing initiation into her new tribe. It is precisely the moment when young people discover romance that family life all but evaporates, at least in terms of its emotional significance” (Dominus).
“In the first stage of this kind of adventure, the hero leaves the realm of the familiar, over which he has some measure of control, and comes to a threshold” (Campbell 146). For Beatrice, this is her personality test followed by the Choosing Ceremony. As she stands between Dauntless and Abnegation, safety and adventure, family and independence, she must choose. She’s certain she’s flawed – not selfless enough to be what her family wishes, so she takes what she calls the selfish option. “It’s my choice now, no matter what the test says. Abnegation. Dauntless. Erudite. Divergent,” Tris thinks (Divergent 23). She has the choice to fade away, to become an intellectual, or to be daring – to seize life and take charge of it. This last is what she chooses.
Like Harry Potter, Beatrice departs on a train that bridges the gap between her old world and her new one. “I hear a train horn, so faint it could easily be wind whistling through an alleyway. But I know it when I hear it. It sounds like the Dauntless, calling me to them” (Divergent 30).
Initiation requires stepping through a gateway or some other great passage. For Tris this is a literal jump into the unknown. She’s told she must jump several stories into a mysterious darkness, so she takes the initiative and leaps before anyone else. “First jumper – Tris!” Four greets her, embracing her into the new world (Divergent 60). “Welcome to Dauntless.”
By entering Dauntless, Tris becomes a new person, devoted to showing off and being the best rather than hiding her gifts behind a curtain of selflessness. Thus she chooses a new name for herself. “A new place, a new name. I can be remade here,” she thinks, and names herself “Tris” . She chooses a slim black dress that makes her look “striking” and “noticeable” instead of the baggy grey clothes and ill-fitting black ones. As she adds in fascination, “Beatrice was a girl I saw in stolen moments at the mirror, who kept quiet at the dinner table. This is someone whose eyes claim mine and don’t release me; this is Tris” ([_Divergent 87). Naming oneself is a sign of character and strength, declaring who one wishes to be and what impact she wishes to make on the world. Roth notes that renaming is common once a person enters a new state of being or finds one’s purpose:
In the Torah, when a biblical figure has an encounter with God, sometimes he or she is given a new name. Abram to Abraham, for example. Jacob to Israel. Sarai to Sarah. Same thing in the Bible – Saul becomes Paul; Simon becomes Peter. This usually signals the beginning of some kind of transformation or indicates that a transformation has already taken place. If you want a more current example, think Mr. Anderson versus Neo in the Matrix movies, or Augustus versus Gus in The Fault in Our Stars (a little different, but interesting to consider, I think), or Andrew versus Ender. (The World of Divergent, Kindle Locations 118-122).
Roth adds that “Four views [his old name] Tobias as the name of a helpless little boy, so he chooses Four as the name of his adult self in an attempt to leave the pain behind him” (The World of Divergent, Kindle Locations 127-128). The name Four is a symbol of strength of course, emphasizing that he’s overcome more than his peers to become the embodiment of Dauntless, with only four fears. He reveals in the third book that his instructor and mentor named him, just as he encourages Tris to rename herself.
Next for the heroine comes a decent into darkness. The Dauntless compound itself is in a literal pit, with constant battles and black clothes – a place of darkness and risk like nowhere Tris has ever been. Death is a constant there, as Four says, “The chasm reminds us that there is a fine line between bravery and idiocy! A daredevil jump off this ledge will end your life!” (65). At Al’s funeral, death is revealed to be like Dauntless – “an unknown, uncertain place” (307). This new realm thus represents the underworld, a place of breaking down and transformation for Tris as she finds her inner strength.
Many thresholds follow as Tris fires a gun, beats other initiates in their sparring matches, wins capture the flag, flies down the zipline. Each achievement is rewarded with friendship from peers Will and Christina, affection from Four, or status in the eyes of the other Dauntless. She also learns to reconcile her old skills and new ones: “Over the course of Divergent’s narrative, Tris undergoes a series of physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges, reducing her to an essential understanding of bravery – that selflessness and courage share more similarities than differences” (Weasley, “Nigredo”). She journeys into Four’s fear landscape, then her own and beats them both.
Following this comes a more dramatic descent into death, this time literally.
By the end of Stage 2, due to her remarkable ability to defeat the fear simulations, Tris ranks number one among her class of initiates. That night, on her way to the water fountain for a drink, Peter, Drew, and Al abduct Tris and attempt to throw her into the Dauntless compound’s underground river, “the chasm” – a near death and symbolic baptism. Four saves Tris in the knick of time. After her rescue, she describes her anger toward her attackers as “replacing my blood with bitter water … filling me, consuming me.” (Weasley, “Nigredo”)
Facing death comes with her own near sacrifice, then with the actual death of Al, Tris’s friend. With this sadness, Tris begins to question the meaning of bravery and being Dauntless.
Fairytale mothers always die (or in modern fantasy are incapacitated), allowing the heroine to thrive. Metaphorically, the all-caring mother of young childhood is not what the questing adolescent requires. The heroine cannot quest with her mother holding her hand – she must find the source of support within herself as she grows. (Frankel, Katniss 66)
Thus both of Tris’s parents sacrifice themselves to save her, and Tris learns a lesson she will carry through the trilogy – self-sacrifice from love is the purest. “It isn’t just brave that she died for me; it is brave that she did it without announcing it, without hesitation” (Divergent 451).
Campbell explains that in classic tales, “the hero is swallowed and taken into the abyss to be later resurrected – a variant of the death-and-resurrection theme” (146). This occurs many times for Tris as she descends into simulations or marches into death in the tyrants’ laboratories. Each represents a threshold and a sacrifice that leads to wisdom and resurrection. When her friends are taken over, only divergent Tris and Four remain immune. “I feel like someone breathed new air into my lungs. I am not Abnegation. I am not Dauntless. I am Divergent,” Tris thinks, claiming her aberration as the mental power it is (Divergent 442). She is not a mindless drone like the other faction initiates – she is an adult capable of independent thought. “I am no longer Tris, the selfless, or Tris, the brave. I suppose that now, I must become more than either” (Divergent 487).
She courageously journeys into the lion’s den to find her family. There she faces her own potential death several times and is finally trapped in a tank of water in Erudite. Roth comments:
In college I learned about the “return to the womb” trope – in the book Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, the main character undergoes a false “death” in the form of a powerful emotional experience, and then wraps herself in a coat, and then emerges with a better sense of self. Since I read that book I’ve seen false deaths everywhere in fiction, and I’m completely fascinated by it. (Granger, “10 Questions”)
The symbolically transformative water cradles her as she forces down her fear. She surrenders to death and as she says, “I let the water fold me in its silken arms” (438). She rises from the tank symbolically reborn, stronger as she’s reunited with her mother, who represents her adult feminine courage.
Tris’s mother thus pulls her from the tank, and they flee to safety. She confirms she was once Dauntless and gives Tris the key to save herself before the great sacrifice – not Tris’s own death, but her mother’s:
[Divergent _]wraps up with a veritable bloodbath of a rubedo [the combative, red-smeared climax]: Tris’s bleeding shoulder wound, the “crimson” staining her mother’s shirt as she dies, the “violent red” Tris sees when she shuts her eyes. After a descent underground into the Pit, Tris ascends to the top floor of Dauntless HQ, where a simulation-controlled Tobias nearly kills her. In her willingness to allow her lover to shoot her, Tris finally concludes that selflessness and bravery are, essentially, the same virtue transformed by action. And as she recognizes this about herself, the revelation spawns a mirrored moment of recognition in her male _Divergent counterpart. Tobias awakens from his slumber (a nice reversal of gender roles to ice the cake), the two share a kiss, and they flee the city toward the Amity compound. (Weasley, “Nigredo”)
She can only save Tobias from the simulation by holding his gun to her own head and calling on him to hear her voice. “There is power in self-sacrifice,” she thinks (476). He responds just in time and is pulled from the simulation by her faith and love. Through facing death, Tris has triumphed. Roth explains:
Tris’s parents’ deaths were revelatory moments, both for Tris and for me. For Tris, they seemed to awaken her to the power of self-sacrifice out of love; she later handed over the gun to Four rather than kill him, essentially giving her life rather than taking his. She said something in that moment about the power of self-sacrifice, but her actions don’t quite apply that power in the best way – letting herself get killed, at that time, was maybe noble from a romantic perspective, but wouldn’t have saved the Dauntless from being simulation-controlled zombies, and wouldn’t have saved Tobias from his own simulation. (“About the End of Allegiant”)
There are different kinds of strength in the world. In fantasy, strength may come from riding off to battle with sword and shield, or slaying a dragon and rescuing a maiden from her tower. But strength also comes from following a golden compass to the corners of the world to rescue a lost friend. Or carrying one’s husband from a place of danger or managing one’s desperate family in the books of Juliet Marillier. It comes from magic of stone and glass and growing plants. Even the household magic of thread and cloth becomes devastating in the hands of a “stitch witch” like Tamora Pierce’s Sandry, who can break every thread in her captors’ clothing and saddles, or bundle assailants into trees. As Pierce comments, “I love Sandry’s daintiness while she spins people’s clothes to capture them. She’s also the only person I’ve ever met who can make us believe that a wooden fence and a little gate is a castle wall” (O’Neale).
Sewing magic, weaving magic, and gardening magic are the province of the heroine’s journey. While heroes like King Arthur or Siegfried battle evil overlords and monsters, swords flashing, the classic heroine follows a quieter path. In the epic of Cupid and Psyche, she sorts grain and gathers fleece (though these sheep breathe fire!). Babylonian Ishtar travels into death to comfort her mourning sister, not battle giants. And Scheherazade tells 1001 tales to soothe a savage king and save the women of her community. The hero generally quests to defeat the reigning tyrant and become high king. The heroine quests to save her loved ones and reunite her family.
However, the domain of caring for others is not to be confused with passivity: Heroines protect their families not only by seeking a husband and children, but by questing for stolen siblings. Meg Murray leaps through a wrinkle in time to retrieve her father, while Lyra Belacqua travels to the frozen north seeking her dear playmate Roger. Lucy, Susan, and the other Narnia girls are likewise strong, brave, and dynamic. As one reader eagerly explained her love for active heroines: “Lewis’ girls walked through the wardrobes into other worlds, grabbed glowing rings or jumped into pools or paintings that took them someplace exciting and adventurous and potentially dangerous” (McClymmer 97). Crossing snowbanks and battlefields to save Edmund, Lucy and Susan are anything but passive. And so the girls’ journey is different from the heroes’, but never weaker or less courageous. Here is the heroine’s journey: Risking life and descending into death all to protect one’s family and ascend to Mother-Goddess and Queen.
Upon entering Narnia, both Peter and Lucy receive their quests: Mr. Tumnus has been taken by the White Witch, all for helping Lucy. “It is all on my account that the poor Faun has got into this trouble…We simply must try to rescue him,” she says (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe 59). As one critic notes: “Lucy Pevensie does not concern herself with mending torn hems or cleaning her face. She sets out to free Tumnus the Talking Fawn, who has been captured by the White Witch because he helped Lucy escape Narnia on her first visit” (McClymmer 98).
While the children hope to rescue Tumnus (the traditional heroine’s quest), at the Beavers’ home they receive more compelling missions as they hear the prophecy: “When two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit in those four thrones [at Cair Paravel] then it will be the end, not only of the White Witch’s reign, but of her life.” (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe 82). Thus, Peter has his hero quest to rule Narnia and so destroy the witch. Moments later, Edmund vanishes, and the children’s quests parallel: They can best save Edmund and Mr. Tumnus (the heroine’s quest) by defeating the White Witch and ruling Cair Paravel (the hero’s quest).
Joseph Campbell, in his interviews with Bill Moyers, identifies the quests of the protagonist:
There are two types of deeds. One is the physical deed, in which the hero performs a courageous act in battle or saves a life. The other kind is the spiritual deed, in which the hero learns to experience the supernormal range of human spiritual life and then comes back with a message. (Campbell and Moyers 123)
Clearly, Peter embarks on the former, leading the Narnian army in battle, while Lucy undertakes the latter. She is a bringer of faith, learning to trust the childlike instincts that guided her to Narnia. She always defends others: her first question to Aslan is whether he can help Edmund. In later books, she offers Eustace her cordial and her water ration, caring for him even in his dragon form. She pleads for mercy for Rabadash, and almost her last question for Aslan is to beg his help for the renegade dwarves. She follows Aslan even to his brink of death and beyond in order to learn the lessons of strength and sacrifice. The heroine is the one who cures and champions the injured, who bonds others with the force of nature, who is belief incarnate.
Sword and Slipper
Of course, children in the magical world never quest defenseless. Early in his tale, the traditional young hero draws the sword from the stone. This magical sword (wand, lightsaber…) is often a gift from his mentor, left to him by his father, the sword of destiny that only one of true birth may carry. Kit of Duane’s Young Wizards series makes a car antenna into a wand. Lyra’s friend Will has the Subtle Knife, powerful enough to cut anything. In Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain Prince Gwydion wields the sword Dyrnwyn. Luke has his father’s lightsaber, Arthur, Excalibur. Harry Potter finds that “the wand chooses the wizard” and he resonates with the wand that is twin to his nemesis Voldemort’s.
The magical sword is a masculine hero symbol, divinely endowed as a sacred trust. “Often the breaking or loss of the sword signaled the loss of royal authority or of heroic mana, and the hero’s consequent death” (Walker 31). Thus, the sword represents the trust of the community in their king, that he will protect and defend them.
Women, by contrast, frequently carry circular mirrors or other gazing devices, like Coraline’s round stone, which reveals her the truth around her when she gazes through its opening. Mary Malone builds the Amber Spyglass, impregnated with Dust, so that she can save the dying trees around her. Meg in A Wrinkle in Time has Mrs. Witch’s spectacles. Ella Enchanted offers a fairy tale book much like a magic mirror, showing real life as Ella watches. Books, in fact, are quite common as guides of wisdom, in Inkheart, Mirrormask, The Spiderwick Chronicles, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and more. Lyra’s Golden Compass is its own authority, telling Lyra the truth of far-off people and places. All these are tools of divine intuition, offering the heroine unearthly powers of wisdom and prophecy.
Thus the mirror and circle are divine symbols of perception and influence, wielded by goddesses such as Isis and Venus (In fact, Venus gazing into her mirror is the modern symbol for female). They represent the woman as life-giver and font of intuitive wisdom, allowing her to channel the future. Once the power of the oracle was exclusive to women, who could prophesize through magic glasses or gazing balls. More than simply advisors to heroes, they led the community as wisewomen and midwives, the “witches” so feared by the emerging patriarchy that their sacred cauldrons and brews became forever linked with sin. The cauldron, like the cup or Holy Grail, is in fact a womb symbol, filled with life-giving elixir. Circular, it echoes the unending life cycle: “The universe begins with roundness; so say the myths. The great circle, the cosmic egg, the bubble, the spiral, the moon, the zero, the wheel of time, the infinite womb; such are the symbols that try to express a human sense of the wholeness of things” (Walker 2).
Psychiatrist Maureen Murdock observes many feminine symbols in fantasy and myth, such as “the vessel, cave, and grail; the mountain, water, and trees” (Moyers 143). Likewise, Freud links women with images of the home, forests and flowers, jugs, bowls, rings, and shoes (156-177). Again, these are round shapes, womb shapes, and again, these symbols link their wielders with all-encompassing nature and shelter them.
These tools need not be passive: Snow White’s stepmother uses her magic mirror to spy, while protective circles guard magicians from their conjurations. Witches’ feminine cauldrons and ovens are frequently murderous, even cannibalistic. The Russian witch Baba Yaga flies through the air on a magical mortar and pestle. Ironically, this heavy piece of kitchenware associated with backbreaking household labor turns from “a symbol of domestic drudgery” to “an emblem of her power and freedom” (Chinen 58). Her hut, likewise, travels about on chicken legs behind a fence of human skulls. This home, rather than confining her, frees her and even spins away from hostile adventurers, blocking them from entering. Thus her home and cauldron are powerful defensive tools.
But what of the heroines with frivolous gowns and accessories? Dorothy has the silver slippers, though she must determine their use. In East by Edith Pattou, Nymah Rose sews fantastical gowns and a compass rose cloak for her endless journeys. Magic combs. A red riding hood. A crown of light. Rings. A rose. This list does not even address all the Cinderella-type heroines who receive fine clothes and beautiful slippers to catch a Prince Charming’s attention.
Magic cloaks and gowns are a way of remaking the self, like changing one’s name: “We use clothes, like words, to reveal our natures or disguise them, as we choose” (Gould 45). In ancient times, a woman’s clothing indicated her status: widows wore black, brides wore white, unmarried woman had long loose hair, while married ones pinned it up or covered it. Thus cloaks of animal fur, feathers, or flowers release the intuitive magic of the animal world, while stunning gowns reveal the princess within, when the heroine is ready to emerge.
The disguises worn by Cinderella or Tattercoats are masks over the self, concealing the full beautiful personality. A mask may allow its wearer to emphasize one facet of herself, or submerge herself and perform uncharacteristically. Like an actor, the disguised heroine can be brave or flirtatious; she can transform in an instant from scullery maid to debutante. Thus, clothing becomes a tool of versatility, emphasizing a woman’s flexible nature. Clothing styles change with fortune, age, occupation, and season: all rhythms of the world that move cyclically. Growing from girl to woman, “a transformation more radical than from boy to man,” is all about changing bodies and changing desires (Gould 108). Thus girls become shapeshifters, reflecting this with the powers of the clothing they sew to conceal themselves.
What these feminine talismans have in common is that they are everyday items, domestic ones. Is this the mentor’s message – that heroines should wield high-heeled shoes and electric mixers, while Arthur battles villains with Excalibur?
While Alanna, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, carries her prized sword Lightning, she is a rarity. Nita, of Duane’s Young Wizards series, has a rowan branch (far softer and more entwined with nature than her friend Kit’s harsh metallic wand). Girls who travel in the footsteps of the moon-goddess Artemis wield bows or other distance weapons. But far more heroines, including those of Narnia, must leave their swords behind.
The gift-giving scene from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is quite telling:
“Peter, Adam’s son,” said Father Christmas.
“Here, sir,” said Peter.
“These are your presents,” was the answer, “they are tools, not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well.” With these words he handed to Peter a shield and a sword. The shield was the color of silver and across it there ramped a red lion as bright as a ripe strawberry at the moment when you pick it. The hilt of the sword was of gold and it had a sheath and a sword belt and everything it needed, and it was just the size and weight for Peter to use. Peter was silent and solemn as he received these gifts, for he felt they were a very serious kind of present.
“Susan, Eve’s Daughter,” said Father Christmas. “These are for you,” and he handed her a bow and a quiver full of arrows and a little ivory horn. “You must use the bow only in great need,” he said, “for I do not mean you to fight in the battle. It does not easily miss. And when you put this horn to your lips and blow it, then, wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you.”
Last of all he said, “Lucy, Eve’s Daughter,” and Lucy came forward. He gave her a little bottle of what looked like glass (but people said afterward that it was made of diamond) and a small dagger. “In this bottle,” he said, “there is a cordial made of the juice of the fire-flowers that grow in the mountains of the sun. If you or any of your friends is hurt, a few drops of this will restore them. And the dagger is to defend yourself at great need. For you also are not to be in the battle.”
“Why, sir?” said Lucy. “I think—I don’t know—but I think I could be brave enough.”
“That is not the point,” he said. “But battles are ugly when women fight.” (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 108-09)
Lucy and Susan receive gifts as magical as their brother’s, but gentler gifts to reflect their role in the story. Susan is told to call for aid, and Lucy, to heal those already wounded. Only Peter is supposed to attack.
At first glance, this seems horribly sexist and dismissive of our heroines. However, the gifts actually reflect the children’s different journeys and goals. From there, Peter will venture on his hero’s journey through knighthood, war, and kingship, leading Aslan’s troops into battle. Susan and Lucy, meanwhile, will save Edmund and then Aslan, just as other heroines throughout literature and myth defend lost family members.
As a wielder of the feminine magic, Lucy becomes the ultimate guide and guardian. Her instinctive comprehension of the woman’s world of creativity and the unconscious ushers the children through Narnia, as she bonds with fawns and beavers, and warns Edmund about the evil white witch to whom he’s already succumbing. Peter, the central hero, receives a powerful sword, but Lucy, the central heroine, saves the day: While all the children battle the Terrible Mother, embodiment of the heroine’s dark side, only Lucy can rescue Edmund and many others from the brink of death with her healing elixir. Likewise, in Prince Caspian Lucy heals the dwarf Trumpkin and thus gains his trust. She is later acknowledged as “a great surgeon,” just as her brother is a great swordsman and her sister a great archer (Prince Caspian 109).
Susan receives a horn to call for help, and uses it to protect herself and her younger sister. In the second book, Prince Caspian blows the horn to summon her and siblings back to Narnia, as she is still connected with it: It is powerful enough to call forth Aslan himself, and whisks the children straight to Narnia like genies summoned from a bottle. In the course of the movie version, Susan defends her brother in battle and her sister in the forest, just as she saves the dwarf Trumpkin. The book describes her as the Great Archer, Artemis-like, even though she “hated killing things” (Prince Caspian 121). Though a shallow reader might write her off as squeamish, Susan is in fact a guardian of the helpless, shooting in defense rather than war. This is the heroine’s greatest task: shielding those in need with a wildcat’s ferocity rather than indiscriminately attacking.
One clear message is that girls, as life-bringers, value creativity and cleverness over carnage. Sexist, perhaps, but let us examine the topic more closely. Lucy, ostensibly the most helpless, is the smartest of the Narnia children, constantly rescuing her siblings. Coraline destroys her evil “other mother” with first a game of hide-and-seek and then a dolls’ tea party. Alice sees through the card game that entraps her. While scrubbing, Dorothy slays the witch with a hastily-snatched bucket of water. Gretel tricks her witch into the oven. All of the heroines accomplish their quests without violence, valuing shrewdness and fortitude over Excalibur.
Peter the High King
Far more interesting are the Chosen One’s spiritual gifts: faith, leadership, and destiny. The hero quests to become warrior-king, and so he gains the courage and wisdom to rule fervently and fairly. The heroine, by contrast, glows with faith and healing powers, as the savior of her people. Children of both genders sacrifice themselves for the ones they love and both are guided by the hand of destiny and prophecy.
Ostensibly, Peter Pevensie is the hero of the Narnia series as he grows from skeptical boy to High King. As Campbell notes, “The boy has to disengage himself from his mother, get his energy into himself, and then start forth,” seeking his father figure and his identity as a grown adult (Campbell and Moyers 138). Thus, Peter grows up in London absent of male role models. When he and his siblings are forced to leave London, at thirteen he takes on the role of family leader, growing into the adult Peter the Magnificent, “High King over all Kings in Narnia” and “Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Lion” (Prince Caspian 176-77). As the eldest, Peter is the natural leader: He consults Professor Kirke about Lucy’s Narnia “delusions” and apologizes to Lucy for doubting her. Once in Narnia, though the children shrink from meeting Aslan, it is Peter who draws his new sword and tells his sisters to pull themselves together. He then takes responsibility, as the eldest, for his failure in pushing Edmund into deserting. He also overcomes his fears to kill the vicious Fenris.
Aslan takes Peter up the hill alone and shows him a far-off sight of the castle where he will rule, saying: “I show it to you because you are the firstborn and you will be High King over all the rest” (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe 130). After this, Peter acts with the nobility Aslan has prompted him to assume. Through the series, Peter quests to destroy the evil overlord (whether the White Witch, the usurper King Miraz, or others), setting himself as the new altruistic sovereign. This theme of defeating the tyrant represents the boy’s journey to manhood and career by throwing off his father’s influence and becoming the new head of the household.
While Peter is destined to become High King, he isn’t the story’s true protagonist: Lucy is. As well as being the most developed, she’s the viewpoint character through the first three books. The most pure-hearted child in the series, she is an homage to Lucy Barfield, C.S. Lewis’s godchild, to whom he dedicated the first Narnia book (D. Downing 143). When they first arrive in Narnia, Peter asks Lucy to lead them, and in book two, Edmund encourages his siblings to follow her direction: She is their true leader. While Peter is well established as eldest and decision-maker, Lucy is the youngest—traditionally, in the realm of fairytale, it is the youngest who faces the most obstacles and who succeeds through inner strength and a generous heart. She opens herself to Aslan, and thus becomes his “Chosen One.” Embodying faith itself, Lucy surrenders to Narnia and lets it guide her in a way the other siblings cannot. Thus she grows from innocent child to the protector and healer of her family and of all Narnia: “Her story is one of growth from fear to courage so that she becomes known as Lucy the Valiant” (Ford 204).
Faith the Invisible Talisman
The children’s second visit to Narnia parallels their first in many ways, reinforcing their heroic roles.
Peter is still High King and leader, resolving to fight at Caspian’s side and restore Narnia. As a chivalrous knight, he risks his own life to buy time for Aslan and his sisters to act by challenging the powerful Miraz to single combat. As Edmund notes during the battle, “Need he be as gentlemanly as that? I suppose he must. Comes of being a knight and a High King. I suppose it is what Aslan would like” (Prince Caspian 194). Though the combat turns into all-out war and the girls, Aslan and their reinforcements once again save the day, Peter fights valiantly. He finally knights Caspian, as Aslan appoints him the new King of Narnia.
Meanwhile, Lucy, the “Great Healer,” doctors Trumpkin and Reepicheep, in the movie bringing them back from death. However, her main task is far more challenging:
“If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out,” Aslan tells Lucy.
“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasps Lucy (Prince Caspian 143). Aslan assents and warns her that the others will not even see him, but must believe her with no outward proof. For an instant, Lucy succumbs to despair. She has tried for an entire day to convince her family Aslan has appeared, suffering through the knowledge that she is right but that no one will believe her. This painful trial separates heroes from their loved ones and best friends, isolating them more than being lost in the woods. This mental torture follows Harry Potter through his fifth book, as it does the prophetess Cassandra through Greek myth. As the heroine is doubted, she comes to doubt herself, and only unwavering faith can lift her above the challenge. This is the most painful trial.
Lucy holds Aslan close and feels “lion-strength going into her” (Prince Caspian 143). She sits up and promises to follow Aslan, unbelieved and alone if she must.
“Now you are a lioness,” Aslan says. “And all Narnia will be renewed” (Prince Caspian 143).
Faith is Lucy’s greatest test through the series: She, filled with imagination and creativity, can enter the magic world twice before the others manage it: “The first to enter Narnia is the youngest and most impressionable. The older, clear-headed realists Edmund, Susan, and Peter are sure that there could not be, and that there is not, any such world through the wardrobe—until they get there,” explains Peter J. Schakel in Reading with the Heart: The Way into Narnia (10). Only one whose conviction is strong enough can enter this world: the first time all the children open the wardrobe together, they expect nothing and thus find nothing.
Aslan requires belief, as he demonstrates again and again. He sacrifices himself, returns to life, frees the White Witch’s prisoners, and brings reinforcements to Peter in book one—all actions he could likely do without help. Likewise, Prince Caspian sees him waking the trees, bringing reinforcements to the final battle, and crowning Caspian. Still, for each of these steps, he asks Susan and Lucy to come, to witness the miracles, to believe in him, to guard him through death and beyond. As the protector of Narnia and a being of magic, he understands the girls’ power: they can link man and the spirit realm, thus allowing the world’s rebirth. Thus, they bind Aslan with the battle, bind the villagers with the forest. Men need to connect with the feminine principle not only to understand half the people on earth but also to touch the inner world, which is governed by feminine principles: magic and fairytales, water and forest, intuition and wisdom.
In Prince Caspian, the usurper Miraz remains ignorant of the deep wild unconscious beneath his notice—the magic of centaurs and trees, talking mice and rivers. His wholly masculine approach of logic and numbers, strategies and war machines, cannot prevail against the children’s overarching powers. His men likewise shy from the deep unconscious world of nature: “They all feared running water just as much as they hated and feared woods and animals” (Prince Caspian 210). In the end, Miraz is murdered by his own men. His superficial rule has been based on denying the world of Aslan, the Deep Magic, the world below the surface. Without recognition of the unconscious, he remains ignorant of his own counselors’ plotting.
His nephew Caspian, by contrast, remains open to everything operating below rationality in the world of instinct and faith. He gladly learns “old wives tales” from his nurse, and firmly believes in them. He welcomes Tutor Cornelius’s lessons of stars and ancient ways. His ally Peter has surrendered even more so to the Deep Magic: he is Aslan’s Narnian representative, he has bathed in Aslan’s breath. Further, Peter has his sisters and their faith and guidance. In this way, he has embraced his feminine unconscious. Miraz cares only for power, never surrendering to the forest or its wisdom. Thus, he is poverty-stricken beside the children’s insight.
Aslan, more than Peter or Caspian, is the true ruler of Narnia. Though male, he is foremost a beast, wild and joyous, ever connected to the world around him. He sends Bacchus, Silenus, and the Maenads dancing ecstatically about him, filling the villages with song and merriment, urging the villagers to cast away their stolid lives and surrender to the joyous music within. He guides them all from their soulless houses and schools into the welcome embrace of the trees.
“Entering the dark forest or the enchanted forest is a threshold symbol: the soul entering the perils of the unknown,” the unconscious in all its beauty and power and danger (Cooper 71). It is like Aslan: “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good” (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe 80). In his essay ‘Three Ways of Writing for Children’ Lewis writes: “In the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime” (Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” 32). This is Aslan, but also the glorious unconscious from which emanates all imagination and storytelling, all faith and belief, all of the feminine magic, below the practical world of mathematics and tactics, which ensouls the universe.
The movie Prince Caspian intensifies Lucy’s role as the children’s savior. They are defeated twice in battle, as the enemy has the numbers, so Caspian and Peter’s battle plans both fail – conventional war has no chance of success. Pushed past desperation, the children finally agree that Lucy riding defenseless and alone into the deep forest is their only chance of success – trust over logic, and nature over man’s technology. Only by surrendering all defenses can Lucy find Aslan, who chides her for letting her siblings block her from this leap of faith—she should not have obeyed Peter, the High King, when she knew the right course.
The journey to adulthood involves listening to one’s inner voice, the unconscious which offers wisdom and perception far below the level of awareness. Lucy cannot continue standing in Peter’s shadow, or blindly obeying him when she knows he’s wrong. When she seeks Aslan, she is following her own guidance, rather than that of others. She, unlike Edmund, unlike Jadis, unlike Miraz, surrenders to the forest and the natural process, accepting it as part of herself. And thus the forest awakens.
Side by side like equals, she and Aslan lead the trees into war and prevail: the magic of water and forest—the deep unconscious—will conquer man, just as the Deep Magic has knowledge beyond Jadis. After the movie’s battle, the high kings and queens kneel in homage to Aslan, and thus to Lucy standing beside him. Peter may be High King, but Lucy is Narnia’s savior: Her conviction has won the war as Peter and Caspian’s strength could not.
This is the true journey of the hero, whatever his or her gender: diving beneath the superficial to encounter the world of magic, of faith. Here in the witch’s cave, the child can face the darkest parts of herself: The impulse for senseless destruction, for sterility, for dominance. Only then, having faced the torture of self-doubt and self-knowledge, having confronted the inner Jadis and rejected her, can the hero save the world and its people. This is a symbolic death of the old child-self and the birth of a new self: The hero. As Lewis notes: “When we read a good fairy tale, we are obeying the old precept ‘Know thyself’” (Lewis, “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” 27). This is just what he brings us with his heroines as well as his heroes.
“Cats and rabbits
Would reside in fancy little houses
And be dressed in shoes and hats and trousers
In a world of my own.”
Thus sang a cartoon Alice in 1951 as she skipped through Disney’s animated adventure. As she added wistfully, fed up with a world of pictureless books and sensible advice, “I keep wishing it could be that way, because my world would be a wonderland.” And that world of imagination and whimsy is exactly what she finds.
But that was then. Today, girl power finds a disturbing twist as Alice journeys down the rabbit hole as a nineteen-year-old seeking answers, not just a series of adventures. Which is the right path for a Victorian girl who wants to please herself, not society? The magical world tries to answer these questions, as the Red Queen and White, both terrible parodies of womanhood, mold her into two wildly different court favorites. But as an adult Alice in featureless armor slays the dragon, one concept becomes clear—Tim Burton’s film isn’t girl power, but its absence.
Down the Rabbit Hole
At nineteen, marriageable Alice wears her iconic blue dress, but she’s discarded the stockings and corset that would see her dressed properly—like going out without underwear. Already, Alice is following her father’s footsteps, desperate to break society’s rules. At her family’s stifling garden party, Hamish Ascot proposes before hundreds of eager friends. Female role models abound there – her widowed mother, her mother-in-law-to-be, cheated-on sister, crazy spinster Aunt Imogene, who all reflect her potential futures. They’re terrible. Seeking madness, adventure, and a release from proper Victorians, Alice buckles and flees down the closest rabbit hole. There, everything is topsy-turvy.
She finds herself in a curious room, where she must try the “Drink Me” potion and “Eat Me” cake to squeeze out the mouse-sized door into the magical garden beyond. Unlike in the book and Disney cartoon, her clothes don’t grow with her. Alice is changing, fluctuating, gaining and losing power (as she stares longingly up at the door key on the table above her, we see how frustrating this can be). She is also exploring new scenarios, new ways of thinking, which require different perspectives. “In real life as well as in stories, any radical change in body weight, dress, shoes, hair style or length…is an outer signal that transformation is under way,” comments fairytale analyst Joan Gould (45). Entering the magic world shakes Alice’s hair from its tight braids and requires that she discard her proper tea dress as she already has the corset; in fact, she’s shedding layers, like peeling an onion, to pare herself down to her essence. Her shift is blue like her dress but shiny and flexible—it can grow and shrink with her (to some extent) and thus makes a good costume for her explorations. At the same time, it hangs loosely from a loop at her neck and gapes in back—this garment is clearly ready to be shed, like all her others. Gould identifies the frequent clothing changes in fairytales like Cinderella as “signaling a change of state, as if she were continually changing one skin for another,” as the heroine transforms from pampered child to scullery maid to dazzling debutant (44). Alice and her gowns echo these changes.
The garden of Wonderland (here called Underland) is a magical, rule-breaking place where flowers talk and rabbits wear waistcoats. This world “underneath” is the world of the subconscious, where the hero or heroine harnesses the feminine strengths of intuition and wisdom. According to famed fairytale analyst Bruno Bettelheim, fantasy’s unrealistic nature focuses heroes on their inner development (25). Their adventures with fantasy characters become a pathway to self-transformation. Alice is convinced this world is a dream, and it is—on the cusp of her engagement, she is venturing into her own mind, exploring her fears and desires in the form of monsters and magic. Thus, everyone in Underland challenges her identity.
“Who are you?” the Caterpillar asks, and Alice, though she’s sure of her name, isn’t sure of her purpose—will she be Hamish’s wife, or something different? Then the Caterpillar shows her the Oraculum, a prophetic scroll that displays the Alice they’ve all sought—long hair caught in the breeze as she slays the monstrous jabberwocky with her vorpal sword. This, Alice is certain, cannot be her. And so, her denial and fright prompts that Caterpillar to decide she’s not the right Alice—“not hardly.”
In the original books, Alice is no warrior. She deciphers riddles and songs, faces backwards mirrors and tastes strange potions. Her world shifts constantly, as a baby becomes a pig, or a stone a cake. These are all feminine trials—puzzles of wit and perception as Alice wanders mysterious gardens and tumbles into oceans. Finally, she reaches the realms of the queens and confronts them. As Farah Mendlesohn notes in Rhetorics of Fantasy, “portal fantasies [such as Alice’s journey through a rabbit hole or mirror] lead us gradually to the point where the protagonist knows his or her world enough to change it and to enter into that world’s destiny” (xix).
After meeting many creatures as the book Alice does, Tim Burton’s heroine determines to enter the Red Queen’s domain and save her beloved Hatter—whatever destiny says about her duty. “This is my dream. I’ll decide where it goes from here!” she proclaims.
The Red Queen’s castle is the realm of the feminine, with hearts, gardens, and roses all around. These symbolize passion and desire, but also the strength of creation. They coax Alice to open her senses to the scent-filled world of color around her, to act on her stifled impulses. These are the feminine drives to grow, to become, to thrive as a life-giver and protector. Here in the inner workroom of the feminine, Alice must fully explore the queen’s power and absorb it.
The garden is a place of topsy-turvy rules and thoughtless cruelty, as the queen plays croquet by abusing flamingoes and hedgehogs. In another moment of soul-growth, Alice’s generous heart goes out to the creatures and she longs to help them. “You can’t rescue anyone,” the White Rabbit tells a much-smaller Alice, and she realizes he’s right. She has to grow, in character and ferocity, into someone who can stare down the most powerful woman in the land and emerge on top. She demands the White Rabbit’s cake and devours far more than he expects. Then she soars far above the queen, “dressed” only in a prickly, beautiful hedge of the queen’s own roses. She has shed the last of the blue gowns, and stripped down to her essence, revealed herself as a tower of strength. In that moment, she becomes a nature goddess, growing and vibrant, adorned in the crimson blooms of summer.
The Red Queen Iracebeth clearly parodies Elizabeth the First, down to the hairstyle and white ruff. The historical Elizabeth had a hot temper, alternately banishing and pampering her favorites. She was a strong queen, leader of England’s Golden Age and a renaissance of art and culture. Centuries before women could vote, she considered herself equal to any man and ensured the world knew it. To Alice, she is her prospective mother-in-law, Lady Ascot, doling out the orders. The roses must be red, not white; Hamish must eat proper food or he’ll get a blockage. She is the cruel and all-powerful matriarch whose entire court (whether in Underland or England) must be “lickspittle toadies” dancing to her capricious tune.
Many young women make their mothers into the image of the archetypal vengeful, possessive, and devouring female whom they must reject to survive. A woman’s actual mother may or may not embody these qualities, but the daughter internalizes them as a construct of her inner mother. According to Jung, this inner mother begins to function in us as a shadow figure, an involuntary pattern that is unacceptable to our egos. (Murdock 18)
Thus, Alice’s subconscious world shapes the worst of Lady Ascot into her adversary: All passionate tantrums, the Red Queen screams “Off with their heads!” at the slightest provocation. She becomes an image of power, but chaotic power propelled by whim. The queen favors Alice and the Hatter one moment and orders their execution the next. She is kind and furious, cruel and generous. She leads an army of chaos, symbolized by the randomized cards that are her soldiers. Her champions, the Bandersnatch, Jubjub bird and Jabberwocky, are savage monsters likewise propelled by desire and unleashed appetite. On the battlefield, her siege engines are so chaotic that they behead her loyal Jubjub—off with its head indeed.
This melding of Carroll’s Red Queen and Queen of Hearts abuses Alice’s animal friends, forcing them to support her furniture along with her reign. As critics Bly and Woodman describe the Terrible Mother, “Her energy is expended in trying to control everything and everybody around her. She finds her identity in power over (sometimes called love of) her body, her family, her friends, her garden. Without that control, she is nobody” (141). In the Victorian world, stifled Alice was generally proper and polite to those around her, covering her frustration by jokes murmured under her breath. Alice’s time with the Red Queen is meant to make her face all the vicious, sexual, dark impulses she’s never evoked within herself, to embrace her repressed shadow side and become a balanced adult.
Reflecting this mentoring relationship, the Red Queen welcomes Alice, applauding her maverick size, and commands the servants to make her a gown like her own (as Alice has mentally and physically outgrown her babyish doll-ruffles). Seating Alice on the chair beside hers, the queen dresses her in a jumble of patterns and tatters reminiscent of her own red velvet with corset and puffed-out skirt. Red is power, the blood of feminine life force itself, the maternal strength of the reigning queen. This is what Alice lingers on the cusp of becoming.
Alice’s dress is more chaotic than the queen’s, with trailing scraps and ragged hems. Asymmetrical stripes stress the maverick nature of the Red Queen’s world, passion untempered by rule or reason, especially when alternated with the black and white spotted wildness of the Bandersnatch. White, red, and black are goddess colors: young moon, full moon, and new moon. They represent growth through the cycle of maiden, mother, and crone: purity, maternity, and wisdom: In ancient religions across the world, “White was the color of death, of ice and bone and the snows of winter; black was the color of earth, of the darkness of the womb, of gestation; red was the color of blood, birth, menstruation, and life” (Starhawk and Valentine 5). Alice’s wildly patterned dress in the otherworld evokes her womanly journey.
At the Red Queen’s side, Alice witnesses the brutal brands of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, death threats against the Hatter, and a thousand other acts of mindless cruelty. She walks the halls as court favorite, deflecting passes from the Knave of Hearts and pretending to a nastiness she doesn’t feel. She acts as the Red Queen does, trying her on like her patterned dress. Can she become the matriarchal Lady Ascot? Is that in her? This is Hermione Granger disguising herself as mad Bellatrix Lestrange, Frodo Baggins admitting he could become Gollum. As Alice searches her soul for its own coating of darkness, she feels the strength of the Red Queen awakening within her.
This solidifies Alice’s determination. Like Dorothy, Lucy, and others, she descends into the deepest heart of her enemy’s realm. There in a dark cell, she finds the bearlike Bandersnatch guarding the vorpal sword. The Bandersnatch, a ferocious part of herself she cannot yet access, is locked under total control, like all of the Red Queen’s subjects. But like the queen’s subjects, it is ready to awaken. Empowered with the desire to free her friends and cloaked in the creature’s own black and white spots, Alice no longer fears it. It is a shadow of herself as the queen is: All she has repressed within herself, all she must become. And so as she reaches out, so does the Bandersnatch.
Alice is dying from the infected wound the Bandersnatch once gave her—its wildness is taking her over, desperate for an outlet. Alice seems to understand this as she whispers to the creature, coaxing and soothing it, returning the eye that was ripped from its head. As the Bandersnatch growls, Alice’s arm throbs with the beat of its anger and savagery. Crouching opposite each other, she and the Bandersnatch see each other truly and realize they share the untamable wildness of the forest. This is Beauty embracing her inner Beast.
Unable to bear this new self howling within her, Alice staggers, clutching her arm, and then finally faints. However, she revives more powerfully than before, as with all heroes and heroines on the epic journey. This is the death of the diminished, frightened self and rebirth of a powerful new warrioress. Now awake, Alice seizes the key the Bandersnatch guards, the key to self-mastery and understanding, though she’s been too frightened to claim it before this. The creature leans forward and licks the cuts that link them. Alice’s wounds no longer burn, though they remain, symbol of all she’s endured. “I suppose this makes us even now,” Alice says. It’s truer than she knows—she is like the Bandersnatch, a magical, roaring, snarling creature who can’t be bound by chains.
She draws the vorpal sword and follows her fierce new instinct: she will confront the Red Queen and rescue the Hatter. But he stops her, protesting that she must take the sword to the White Queen and use it to slay the Jabberwocky. Though her burning compassion urges her otherwise, Alice is far too compliant. She is not yet mistress of the magical world. And Alice rides the savage Bandersnatch off into the wilderness, carrying a hero’s vorpal sword with which to fight the good fight.
In Carroll’s original books, Alice defeats the Terrible Mother, proving she’s the champion when Wonderland, her dream world, answers to her desires. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, she cries, “Who cares for you?” She towers over the tiny Queen of Hearts and her court and with the cry, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” she scatters them all (202). In the sequel, she picks up the red chess queen who’s “dwindled down to the size of a little doll” and says, “I’ll shake you into a kitten, that I will” (Carroll, Through the Looking Glass 213). Thus in both, she passes the final test: Having far surpassed the Queen of Hearts and Red Queen, who shrink into nothing, Alice returns home, empowered by her adventure. However, Burton’s Alice isn’t yet strong enough to defeat the Red Queen, so she flees. She needs to gain more inner strength before defeating her dark side.
When Alice arrives at the White Queen’s castle, she discovers another parody of womanhood in the “good” queen. From her ghostly hair and Victorian choker to the modest hem of her lacy gown, the White Queen is proper and sweet. We see her riding her horse (sidesaddle with a mounting block), dressing Alice, and leading her straight to the kitchen, her own domain. Murdock notes that the heroine’s journey “often includes a rejection of the feminine as defined as passive, manipulative, or nonproductive” (Murdock 6). And that’s exactly how Alice perceives the White Queen. Here she is, now ruler of nothing, wasting her days concocting potions in a giant kitchen. The White Queen might logically be the very proper Queen Victoria, but she seems far more like the Victorian ideal of motherhood—the angel of the house. The deposed White Queen is a ruler in name but not in power, like the wives of Alice’s age: her widowed and penniless mother, her naively married sister. In Carroll’s book, the White Queen’s more like poor insane Aunt Imogene, a fluttery older woman, shawl all askew, whose hysterics at just the thought of pricking her finger clearly parody womanhood. As the Red Queen explains “she means well, but she can’t help saying foolish things, as a general rule” (Carroll, Looking Glass 196). Her views of justice are likewise skewed, as she punishes people for crimes they haven’t committed yet, preferring if they’re punished for no reason, as they will be “all the better for it” (Carroll, Looking Glass 196).
Burton’s White Queen echoes this as she offers justice unsoftened by mercy. Like the White Witch of Narnia, this queen suggests sterility, an ice maiden frozen in timelessness. Her castle is not the domain of the powerful feminine, but the weakened one. Everything from her makeup to décor is barren, absolute white and black. She is colorless, fixed in her pale maiden phase (the king of Underland was killed before they could wed). Her army are chess pieces, sterile mannequins of that perfect, most orderly game. Rules are everything to this queen, like her own vows. First among them, she’s sworn never to kill anything, even to preserve her realm. For that she needs a champion, but this champion can’t be a girl. She gestures Alice toward a suit of armor…one that the empowered Alice must shrink down in order to wear.
Though Alice hesitates, the queen fixes her a potion that Alice finds disgusting and suspicious, if her face is any judge. It’s medicine, and she must take it from the spoon like a good child. She can no longer wear her ragged, dazzling, spotted dress that starts to fall off her after she shrinks, another ill-fitting gown now that she’s changed into the White Queen’s favorite. Still, this transformation of peeling layers until the powerful heroine emerges is starting to reverse.
Alice must become a proper size, put on clean clothes, do what she’s told. It’s as if Lucy Pevenzie’s governess arrived in Narnia and started tut-tutting at her to behave properly and follow the rules. Alice is hesitantly, unwillingly cowed. “Alice stands on the precipice of adulthood, torn between becoming the woman 19th-century society expects her to be—namely a dutiful wife and mother—and the woman she wants to be, a free-spirited dreamer,” critic Ethan Alter explains. But the White Queen embodies the former role and blocks Alice from achieving the latter.
The White Queen garbs Alice in a featureless pageboy outfit, clean and white. In the moonlight, they appear a pair of ghosts, both diminished by the White Queen’s fragile, ladylike realm. Fading away as she changes from active to passive, Alice confronts the notion that Underland is a dream (as it is—the magical world of the unconscious always offers dream imagery as it reflects the heroine’s inner torment). As critic Jim Vejvoda notes, Alice’s constant insisting she’s in a dream means “there’s never any sense that they’re in any true jeopardy or that there’s anything really at stake for Alice in this realm.” And her claim that Underland isn’t real makes sense if the White Queen’s answer is the one Alice knows in her heart is the wrong choice. Thus she’s trapped in the passivity that makes many critics of this film wince, wishing the story would spend more time “getting Alice more engaged in her plight and that of her old friends” (Vejvoda). Just as she was the Red Queen’s pupil, Alice now imitates the White Queen, losing power, losing strength.
Alice’s friends insist she’s the hero spoken of in “Jabberwocky,” though the poem specifically mentions a “boy” and “son” beheading the monster. No wonder Alice keeps refusing—despite the flowing hair on the prophesized scroll, the good folk of Underland clearly want to banish her feminine side. The boyish magic sword and featureless armor stand waiting beside the throne. Clearly, the queen’s already selected Alice as champion, even if Alice hasn’t yet made up her mind. She insists Alice must chose freely, but, asked before all of the queen’s subjects, Alice is pressured into accepting. The armor here is isolation, a closing off rather than an opening up. Becoming a warrior woman is, in its own way, diminishing: “Insofar as the armor shields them from their own feminine feelings and their soft side, these women tend to become alienated from their own creativity, from healthy relationships with men, and from the spontaneity and vitality of living in the moment” (Leonard 17). Here is the true threat to Alice.
In a scene echoing Hamish’s proposal, the White Queen’s court (in proper, garden-party white) gaze at Alice, expecting her to obey, conform to expectations. Once again, Underland reflects the world above, but this time Alice makes the wrong decision. Though the obedient Victorian Alice appears to have only one choice, that’s not true. A sign of pure strength would be to defy the White Queen’s orders, to master this world through understanding. Alice could win over the White Queen’s troops with her creative battle plans and energy, and then tame the Jabberwocky as she did the Bandersnatch, using feminine intuition and compassion to win it from its mistress.
Alice runs away, seeking a different path. Still, the Caterpillar, like all her allies, insists she is indeed the Alice of the prophecy. Without a single friend supporting her rebellion, Alice succumbs to prophecy. She becomes, as Alter notes, “a protagonist who blindly follows any mission but has hardly any investment in the mission’s success.” Alice hasn’t learned how to use her wild nature.
Initially it seems as if Burton and Woolverton intend for the war between Wonderland’s royal siblings to represent Alice’s own divide within herself. Where Carter’s jealous Red Queen demands obedience and conformity, Hathaway’s White Queen encourages Alice to make her own choices (while still strongly suggesting that she battle the Jabberwocky on her behalf, of course).
They are like the traditional way womanhood is viewed: “Two images of the feminine: one, an ethereal maiden too high up on a pedestal to be real; the other, the shadow counterpart, the devouring mother” (Bly and Woodman 218). Caught between these polar opposites: unreasoning control and unreasoning impulse, the heroine should grow from both of these, wisely realizing that neither is entirely correct. As Jung adds, “Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self” (Jung, CW 10, 872). Rather than valuing these queens’ examples and incorporating the best of both, however, Alice retreats into sexlessness. It’s not surprising, if Underland’s only models of femininity are a murderous monster and a passive doormat. Like any good product of the patriarchy, Alice must shrink down to become genderless, armored against the outside world. A power suit, she feels, is the only path to power.
“When a woman decides to break with established images of the feminine she inevitably begins the traditional hero’s journey. She puts on her armor, mounts her modern-day steed, leaves loved ones behind, and goes in search of golden treasure” (Murdock 36). All her ambition focuses on achieving male goals of career and wealth. And so Alice and other women today “have been content to be men in petticoats and so have lost touch with the feminine principle within themselves” (Harding 16). Girls learn that to compete with boys they must never show emotion, never be described as “hysterical” or “shrewish.” Getting “tied down” will end their careers, and so they must choose strength or femininity, never both. Seeking male validation represents splitting from the mother and home, and likely never returning. Even if the heroine begins her journey by seeking a man’s path, she is meant to discover the positive feminine within herself as she quests through the magical world of the feminine. For Alice, this never happens.
Alice rides to war, weapon of the passive queen beside her. As the Caterpillar instructs her, the vorpal sword knows what to do—Alice is apparently barely necessary. The jabberwocky, significantly, is more afraid of the masculine weapon than the “insignificant bearer” wielding it. When Alice beheads the creature, aping the powerful Red Queen’s “Off with your head!” both armies look stunned. The music turns ominous. The Hatter grimaces in disgust and drops his sword. And no wonder. The sweet Victorian Alice who claimed, like Dorothy Gale, that she could never kill anything, has become violent, dangerous, sexless. She’s no longer the sweet, mad girl of the tale’s beginning—she’s become the cold, obedient prophecy figure everyone demanded. Flustered Dorothy accidentally offing the witch with her feminine life-giving water is far more believable.
As with Lord of the Rings and The Neverending Story, the protagonist has restored the rightful ruler to the throne. The ruler represents the well-being of the land, creating an era of restoration, justice, and peace (Mendlesohn 3). However Alice’s reinstating the frail Victorian ghost of a queen over the volatile Iracebeth emphasizes the dying feminine presence in Underland as well as in her own unconscious.
Indeed, the future under the rightful ruler is not as perfect as most fantasy stories would have it. The White Queen’s sympathy dwindles further after she regains her sovereignty—she banishes her sister chillingly, unforgivingly: “No one is to show you any kindness or ever speak a word to you. You will not have a friend in the world.” True, this is justice. She does not “owe her a kindness.” But what is this absolutist queen without mercy? Power has made her, like the Red Queen, monstrous. Since she’s unwilling to perform executions, she leaves the Knave alternately begging for death and attempting to murder the Red Queen, thus doing the White Queen’s dirty work. With this, Alice learns another disturbing lesson. Inside, she becomes colder, reflecting Underland under the new queen. The Hatter hastily dances the “Futterwacker” to distract us from our deep discomfort with the moment, but the scene has done its damage.
Now that she’s divorced herself from her femininity, Alice must discover how to embrace it and discover its strength, not just contemptible weakness. With more time in the unconscious, Alice could gain the glorious potency that makes mothers lift cars off trapped children and Scarlet O’Hara drive her family through a burning Atlanta. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.
In Through the Looking Glass, Alice makes it across the chessboard and becomes a queen with a golden crown. The red and white queens collaborate to test her with a dizzying mix of logic and creativity necessary to a queen of Wonderland. But Burton has banished the seven-year-old who quests because “I should like to be a Queen” (Carroll, Looking Glass 39). In this modern tale, Alice can’t become queen of Underland—she’s the boyish champion. She hasn’t mastered the feminine subconscious. And as she’s lost her femininity, Alice can’t tackle romance—her balcony scene with the Hatter was her wistful goodbye to that side of herself.
“You could stay,” the Hatter whispers temptingly.
Alice calls it “a crazy mad wonderful idea. But I can’t. There are questions I have to answer, things I have to do. But I’ll be back again before you know it.” Perhaps she will complete her heroine’s journey and return to the feminine on another visit to the unconscious world. But not this trip.
The magical world changes questors, teaching them to face challenges in the outer world as they grow in inner strength. Through a pair of battling queens Alice has learned how to escape society’s plans for her. She returns to the garden party, arm still scratched, iconic blue gown smeared with mud. She’s no longer prim and appropriate, and she means to let her family know this. And that’s why Alice refuses her suitor. She needs to be a little mad—like her father, like the Hatter. She lifts her skirts to dance the “Futterwacker” as she throws her life forever in with the crazy folk and their ilk, showing her lack of constrained stockings and modesty altogether. In a way, she’s becoming gigantic again, strong and determined, hammering a new path for herself. But not as a woman. She rejects the Red Queen and White Queen entirely, in her family and herself.
Based on what she has learned from her disjointed feminine role models in the unconscious world, Alice has solutions for all her relatives—but they’re shallow gestures. She dismisses Lady Ascot with barely a few words for the powerful matriarch. “There is no prince,” she tells mad Aunt Imogene, but she doesn’t offer to help her, just suggests she find someone else who can. Likewise, Alice doesn’t reveal that her brother-in-law is unfaithful, just threatens that she’ll “be watching very closely”—more empty words, as she soon leaves for another continent. Clearly, her sister and aunt are obeying society’s rules and thus are to be abandoned. Here Alice comes off as dismissive and heartless as the White Queen, who chains her sister to the murderous Knave and banishes them both. Where is the nonconformist mother of Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber,” riding in on horseback, sword flashing, to rescue her passive daughter from a bad marriage to Bluebeard? Nowhere to be seen in Alice.
As Alter notes, the writers “begin with a clear narrative arc in mind, but somewhere along the way they lose track of what the movie is fundamentally about.”
In the dreams of contemporary men and women, there is appearing with increasing frequency the image of a sensual, sexual, earthy Black Madonna. This is not an idealized, chaste, detached Madonna, high up on a pedestal. This is a Madonna who loves her own body, her own flirtations, her own compassionate presence among human beings. (Bly and Woodman 146)
This is the integrated feminine, the heroine complete in her journey. As Murdock explains, women quest “to fully embrace their feminine nature, learning how to value themselves as women and to heal the deep wound of the feminine” (Murdock 3).
But this Alice in Wonderland offers no Black Queen of the world below, no font of womanly wisdom and compassion who will teach Alice how to grow up. There’s likewise no model of romance or happy marriage—such things appear to exist only in mad Aunt Imogene’s dreams. This story teaches girls that their mothers are either destructive bitch-queens or passive angels, and that a girl can’t follow them. The only proper role model here is one’s daddy.
Rather than Lady Ascot or Hamish, Alice throws her lot in with Lord Ascot, becoming his apprentice (though this is certainly a mismatch for her position, gender, and class). She thus claims her identity as Alice Kingsley, champion of the patriarchy. Alice climbs aboard the Wonder in a gown that could be a man’s suit from the waist up. With no man by her side, she’s sailing off to undiscovered frontiers to find her destiny. And that’s all very noble. But also sort of appalling.
This final Alice, insensitive to her family as she is, seems a far cry from the sweet child adventuring in Wonderland and through the looking glass. Until Alice discovers this lost part of herself, the child in the blue dress who demands that a knave’s trial offer justice and mercy, who sympathizes with oysters, who chases a rabbit with wonder in her heart and a song on her lips, she will be forever diminished.
And so will we.
♫ Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! She’s a human and also a squirrel! Can she climb up a tree? Yes she can, easily! That’s whyyyy her name is Squirrel Girl! Is she tough? Listen, bud: she’s got partially squirrel blood! Who’s her friend? Don’t you know: that’s the squirrel, Tippy-Toe! Surprise! She likes to talk to squirrels! At the top of trees, is where she spends her time like a huuuuman squirrel. She enjoys fighting crime! Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! Powers of both squirrel and girl! Find some nuts, eat some nuts! Kicks bad guuuuuys’ evil butts! To her, life is a great big acorn! Where there’s a city crime-torn, you’ll find the Squirrel Girl! ♫
— Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Doreen Green, with the proportional strength and speed of a squirrel, is chubby-cheeked and awkward, with a giant tail, yet sunny and confident. She is at least a bit full figured with “a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt” – or at least that’s how her tail makes it look. She “secretly has all the powers of both squirrel and girl.” Off to college at last, she has been squatting in the attic of Avengers Mansion near the boxes of torn Hulk pants, aided of course by her powerful climbing and scurrying. Capable and smart, she’s majoring in computer science (though not squirrels).
As she sings joyously and hurls criminals over a hill, she makes a striking entrance in her first comic, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, collected as Marvel’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power. Of course, as her squirrel sidekick notes humorously, all they need is for someone else to sing the Squirrel Girl theme song. North explains:
She’s effectively a Silver Age character in the modern age, so she stands out a little. She’s not sad she has squirrel powers: having squirrel powers is awesome! And unlike a lot of mutants I could direct you to at a certain school for gifted youngsters, she’s never wished she never got mutant powers. She gets to go out and fight crime with nuts! How awesome is that? So to answer your question, I am excited to write scenes of her fighting crime with nuts. (Beard)
Squirrel Girl was created in 1992 by Will Murray and Steve Ditko but only got her own comic book in 2015. This was rebooted along with the rest of Marvel, giving it two volumes in its first year. In her first appearance at age fourteen in Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 3, #8, she and her squirrel sidekick Monkey Joe ambush Iron Man in the forest and insist on teaming up with him. Though he’s not interested, she and Monkey Joe actually save Iron Man and defeat Doctor Doom. Doom traps Iron Man in bonds that strengthen the more he fights, emphasizing that brute strength won’t save the day. Trapped alongside Iron Man, Squirrel Girl calls her friends to let them know she’s been captured. “They have to know! Who’s going to feed them if I die?” she asks valiantly. The squirrels strip the wiring and shut off the power, then turn on Doctor Doom. Iron Man must admit he’s impressed and promises to recommend her for the Avengers when she’s older.
She has a similar run-in with The Thing, in which she defeats Bi-Beast by having her squirrels overload his noses with garbage (Slott, The Thing #8). Her animal friends offer additional hands and eyes beyond her own, suggesting a greater reach and additional abilities. In Squirrel Girl’s case, her bond with hordes of them certainly serves as a superpower.
By her own comic, she has a new squirrel sidekick who continues to help on her adventures. Tippy-toe, grey with a little pink bow on her neck, is the perfect best friend. She’s loyal resourceful, and fun. Her purpose is to alert Doreen to what she doesn’t notice, acting like a sixth sense or the missing part of her personality, helping to make Doreen whole. Animal sidekicks most often offer a connection to the natural world, as well as the perception that comes from being smaller or larger, seeing with a different set of eyes. And as Tippy-toe tells her at the end of issue one, the Squirrel Information Network has a handle on what’s going on everywhere, even beyond earth, as the world falls under threat and the stars go out. North adds:
Tippy is Squirrel Girl’s best friend right now. She doesn’t have a lot of super close human relationships—being a super hero can put a kink in that—but she and Tippy are really close… Being able to see both sides of the conversation is great: it lets Tippy take a more active role in the story, and lets Squirrel Girl confide in someone when she’s alone. (Beard)
Tippy also offers humor and wry commentary, exclaiming: “You got accepted into college and you’re not even gonna major in SQUIRRELS?”
Further, an animal sidekick is somewhere between a mentor and surrogate child, teaching the heroine to care for others. “Even Disney’s submissive Cinderella sews coats for her tiny animal helpers. From caring for animals, loving, and being loved, Cinderella learns she has value” (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 37). Doreen passionately defends her friend against Kraven, the world’s greatest hunter (who certainly is “craven” if he’s sticking to squirrel hunting). Meanwhile, Tippy-toe encourages her to be herself, reminding her of her Squirrel Girl ideals and emphasizing Doreen’s moral responsibilities. As North adds: “The other thing I love about Tippy-Toe is that she’s just a regular squirrel. No super powers! And, when you think about it, going on a mission with a super hero when you don’t have any powers is dangerous enough. Doing it when you’re a tiny rodent who is literally naked has to take guts!” (Beard).
What Doreen only reveals when in dire danger is that she doesn’t just have one squirrel friend but an army of them, eager to back her up. Thus they bring her strength and a community as well as someone to cuddle at night.
They’re a surprisingly effective fighting force. Even powerful Kraven is vulnerable to squirrels. “See that dodge? You’ve trained to hunt lions. Rhinos. Spider-Men. Guess those big-prey tactics don’t work so well against an army of tiny squirrels, huh?” Doreen smirks. Squirrel Girl’s training in friendship serves her well as she discovers how to turn enemies into allies each time. Facing Kraven, she asks herself, “Wait…maybe the question isn’t ‘How do I beat him?’ Maybe the question is ‘Dude, why are we even fighting in the first place?’” She persuades him that a better prey than herself or even Spider-Man would be the supervillains, and unleashes him on them.
She also generously acts as the distraction (rather than the other way around) while her squirrels steal the pieces of an entire Iron Man suit, with which she flies into space. They are her extra hands, but not in the least expendable. The squirrels, using their ability to run up power lines, next defeat supervillain Whiplash and choke him with their furry tails. When Doreen longs to be in two places at once, she sends a suit made of squirrels to a bank robbery in her place. Once again, the robbers haven’t prepared for this fight (though they have a kit made up in advance for Hulk, Captain America, and Wolverine). The squirrels dodge and the bad guys idiotically punch harder.
Animal helpers often further the heroine’s subconscious desires as well as her stated ones. Squirrel Girl has a crush on Speedball, and Tippy-toe’s derision gives her a push towards asking him out. To her surprise, her squirrel also calls him and lets him know she’s interested. This earns her a sweet kiss in I Heart Marvel #3 (2006).
As Doreen’s adventure continues to issue two, Tippy-Toe warns Squirrel Girl that she’s going to have to travel into space and save the world. “That thing in space!” Tippy-Toe chirps. “It’s gotten closer! Squirrels around the world have been sneaking into observatories to look at it!” As she adds, emphasizing her special perspective: “Near as we can figure out, he’s coming in with some stealth field around the ship, so everyone else just sees the stars they’re expecting. But he forgot to make it work on squirrels!” Doreen’s bond with squirrels can truly save the world.
Pulling out Doreen’s collectible Supervillain Trading Cards (“Deadpool’s Guide to Super Villains” and “Deadpool’s Guide to Super Villains Super Accessories”) Tippy-toe explains that their attacker is Galactus the Devourer of Worlds, who plans on, of course, devouring earth. “Get in the purse, Tippy-Toe,” Doreen exclaims, as she rushes off to change into costume. “I guess I’m not joining anime club after all… I’m just gonna have to go kick Galactus’ butt instead!” Instead of confronting force with force, she uses trickery and cheerful turning aside of wrath to save earth from its big bully. Facing Galactus, Doreen realizes his secret – he really wants to be stopped. “You come to earth because you know we’ll drop everything to find you a planet that’s safe, delicious, and not already settled by intelligent life. You come to earth because it’s the cosmic equivalent of ordering in.” She finds him such a world, filled with her favorite nuts, and earth is saved once again.
Confronting a giant hippo-man, named, foolishly, Hippo the Hippo, Doreen listens to his complaints about transforming from a zoo animal to a conscious person who must buy himself 90 pounds of food each day and find a New York apartment with high ceilings, wide hallways and a tub. Sympathizing, Doreen notes, “If I woke up in a new body with a bunch of responsibilities I never asked for, no friends, no support, – I honestly can’t say I wouldn’t be trying something like what you’re doing right now.” Obviously, this is the superpowers as adulthood metaphor. The hippo is startled and appreciative as no one has listened to him before. Doreen smoothly steers him from bank robbing to demolition, leaving him grateful for his new path (North and Slott, Squirrel You Know It’s True).
Each time, problem-solving and empathy are the key, rather than violence. Ryan North adds:
I don’t think Doreen gets normal days. She’s concerned with helping people, and that means helping them whenever you can, which can cut down on any normalcy in your life—which is probably in short supply when you’ve got squirrel powers and a tail. That said, I think what makes her adventures so compelling is that she’s relatable. She’s happy to help, but she’s also not certain she can. That’s most of us, right? (Beard)
This is nothing new for the heroine who defeated Doctor Doom, Deadpool, Korvac, Baron Mordo, the Living Planet, Bi-Beast, Giganto, The Mandarin, Fin Fang Foom, and even Thanos in previous adventures. As she spars with Wolverine, kicks him in the belly and finally knocks him on his posterior, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones look on in stunned amazement. “Great Lakes Avengers Represent!” she cries. Only after he gets up does she call in the squirrel army to make her point about turning one’s back on an adversary (Bendis, New Avengers #15).
Squirrel Girl appearances were rare in Marvel until Dan Slott’s 2005 miniseries G.L.A., or Great Lakes Avengers (1989), starring a group of young heroes with goofy and impractical abilities. It was a silly series, famous for killing someone off each issue.
In G.L.A. #2, the team of not-quite-Avengers Great Lakes Misfits meet Squirrel Girl, whose been defending the park. Unlike the many heroes who said no to joining, she gives them a pleasant “why not.” One might make the case that her animal bond, like Cinderella’s, has left her friendly and open. There’s a cry for help, and they’re off.
In each story, Doreen’s original squirrel companion Monkey Joe provides the public service announcements, explaining that, for instance, suicide is bad. As he comments on the stories (much as Squirrel Girl herself does at the beginning of each issue), he adds an outside perspective, examining and playing with the stories from a distance, emphasizing the animal sidekick power of a new standpoint. Almost every page of Squirrel Girl has humorous author’s commentary at the bottom, emphasizing how both characters serve to add a deeper understanding to the adventures.
Monkey Joe is a “very capable squirrel” who defeated Doctor Doom in his first appearance (#2). Tragically, however, he himself is one of the series deaths in issue three. Horrified, Squirrel Girl demands to know not only who would be so cruel as to kill him but also what kind of people would want to read about it. Angel Monkey Joe rips up a pile of comics and orders readers to “Go outside and live!” (#4). After, he continues to make commentary as an angel, once again emphasizing his role as onlooker to events and guardian of his superheroine friend.
Squirrel Girl, despairing after the death of her companion, only rallies to battle when told “If the whole universe goes…so will all the squirrels” (#4). For her, they are a reason for living, a weaker side of the self to defend. Of course, they come to her defense as well. When asked “You and whose army,” she has an answer as her horde of squirrels emerge from the trees. As the squirrel army is swept into the singularity created by Maelstrom, Doreen manages to save at least one little life, the bravest of all, who represents her own vulnerable childlike side. She names this squirrel Tippy-toe, who is promoted to new best friend.
In the Christmas Special that followed, GLX-Mas 2005 #1, she loyally turns down joining Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to stay with her Great Lakes team. While the G.L.A. have their biggest adventure (taking down evil Christmas trees) and note that Doreen’s missing all the action, she and Tippy-Toe defeat Thanos himself.
In the story, Doreen and Tippy-toe have perfected their fighting teamwork as she hurls her squirrel at enemies. Modok, with a giant head, tiny arms, and weapons all over, has no way to dislodge Tippy-toe, and the day is won. Animals offer farther reach, an extra pair of hands (or feet, or wings) that can augment the heroine’s abilities, though the animals generally answer to her will, as a symbolic part of herself.
Tippy-toe is quite capable, even alone. When Squirrel Girl is called off on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission, she thwarts the angel of death himself, then gives him an acorn rigged to explode as a Christmas gift, smirking all the while.
Doreen finally leaves the G.L.A. when she worries they rely on her too much to be heroes themselves – she’s just too powerful (Slott, “Nuts to This”). It’s generous of her to move from dominating their little group to being the lowest-ranking member of a new one. In the 2010-2013 New Avengers, Doreen moves to New York to be a nanny for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. This is a natural progression, from caring for her pet to taking on a child. As Squirrel Girl takes the Cage baby through the park in her stroller, tail waving, she appears a perfect part of nature.
There are many animal sidekicks in superhero comics, more to accompany the supergirls than the superboys (or supermen). Ms. Marvel (Kamala) inherits the Inhumans’ giant dog, Pet Avengers leader Lockjaw. Power Girl has a cat. Gert from Runaways has a velociraptor named Old Lace genetically programmed to obey her commands. Supergirl from the sixties has super pets “a kooky orange Supercat named Streaky and, every teenage girl’s dream, a snow-white telepathic super horse named Comet” (Madrid 84). Captain Marvel has the cat Chewie. ApocalyptiGirl has a cat named Jelly Beans. While confronting the Brood in The Uncanny X-Men #166 (1983), Lockheed, a small purple telepathic dragon, saves Kitty and becomes her sidekick through many adventures. Similarly, Justin, the Shining Knight of Camelot (though secretly Justine) fights with her beloved flying horse Vanguard, who rescues her in Seven Soldiers of Victory. Electric Girl stars Virginia and her dog Blammo, while her neighbor has an actual talking dog (and these animals can perceive the gremlin most humans cannot). All these pets are fun for younger readers, adding a delightful friend to the adventures.
In “Velveteen vs. The Coffee Freaks,” the heroine assembles an army of collectable superhero action figures, ironically based on herself and her friends. Her superhero power is bringing toys to life, toys she can send into battle.
Velma closed her eyes and pushed.
And the entire action figure lineup of the last ten years of The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division, and The Super Patriots, West Coast Division, burst out of the break room and swooped down on the bad guys like a tiny avenging horde.
Opening her eyes, Velma commanded, “Go for the coffee!”
“You can’t do this!” shrieked Cyndi. Velma could almost see a second shadowy form behind her, a man’s form, looking suspiciously like the picture of Andy hanging on the break room wall.
“You people need to get some new dialog,” Velma snapped, and slapped her palms together over her head. “And lay off the coffee.”
Cyndi never saw the tiny Mechamation swooping down behind her. She just felt the suddenly animated wireless router as it rose up and smashed her against the back of the head. The Midnight Bean Society let out a despairing wail, dissolving into shadow.
The action figures fell.
“Wow,” she said, somewhat distantly. “I didn’t know I could do that.”
And then she collapsed.
These represent her mustering, not her real human friends, the old superheroes, but their replacement, smaller helpers that represent her friends’ souls. Each time, Velma casts out her faith and calls for aid, finding to her relief that she gets an answer. In another significant battle, Velma summons all the lost toys in a field: “Velma spread her hands wide, and spread her mind wider, letting herself forget about the superheroes who were closing in on her position, letting herself forget about everything but finding the lost ones and calling them to her aid” (“Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots”). She wins the battle though she faints from the effort.
She treats the animals with respect and affection, as beloved childhood friends rather than tools: this is best shown when she requests they join her in battle and offers them a choice:
Velveteen didn’t notice. She was preoccupied with carrying on a one-sided conversation with the stuffed animal rack, waving her hands in punctuation as she explained the score to the discarded bears and unloved plush dinosaurs of the world. “You’ve been thrown aside once, and that’s terrible,” she said. “I won’t throw you away, but you won’t get a good retirement package if you come with me. I’m the last stop. I’ll take care of you for as long as I can, but I won’t lie to you; toys that come with me don’t live forever.” The plush was starting to stir as portions of the pile—a bear here, a one-eyed turtle there—sat up and paid attention. “You’ll do good things. You’ll take care of children like the ones who loved you. I’ll love you. And you’ll die heroes.”
More stirring, spreading to the action figure bins and the racks of Barbies with bad haircuts and missing shoes. Velveteen kept talking; the toys kept moving, the animation working its way through them like dye spreading through white cotton. She’d never been able to explain why she felt it was necessary to call them this way, although Marketing had managed to get some lovely news footage the first few times she’d done it; she just knew that it felt right to give the toys a choice before she took them out and threw them to their deaths.
In the end, more than thirty toys climbed down from their racks and out of their bins, “choosing”—if toys can choose—to give up the chance at a second owner in favor of following Velveteen into battle. She led them to the break room where the staff had gone to hide, sticking her head in past the curtain, and asked, “Can you send a bill to the city?” One of the cashiers gave a little shriek, following it with a louder shriek as she saw the army of plush standing around Velveteen’s ankles. (“Velveteen vs. The Blind Date”)
She keeps them close to her, using them more as friends than weapons. At night they sleep in her bed. This too is a surrogate love, one that one day can be transferred to a child. Her animals also do “the basic chores of a human evening: putting laundry into hampers, cleaning discarded towels off the floor, closing curtains, and generally making the house back into a home.” They love her in turn, caring for her and offering her tissues when she cries.
Animal allies often herald new abilities as well as new methods of perception. In New Mutants Special Edition (1985), Danielle Moonstar, a Cheyenne X-Man, visits the Asgardian realm and frees a winged horse trapped in a morass of mud and barbed wire. She names her new ally Brightwind and rides it, inadvertently becoming a Valkyrie. It grants her the feminine perception to see visions of death.
Likewise, “Seeing-Eye Sheila” in Womanthology has the heroine volunteering to walk a dog at a pet retirement home. However, the dog speaks to her, telling her “You have the ability to hear for us. You can speak for us, stick up for us.” He is a seeing-eye dog, so he has come to her to teach her a new way of seeing. Because she cared enough to help, she has the perception now to change the world (Cagan).
With her husband controlled, Storm descends into the spirit world to beseech aid from the Panther God. She challenges the mighty force and returns glowing with power: When all the panthers of Wakanda bow before her, her people acknowledge her as queen once more. Though the Shadow King tries to take over Storm, the Panther God bursts from her mind to defend her, insisting, “No one touches my children.” Here, the animal is a mentor and guardian rather than child. After, Storm’s husband admits he has never so inspired the Panther God, and she explains, “We have a connection. You would not understand” (Yost, X-Men: Worlds Apart). This connection, too, is most common for the heroic females.
Star Wars, with innocent Luke’s growth into maturity, is often used to teach the hero’s journey. A New Hope and the original trilogy cover the cycle perfectly, and the prequel has some nods to it too. With the new film, the question must be asked: what of the heroine’s classic quest?
As with Luke, Cinderella, and most other characters, a catalyst jolts Rey from her everyday existence. Campbell scholar Christopher Vogler explains, “The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure to undertake. Once presented with a Call to Adventure, she can no longer remain indefinitely in the comfort of the Ordinary World” (15). This is the droid BB-8, wanted by the Empire. When Rey sees scavengers carrying him off, she intervenes, and saves him. Rey tells BB-8 that the scavenger who’s captured him “wants you for parts. He has no respect for anyone” and fixes his antenna as if wiping his chin. She, by contrast, respects all innocent life. BB-8’s name suggests he’s a baby, and as Rey protects him, this image gains strength. His mannerisms also underscore the connection. Chief of creature and droid effects Neal Scanlan says, “We always saw BB-8 as a naughty puppy or a very clever little child. They know how to be coy, how to be cute, how to sulk, how to pull at heartstrings to get what they want” (“BB-8” 63).
BB-8 represents the heroine’s vulnerable innocent side, though he brings more as well: Scanlan adds: “Daisy Ridley spent a lot of time around BB-8, who is using all these tricks to transport himself on this important journey. He’s on a mission, and he has to succeed” (“BB-8” 63). Metaphorically as well as literally, he offers her a sense of purpose
“Classified, really?” Rey asks BB-8 after he responds to her question of where he comes from. “Me too.” Both are mysteries, both isolated and in need of friendship. BB-8, more importantly, brings her her quest. Saving BB-8 leads to finding Finn, being attacked, and finally escaping the planet with Finn and BB-8 on the Millennium Falcon, where Rey meets Han and Chewie.
One’s companions on the quest are meant to fill in what is missing in one’s personality. The male side of the self, or Animus, as Jung called it, “evokes masculine traits within her: logic, rationality, intellect. Her conscious side, aware of the world around her, grows, and she can rule and comprehend the exterior world” (Frankel, Girl to Goddess 22). At the most primitive level, the Animus is a force of brute strength and power (Unkar Plutt, who controls her food and gets his way with hired goons).
As the heroine matures, her Animus grows with her or is replaced by wiser ones when she’s ready for his more developed stages: initiative and planning, rule of law, and wisdom. Finn, Han, and Chewie drag her into battle with Han’s impulsive plans, showing that they’re at this level. Finn, too, is not yet a source of morality but expediency:
Poe Dameron: Why are you helping me?
Finn: Because it’s the right thing to do.
Poe Dameron: …you need a pilot.
Finn: I need a pilot.
Despite this, while Rey looks out for only herself, all her new friends are used to battling for a larger cause…though in Finn’s case, it’s the cause of a Stormtrooper. He has the military discipline she lacks, and all the others have the combat experience. Together they train her to prepare for the unknown and also protect her companions.
Along with an upgrade in her male team, she receives one in armaments as Han offers her a blaster.
Han Solo: You might need this.
Rey: I can handle myself.
Han Solo: I know. That’s why I’m giving it to you.
Rey’s LPA NN-14 blaster is compact for her small hands and silver. This is a feminine color in symbolism, suggesting spiritual power. It represents the Otherworld: feminine moon and water magic (Walker 522). Artemis’ bow, the divine amulets of the Egyptians, and the sixth chakra, often called the “third-eye” of special perception, were all particularly feminine talismans. In medieval times, silver was a purifying element that could shield its wearer from maladies and monsters. Leia and Maz, the story’s other powerful women, also have small silvery blasters.
Han’s trust and partnership, offered at the same time as the weapon, help set her on her path. He mentors Rey, seeing her as a worthy successor or co-pilot for the Falcon when Chewie’s injured. He even offers her a job.
Many remember the [original Falcon battle] scene and Han’s now famous response to Luke’s joy and astonishment – “Don’t get cocky, kid!” But when it comes to Rey, Han is all about encouragement. This is due in part to Han having a different relationship with Rey than Luke, more mentoring than rivalry, and him being at a different point in his life. (Moran)
Together, they fly off on adventures, even as Rey protests that she must return home. Refusal of the call is a traditional step when faced with the unknown. Here, of course, her loyalty to her nebulous family contrasts with her duty to the galaxy – a common theme in Star Wars. When she flies for the first time “Rey felt Jakku trying to pull her back down,” again, both literally and symbolically (Rucka, Before the Awakening 102).
However, after she’s proven she can outdo men in the arena of sports, warfare, or business, when she’s gained external power and success, the Warrior Woman feels a spiritual lack. … Deeper than she realizes is possible, a voice is calling her to find the Dark Goddess, the savage powerful icon of femininity, and absorb her wisdom. (Frankel, Buffy 8)
This is often less fairy godmother and more frightening death crone like Hecate, who helps Demeter on her own search. “This savage mentor offers the ultimate wisdom—the insight that darkness, mysticism, and even death are a woman’s ultimate source of power, far different than a hero’s outward force of arms” (Frankel, Buffy 8).
They fly to Takodana, where Rey is overwhelmed by the green of vibrant life. There, she meets the wise crone Maz Kanata. Her castle is a place of gathering and refuge, crowned by a statue of herself, welcoming all comers. Beside a lake, Maz’s castle blends ancient stonework with modern sensor arrays and communication gear. “Maz enjoys this contrast. To her, it is yet another manifestation of a cosmic balance” (Hidalgo 73).
A mature woman, Maz calls Chewie her “boyfriend” and understands the world far better than innocent Rey. She’s lived over a thousand years, becoming fully integrated with the natural world around her and boasting many feminine tools. She wears silver bracelets and belt buckle with a nature-link from her wooden beads. The keys at her belt are another feminine symbol, marking her as the lady and provider of the castle. She can feel the Force but only uses it subtly – she has no Jedi training and has never “walked that path herself, instead relying on her strong connection to the Force to keep her out of danger.” (Hidalgo 72)
This perspective aids in her understanding, as she notes, “I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people.” These eyes are how she understands the universe, while gigantic goggles emphasize her own seeing. In fact, glasses are a feminine tool of perception, emphasized by the magic spectacles and amber spyglass in A Wrinkle in Time and The Amber Spyglass respectively. Eyes, seeing, and being seen are a feminine power of cursing and perceiving throughout the world. “As an actor for films, your eyes are a lot of the way you communicate anyway,” says her actor, Lupita Nyong’o. “So it was definitely a gift to have that be the means to her magic as a motion-capture character” (Breznican).
She tells Rey, “The Force, it’s calling to you. Just let it in,” as she guides her to a deeper understanding. “Meeting Maz Kanata has a profound effect on Rey. She comes to understand that she is an essential part of a much larger galactic tapestry that is unfurling before her eyes and that the power of the Force is real” (Hidalgo 33).
Hearing the voice of her terrified younger self intruding on her consciousness, Rey heeds the call from her subconscious, with BB-8 beside her. As Campbell notes:
The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, terrors and deluding images up into the mind—whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unexpected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives. (Hero 8)
She ventures into Maz’s basement, where she finds Luke and Anakin’s lightsaber. Taking it in this realm of buried and forgotten memories, Rey sees Cloud City and the rancor pit, as well as Luke’s “No!” Luke lays his metal hand on R2-D2, while Yoda and Obi-Wan speak to Rey of her heritage. Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy) tells her, “You’ve taken your first steps,” while Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy) adds her name at the beginning. Abrams adds:
“I said, ‘That’s cool, is that the thing from Ewan McGregor?’ He said ‘No, we took a line from Alec Guinness saying ‘Afraid.’ They cut it, and you hear the performance – he’s saying it the way I would have begged Alec Guinness to have said it. It is so crazy perfect. So when you hear Obi-Wan talk to Rey it is both Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor doing the voice.” (Anderton)
Thus all the mentors of the previous films, including now Luke, welcome her to her destiny. She also has a flashback to facing Kylo Ren as a child, after witnessing Luke put his hand on R2-D2 in the rain. Someone wearing a round helmet is about to strike her, then Kylo takes down this person with a lightsaber. Once Rey stands, she finds herself facing the Knights of Ren. Bodies of the young Jedi students Kylo and the Knights of Ren have killed surround them.
Maz comes to her in the basement, confronting her at the level below thought. With her deeper perception, not just of Rey but of the currents of the universe, she gives Rey a new mission:
Rey: I have to get back to Jakku.
Maz: Han told me. (takes her hands) Dear child, I see your eyes – you already know the truth. Whomever you are waiting for on Jakku, they’re never coming back.
Maz: But there’s someone who still could.
Maz: The belonging you seek is not behind you, it is ahead. I am no Jedi, but I know the force. It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes, feel it. The light. It’s always been there. It will guide you. The saber – take it.
The sword is a masculine tool, seen throughout the world’s epics:
Most famous is Excalibur, though it has many companions: Lancelot’s Arondight, Saint George’s Ascalon, Roland’s Durendal, Charlemagne’s Flamberge, Paracelesus’s Azoth, Siegfried’s Gram, Muhammad’s Zulfiqar, El Cid’s Sword of Tizona, Beowulf ‘s Naegling, and Laevateinn—the sword Surtr will use to bring down the dome of heaven at Ragnarök. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 49)
Thus a sword is an unusual weapon for the heroine – a lightsaber that’s a hybrid with Xena’s chakram (a round distance weapon) or Buffy’s scythe (the women’s ancestral weapon of death) would be a more appropriate choice.
However, this gift links Rey with the legacy of Anakin and Luke and establishes that she’s more suited for it than their heir, Kylo Ren. It carries with it Jedi status and tradition, the spirituality of blue, and the power of battle. Maz tells her, touching on the language from previous films, “That lightsaber was Luke’s, and his father’s before him and now it calls to you!”
Battling her legacy, Rey cries, “I’m never touching that thing again, I don’t want any part of this.” She runs away into “a primordial forest seemingly never touched by technology” (Hidalgo 73) in a second refusal of the call. The forest represents the deep mystical, the feminine power the heroine from the desert has never absorbed. It shelters and protects her. BB-8 comes after her and whimpers at her to rejoin the quest, but she refuses. At this point, Rey hesitates on her spiritual journey, and it takes the shocking murders of the entire Hosnian system to galvanize her into action.
Worse yet, the evil Kylo Ren invades her forest sanctuary, following her into a narrow cleft. With the music and angle, it’s reminiscent of Luke facing Vader in the cave on Dagobah. In the “innermost cave” as Campbell put it, the chosen one is tested, tempted with power. Only the strongest can reject the easy solution. Like Luke, Rey is suppressing the truth of her origin and destiny. When she refuses to face it, it intrudes on her in the wilderness of the unconscious world. Ren demands BB-8. Rey refuses and he carries her off. Only her innocence (BB-8) remains.
The enemy too may progress through Animus stages – Rey easily defeats the brutal scavengers and thugs on Jakku, where she’s trained all her life to battle such adversaries. But the New Order, itself a force of order and law (obviously), defeats her, Finn, and Han on Jakku. Her friends’ impulsive lack of planning is no match for the Order’s long-arranged scheme, and General Hux uses Starkiller Base to destroy the New Republic. As he dictates to rows and rows of disciplined troops:
Today is the end of the Republic. The end of a regime that acquiesces to disorder. At this very moment in a system far from here, the New Republic lies to the galaxy while secretly supporting the treachery of the rogues of the Resistance. This fierce machine which you have built, upon which we stand will bring an end to the Senate, to their cherished fleet. All remaining systems will bow to the First Order and will remember this as the last day of the Republic!
Snoke and the New Order are the destroyers, savagery incarnate and killers of innocent life that the heroine is sworn to protect. Most male villains in the classic heroine’s story take this role. In fact the novelization further emphasizes their savagery as Snoke and General Hux plot to kill millions to forward their schemes:
The redheaded officer spoke up immediately. “I do have a proposition. The weapon. We have it. It is ready. I believe the time has come to use it.”
“The Republic. Or what its fractious proponents choose to call the Republic. Their center of government, its entire system. In the chaos that will follow, the Resistance will have no choice but to investigate an attack of such devastating scale. They will throw all their resources into trying to discover its source. So they have no choice but to investigate fully, and in so doing…”
Snoke was clearly pleased.
“And if they don’t… we’ve destroyed them.”
“Yes,” Snoke said in satisfaction. “Extreme. Audacious. I agree that the time for such measures has come. Go. Oversee the necessary preparations.”
In this type of story pattern, the entire universe reflects Rey, and her friends are sides of her personality. Thus she takes a painful blow with the capital’s destruction.
Captain Phasma works with the New Order, but as she has given her personality, identity, and will over to the patriarchy, she is the “evil matriarch” and brainwasher of young children. Often the heroine studies with such a mentor: Katniss and President Coin, Buffy and Professor Walsh, Lyra and her mother in The Golden Compass, fairytales’ evil stepmothers. All these allow the heroine to understand powerful women in the male hierarchy. The heroines, however, reject such a role, absorbing the lessons from this kind of power, but choosing instead to work in the service of life and comradeship. While this is a traditional step, in this adventure Phasma and Rey do not interact. Rey’s adversary is Kylo Ren, emphasizing once more her path on a more masculine adventure.
A higher level of Animus arrives with the entire Resistance fleet, the last remaining orderly structure of good. With them is General Leia Organa, replacing the male hierarchy with a strong female and giving Rey a new kind of role model who can teach her the next stage of growth. Rey is not present in the scene, but the audience functions as her stand in, as the next stage of power on Rey’s quest appears.
Leia is the ruling queen of the Rebellion (symbolically and basically literally), but also a mother – in fact, a bereft one. She has the next level of wisdom to offer Rey – how to bear suffering and loss while fighting for the greater cause of the universe. She makes the tough choices, including sending in Han to save their son Ben.
Campbell explains that in classic tales, “the hero is swallowed and taken into the abyss to be later resurrected – a variant of the death-and-resurrection theme” (Campbell and Moyers 146). The hero descends into the underworld or the darkest place of all, like Frodo into Mordor or Harry Potter into the mirror chamber where he faces Voldemort. In the Innermost Cave, the hero often dies only to return more powerful. This is a metaphor for undergoing a crisis and emerging stronger, armed with the wisdom of adulthood.
The heroine sometimes follows this pattern, but she has her own variants. At the climax of the Innermost Cave, the questing heroine often falls into a magic sleep, like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. This allows her a cocoon-like transformation between one stage of being and another – usually childhood and adulthood.
Snow White lies unconscious, perfectly preserved in glass, but at the same time, the coffin is like a crucible, transforming her from frightened child into powerful queen. This sleep, of course, symbolizes the heroine’s descent into death, where she must confront her mortality and gain wisdom from the experience. When she wakes, she has become stronger. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 30).
Katniss falls into madness and drug-induced hospitalization at the end of each book, emphasizing her working through her trauma and absorbing its new lessons. In Rey’s case, her flight into the forest shows her panic at an entire past life of family and Jedi skills, as well as its menacing enemy, Kylo Ren. When she encounters him in the forest, he knocks her unconscious, symbolically allowing her to progress to her next level of maturity, after absorbing the horrors of her past.
Kylo Ren then carries off Rey and imprisons her in a torture chamber. This place is far outside of Rey’s comfort zone, symbolized especially by the ice world surrounding the desert girl.
Journeying here represents the heroine leaving the place of her feminine power to ascend to the prince’s tower or mountain, where she faces her greatest trial far from her unconscious realm of magic. The Little Mermaid leaves the ocean and Demeter leaves her fields as both journey into the man’s world—human civilization. If Buffy’s school library or home is invaded, that suggests an assault on Buffy’s self. But when she journeys into the enemy’s sphere, she’s alone and vulnerable, cut off from her strongest supports. (Frankel, Buffy 60)
Despite her isolation, the heroine battles with inner strength. Back on the Starkiller Base, Rey faces Kylo Ren, now tougher with the power of order. “You know I can do whatever I want,” he taunts her and reads her mind, invading her private thoughts. The ocean and island in her mind are her destiny – Luke Skywalker, but also an image of feminine fertility and natural power, now brutalized by the patriarchy.
She fights back, reading his mind in turn and using his training and discipline against him. “You’re afraid. That you will never be as strong as Darth Vader,” she sees, understanding the patriarchy’s inherent weakness, that it’s a hierarchy with the most powerful on top and thus always a constant struggle. Though the Destroyer seems all-powerful, there’s insecurity beneath. Like Kylo Ren, his master Snoke’s megalomania conceals deep-held dread. The novelization reveals that Snoke fears Luke Skywalker and plans to destroy an entire system so no one finds where Luke is, himself included.
In fact, when the heroine confronts the tyrant and refuses to give in, he crumbles.
On the heroine’s journey, the young questor comes to realize that she is mightier than the tyrant: Dorothy cowers before the “Great and Powerful Oz” when she reaches his Emerald City. But after facing the far more terrifying Wicked Witch of the West, she grows into someone strong enough to kick over the Wizard’s pasteboard head and confront the fraud cowering behind it. Katniss too realizes that the Capitol’s threat far outweighs the Capitol itself. As she declares on one of her broadcasts: “The Capitol’s fragile because it depends on the districts for everything. Food, energy, even the Peacekeepers that police us. If we declare our freedom, the Capitol collapses. President Snow, thanks to you, I’m officially declaring mine today” (Mockingjay 169). Like their broken electric fences, the Capitol has only the illusion of authority, until Katniss can shatter it. At series end, she meets Snow heavily shackled and helpless in his rose garden and knows she can kill him. (Frankel, Many Faces of Katniss 117)
Her encounters with Ren give her the necessary knowledge. After this, she masters the “Force trick” and controls the orderly yet obedient Stormtroopers. The “First Order” are no match for her will:
Rey: You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.
Stormtrooper: What did you say?
Rey: You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.
Stormtrooper: I will tighten these restraints, scavenger scum!
Rey: (more pacifically) You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.
Stormtrooper: I will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.
[he does so]
Rey: And you will drop your weapon.
Stormtrooper: And I’ll drop my weapon.
Finn comes to save her on the ship, though she’s already saved herself. There’s a romantic moment as they embrace, one that’s been building through the show as he tries to take her with him far from the war and tells her pleadingly, “You looked at me like no one ever had.” This romance is a vital step on the journey, though each time it usually takes the same form.
Shapeshifting lovers are common figures in myth, from swan maidens to frog princes. “We have all experienced relationships in which our partner is fickle, two-faced, bewilderingly changeable,” Vogler explains (65). The hero’s or heroine’s lover is incomprehensible, shifting moods and desires faster than the protagonist can comprehend. The task is to penetrate these shapes and barriers, to find the true self within. Only then can a pair fully commit. (Frankel, Buffy 26)
Finn introduces himself to Rey as a fighter for the Resistance. Only in Maz’s castle does he reveal all this has been a lie: “I’m not Resistance. I’m a Stormtrooper,” he admits. She accepts this and allows him to transform into another person, one more determined to flee the First Order than fight for freedom. They have opposing missions now, which are certain to part them:
Finn: Come with me.
Rey: Don’t go.
When Finn invades the heart of the First Order to save her, he has transformed again, this time into a true hero, worthy of her love.
The heroine then faces death – the ultimate test. Rey’s isn’t her own but Han’s by Kylo Ren’s evil hand. Like Lucy and Susan of Narnia, who witness Aslan shaved, mocked, and murdered, humbled before them, Rey thus discovers her father-figure’s helplessness to protect her – she must rely on herself.
The classic heroine learns independence, not protection from her father-figure. Lyra of The Golden Compass discovers that her father is a murderer when he kills her helpless friend Roger. Meg Murray crosses time and space to rescue her blinded and confused father, and they tesseract to a friendly planet. When Meg demands that he return to rescue her brother Charles Wallace, Meg’s three witch mentors appear and tell Meg her father is not powerful enough. Meg gazes sadly at him. “I wanted you to do it all for me…I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself” (L’Engle 187). With this, she acknowledges she is the only one who can rescue Charles Wallace, so she returns to confront the monstrous IT.
Cinna, Boggs, Finnick, and Katniss’s father die, Gale is whipped in the square, and then he and Beetee are revealed as accidental masterminds behind Prim’s death. Peeta is hijacked. In the course of the series, all the powerful males in Katniss’s life, from mentors to friends, lose their power. (Frankel, Many Faces of Katniss 118)
At Han’s tragic murder, the entire universe seems to pause. Then while Chewie, representing her inner primitive violence, erupts with anger, she and Finn flee into the snow, now surrounded by darkness and explosions.
The hero flees into the mysterious forest to connect with his lost feminine side – spirituality and wisdom. The heroine goes there to find her true place and her power. This time the forest is dark and filled with explosions from Ren’s base. Once again, Ren invades her sanctuary in pursuit of her. After he knocks her unconscious once more and savages Finn, she takes up Luke’s lightsaber at last. As it flies to her hand, it confirms her destiny. Luke’s beloved theme music plays. Like Luke and many warrior women, she is on the hero’s journey at this moment, seeking to topple the Dark Lord and save the galaxy.
Rey’s battle with Kylo Ren in their lightsaber duel is empowering. The same audio as the beginning of the battle between Luke and Vader in Jedi emphasizes her similar mission – to rid the galaxy of a tyrant, however she must. “You need a teacher. I can show you the ways of the Force,” he offers. However, she rejects this condescending invitation to submit. She breathes, commanding calm, and then turns on him, wounding him repeatedly then beating him.
It’s Kylo Ren who discovers how powerful she is, that she is his superior both mentally and physically, and it scares him. (She’s also much less prone to fits of rage, which has its benefits.) In Ren’s last-ditch effort to lure her over to the dark side we feel his desperation at being outmatched. Their final battle, in the snow, is all about good and evil. It’s never about physical strength, and it’s never about gender. (Sperling)
However, as Luke finds on facing Vader, there’s also a spiritual challenge. The novelization portrays it thus: “Kill him, a voice inside her head said. It was amorphous, unidentifiable, raw. Pure vengeful emotion. So easy, she told herself. So quick.” Instead of killing him, Rey “recoil[s]” from the feeling, rejecting the pull of the dark side.
She lets his chaotic world crumble away, as a ravine splits and fire begins to consume the land. Instead, she saves Finn and returns to the Resistance with Chewie. There, Leia greets and embraces her without a word. Rey has chosen the side of goodness and spiritual growth and thus is accepted by the good mother, the matriarch who nonetheless knows that sacrifices are necessary. In the novelization, she has a longer goodbye with Rey:
“I’m proud of what you’re about to do,” she told the girl.
Rey replied in all seriousness. “But you’re also afraid. In sending me away, you’re—reminded.”
Leia straightened. “You won’t share the fate of our son.”
“I know what we’re doing is right. This is how it has to be. This is how it should be.”
Leia smiled gently, reassuringly. “I know it, too. May the Force be with you.”
With the gift of R2-D2’s map, Rey sets out on the final stage of her quest. Save for Chewie, still a guide to the primitive natural world, she goes alone, back to her basic wooden staff. Leia’s “May the Force be with you,” is her final send off, the mother’s blessing to the young heroine’s setting out. At the mysterious world of water and ocean, another place of fertile green and lifesaving water, she climbs the hill, finds Luke Skywalker, and gives him the lightsaber.
The Animus in its highest stage “gives the woman spiritual firmness, an invisible inner support that compensates for her outer softness” (Von Franz, “The Process of Individuation” 194). This is Luke, presumably destined to become her mentor in true wisdom. Having conquered the journey’s many stages, she’s finally ready to undergo her own training.
While some of the points are feminine, she has predominantly mastered the hero’s journey, defeating the Dark Lord with (possibly) her father’s sword, and gathering a band of friends who can teach her masculine skills. Now, with female mentors and more training in perception, she must grow along the steps of the heroine’s in order to find wholeness.
Upon telling teen art student Clary Fray that demons, angels, werewolves, and vampires are real, charming Jace Wayland takes Clary to the Institute, home of the Shadowhunters. These are the warriors who fight demons, protecting mortals who don’t even know they exist. It’s filled with motifs of angels and swords, suns and roses. Angels and swords suggest defense and offense in their constant war, along with the sacred trust to defend the world from demons. The sun is a popular hero symbol, while the rose is a symbol of perfection, round like a mandala or the world.
There, Clary discovers that she is tied to this ancient birthright. She and Jace squabble, but she’s drawn to him as well, far more than to her geeky childhood friend Simon Lewis. Though about her age, Jace is mysterious and powerful, magical as she is mundane, aristocratic and old-fashioned. He’s everything she’s not, and thus, incredibly captivating.
The romantic figure in the heroine’s journey represents the unconscious world of dreams and power she’s seeking in herself. By learning from him, she grows beyond her ordinary self to embrace the magic he offers. Jace is not just a Shadowhunter with the dazzling good looks and charm Clary feels she lacks. From her perspective, he’s described with his hair in a “halo of damp gold” (Bones 306) and as a “wounded prince” (Bones 297). He’s also incredibly perceptive, seeing all the nuances of Clary and Simon’s relationship when Clary often misses details.
The heroine’s love is usually a shapechanger, a frog prince or beast. This reflects the constant indecipherable moods the other person has in a romance – he seems so foreign and incomprehensible that this lover must have turned into another person entirely. Jace becomes another person when possessed in the fifth book, but there are earlier echoes: When Jace discovers the wicked megalomaniac Valentine Morgenstern’s his father, Clary is horrified by the new obedient Jace, who surrenders all of his beliefs: “This new Jace, fragile and shining in the light of his own personal miracle, was a stranger to her” (Bones 436). His belief in Valentine is described as a kind of glamour. Similarly, Jace shifts names throughout the series, from the moment he’s revealed as Jonathan Morgenstern through his struggle to find the last name that fits him.
The greenhouse he and Clary visit on her birthday is a magical place – it even smells like Idris. The glass roof shines like the lake in reverse, and strange, magical flowers bloom there, in an enclosed magical world. In the greenhouse, Jace gives Clary a witchlight stone. He tells her all Shadowhunters have them and adds, “It will bring you light…even among the darkest shadows of this world and others” (Bones 313). Later it pulses in her hand “like the heartbeat of a tiny bird” and shines in her hand “as if she’d cracked a seed of darkness” (Bones 423). Birds and seeds are feminine symbols, of freedom and potential respectively. As Clary uses the stone, she claims both powers and takes her place as a Shadowhunter. The gift of light in dark places is a feminine tool of perception, like Galadriel’s phial or Ariadne’s thread, a flashlight that will let Clary find her way.
When Jace gives it to her, Clary makes an engagement joke about how girls don’t literally want a “big rock” but a diamond. This mention emphasizes how Clary is already thinking she wants an engagement ring from Jace, and thus the “big rock” he gives her takes on that meaning, binding them together. Indeed, Jace follows his gift with their first kiss. In the greenhouse, this kiss is filled with the magical plants of Idris like an Eden or a place of creation magic. He also gives her apples in the greenhouse, a sign of temptation and sin, though apples were also beloved of Aphrodite. His birthday gift of a blooming flower “dusted with pale gold pollen” blooms only for a moment, symbolizing the short-lived nature of happiness in the world. In fact, the symbolism echoes this: they have a perfect moment, a perfect kiss, and then Clary’s messy love triangle ruins things as she stumbles into Simon.
When they leave for the warlock Magnus Bane’s party, seeking to uncover Clary’s origins, Jace offers Clary “a long thin dagger in a leather sheath. The hilt of the dagger was set with a single red stone carved in the shape of a rose.” He tells her the knowledge of how to wield it is in her blood (Bones 214). This is a feminine dagger – containing a red stone and a rose shape – but set in a masculine weapon. It’s a talisman of the Shadowhunter world and an acknowledgement that Clary can be a fighter like Jace and his foster-siblings Alec and Isabelle Lightwood. Off to the party, Clary dresses in Isabelle’s tight black dress, a far cry from her usual jeans and sweatshirts – she is transforming to a participant in this new world. Later, it’s revealed that the kindjal dagger was Valentine’s, with his falling star emblem. Luke has its match. As Jace, then Clary take Valentine’s red dagger, they become part of the war he began decades before. They are the heirs to his dark legacy as well as his weapons.
To the pair’s horror, they learn that they’re brother and sister – both the children of wicked Valentine. This is a crushing blow to their relationship as their feelings war with their duties to family and the larger cause
In the third book, Jace gives Clary his Morgenstern ring when he goes to face death. Though their single night together in Idris is chaste, combining it with the ring symbolizes a marriage. It’s revealed in the prequel series Clockwork Prince that Shadowhunters give their ring as a betrothal gift, like an engagement ring. While Clary doesn’t know this, Jace certainly does. She wears the ring through the second trilogy, indicating that she’s given Jace her heart and more. In folklore, a ring is given as a promise of fidelity, betrothal, or marriage. Jace tells her later “It means I trust you with my past and all the secrets that past carries” (Fallen Angels 410). It’s the Morgenstern ring, symbol that Jace’s past will always be his childhood with Valentine but his future will belong to Clary.
Clary’s journey to Jace’s childhood home is a different kind of descent. It is another of Valentine’s strongholds, but this one is hidden underground, the place of initiation. Further, the trapped angel waiting below is the source of Clary’s feminine magic – dreams, prophetic visions, and runes. This place stands on the threshold, blending science and magic, Valentine’s cruel experiments with the inexplicable miracle of a true angel. Clary and Jace together free the angel and decipher its message, returning to the world above with a new understanding.
At the climax of the third book, Clary risks her life to save Jace and stop Valentine from capturing the angel Raziel and forcing him to commit genocide. However, Valentine is too powerful for her: he incapacitates Clary and robs her of her voice, then murders Jace when he arrives. The pair have just discovered that Jace was adopted – not Clary’s real brother at all – but have no time to celebrate this news.
The silenced heroine is common in myths and fairytales, from the story of Echo to The Six Swans and more: “Fairytales show silent, virtuous maids like Cinderella and the little mermaid, who never complain of their vicious treatment, and even more silent, virtuous but dead mothers. Contrasted with this are the vocal witches and stepmothers giving orders” (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 22). Many fairytales force women into silence, a deeper and even more insidious form of isolation. Even when the heroine is surrounded by people, as with Eliza of “The Wild Swans,” who knits coats of nettles to save her swan brothers, she is isolated. Eliza is forbidden to tell her story, to ask for help, to request any sympathy at all. The burden of silence gives her a greater trial, as she cannot proclaim her innocence. Disturbingly, this best reflects the real status of women through history: illiterate and confined to cleaning and childbearing. Valentine binds and silences his daughter, then dismisses her as a helpless sacrifice who can do nothing to stop him.
Clary comes to understand Valentine, and even sympathizes a bit with the man who honestly mourns Jace as she does. By watching him, Clary understands how to defeat him with his own runes when he won’t look for a quiet act of desperation. Valentine’s misogyny has made him dismiss her as a threat, just as he once dismissed her mother, a pregnant, despairing Jocelyn. This narrow thinking proves his downfall.
Like Clary’s other great moments, this one springs from emotion. Jace’s death gives her the clue she needs, for, as she reflects, “there was so much power in a name (Glass 489). She thinks of Jace and realizes he’d be disappointed if she stopped fighting. At the height of Valentine’s master plan, he is defeated by his neglected, bound, ignored daughter, who scribbles a single word on his summoning circle. This too is the heroine’s journey, often the path of silently knitting coats of nettles or keeping faith for seven years to rescue loved ones and bring an end to evil.
Further, she makes a wiser choice than he does when Raziel offers her a boon: Valentine chose death, she chooses life. When the Angel Raziel offers her anything in the world, Clary once more relies on love and asks for the only person she truly wants: Jace. Her love brings him back to life in one of the heroine’s classic quests. She’s succeeding with the “deep magic” of Narnia or the brave desperation of Katniss and her berries – the older, quieter wisdom the powerful tyrant has discounted.
She ends the trilogy strong enough in herself to face down the all-powerful matriarch, the fairy queen, and refuse her offer of a favor. Further, Simon points out Clary’s strong enough to defend herself with a variety of weapons. By defeating Valentine the Patriarch, Clary can usher in a better world with peace between Downworlders and Shadowhunters. With the lessons she’s learned, she demands that her mother marry her longtime friend Luke and treasure the love in her life, just as Clary has brought Jace back from the dead.
Jace as Destroyer
In the second trilogy, Jace and Clary know the truth of who they are and are finally allowed to be together. In fact, he becomes her occasional weapons tutor and Shadowhunter partner as well as boyfriend. Clary decides that they are soulmates, eternally, perfectly in love. She gives up her mundane world for his, and might even have given up her mother if the laws weren’t in chaos. They spend training sessions making out, and Clary neglects her friends to stare moonily at her boyfriend. He’s taking over her entire world, so much that the old her is in danger of vanishing. The journey involves finding balance between the daylight world and the magical world that represents the subconscious. However, Clary is giving up on all aspects of her former life to spend her days with Shadowhunters. She’s acting like Twilight’s Bella Swan, who offers to give up parents, Jacob’s friendship, college, children, her soul, and her sanity just to be with Edward.
Her mother Jocelyn points out that the universe has thrown so many obstacles at their love, from their forbidden relationship to Jace’s possession that “the two of you are not meant to be together” (Lost Souls 122). The strong feminine voice in Clary’s life, missing from the first trilogy, has returned, and is trying to protect Clary from being completely subsumed in the new relationship. “You love him so much. It scares me,” she worries, voicing the defensive fears inside Clary herself (Fallen Angels 288). Clary hasn’t yet found her identity – she’s hiding from her rune powers and hasn’t decided who she wants to be, aside from Jace’s perfect girlfriend and Shadowhunter partner. As such, the new her could easily become lost.
“When a woman is attempting to avoid the facts of her own devastations, her night dreams will shout warnings to her” such as “flee,” or even “go for the kill,” explains Estés (54). Clary struggles to commit to Jace completely. However, when she considers making love with Jace, he takes his family knife and stabs her with it. These are Jace’s nightmares, but they are directed by the dark feminine presence of the story. If all characters are aspects of Clary, the dark goddess Lilith is the cruel Shadow but also Clary’s fierceness, determined to stop Jace from taking her over. The dreams she sends reveal Jace as a killer who could tear Clary to pieces. In the next book, his predatory side is even more pronounced, as he tries to make her drink a demon’s blood “for her own good.” Evil Jace is the Predator without disguise or apology.
Later, he asks to put a binding rune on her, but it ends up being a rune of coercion: ‘Something darker that spoke of control and submission, of loss and darkness” (Fallen Angels 305). All this is the dark side of love, and it frightens her. Clary swoons like Sleeping Beauty confronted with the spindle’s prick (a metaphor for sex, as the rune of total commitment is). The powerful feminine inside Clary is raging against her giving up her identity completely. Once again, Jace is revealed as the Predator, his rune selfish and coercive. The story suggests that this has been part of him all this time, a part that could swallow Clary. With Lilith’s mark on him, Jace suddenly transforms a stranger. “Like a recording of him, she thought, all the tones and patterns of his voice there, but the life that animated it gone” (Fallen Angels 336). “Now the naive self has knowledge about a killing force loose within the psyche,” Estés explains (55).
Clearly, Simon was right to warn her that she needs to reprioritize. “Today, it is generally understood that the romantic and spiritual man-god – the male ideal worthy of a woman’s self-sacrifice and worship, for whom she is expected to set aside herself and her life – simply does not exist” (Pearson and Pope 35). This is the lesson Clary must learn – that overpowering love is wonderful, but she cannot sacrifice the world for Jace. Only if she sees him as an equal partner, not her golden angel, can they have a real relationship. She saves him by stabbing him, learning that she has the strength to separate herself from him by force if necessary, and they can embark on a more equal footing. However, the book ends on a cliffhanger with Lilith defeated but Jace suddenly vanished.
In City of Lost Souls, Clary comes to realize the world isn’t as black and white as she’d envisioned. With Jace in danger, she would break any rule, betray any loyalty to get him back.
First, she bargains with the fairy queen and steals magic rings from the Institute. After, she keeps the rings for herself. In Venice she happily steals a gondola and tries fairy drugs. This is Clary dipping into her Shadow, just to try it out. It’s more delightful than she’d expected to ignore her mother’s chiding and her own knowledge of consequences.
“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Jace,” Clary insists (Lost Souls 142). Simon must point out how destructive this philosophy is: He would do almost anything for Clary. But he wouldn’t kill innocents or destroy the world.
When Jace resurfaces, he’s possessed again, this time by her evil brother Sebastian. Evil Jace might ask her to do all that and more. In fact, that is what Jace asks, and Clary must make her choice. Describing Jace’s possession, the author adds:
Jace is in this place where he needs to be saved. But he’s not really Jace anymore. So the question is, how much would you do for love? And what if you have to do an immoral thing for a moral reason because you love someone so much? At what point do you have to stop trying to save this person because it’s bad for the world in general, even if you love them very much. That’s the central tension that kind of rips up the characters in Lost Souls. The group that wants to save him more than anything else, and the group that is willing to sacrifice him for the greater good. (Brissey, “Cassandra Clare talks ‘Clockwork Prince’”)
Jace, flirting with her, urges her to abandon all control. She sees that Jace has given up his principles and only lives for the moment now – and is happier without ethics. This makes her question her own rules. Together they kill a demon and steal its possessions, and for the first time she feels the rush and joy of fighting. The silvery adamas they had bargained for is darkened as she is, its pure angelic silver marred by her blood. She puts on the dress Sebastian brings her – black lace and beads. In it, her eyes are smudged with “dark shadow” and she has “a certain toughness” (Lost Souls 300). She remembers wearing Isabelle’s dress in book one and taking her first steps into the demon world as she enters an even darker realm this time.
Jace guides her into the club called the Bone Chandelier and references the quote “Easy is the decent into hell.” There, a black-winged angel drips strings of garnets like blood. The gruesome bone chandelier dominates, sprinkling the room with silvery fairy drugs. Under its light, Clary gives in to temptation. She makes out with Jace and drinks the drugs, discarding her good girl role.
When Clary turns into her own evil twin, dressing provocatively and slipping into a demon party (as she did in City of Bones), she’s allowing her Shadow to take over – all the impulses she’s always buried, all the sexy, provocative, bad girl impulses she never allows to surface. With the catalyst of various Shadows – Sebastian and Isabelle, who both offer her sexy dresses, Clary feels her unacknowledged, unexplored bad girl side pushing through. And she revels in it. Campbell describes facing this Shadow as “destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life” (8). Allowing the Shadow out, learning its lessons and acknowledging its place in the day to day world is the process of being human.
In Lost Souls, Jace must contend with his Shadow of evil Jace: Clary must contend with Sebastian. He tells her that he needs Jace “But in his heart he’s not like me. You are” (Lost Souls 358). Sebastian even holds up hands like Jocelyn’s and talks about painting. In fact, he represents her buried side: all the seething emotions, power, and desire to lash out people keep hidden under their skins. Sebastian tells her unpleasant truths, pointing out that Jocelyn isn’t as wonderful as Clary always thought: She betrayed her husband, lied for months, and arranged the slaughter of all their friends. “She stole your memories. Have you forgiven her?” he adds, like the angry voice deep inside Clary (Lost Souls 358). He points out Clary too has the potential for evil – she killed their father and doesn’t mourn what she’s done.
As she tries on his lifestyle like the black dress, she finds herself seeing Sebastian’s side, acting on the dark voice that whispers within her. Under the drugs’ influence, she finds herself liking Sebastian. She’s become her own evil twin there in the club, as she thinks of him as her brother and can’t recall why she should fear him. Side by side, they gaze into a pool, and Sebastian tells her how much they share. “You have a dark heart in you, Valentine’s daughter…You just won’t admit it” (Lost Souls 316).
In one of her posted deleted scenes, Clare shows Sebastian’s thought process.
Clarissa was Father’s real daughter too, and who knew what strange brew the combination of Father’s blood and Heaven’s power had formed to run through Clarissa’s veins? She might not be very different from himself.
Jonathan dreamed of a girl standing in the sea with hair like scarlet smoke coiling over her shoulders, winding and unwinding in the untameable wind. Everything was stormy darkness, and in the raging sea were pieces of wreckage that had once been a boat and bodies floating facedown. She looked down on them with cool green eyes and was not afraid.
Clarissa had done that – wreaked destruction like he would have. In the dream, he was proud of her. His little sister. (“Becoming Sebastian”)
He shares her prophetic dreams and also her longing for someone like him, someone who will understand his unique powers. On some level, he respects her and cares for her as Valentine does not.
Talking with Sebastian, Clary comes to realize he isn’t all evil either – he genuinely likes her and Jace, and wants them to be a family. He tells her, “You can’t go back. You’ve already thrown your lot in with Jace. You might as well do it wholeheartedly” (Lost Souls 257). Fighting beside him, she discovers the high of battle, and it makes her feel invincible. “Amazing that it had taken fighting alongside Sebastian of all people to flip the switch inside her that seemed to turn her Shadowhunter instincts on” (Lost Souls 298). By abandoning her good self, she’s embraced the fighter side of her heritage. The gold ring of responsibility, link to her mission and family back home, is her only tether.
After she parties all night, tries fairy drugs, and nearly gives in to Jace, her ring vanishes. Like Bluebeard’s wife, she’s done the forbidden and so been stained with its consequences: she can no longer reach her friends with its telepathic power. Of course, cut off from them, she must choose for herself and find a way to save the world without outside help.
By trying to beat Sebastian, Clary must become him, resorting to dirty tricks she would never use under ordinary circumstances. However, pretending to be their ally is bringing her closer to their side. “You’re everything like me,” he hisses. “You infiltrated us. You faked friendship, faked caring” (Lost Souls 446). In the end, Clary realizes she’s come to understand Sebastian, an invaluable skill for their next encounter.
Though she is more comfortable with her dark side, Clary is still a warrior of the light, In the battle, Simon gives her an angelic sword “and in that moment, she was no longer Clary, his friend since childhood, but a Shadowhunter, an avenging angel who belonged with that sword in her hand” (Lost Souls 485-486). The sword, named Glorious, was once given by the Archangel Michael to lead God’s chosen in battle. Clary accepts the sword to do just that.
Looking at Jace, Clary realizes his evil Jace persona doesn’t love her, only an idealized picture of her. For fairytale heroines, the test is often to withstand pity – if the heroine turns from the path at every cry for help, she will never reach her goal. Clary’s task is to destroy the Predator taking over her life and ignore the maternal impulse that urges her to spare her lover pain. For Evil Jace to be broken apart and Good Jace to return, Clary must be ruthless. She summons the cruel, expedient side she’s learned from Sebastian, the side that would sacrifice a loved one to win a larger goal. With it, Clary stabs Jace with Glorious, burning away the false images and blurry glass through which each has been seeing the other.
Clary stabs the soul-linked Jace and Sebastian, and far off, the evil side of herself that has been allowed to whisper to her, screams in agony. It’s over. Clary has another near death as she crumples, feeling like she’s burning alive alongside Jace.
Jace is broken down with the sword and burned by heavenly fire until the evil shatters. A glow of heven’s light fills him, keeping him hesitant around Clary. After he returns to life, he and Clary begin a more balanced relationship. They discuss their priorities and agree to trust each other in the future. There will be further trials as Clary explores her darker nature and faces death, together with the world’s end, one last time, but she and Jace will approach the quest from a more honest and united place.
City of Heavenly Fire
Once more, the women grow ascendant as the heroines and the past and future series appear and Tessa and Emma’s stories blend with the main narrative. Maia takes over Luke’s werewolf pack and the controlled, expedient leader Rafael is replaces by a cleverer vampire, Lily. By book’s end, treacherous Meliorn is no longer the fairies representative, and a woman has taken his place. Jia, leader of the Shadowhunters, is cold but fair. Tessa fills Idris with weapons from the Spiral Labyrinth that can block the fairies’ advances, swaddling the city in her protection. All the Shadowhunters team up to defend it, even the children within the Citadel. The Iron Sisters emerge from their Citadel to defend Jace because of the heavenly fire within him and chase off Sebastian himself.
Along with the fairy rings and her drawing magic, Clary gains a sword at last, generally a masculine icon. Sword seller Diana Wrayburn (destined to be Emma’s trainer in the next series) offers her one of gold and obsidian with a blade of black silver. It’s a match to Sebastian’s light-bringer sword Phaesphoros. Hers is Heosphoros, dawn-bringer. The dawn of course symbolizes hope along with youth and newness—an end to the darkness that’s lingered for so long. Diana tells her, “If you flinch from it, you give it power over you…Take it, and cut your brother’s throat with it, and take back the honor of your blood” (Heavenly Fire 147).
Later, Clary tells her mother, “I need to find a way to be partly a Morgenstern and to have that be all right, not to pretend that I’m someone else” (Heavenly Fire 219). She’s seeking identity and owning the darkness within her. Sebastian comes to her and emphasizes that demons are only the flip side of angels – that both are chosen for greatness and that Clary has the capacity for both within her.
When her mother and their friends are taken, she Jace, Simon, Alec, and Isabelle travel to Edom to save them. It’s a dark reflection of Idris – the geography is the same, but it was taken over by demons long ago. There, Clary and Jace find romance by a lake, protected all around with silvery Shadowhunter runes – a moment of beauty and consummation before the battle to come.
The teens’ battle against Sebastian and the demon realm cannot be won by force of arms. Even Jace’s heavenly fire cannot best the other in a straightforward attack, and Jace, impulse and passion, lacks the knowledge of how to wield it. Sebastian taunts him with an image of guilt and Jace lashes out, almost destroying himself with the fire. It is Clary who scrawls protective runes on herself and walks directly into the flames, guiding his fire safely into her own sword, which only lights up at its true bearer, herself. She has found a way to shield Jace with her greater magic, even while relying on his warrior strength.
In Sebastian’s stronghold, the darkest place of all, Clary opens a Portal so Jace can snatch and use legendary Jonathan Shadowhunter’s weapon, the skeptron and destroy all the demons “like an avenging angel” (Heavenly Fire 557). However, Sebastian is hers to conquer. He offers to save her world, breaking the link between realms so he can no longer attack it, if she will rule by his side. “Ever since you discovered the Shadow World, haven’t you secretly wanted to be a hero? To be the most special of a special people? In our own way we each with to be the hero of our kind” (Heavenly Fire 589). He reminds her that this way she can save her own world yet have an excuse to embrace her own darkness. She agrees and when she kisses him to seal their bargain, she stabs him with her blade, containing heaven’s fire.
He dies slowly, purged of the demon’s blood and returning to the man who might have been her brother. Their world is saved. There are still trials and sacrifices as Clary and her friends make it home, as they discover the Shadowhunters want vengeance more than mercy and set up the conflicts that will follow. Nonetheless, the book ends with Jocelyn and Luke’s wedding at last, as they celebrate a return to life and hope with new chances for alliance and family. Having fought through all their trials, building love and trust, Clary and Jace can find more adventures, but always side by side.
In the incredibly artistic graphic novel Daredevil/Echo: Vision Quest, the deaf perfect warrior Maya Lopez (Echo) journeys into the forest for a traditional Cheyenne vision quest. Watching all night, she sees a quiet rabbit, two dogs fighting, and a questioning owl. Then in a burst of lightning, Wolverine appears. Clearly, he is meant to be her guide … perhaps even her spirit animal.
After they battle, he tells her his own story – that the two dogs she has seen are a message. In fact, there are two dogs fighting within him, one that echoes his higher self, all “dreams and good intentions. He is full of purpose. And order.” The other dog is disrespectful and self-indulgent, filled with only anger. When a Cheyenne chieftain told him this, Wolverine asked which dog would win fights.
The other man answered that “the one that wins is that one I feed the most.”
As it turns out, Wolverine learned the story from Maya’s dead father. At this, she understands the power of stories to change lives and influence the world. When she returns from her quest, the chief tells her her father has visited and given her “the mantle of a storyteller.” With her new purpose, she begins performing, sharing her tales with an audience and abandoning her rage (Mack).
Hero and heroine both venture into the desert on their epic quests. For the hero, this is a chance to discover the lost feminine side of the self. For the heroine, the stark wilderness offers something more – a chance to find herself, free of society’s law.
In another tale, Ororo, age twelve, wanders deep into the wilderness. “It was summer and she’d been on the road for almost a year. A twelve-year-old girl, alone, making her way south from Cairo – across Egypt, the Sudan, and now Ethiopia, some of the harshest, most desolate terrain on earth – drawn by visions and a soul-deep need she didn’t understand, but couldn’t deny.” There she finds T’Challa the young prince of Wakanda being kidnapped for ransom, and she rescues him, soaring through the sky for the first time and swooping down like an angel. They travel together and flirt, then they finally part and Ororo “followed her dreams to the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, where she made her home” (Claremont, Marvel Team Up #100). Eventually she becomes X-Man Storm. Yet without this adventure she never would have found her hidden powers, or saved the man she would eventually wed.
The DC African heroine Vixen (Mari Jiwe McCabe) debuted in 1981’s Action Comics #521. Her powers include borrowing animal powers – elephant strength, cheetah speed, falcon flight – thanks to her ancestral Anansi totem. However, this African heroine’s culture is portrayed awkwardly: Anansi the spider trickster, one of the few African gods well known in America, is from Ghana, while Vixen’s home country is made up. “Zambesi” has a name that echoes the African country of Zambia, though Zambezi is actually a river. Even her names are not really African or African-inspired.
She was intended to be the first Black female DC superhero to star in her own series, but her line was unfortunately cancelled in 1978. After Action Comics, Vixen fought alongside Checkmate, Birds of Prey, and Suicide Squad. Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, author of the critical analysis book Black Women in Sequence, notes, “When Vixen made the downward leap from her own self-title to DC’s Action Comics, Animal Man, and Justice League of America (JLA), she worked with an unarmed and unsanctioned police force that sought to protect the United States from foreign outsiders and wayward outlaws” (Whaley 113-114). When the JLA moved to Detroit, she quickly joined up. On the team, she was a powerful, clever fighter, always ready with surprising solutions. “Vixen transcended the typical trend to make Black characters marginal or sidekicks in comics; she was often the most powerful of female characters” (Whaley 114). Vixen often appeared on the cartoon Justice League Unlimited as well.
On the free online platform CW Seed in August 2015, Vixen (voiced by Megalyn Echikunwoke) joined the Arrow/Flash/Legends of Tomorrow CWB universe. Season one of Vixen with executive producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, is a brief half hour cartoon with guest appearances by Flash and Arrow. However, in contrast with full, live twenty-two hour seasons of Arrow and Flash, this “season” falls far short. LaToya Ferguson, author of “The Women of Color Heroes We Both Need and Deserve” protests:
Executive producer Marc Guggenheim spoke to Comic Book Resources soon after to discuss the idea of a live-action Vixen series: “We always say ‘never say never,’ and if the character resonates with people, that would be wonderful. I would love to be in a position where CW said to us, ‘Hey, we want a Vixen live-action show.’ That’d be wonderful. We’ll have to sort of see how things play out.”
But the implication of Guggenheim’s quote is that the CW didn’t want a live-action Vixen for fear of the character not resonating with the viewing audience – which is questionable, because the CW took a chance on a niche (to the general public) superhero like the Green Arrow and then, by extension, The Flash. And CBS is now taking a huge chance on “Supergirl,” a character whose biggest moment in mainstream pop culture had been a ridiculous movie from the ‘80s. The question of whether or not “a character resonates with people” is inherent in all of these projects, and yet the one starring an African female superhero is the one that comes out on a secondary platform with a wait-and-see attitude. Yet, on the other hand, if a live-action version does happen, the powers that be have their bases covered with Megalyn Echikunwoke already cast in the role. So why wait?
It’s another small step, but the heroine has appeared live for a single episode, played confidently by the same actress. With her understanding of talismans, Vixen guest starred on Arrow a few months later, bringing her magic to aid the heroes there in battling wicked Damien Darhk. Arrow quips, “Mari and I had an animated encounter last year, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since” (Arrow: “Taken”). The cartoon has been renewed for season two, and will likely appear on television (Goldman). Further news of live action appearances has not yet arrived, but she’s poised to guest star or join the cast of any or all of the three series or perhaps launch her own show. CWB President Mark Pedowitz acknowledged there were more possibilities for the character, remarking, “Hopefully that character can spin itself out or if not, join the Legends [of Tomorrow]” (Goldman).
Television’s new heroine is tough and uncompromising. On meeting Flash and Arrow, she tells them, “Show up at my father’s house and you’re gonna get a really good idea what it’s like to be devoured by a lion.” She saves herself with no help from them. Her actress, Megalyn Echikunwoke, cheers: “Vixen is a superhero that I have always wanted to exist, but I didn’t know she actually existed, so getting to play this and coming on is kind of like jumping on a bullet train. The fans are so excited and they’re so rabid for the stories and everyone knows so much more about it than I do, so I am just playing catch-up” (Burlingame).
In the CW Seed cartoon, Mari returns to Detroit, where she reunites with her foster father and tells him she was rejected as a designer because her work “lacks identity” – a critique she knows is true. When she’s attacked on the street, she uses her totem necklace to harness gorilla strength and fights off her assailants. She begins experimenting and discovers the totem will let her channel many other animal powers. Echikunwoke notes:
I think it’s really cool that the world gets this superhero because she’s black, she’s young, she has an interesting story but she’s still very all-American, which isn’t unlike my own story, so I can relate to her, and she also inspires me.
I think what’s really cool about her is, to a degree she’s kind of a self-made superhero. Her backstory is that she was orphaned: she was born in Africa, she was orphaned and then gets to the United States. Like a lot of Americans, like a lot of children of immigrants or anybody, really, she’s trying to find her identity as a young woman. Through this, the discovery of her power and her ability, finds a way to interact with the world that helps her thrive and be the best version of herself.
Also, I just think that the fact that she’s kind of one with the world and that she can communicate with animals, that’s a really cool power because it makes her very grounded. (Burlingame)
Mari is thus developing her inner power as she researches the origin of the totem. However, a mysterious woman is tracking her and finally takes her captive. Mari wakes in Zambesi Village in M’Changa Province (both fictional places, like the ashae spirit of the totem). There, the woman reveals herself as Mari’s older sister Kuasa. She is tall and African in appearance with exotic makeup and an elaborate hat as well as the sleek violet gown of a Disney villainess. “My first obligation is to Zambesi,” she announces, though she introduces thuggish allies drawn to the totem’s power. Apparently, greed has corrupted her. With her jeans, leather jacket, slang, and Pixie cut, Mari looks strikingly American by contrast. Thus this is a war of ideals – tradition versus the modern world as the two women face off.
Kuasa tells her a story of the Anansi totem, once given to her to protect their village. However, their mother fled with baby Mari and the totem, which Kuasa now covets. Since it has chosen Mari, only the bite of a spider, Anansi’s symbol, will release the necklace from around her neck. Kuasa puts a spider on her, and Mari runs, but falls unconscious out on the empty plains. This is her wilderness journey, to a place of desolation and emptiness so quiet that she can hear her inner voices, usually drowned out by the bustle of everyday life. This lifeless, stark place is that part of the psyche with “no impact of collective human activities” though it reflects the vast world underneath. To enter there, a woman withdraws “not only from all animus opinions and views of life, but from any kind of impulse to do what life seems to demand of one” (Von Franz, The Feminine in Fairy Tales 97).
When someone is wounded at the depth of their soul, “She has first to reach the zero point, and then in complete loneliness find her own spiritual experience,” often personified by an angel or other guide (Von Franz, The Feminine in Fairy Tales 98-99). The dark savage goddess appears to some questing heroines, showing them their destiny. In a dream state, Mari is visited by the animals and villagers of Zambesi. “You must stop the pretender. The darkness has infected her,” a woman’s voice tells her. A lion adds, “Embrace your true calling.” As they all encourage her not to fear the power within her, she rises dramatically and proclaims, “I will stand with you!”
Mari returns to the village and battles Kuasa and her followers. All the animals of the plains defend her, and Mari decides, “I will embrace my destiny. I will cling fast to my ancestors.” She finally uses the spider on her sister to reclaim her totem.
Back in Detroit, Mari takes to the streets to capture criminals and defend those in danger. She muses, “My whole life, I thought if I knew where I came from, I’d learn where I was going. What my purpose is. Turns out, I was right.” She happily tells her foster father, that she has the “identity” she was seeking. She knows where she belongs and it’s the US: “The totem is supposed to help me protect my village. Detroit is my village. It’s my home.” She adds that she loves him. Echikunwoke notes: “I like that it’s kind of a weird dynamic with her that she has this person she loves and that raised her but she’s also kind of like a lone wolf and feels very lonely and has a lot of anger in her. She uses her power to get that out, to process all of that, and what’s going on with her” (Burlingame). After, she dons a brown leotard and makes her peace with Flash and Arrow. “I know who I am. I’m Vixen,” she decides.
Mari also had her own short comic book run, by G. Willow Wilson and Cafu in 2009. In the collection Vixen: Return of the Lion, Whaley admires Wilson for integrating “aspects of feminism and the gender concerns of some African women into the graphic novel.” Nonetheless, she believes “the character remains entangled in colonial discourses of US national allegiance and the idea of a primitive, patriarchal Africa.” Africa is portrayed as exotic and in some ways accentuated or inaccurate (118). When the mostly-white JLA burst in to intervene, the symbolism becomes problematic.
After Mari discovers her mother’s murderer is at large, she returns home to Zambesi to track him down. She faces the warlord Aku Kwesi with her animal powers, all focused through her Anansi totem. However, he defeats her in combat with his own supernatural powers and leaves her gravely wounded. Her powers sputter, suddenly unreliable. With this, her people desert her as well. One of the men of her former village leads her to its edge, telling her, “The land will decide whether you live or die. Goodbye, She-spirit.”
In the empty grasslands, this Mari also has visions. By a well, she sees her dead mother, who cautions her that jackals are coming to kill her. However, Mari refuses to die. Her mother tells her, “In the city, you forgot the land that gave you your powers. You must remember now, if you want to survive. Use the land – you need its help.” She is no longer a costume or a Metropolis superhero but a woman of Africa alone at night in the middle of the Dagombi Plains. She binds her wounds with bark, sleeps in a tree, chats with a monkey. As she defends herself from jackals with powers of hyena and cobra, she’s truly understanding the animals’ lives and harnessing the animal within herself. “Living in the forest would mean sinking into one’s deepest nature and finding out what it feels like,” away from the rules of civilized life (Von Franz, Fairy Tales 97).
As Mari sets out again in the morning, she has a vision of her young self playing with her friend. “If the Self appears as a young person in a woman’s unconscious productions, it means the newly and consciously discovered Self” (Von Franz, Fairy Tales 170). An older woman, like Mari’s mother, suggests the deeper self that has always existed far below the strutting Ego, seeking voice. Only in the stillness can the heroine hear it.
The self is too caught up in titles and labels, with perception choked by responsibilities and narrow thinking. Many modern therapists respond with a “controlled regression.” This takes the conscious self “into the borderland-underworld levels of the dark goddess—back to ourselves before we had the form we know, back to the magic and archaic levels of consciousness and to the transpersonal passions and rages which both blast and nurture us there” (Perera 56-57). In the daylight world, our conscious self is trapped in old routines—the more mature consciousness needs deeper wisdom, better relationships, more vital tasks. Thus it seeks out the Dark Goddess.
In legend, the Dark Goddess waits in the margins and borderlands, in the empty places of dark forest or silent desert. Like a sharp-edged fairy godmother, she often advices the questing heroine. (Frankel, Buffy 115)
Mari meets a lion and runs from it, thinking, “I feel so weak. There was a time when a lion wouldn’t frighten me – but that was before Anansi, when I still trusted my powers.” The lion catches her, fragile as she is. However, it is benign, belonging to the pacifist Brother Tabo. She wakes in his dwelling, the shrine of Saint Amica. This is a place of total peace, where even predators and prey live peacefully side by side. She confides in Tabo about feeling unnecessary among the many JLA superheroes, and adds that they’re swallowing her. She has been Vixen so long she has forgotten how to be Mari. Tabo replies, “You feel trapped by your duty to your friends. But do they not also have a duty to you?” He examines the talisman that focuses her powers, realizing that this too is part of Vixen. He asks her to try transforming into something that she feels deep within: “Feel awe, be humbled by your gift, and take joy in it.” She channels his advice and soars as a falcon.
Only after she succeeds does he reveal that he’s palmed her talisman without her noticing, proving that her power is intrinsic. Free of the Justice League, the burden of her past, and even her totem, she can feel the power of her soul. With a new understanding, Mari channels only earth and sky, not others’ expectations, and defeats a lion. She need not keep a desperate control over every aspect of herself, for her powers are a part of her. She returns to the village and faces her mother’s killer again. Aku Kwesi appears a terrible force, but it is all illusion, aided by a cocktail of poisons and money from Intergang. She deprives him of his armor, tosses her own talisman aside, and defeats him, inner strength to inner strength. As she forbids the Justice League to interfere and saves Superman from a terrible fate, the most powerful superhero admits that he shouldn’t have questioned her, for she truly knows the power of her land. Her journey has renewed her and helped her discover her power.
Joss Whedon’s unmade Wonder Woman film has a similar plot arc. First, love interest Steve Trevor criticizes Diana for having powers she’s never earned, asking: “Has there ever been a day you didn’t have everything you wanted? Have you ever been hungry? Been cold? Worked twenty hour days underground for no pay, been spat on, stepped on, shot at … ” Moments later, the evil force Strife chains Diana, depriving her of her powers, and abandons her in the South American jungle. As well as binding, chains symbolize the links that tie humankind to existence and to one another, a link she’s just begun feeling (Cooper 32). In the wilderness, Diana is no longer a pampered princess but a woman with nothing but her own inner strength. There she battles storms, struggles through the jungle, and starves.
Found by the local village, Diana shakes with fever and when asked who she is, she can only respond “It doesn’t matter.” However, a small girl comes up to her and repeats her mother’s words that she must remember who she is because no one can take that away. As with Mari’s vision, this is the voice of the subconscious, both innocence and experience in one. On hearing the voice, Diana struggles from the pit where she’s been thrown. Proudly naming herself, she battles the petty druglords terrorizing the South American village, defeating them with only her human strength and ingenuity. At last, she channels her own strength and breaks her chains. In triumph, she returns to the city and defeats Strife.
An Academy Award winner and Japan’s highest grossing movie of all time, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (Sen and the Mysterious Spiriting Away of Chihiro) is a delightful story, It’s also a classic fairytale plot, created for a young audience interested in girl power.
After announcing his retirement in 1997, the filmmaker took friends to his mountain cabin. His friend’s daughter and her peers inspired Miyazaki, as they were on the verge of adolescence and extremely apathetic. The auteur decided he needed to make a movie for ten-year-old girls. There wasn’t a lot out there for them; their magazines were heavily focused on romance and crushes. “I felt this was not what they held dear in their hearts, not what they wanted,” the filmmaker recalled. “And so I wondered if I could make a movie in which they could be heroines.” (O’Connell)
Ten-year-old Chihiro is grouchy about moving to a new town… but she gets far more panicky when her father decides to take a shortcut along a lonely-looking dirt road. The family find a deserted amusement park filled with wonderful-smelling food. Her parents devour it, but Chihiro senses danger and refuses. To her shock, within a few hours, her mother and father have transformed into pigs. Standing outside a bathhouse for Japan’s gods and spirits, Chihiro is determined to rescue them … she just doesn’t know how!
Miyazaki describes the story’s fantasy origin, noting, “For me, a bathhouse is a mysterious place in town. The first time I saw an oil painting was in a bathhouse. And there was a small door next to the bathtub. I wondered what was behind that door” (“Interview: Miyazaki”). This bathhouse is in the otherworld, across a dividing bridge, in a realm of ghosts. As he adds:
Japanese gods go there to rest for a few days, then return home saying they wished they could stay for a little while longer. I was imagining such things as I made images (of the film). I was thinking that it’s tough being a Japanese god today. (“Interview: Miyazaki”)
A mysterious boy named Haku finds her and promises to help her. He assures Chihiro he’s known her since her childhood, though she doesn’t recall him. He tells her she must get a job at the bathhouse – insist over and over if she’s refused. The terrible Yubaba (bathhouse witch) rules there, but if Chihiro proves herself, she can win her parents back. He adds, “Just keep on asking for work. It’ll be hard work, but you’ll be able to stay here. Then even Yubaba can’t harm you.” Miyazaki continues:
I think this story is similar to that of a girl who comes to, for example, Ghibli, and says, “Let me work here.” For us, Ghibli is a familiar place, but it would look like a labyrinth to a girl coming here for the first time, a scary place. There are a lot of grumpy people here. Joining an organization, finding your own place, and being recognized there requires a lot of effort. In many instances, you must use your own strength. But that’s a matter of course, that’s living in the world. (“Interview: Miyazaki”)
In the world of strange creatures, she goes first to Kamaji, the old many-armed boiler man. When he rejects her, she aids his tiny soot creatures in their own labors transporting lumps of coal. This mirrors one of the most common fairytale tasks – sorting grain.
Sorting seeds represents assessing priorities and making difficult choices. In fact, it is a balancing act—if one can sort grain, then one can watch the baby, the stove, the door, and the toddler, all at once. Thus the young woman learns to supervise a household, to prioritize, to manage the household’s food. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 43)
When she sympathetically saves one of the creatures, Kamaji’s impressed and sends her up to the witch. This is a terrifying place. Her chamber has frightening bouncing green heads who chant and mumble. A baby as big as a room savagely hurls objects and screams. Meanwhile, the witch zips Chihiro’s mouth shut and smirks while she shakes in terror. She rushes at the girl, large enough to eat her, with gnashing teeth. Furiously, she demands, “Why in the world do you think I would give you a job? Anyone can see you’re a lazy, spoiled crybaby and you have no manners! This is a high-class place I’m running here. So there’s no job for you. Now get out! I’ve got all the lazy bums I need. Or maybe I’ll give you the most difficult job I’ve got, and work you until you breathe your very last breath!” Despite her fierceness, she’s multifaceted – practical and eager to make money rather than deliberately cruel. Miyazaki continues:
The scary woman, Yu-baaba, who looks like a bad guy in this film, is actually the manager of the bathhouse where the heroine works. She’s having a hard time managing the bathhouse; she has many employees, a son, and her own desires, and she is suffering because of those things. So I don’t intend to portray her as a simple villain. (“Interview: Miyazaki”)
However, as Chihiro refuses to show fear and insists, “I’m not leaving till you give me a job!” the witch is forced to capitulate, thanks to an oath she once took. Nonetheless, she warns her, “If I hear one little complaint out of you, you’ll be joining your parents in the pigpen.” When Chihiro signs a contract, the witch takes her name and steals away several characters of it, transforming her from the aptly named “thousand searches,” the task she must perform, to the simple and generic “Sen” “thousand.” Losing one’s name, or shadow, or soul is common when in service to the underworld. Being forbidden to speak is another common geas.
Chihiro is sent to join the cleaning women and her service begins. “In the development of women, all these motions of ‘homekeeping,’ the cooking, the washing, the sweeping, quantify something beyond the ordinary. All these metaphors offer ways to think about, to measure, feed, nourish, straighten, cleanse, order the soullife” (Estés 71). This plot is classic in myth – when Roman Psyche staggers to the shrine of her new mother-in-law, Venus, the older woman demands strenuous tasks if Psyche is to reclaim her husband. Blood Moon from the Mayan Popul Vuh has a similar storyline. Many Cinderella-style heroines labor for their stepmothers, and the Russian Vasalisa the Beautiful labors for the primordial Baba Yaga in the forest (the similarity of witch names seems less than coincidental). Estés explains: “Initiation is enacted by completing certain tasks. In this tale there are nine tasks for the psyche to complete. They focus on learning something of the ways of the Old Wild Mother” (59).
Venus’s initiation of Psyche is demanding in the extreme. Psyche suffers torments and afflictions; she despairs of accomplishing her tasks and becomes suicidal. But these strenuous labors develop her consciousness and her capacity to love. … Venus imposes tasks, but these are teaching quests, which offer Psyche the skills she will need as adult and mother. Each time Psyche completes a task, she gains a new intellectual capability. For her character, who reacts far too instinctively and emotionally, these abilities make her more balanced and assertive. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 42-43)
Yubaba is a successful mother, businesswoman, and witch, with hundreds of workers obeying her commands. All of these are roles undeveloped Chihiro has never explored in herself, skills she will need to become an adult. Thus Yubaba is demanding, even cruel, but gives Chihiro a great deal in return. Frequently the heroine has the wicked witch as mentor – a far greater challenge than the benevolent fairy godmother.
Vasalisa does the everyday chores without complaint. To submit without complaint is heroic-seeming, but in fact causes more and more pressure and conflict between the two oppositional natures, one too-good and the other too-demanding. Like the conflict between being overadaptive and being oneself, this pressure builds to a good end. A woman who is tom between these two is in a good way, but she must take the next steps. (Estés 63)
Whatever Chihiro, or rather, Sen, is asked to do, she does politely, with much repetition of “please” and “thank you.” A girl named Lin befriends her, offering advice, and Chihiro does all she’s told. Even when she’s ordered to clean the extra disgusting tub, she does her fair share. Cleaning is, along with hard work, a metaphor for the mental and spiritual realm. “A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects” (Estés 70).
However, Lin warns her that Haku is Yubaba’s henchman and not to be trusted. Thus Sen must balance her openness with wariness and trust her instincts to sort friend from enemy. The next morning, Haku takes Sen to see her oblivious pig-parents. Haku warns Sen that he no longer remembers who he used to be and that if she forgets her identity she’ll never return home. He also warns her not to return there without him and insists she memorize her pig parents’ features, as more pigs are being added to the pens every day. Returning to the bathhouse, Sen spies a white dragon in the air and knows this is Haku’s true form. As her guide, he offers an overhead view—an unusual perspective and necessary distance.
Paying attention and following instructions is always crucial for hero tests. Many fairytales feature three brothers, two of whom ignore the clear instructions, and the youngest, who follows them to the letter. Stories with three girls go much the same. Showing kindness to the unfortunate and politeness to everyone is also important in these stories. As Miyazaki notes, “For those who are in their powerless childhood, when they feel helpless, fantasy has something to give them relief” (“Interview: Miyazaki”). Knowing that following simple rules of society will help them win offers the young readers of fairytales comfort and empowerment.
Sen begins work at the bathhouse, and kindly leaves a door open for a silent, white-masked spirit in a black robe, whom she later discovers is called No-Face. After she’s sent for a soap token (which she has to steal), No-Face brings her a pile of them and seems eager to help and befriend her. She uses the tokens when a terrible stink spirit arrives. Though everyone else at the bathhouse shrieks and covers their noses, she politely pours a bath, and when she discovers a caught thorn, as she thinks, she pulls it from the spirit. In fact, it ends up being a bicycle, attached to a massive heap of junk. Transformed, the now lovely river spirit tells her, “Well done,” and gives her a magic herbal cake.
There are many tests here: observation, generosity, politeness. Most of all perhaps is resisting disgust, being willing to face “divinity, wisdom, warts, and all” (Estés 67). Adulthood will be filled with diapers, injuries, illness – all manner of things the heroine must approach with courage and a strong stomach.
Not so long ago, women were deeply involved in the rhythms of life and death. They inhaled the pungent odor of iron from the fresh blood of childbirth. They washed the cooling bodies of the dead as well. The psyches of modem women, especially those from industrial and technological cultures, are often deprived of these close-up and hands-on blessed and basic experiences. But there is a way for the novice to fully participate in the sensitive aspects of the life and death cycles. … Laundering the Baba Yaga’s clothes is a fabulous symbol. In the old countries, and still today, in order to launder one’s clothes one descends to the river, and there makes the ritualistic ablutions that people have made since the beginning of time in order to renew the cloth. This is a very fine symbol for a cleansing and purification of the entire bearing of the psyche. (Estés 69)
Thus Sen becomes a cleaner of others and learns to accept ugliness but transform it into beauty. To Sen’s surprise, Yubaba praises her loudly and publicly for her efforts, crying, “You can all learn from Sen!”
One of the most remarkable facets of the Yaga portrayed in this tale is that though she threatens, she is just. She does not hurt Vasalisa as long as Vasalisa affords her respect. Respect in the face of great power is a crucial lesson. A woman must be able to stand in the face of power, because ultimately some part of that power will become hers. (Estés 67)
Sen hopes the cake will transform her parents, but, following instructions, she can’t go seeking them without Haku. She waits for him and manages to chase after him when No-Face demands food and begins throwing gold around. Stunned by the wealth of the customer, everyone rushes to do his bidding. Only Sen remains immune, politely refusing the handfuls of god he offers her. Angered by her refusal, No-Face starts swallowing the workers and causes a panic. Nonetheless, she uses the distraction to slip away.
On seeing her dragon friend under attack by a flock of mysterious paper birds, Sen helps him inside and slams a window on the birds. However, Haku lies bleeding and terribly injured. Once more, Sen ignores squeamishness to help him as well as she can. Worse yet, however, he’s lying in the baby’s room. Yubaba’s baby Boh wakes and Sen must pacify him, another popular task for mothers-in-training.
BOH: You came in here to make me sick…you’re a bad germ from outside, aren’t you?
SEN: I’m not a germ, I’m a human. Now can you please let go of me?
BOH: You’ll get sick if you go outside. So stay here and play with me.
SEN: It’s staying in this room that’ll make you sick! You see, somebody I really care about is terribly hurt. I’ve got to go right now. So please let go of me!
He insists he’ll break her arm if she won’t play with him, and when she threatens him with germs, he starts wailing. She’s suddenly rescued by a fragment of paper bird stuck to her all this while. It turns into Yubaba’s lookalike – actually, her twin sister, Zeniba (money witch). She’s been tracking Haku, who stole her gold seal. When Boh won’t stop crying, Zeniba turns him into a small mouse and Yubaba’s pet bird into a fly. When a delirious Haku smashes the paper bird, a Zeniba disappears.
Sen virtuously feeds the cake that might save her parents to Haku to save him. When he spits up the seal and she discovers it’s cursed him, she resolves to journey to Zeniba, return it, and apologize on Haku’s behalf. The mouse-child, held aloft by the fly, resolves to go with her. When she persuades a lonely and miserable No Face to stop terrorizing the bathhouse, he throws up the swallowed workers but insists on going along too. She decides, “He’s only bad in the bathhouse; he needs to get out of there” and willingly brings him along. These are of course the animal companions rescued by the youngest brother or sister, who provide valuable advice and skills for the hero.
These creatures are a part of the heroine, the unconscious voices that creep forward to help, to comfort, when the task is too hard. Famed fairytale analyst Bruno Bettelheim theorizes that “both dangerous and helpful animals stand for our animal nature, our instinctual drives.” They are the tiny voices that operate on the intuitive level: “Don’t go there! Stop and think first. Trust yourself.” They provide encouragement and strength, acting as the heroine’s hands and eyes to solve her puzzles. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 65)
The only way to Zeniba is a one-way train, requiring faith as well as sacrifice as Sen will have to discover a way back. Nonetheless, she sets out.
Meanwhile, Haku wakes, his curse ended. He exclaims, “Chihiro kept calling my name in the darkness. I followed her voice, and woke up lying here.” The power of love has brought him back. When he tells Yubaba that her sister has her baby, he bargains that when Sen returns she can trade the baby for her freedom and her parents’. Yubaba agrees, but insists on a final test. On giving his blessing, Haku flies to Chihiro to aid her.
Meanwhile, Zeniba is surprisingly kind to Sen, insisting on being called Granny and giving her advice on how to find Haku’s true name. Behaving honorably clearly results in honorable behavior in turn. Zeniba befriends Yen’s sidekicks, and keeps No Face with her. She is the kind side of Yubaba; they are two halves of a whole, much like mythic Baba Yaga herself.
Baba Yaga is benevolent and terrifying, wisewoman and monster. “Baba” means grandmother, or possibly “pelican,” suggesting her birdlike goddess nature. “Yaga,” however, connotes “disease,” “fright,” or “wrath.” She offers a wise power the sheltered heroine has never experienced; like shallow Athena confronting Medusa, or Psyche before death’s throne, she is mesmerized. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 150)
With new knowledge and advice, she hurries off to free her parents. On her way out with Haku, Chihiro reclaims her name, and on the flight, she recalls a story from her past:
Haku, listen. I just remembered something from a long time ago – I think it may help you. Once, when I was little, I dropped my shoe into a river. And when I tried to get it back, I fell in. I thought I’d drown but the water carried me to shore. It finally came back to me. The river’s name was … the Kohaku River. I think that was you! And your real name is Kohaku River.
This task suggests a deep intuition about the universe and its workings, one honed by her time in the magical world as well as Zeniba’s cryptic advice. Thanks to her paying close attention and focusing her mind, her friend is free. His dragon form blows away in the wind, and they’re flying together as two children, hand in hand. The music soars triumphantly.
When they return, the baby transforms from his mouse shape and also repays Chihiro’s kindness: “If you make Sen cry, I won’t like you anymore,” he tells his mother. Her kindheartedness towards each of her friends teaches her the skills needed for adulthood and also has immediate rewards.
Nonetheless, a final task is required: Chihiro must recognize her parents among the pigs. This task, another fairytale staple, emphasizes paying close attention and looking with the deep intuition of the magical world. Chihiro succeeds and her family is freed. Haku promises they’ll meet again, and after their farewell, Chihiro hurries back to her oblivious parents. She assures them she has no more fears about a new school – who would, after passing all the tests of adulthood?
Just as Harry Potter journeys into the underground passages of Hogwarts to battle Lord Voldemort, each hero and heroine in turn must journey into the unknown and face mortality in order to grow into adulthood. Like Harry, Lyra Belacqua of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman descends on an epic journey into death itself to pass her greatest challenge and embrace her own ephemeral nature. First, she falls into a preparatory trancelike sleep, and then, upon awakening, she vows to undertake the darkest journey of all to rescue her friend’s lost soul. Through this complete surrender to the unconscious, the heroine transcends her existence and gains enough wisdom to become mother-protector of her future family. Only then is she prepared for romance and the responsibilities of adulthood.
Lyra is questing as all heroines do: to rescue siblings enchanted into swans, a father under a deadly curse of indifference, or a lover stolen by the fairy queen. When the gobblers kidnap her dear friend Roger, her journey takes her through the wild north and untold adventures to rescue him. Though her search apparently ends in The Golden Compass as she recovers Roger and takes him, as she thinks, to a place of safety where she can rescue her imprisoned father as well, she is deceived. When Lord Asriel betrays her and sacrifices Roger, guilt and despair overcome Lyra. As she explains, “You got no notion how I feel sad and wicked and sorry about my friend Roger…it’s a torment and a sorrow to me that I never said goodbye to him, and I want to say sorry and make it as good as I can” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 237). Her quest to save him has only begun, and will not end until she wrests him away from death itself and returns him to the world of life. Yet this task is too horrific and daunting for her to face, prompting a return to childhood and safety. Thus, Lyra begins The Amber Spyglass tossing in a drug-induced sleep, searching for Roger in her dreams. Only through accepting the enormity of her task can she reconcile her adolescent guilt and emerge from her sleeping beauty state.
Eyes shut, Lyra connects with the world of the unconscious. Here, dreams and inspiration are linked, below the level of self-awareness. This is the font of creativity, intuition, feminine power. Hearing Roger call for her is like reading her magical alethiometer, Lyra explains: “All that clearness and understanding going so deep you can’t see the bottom, but clear all the way down” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 147). Her dreams are a pool as she dives to the bottom. Only when she is in a meditative state, open to Dust (often equated with original sin or personal choice) and the force of her unconscious, can she hear the message echoing within. She must close her eyes, shut out the world, and focus inward. “Women and artists know instinctively that there are times in life where we must be unreachable, times when we must insist that those around us, especially those nearest and dearest, remain at a distance if anything significant is to develop inside us,” explains Joan Gould, fairytale expert (98). This, the unconscious, is where death and the underworld lie, so only in dreams does Lyra first hear their call. She is Sleeping Beauty, connecting with her inner self and growing into awareness. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, notes: “While the metaphor of sleep can denote unconsciousness, here it symbolizes creation and renewal. Sleep is the symbol of rebirth” (151). Here, sleep softens the transition as Lyra transforms from child to woman, preparing for motherhood. In this dream state, Roger calls to Lyra with “his little pale face in the darkness,” a lost child summoning a protector (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 48). Lyra answers him, vowing deep in her heart to battle death itself to free him. By doing so, she grows into a defender of children, rescuing Roger and his friends as her adoptive family.
Still, as Lyra climbs toward adulthood, part of her holds back. This part is symbolized by Mrs. Coulter: the stifling part of Lyra’s unconscious, the small voice that clings to childhood. “She has abducted her own daughter and is prepared to keep her drugged into unconsciousness for perhaps her entire adolescence, in order to prevent her from being tempted as Eve was,” one critic notes (Giardina 147). Mrs. Coulter, here an overprotective mother, longs to keep Lyra trapped in childhood, unable to grow, bear her own children, or finally die. Lyra must not wake or venture outside the cave or grow into an adolescent. Mrs. Coulter reveals her fears, saying, “Lyra will somehow, sometime soon, be tempted, as Eve was—that’s what they say. What form this temptation will take, I don’t know, but she’s growing up, after all. It’s not hard to imagine” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 183). A frightening vision of sex and lost innocence threaten, and Mrs. Coulter hides Lyra away from politics, religion, and responsibility, swaddling her in the simplicity of childhood. Though Lyra is unconscious, Mrs. Coulter is acting out Lyra’s needs, providing her with comfort and safety rather than the terror of the unknown. “When I heard what the witch said, I saved my daughter for the third time. I took her to a place where I kept her safe, and there I was going to stay,” Mrs. Coulter explains. “I washed her and fed her and kept her safe and warm, I made sure her body was nourished as she slept” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 184). Thus, she insists on babying her after drugging her into helplessness. For the first time, Lyra has a caring mother, but it is the overprotection of Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty, whose witch-mothers lock them in towers away from the outside world and its questing heroes. As her friend Will, like many fairy tale princes, struggles to reach Lyra, Mrs. Coulter defends her fiercely against the threats Will poses: growth, romance, love, sexuality.
In many fairy tales, the onset of adolescence results in total isolation: Rapunzel locked in her tower, Brunhilda sleeping in a ring of fire, Snow White apparently dead in her glass coffin. This unending sleep is a death of its own sort: the death of growth and change. At the same time, this cocoonlike state is a necessary step in reaching adulthood. “During puberty, sleep is the refuge in which an adolescent girl can absorb the new sense of herself that she gains from the prick of the spindle, and changes from girl to woman: a transformation more radical than from boy to man,” explains Gould (108). Young women have developed new powers—they can produce new lives inside of them. Their bodies change and develop sooner than expected. These teens aren’t certain they’re ready for Prince Charming, but having the prince choose someone else would be intolerable: How to cope? Sleep allows the girl to withdraw, to come to terms with her changing self and then to reappear when she’s ready to try adulthood and the sexuality it entails. When she’s ready, Sleeping Beauty wakes to find her prince waiting for her: the thorn hedges part when the right man comes, on the very day she’s stirring again. “Is it you, my prince?” she asks. He, like all fairytale characters, is an aspect of herself, the male persona or animus who represents her completion. She has reconciled these new parts of her personality and thus welcomes him. Within a fairytale paragraph, they fall in love, wed, and have children, just as she’s planned. In just this way, Lyra calls out for Will as she prepares to awaken. She senses her change is complete, senses life will pass her by if she doesn’t leave the cave: “I’m so afraid of sleeping all my life and then dying—I want to wake up first,” she says. “I wouldn’t care if it was just for an hour, as long as I was properly alive and awake” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 48).
Lyra finds herself dreaming of Will, promising Roger he’s worthy of her faith: “We can trust him, Roger, I swear,” she says (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 69). This thought turns a key in her own mind: if Will is trustworthy, then Lyra can offer him her heart without fear. This final thought of her unconscious mind propels her upward: she’s ready. And, indeed, her hero is waiting there with his Subtle Knife, ready to rescue her from the clinging Mrs. Coulter. Mrs. Coulter sobs, “My heart’s treasure, my little child, my only one! Oh, Lyra, Lyra, don’t go, don’t leave me!” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 143). Lyra’s consciousness is clinging to childhood for a last moment, urging her to remain within the sheltering cave. Still, the time has come: She can’t remain a child any longer. Here, Lyra must borrow Will’s “will” or driving force to propel her from the cave, just as his knife will carry them into the land of the dead. In a “ruthless” gesture, he snatches Lyra’s hand and drags her from safety into the outside world (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 143).
Deep in her dreams, Lyra heard Roger calling like a lost part of herself, a severed soul fragment. “I hate it, I’m scared of it all, I hate it—” he sobs (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 8). This echoing voice from the depth of Lyra’s dream is vanishing, calling her to snatch it, to reclaim it. “This too is a powerful metaphor for the idea of saving the childSelf, the soul-self, from being lost again in the unconscious, forgetting who we are and what our work is,” Estés explains of this tenuous inner voice (449-450). Only in the darkest area of the soul can Lyra find her inner purpose before it fades forever. Driven by her unconscious, which craves self-knowledge, Lyra resolves to enter the darkest world of them all, a world from which no one has returned.
Wisdom, however, comes from suffering and loss: Both children are stripped to their most raw essences—to face death and find their identities, Lyra and Will must cast aside their guardian-protectors: the dæmons. A dæmon represents a person’s inner self, changing shape as often as a person changes mood. Sally Vincent, author of “Driven by Dæmons” adds, “It is your guardian angel, your confidante, your conscience, your representative.” This separation is a shock Lyra has never anticipated: Leaving Pan is like “tearing her heart out of her breast” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 254). Nonetheless, the rules of the land of the dead are inviolate: no dæmon can protect her or soften her experience. “Lyra gave a cry so passionate that even in the muffled, mist-filled world it raised an echo, but of course it wasn’t an echo, it was the other part of her crying in turn from the land of the living as Lyra moved away into the land of the dead” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 254). Alone together in death, Will becomes Lyra’s substitute companion, forcing her to trade in her childhood protector for a more adult relationship. Facing death is terrifying, and cuddly animal guardians can’t shield Lyra from her journey, or protect her as she travels: this journey and its knowledge are the price of growing up.
This ultimate form of initiation answers the most primitive longings inside a woman as she travels from innocence to knowledge, light to darkness. While logic and the external world are man’s traditional domain, the world of the heart and spirit belong to the woman. In ancient, matriarchal mythology, this descent was a desirable initiation made by female seekers of knowledge. The great goddesses Inanna and Ishtar plunge bravely into the night in order to find enlightenment (Perera 50-58). Once this initiation ritual was sought out and desired, as young women craved their descent into the cave and the new wisdom it would bring. The power of the ancient feminine would guide a woman down to the world of the unconscious, with untold wisdom as a reward. Even the figure of the dark god was not menacing, but welcoming, as the young, questing anima sought its dark opposite, the wise and powerful animus (Estés 412).
As the patriarchal Hellenistic religion took over, the woman’s journey and archetypal eagerness for knowledge faded. From this shift in power came the legend of Persephone, an innocent flower princess who must be violently kidnapped to enter the realm of the dead (Estés 412). All eagerness to enter the underworld, filled with its dark secrets, vanished, and the heroine often allows a man to drag her on her quest. This is also the deepest form of silencing, willing or unwilling—the silence of the underworld. Lyra willingly journeys deep within herself as she makes her descent, unsure whether she will ever reemerge into day. However, like her earlier sleep, this is the place to learn and grow, to encounter the deepest self and integrate it into one’s consciousness. This fearful withdrawal is its own initiation, though it comes with a price: Taking the underworld boat, Lyra begins her journey with a wrenching parting she finds painful beyond words as she makes the prophesized great betrayal, abandoning Pan on the shore.
Lyra was doing the cruelest thing she had ever done, hating herself, hating the deed, suffering for Pan and with Pan; trying to put him down on the cold path, disengaging his cat claws from her clothes, weeping weeping. Will closed his ears: the sound was too unhappy to bear. Time after time she pushed her dæmon away, and he still cried and tried to cling (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 253).
From the land of the dead, Lyra travels down a dark passage, with only a single firefly’s light to guide her. From there, she falls into an eternal pit of blackness: “Her whole being was a vortex of roaring fear. Faster and faster, she tumbled, down and down” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 322). To reach the purest levels of the unconscious, Lyra must sacrifice everything and commit herself to freefall into utter darkness—the ultimate terror of the unknown. This journey represents acceptance of death—only by completely surrendering to the unconscious can the heroine transcend her existence, and learn enough to accomplish her quest and take her place as a wise and balanced leader of her community.
The land of death indeed offers arcane understanding, as it does to all questers who pass through. In ancient myth, Hercules, Odysseus and Aeneas learn advice for their futures, as Persephone embraces the darkness within her, transforming from innocent flower princess to queen of the dead. Here, Will’s father tells Will and Lyra the most important secret of their lives: that neither can remain in the other’s world and remain healthy. “We can travel,” he says, “if there are openings into other worlds, but we can only live in our own” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 325). Likewise, he cautions them that Lord Asriel’s wicked plan is hopeless: joining the worlds will destroy all of them. “We have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are because for us there is no elsewhere” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 325). Will and Lyra eventually do just this, accepting this wisdom and committing to each build the republic alone.
Lyra and Will likewise learn about the third hidden part of themselves, their “death.” “The moment you’re born, your death comes into the world with you, and it’s your death that takes you out,” a man explains at death’s gateway (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 233). Just as dæmons are the conscience or soul, which dies when the body does, the “death” is another part, the constant reminder of evanescence, of time’s passage. It is biology’s rhythms, regulating the body as it travels toward mortality. One child explains, “When he was with me, I always knew there was someone I could trust, someone who knew where we were going and what to do” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 269). Some might call it the spirit, which accompanies the self to death when the dæmon has already died. Whether soul or biological clock, this “death” is a hidden part neither Lyra nor Will has even perceived. Both are cut off from this essential part of themselves, which they can only reach by journeying into the heart of the unconscious. To reach that forbidden land, Lyra and Will must literally face mortality, summoning the deaths their people have always avoided seeing.
This test is an acknowledgement of mortality, embracing a terrifying part of the self. Death is always a part of life, and only knowing this can Will and Lyra enter adulthood. Estés writes:
This is our meditation practice as women, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of ourselves, calling back the dead and dismembered aspects of life itself. The one who re-creates from that which has died is always a double-sided archetype. The Creation Mother is always the Death Mother and vice versa (33).
This is the ultimate initiation to adulthood: connecting with all one’s disassociated parts.
Aside from the lessons, Will and Lyra transform together underground. Journeying together, Will and Lyra finally learn love, the most elusive mystery of the unconscious world. Lyra says she’s glad they’re together, and Will sees “an expression on her face that he knew and liked more than anything he’d known” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 268). Though the children don’t voice it yet, their relationship has shifted from friendship into something more. In the darkest part of the land of the dead, “he held her tight, pressing her to his chest, feeling the wild beat of her heart against his ribs. She wasn’t Lyra then, and he wasn’t Will: she wasn’t a girl and he wasn’t a boy. They were the only two humans in that vast gulf of death” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 323). The panic of their experience has stripped away their barriers, fears, and embarrassment at growing up. Thus, they have crossed the frightening barrier of adolescence prepared to commit to each other as lovers.
The stillness of the dead is a place of total peace. There, the dead dwell in confusion and emptiness, much like Lyra’s sleep in the protected cave. Ghosts have lost the dæmons, their consciousnesses. They wait silently, separate from the growth and cycling of the world, perfectly preserved. It is the Authority’s plan. The zealous ghost of a monk proclaims:
The world we lived in was a vale of corruption and tears. Nothing there could satisfy us. But the Almighty has granted us this blessed place for all eternity, this paradise, which to the fallen soul seems bleak and barren, but which eyes of faith see as it is, overflowing with milk and honey and resounding with the sweet hymns of angels. This is heaven truly (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 287).
At the same time, this dissatisfaction the monk mentions is consciousness itself: the desire for answers, inventions, creation, imagination. The land of the dead has none of this, only fading memories. Will cautions that the monk is lying. Freed from her illusions, Lyra sees this and resolves to lead the dead out of “heaven,” just as Eve shattered paradise so long ago.
When Lyra plans to free all the ghosts, one comments, “This will undo everything. It’s the greatest blow you could strike. The Authority will be powerless after this” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 278). Though confronted by the Authority’s lingering orders, Lyra, as Eve reborn, doesn’t hesitate. She has reclaimed her inner child, Roger, and gained the arcane knowledge of the unconscious. Glowing with feminine power, she doesn’t fear a standing order issued by male authority in centuries past. She resolves to bring the growth and fertility of the earth into death itself, leading the ghosts to freedom. This decision is a move from obedience to rebellion, innocence to consciousness.
Eve, Pandora, Bluebeard’s wife, and many other heroines take the forbidden action and open the door or box wiser mentors have urged them to avoid. Yet “destructive feminine curiosity” is not the reason. The heroine is told, “Knowledge lies here, in your first prick of the spindle or bite of the apple, but don’t take it. Do as you’re told and stay in innocence, even when you hold temptation in your hand.” In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Estés speaks of harnessing one’s own feminine creativity and “wildness,” saying, “As long as a woman is forced into believing that she is powerless and/or is trained to not consciously register what she knows to be true, the feminine gifts and impulses of her psyche continue to be killed off” (50). The heroine rejects this smothering childhood: She only seeks the equality denied to her and takes her first step toward loss of innocence. She cannot allow the dominant male, the animus, the Authority to block her from the truth.
Eve’s sterile existence in Eden is a form of death: death of the soul. Everything is provided for her; she has no questions, no needs, no desires, until she tastes the apple of self-knowledge, opening her to consciousness. The Bible of Lyra’s world promises that when Eve eats the forbidden fruit, “Your eyes shall be opened and your dæmons shall assume their true forms and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Pullman, Golden Compass 372). In other words, the fruit of knowledge changes innocent, inexperienced children into moral adults.
This is the Church’s greatest fear for Lyra. “She must not fall!” they cry. “If she discards her untutored childhood in favor of morality and wisdom, we’re doomed.”
Why is that? The Church of The Golden Compass depends on blind childlike faith, as they’ve long since abandoned morality and logic. With their full blessing, Mrs. Coulter heads the Oblation Board, killing children to study them. She lies, seduces, and entraps, just as the Church lies without pause: “The holy fathers of the Church eradicate the truth using inquisition, exorcism, and torture” (Wilkinson 6). The Church condones murder, even hypocritically letting its assassins “accrue penance” in advance, rather like interest in a bank. Angels like the Metatron value chastity but willingly succumb to sexual temptation. Most importantly, the Authority is withered and senile, locked in crystal. Faith is essential in this religion, as God is no longer giving the orders. “God said we should stay here,” the monk insists. “Everything God commands is true and blessed and beautiful because he created it.” Likewise, Mrs. Coulter insists the children will be happier without sinful Dust contaminating them. At puberty, she explains, “dæmons bring all sorts of troublesome thoughts and feelings, and that what lets Dust in. A quick little operation before that, and you’re never troubled again” (Pullman, Golden Compass 284). One look at the soulless children and empty underworld convinces Lyra that denying life is not its own paradise, and only those whose faith overwhelm their reason could believe it. The Church demands total obedience to the Authority’s will, but Lyra can’t comply any longer. She chooses compassion for the ghosts over the Authority’s strictures.
Author Phillip Pullman agrees with Lyra’s choice, calling man’s relationship with dust “a strange one” and “a mutually dependent one.” He adds the Dust is “Everything that is consciousness – human thought, imagination, love, affection, kindness….intellectual curiosity” – all Lyra must stop denying herself (Pullman and Freitas).
Filled with moral strength, Lyra leads all the ghosts from the land of death back into the world of life, accomplishing the quest she battled death to achieve. Roger is the first to emerge into the world again. There, he becomes part of “the night, the starlight, the air” and then finally vanishes in “a vivid little burst of happiness” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 325). He returns to nature, part of the endless cycle of birth and death. The other ghosts follow, luxuriating in the fresh dew and fertile soil of nature. This is the book’s glorious exodus from Eden: a time of rebirth and triumphant change. In this moment, the feminine principles of growth and the life cycle conquer the desiccated male Authority, who trapped all the ghosts in the sterile land of the dead. Lyra, the fertile mother-goddess, has accomplished this.
All heroines, at some point, must confront their fathers, only to find them frail shadows of their once dominant power. The wizard is a humbug, the emperor has no clothes. From the moment Lyra resolves to defy the Authority, she achieves a moral victory. The Authority, of course, has lost all authority he once possessed. When the children encounter him, back in the anticlimactic real world, he’s too senile to speak, and merely smiles wordlessly. “In the open air, there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay, his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 367). A single breath of air destroys him, leaving the children free to make their own choices, untainted by the dictates of Authority or Church.
Lyra’s adulthood, bought with her fearsome passage through death, has a heavy price. Her alethiometer, advisor and guardian, no longer works, as the gift of childhood, the “grace” that allows instant mastery of the golden compass, has faded. She has chosen experience and freedom over letting the universe give her everything unconditionally, and must accept the hard work adulthood brings. “In the arduous process of re-learning the lost grace of childhood and replacing it with the knowledge of experience, innocence must become, fittingly, a toy unfit for conscious—and conscientious—adulthood,” comments Naomi Wood, critic and teacher (22). Lyra cannot follow another’s guidance—either the Authority’s or the alethiometer’s: she has grown enough to learn for herself.
Still, this is gain, not loss. “Pullman strongly suggests that to fall from innocence is not to become guilty, but simply to become conscious of responsibility as a sentient and moral being,” Wood adds (21). Lyra willingly enrolls in school, no longer as a dabbler learning a bit of every subject the Oxford scholars bother to teach her. Now she devotes herself to mastering the alethiometer and its arcane language. Xaphania the rebel angel insists that learning the alethiometer’s workings the hard way (and thus the adult way) is a greater reward: “Your reading will be even better then, after a lifetime of thought and effort, because it will come from conscious understanding. Grace attained like that is deeper and fuller than grace that comes freely” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 440). Lyra can discover her own truth now, rather than blindly following the alethiometer’s commands without higher understanding.
Lyra receives another gift: unexpected independence. Never again will Lyra and Will need to cling to their dæmons like teddy bears and safety blankets. The creatures can speed long distances from their owners: the first autonomous dæmons unconnected to witches. “Those two have changed many things,” Serafina, witch and mentor, explains. “Now they [the dæmons] can roam free, and go to far places, and see strange things and bring back knowledge” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 423-434). Lyra’s separation from her dæmon has granted her the powers of a wisewoman, or witch, thus setting her above those still bound by society’s strictures.
The dæmons, outward manifestations of soul-growth and completion, have yet another gift to offer Lyra and Will: settling. “A dæmon is a visible, external part of a person that represents facets of the person’s character” writes Tony Watkins, author of Dark Matter: Shedding Light on Phillip Pullman’s Trilogy His Dark Materials (113). Children, unformed, shift constantly from one thing to another. Who will they become? What will they be when they grow up? Even they don’t know, and their dæmons shift with every mood. When Lyra and Will each understand themselves completely, having faced the dark shadows of their unconscious natures, they know who they are and what they want. Thus, all the shape-shifting uncertainty ends, leaving their dæmons, and themselves, settled in permanent form.
Will put a hand on hers. A new mood had taken hold of him, and he felt resolute and peaceful. Knowing exactly what he was doing and what it would mean, he moved his hand from Lyra’s wrist and stroked the red-gold fur of her dæmon.
Lyra gasped. But her surprise was mixed with a pleasure so like the joy that flooded through her when she had put the fruit to his lips that she couldn’t protest, because she was breathless. With a racing heart she responded in the same way: she put her hand on the silky warmth of Will’s dæmon, and as her fingers tightened in the fur, she knew that Will was feeling exactly what she was.
And she knew, too, that neither dæmon would change now, having felt a lover’s hands on them. These were their shapes for life: they would want no other.
So, wondering whether any lovers before them had made this blissful discovery, they lay together as the earth turned slowly and the moon and stars blazed above them (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 446-447).
With love and commitment comes wisdom, and growth beyond the ever-changing battle of the sexes. Thus, adulthood offers gifts that childhood lacks. Lyra discovers she doesn’t mind Pan’s not changing, and actually welcomes this “blissful discovery” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 447).
When Lyra and Will devote themselves to each other mutually and permanently, shown by the tabooed act of touching each others’ dæmons, the dæmons no longer offer a world of shape-shifting uncertainty. Pan settles into an adult dæmon, the integrated male portion of Lyra’s consciousness. Will has a similar gift waiting in the form of Kirjava, his feminine side finally manifested as a dæmon. Their journey has changed both children: making them whole and bringing them together.
Still, this delight, like many others, carries a harsh loss: Lyra and Will cannot stay together. Lyra has grown up by learning to love Will and gaining his love in return. The price for this wisdom, of course, is leaving paradise and innocence. Their love will remain a perfect moment in time, revisited on a bench in Oxford every year, yet preserved only in memory. The ideal love of childhood cannot exist in the adult world, and both adolescents must accept that. As critic Nickolas Tucker notes:
By making Will and Lyra—like Romeo and Juliet—separate just as they have found each other, Pullman also ensures that this first vision of young love remains forever unsullied by any of the practical difficulties or inevitable disagreements that creep into even the most ideal of human relationships (179).
Though separate, Lyra and Will can hope and dream: through good deeds they will build the Republic of Heaven in the end.
This story, after all, is a journey. The sleeping princess, caught on the cusp of adolescence, finds her prince and sets out to find her inner child, integrating into a whole and powerful adult. Once she has visited the realm of the dead, she has the wisdom and duality of both worlds. Shining with a new brightness after undergoing the fearsome ritual, she truly knows herself, comfortable at last in her maturing body. She is strong enough to care for a household or a child. Having reconciled her inner and outer natures, feminine and masculine, she can give herself in love. She is an adult now: no longer a willful child, bewildering shapeshifter, or sheltered innocent. Finally complete, she can build the Republic of Heaven.
Suzanne Collins explains in several interviews that the Games themselves were inspired by the classical myth of Theseus. Every nine years, seven Athenian boys and seven Athenian girls were sent to Crete as tributes and locked in the labyrinth for the bull-headed Minotaur to devour. Collins comments, “My 24 boys and girls who must fight to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol are also called “tributes,” like the Athenian youth, and after taking the place of her sister, Prim, who would surely have died, the story’s heroine, Katniss, joins the other tributes but is continuously defiant of the Capitol” (Blasingame). One year, the valiant Prince Theseus volunteers. Upon arriving, he navigates the terrible labyrinth of Crete and slays the Minotaur. His mission is to destroy the monster and end Minos’s tyranny over his country.
In his heroic quest, Theseus follows the same pattern as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and many other heroes from myth and literature. Katniss, of course, finds herself on a similar path. Her sister is drafted, so she volunteers to take her place, and finally finds herself on a mission to bring down tyrannical President Snow. Nonetheless, her focus as she spends the series protecting Prim and her growing adoptive family, from Peeta to the children of Panem, establishes her on the traditional heroine’s journey. Gary Ross comments:
One of the things that’s made the books so popular is that Katniss struggles for and maintains her own humanity in the face of a culture that wants to take it from her. By the end [of book one], she’s willing to die rather than take an innocent life. She’s a phenomenal hero, and I think that’s very inspiring and redemptive. (Buchanan, “Prattle Royale”)
Protector of Life
From the first chapter of The Hunger Games, the Capitol is revealed as a force for evil, one that forces children to murder each other for entertainment. Collins comments, “In the book, the annual Hunger Games themselves are a power tool used as a reminder of who is in charge and what will happen to citizens who don’t capitulate” (Blasingame).
The entire system preys on children. A child can take another’s place in the Games, but an adult cannot. Children must sacrifice themselves for tesserae grain to support their families. The Hunger Games are very much set up as an attack on the districts’ children, not merely the districts themselves. This is an ugly terrorist form of warfare as there is no defense – each year, twenty-three children are killed – by children. Katniss’s success in managing to lower that number by one is groundbreaking and a testament to her character. Collins defined one of the book’s themes as, “Mess with us and we’ll do something worse than kill you. We’ll kill your children.” As Collins adds, “And the thing is, it was allowed; the parents sat by powerless to stop it” (Scholastic).
As an interviewer pointed out to Collins, “One of the most disturbing aspects of the ‘Hunger Games’ is that children are forced to murder other children on live TV. I can’t think of another series for young people that has so much kid-on-kid violence.”
Well, the thing is, whatever I write, whether it’s for TV or whether it’s books, even if I’m writing for preschoolers, I want the protagonist to be the age of the viewing audience. So I’m not going to write a war story for kids and then just have them on the sidelines. If I write a war story for kids, they’re going to be the warriors in it. (Margolis)
Katniss’s great fear is that her own children will be forced to fight in the Games, and so she resolves never to have any. From the start, even the thought of training other children horrifies her. “It must be hell to mentor two kids and then watch them die,” she thinks, realizing with a shudder that this will be her fate if she wins the first Game (Hunger Games 386). At that moment, she sympathizes with her trainer Haymitch and understands how he could grow so cynical. For Haymitch too was once a terrorized child of the Games. After he won, his family and girlfriend were killed to keep him in line. Looking at him, Katniss sees her hopeless future if she can manage to win. “Perhaps the most crucial story told here is the conflict between children and the adults they may become,” Sarah Outterson Murphy comments in her essay on child soldiers in the series, as indeed, the lawmakers have left Katniss only a choice between evils (199).
Nonetheless, Katniss protects other wounded children in the Games. When tiny Rue crosses her path, Katniss lowers her bow, smiles, and offers an alliance. A twelve-year-old girl, even one as capable as Rue, merits her protection on sight. She reminds Katniss of Prim but also of her younger self – Rue is the oldest in her family, used to protecting and feeding her younger siblings. She’s always been starved, but she’s become talented at foraging and ducking the guards.
Katniss cannot watch suffering, in her mother’s patients, in starving children, in the Avoxes. She’s drawn to invalids and other helpless people, distributing food through District Twelve as soon as she has enough to spare. Upon seeing the elderly and drug-addled participants in the games, she reflects that “a lot of them are so damaged that my natural instinct would be to protect them” (Catching Fire 234). She chooses Beetee and Mags for allies, some of the least competent competitors, because they seem to need her.
Katniss’s relationships are likewise defined by protecting those who are suffering. In the Games, Katniss finds Peeta badly wounded, and cares for him, not just for the sponsors, but because she can’t stand his agony. Her kisses, though also meant for the sponsors, are a tool to convince Peeta to eat and drink. Gale too notes that Katniss only kisses him when he’s in pain. In the forest back in District Twelve, Katniss persuades Gale that they both must lead their families into the wilderness, insist, or even drag them by force, as it’s the only way to keep them safe. However, her fear for Prim stops her.
At the same time, Katniss realizes that Prim, starved and miserable, has already suffered because of the Capitol. She has seen her father killed and her sister tortured in the Games.
Prim…Rue…aren’t they the very reason I have to try to fight? Because what has been done to them is so wrong, so beyond justification, so evil that there is no choice? Because no one has the right to treat them as they have been treated? (Catching Fire 123).
When Prim tells Katniss she’s going to be a doctor, “Something small and quiet, like a match being struck,” lights up the gloom (Mockingjay 150). This is what Katniss has been fighting for: A better future for Prim and all the other children. It’s no accident that Rue and Prim die in the war. Of all the characters, they are the most innocent, sweet, and helpless, a reminder to readers that those who deserve it aren’t always the victims. It’s the civilians, even the youngest, who starve and die when one country attempts to prey on another.
Many popular books, such as A Series of Unfortunate Events and Harry Potter, show clueless adults who don’t understand the danger their world faces. It is the children who must break the adults’ rules to save the day. Panem is an entire world built around this principle. While kids provide for their families, the adults fight needless wars and punish children in the Hunger Games. For Katniss, adults are untrustworthy and deceitful – she knows she can rely only on herself and those like her. But Katniss does more than survive: she becomes a defender of the helpless, one who challenges and defeats the adults of Panem to safeguard its children.
Through the trilogy, Katniss’s mother is notable for her uselessness. Katniss has always been the head of the household, since her father died and her mother collapsed. Katniss admits that she mostly took charge to keep her fragile sister Prim out of the community home that would “crush her like a bug” (Hunger Games 27). Even when remembering the mine accident itself, she wonders why she and her sister had to search for their oblivious mother, rather than the reverse. Most memorable is her mother’s shutdown, as she curls up in bed and allows her tiny children to starve. Possibly she is overcome by trauma, or possibly, given her wealthy upbringing and later passive behavior, she feels entitled to be a child herself and have others care for her.
Fairytale mothers always die (or in modern fantasy are incapacitated), allowing the heroine to thrive. Metaphorically, the all-caring mother of young childhood is not what the questing adolescent requires. The heroine cannot quest with her mother holding her hand – she must find the source of support within herself as she grows. The author of Women Who Run with the Wolves adds that a woman’s psychic chores include the following:
Accepting that the ever-watchful, hovering, protective, psychic mother is not adequate as a central guide for one’s future instinctual life (the too-good mother dies). Taking on the task of being on one’s own, developing one’s own consciousness about danger, intrigue, politic. Becoming alert by oneself, for oneself. (Estés 81)
When Katniss’s mother proves inadequate, Katniss accepts her mother’s tasks as well as her own and grows into a true heroine.
It’s Katniss who at age eleven risks her life sneaking into the meadow to hunt. She even brings seven-year-old Prim to help her, as their mother won’t budge. Years later, Katniss pushes away her mother’s touch. Adults cannot save her, Katniss knows.
Gale is Katniss’s only partner; together they are like parents protecting their families. This extends so far that Gale and Katniss have a mutual pledge to care for each other’s siblings if one is sent to the Games. Gale points out that they could run away “If we didn’t have so many kids,” as he puts it (Hunger Games 9). With so many dependents, they have assumed their parents’ responsibilities.
Peeta too is a savior of those weaker than he is, as he rescues Katniss with his two loaves of bread. By contrast, his heartless mother beats Peeta and ignores the starving child who’s practically on her doorstep. Peeta remains an artless, childish hero through the trilogy. Even confronted with the Games, he’s determined to remain a good person rather than a pawn of the Capitol’s adults. His actor, Josh Hutcherson said, “I fell in love with Peeta right away. His self-deprecating humor, his outlook on life, and how he doesn’t want things to change him – those things are really a part of who I am as a person” (Egan 26). He’s like the best of everyone, a voice of hope and high spirits.
By the time the first book begins, Katniss scavenges meat and plants from the forest daily, while her mother and sister are a pair of dependents waiting at home for the food. All they contribute has been originally supplied by Katniss, who brings her mother healing herbs and gives Prim her goat. Their mother has only her prized dresses to offer – the beautiful past she clings to instead of selling the fine garments for food. Her medical skills are seen used on others, not her daughters. When Gale and Katniss are injured, her mother tends Gale with a cool, professional detachment. But there is no sentiment spared for Katniss. She is just another hysterical loved one, and as her mother considers her, “not a priority” (Catching Fire 112). Peeta is the one to fetch snow for her eye.
As with many other fictional parents, Katniss’s mother is oblivious to Katniss’s needs and fears. She assumes Katniss has the flu when she’s terrified to descend into the coalmine that killed her father. And in the second book, Katniss tries to hide her trips into the forest to keep her from worrying. Katniss also conceals how President Snow is plotting against her, noting, “I think about how there was no going back after I took over caring for the family when I was eleven. How I will always have to protect her” (Catching Fire 31). In Catching Fire, Katniss has become a greater provider for the household, bringing her mother and sister to her house and feeding them from her monthly income as she once fed them her tesserae grain. When Gale finally begins work in the mines, Katniss provides food for his family too. In fact, Katniss becomes food provider for her entire district, as they receive parcels of supplies to celebrate her winnings.
In District Thirteen, her mother once again is a healer but not a nurturer. While Katniss deals with depression and borderline insanity, it is Prim who stays with her and comforts her, then helps Katniss recover from strangulation while their mother is off working. Sweet Prim is an endless support for Katniss, consoling her when Peeta is captured and considering how to undo Peeta’s programming. Katniss’s memories are filled with just the two of them, comforting each other, gathering food together, supporting the family, while her mother is nowhere to be seen. Meanwhile, though her mother changes little, Prim has matured thanks to her sister’s harrowing journey: “The combination of that ordeal and that has followed – the cruelty in the district, the parade of sick and wounded that she often treats by herself now if my mother’s hands are too full – these things have aged her years,” Katniss decides (Catching Fire 181).
When the rebels win, Katniss and her mother share a room in Snow’s mansion, but her mother is “almost never there” (Mockingjay 351). Despairing, Katniss decides to kill herself after she kills President Coin to skip the suffering of what the rebels will do to her. The deciding factor is the misery of facing her mother, bidding her goodbye, and leaving her alone in the world. Even contemplating her own death, Katniss is still concentrating on protecting the woman who should have protected her.
After traveling to this foreign land of near-magical technology, Katniss and Theseus both enter the true arena. For Katniss, this is the artificial world of the Game itself, a bubble of traps and constructed dangers. She endures the Games in each book, with the war in the Capitol itself as the third, deadliest Game. For Theseus, it is the labyrinth, a magical maze under the palace “from which there was no escape after one entered, for it closed off its imperceivable exit with convoluted flexions [joints].” (Apollodorus 3.213). It, like the Games, is a sealed environment, an underworld where Theseus is condemned to die. He must kill the Minotaur trapped inside, or it will kill him.
Campbell explains that in classic tales, “the hero is swallowed and taken into the abyss to be later resurrected – a variant of the death-and-resurrection theme” (146). Harry Potter takes the Hogwarts Express to the magical realm of Hogwarts, and then descends into the dungeons or the graveyard to pass his great test. In the Innermost Cave, the hero often dies (as Harry does) only to return once more. This is a metaphor for going through a crisis and emerging stronger, armed with the wisdom of adulthood.
In many fairytales from Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” to “The Six Swans,” the heroine’s most dire struggle takes place high in the prince’s castle, far from her magical forest or ocean. This is the world of order and tyranny, where the young heroine is truly helpless. The Games are a similar trap, where the Gamemakers can torture Katniss with mutts and arbitrary rules. Though she knows how to protect and feed herself in the trees, she’s helpless when the woods explode in fire, or endless rain scares off the animals. Jabberjays afflict her in the middle of the Quarter Quell, shrieking in Prim’s voice. Monkeys attack and rain burns like poison. All the symbols of nature, the feminine world, have been twisted by Capitol technology. This is a place of trial, an ordeal that burns Katniss down to her strongest inner core.
On the heroine’s journey, the young questor comes to realize that she is mightier than the tyrant: Dorothy cowers before the “Great and Powerful Oz” when she reaches his Emerald City. But after facing the far more terrifying Wicked Witch of the West, she grows into someone strong enough to kick over the Wizard’s pasteboard head and confront the fraud cowering behind it. Katniss too realizes that the Capitol’s threat far outweighs the Capitol itself. As she declares on one of her broadcasts: “The Capitol’s fragile because it depends on the districts for everything. Food, energy, even the Peacekeepers that police us. If we declare our freedom, the Capitol collapses. President Snow, thanks to you, I’m officially declaring mine today” (Mockingjay 169). Like their broken electric fences, the Capitol has only the illusion of authority, until Katniss can shatter it. At series end, she meets Snow heavily shackled and helpless in his rose garden and knows she can kill him.
Donald Sutherland (Snow) describes his character, saying:
I think he sees challenge and I think he sees it in this Katniss Everdeen. I think he sees in her the challenge that he’s been waiting for. You know, sitting there, somebody someday is going to come up sometime. And this particular one, given how it’s all gone, you can’t just kill her. You have to find some other way of controlling her, containing her. (Lesnick)
He fails: Katniss is too strong once she takes charge of her own destiny.
The classic heroine learns independence, not protection from her father-figure. Lyra of The Golden Compass discovers that her father is a murderer when he kills her helpless friend Roger. Meg Murray crosses time and space to rescue her blinded and confused father, and they tesseract to a friendly planet. When Meg demands that he return to rescue her brother Charles Wallace, Meg’s three witch mentors appear and tell Meg her father is not powerful enough. Meg gazes sadly at him. “I wanted you to do it all for me…I was scared, and I didn’t want to have to do anything myself” (L’Engle 187). With this, she acknowledges she is the only one who can rescue Charles Wallace, so she returns to confront the monstrous IT.
Cinna, Boggs, Finnick, and Katniss’s father die, Gale is whipped in the square, and then he and Beetee are revealed as accidental masterminds behind Prim’s death. Peeta is hijacked. In the course of the series, all the powerful males in Katniss’s life, from mentors to friends, lose their power.
Katniss’s official mentor, Haymitch, is another example of the flawed masculine authority. In the first book, his sponsor gifts float down like boons from the gods. Haymitch watches over her like a father, offering gifts but also withholding them to show her what she must do, how she must behave to survive. Catching Fire is much the same. However, he is revealed as imperfect when he fails to save Peeta. His guardianship, his advice, have all proved useless because he could not protect one vulnerable child from the Capitol. In District Thirteen, Haymitch is wretchedly ill, even laughable, as he “dries out” from his alcoholism. When he reappears, Katniss has lost respect for him.
By realizing that the male authority’s power over her has ended, the heroine finds independence and strength. She need not obey his laws, but can make her own wiser ones. “Her own individual morality triggers a revolution – her own ethical line – what she finds out about herself triggers a revolution,” Gary Ross notes (“Conversation”). Katniss rejects Haymitch’s authority, and after Boggs dies, she leads her own mission to assassinate Snow. She perseveres through Snow’s threats and traps, his brainwashing of Peeta and the vicious mutts he sends hunting her through the city, all to see him die in the Capitol square.
At the same time, Snow is not the greatest threat, nor is Minos. Theseus doesn’t journey into the labyrinth to confront the king, but the monstrous Minotaur, his own deadly shadow.
The shadow, in psychology, is “aspects of oneself which are considered by the ego to be undesirable or not useful and are therefore relegated to the dark” (Estés 85). Often the hero or heroine meets a monster or person who embodies all the qualities he or she rejects: the ugly, greedy, misbehaving force of destruction. Jung explains that the shadow personifies everything a person refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself at him, as a lingering voice of greed or dissatisfaction. Only by facing these unwanted qualities can the hero become wise.
Harry Potter realizes that he could have been Voldemort if he’d made different choices: both are half-blood orphans, both grew up with the Muggles and cling to Hogwarts as a sanctuary. Luke and Darth Vader are even closer, though one fights for good and one for evil. This is the moment of facing the shadow, when Frodo realizes he could easily become the creeping, vicious Gollum.
The Minotaur is a savage, bull-headed man. If Theseus represents the clever side of fighting, the Minotaur is all instinct and brutality. It is gigantic, lumbering, bestial, as Theseus is quick and agile. It is a devourer of innocents, eater of the children Theseus has trained. When Theseus battles it, he is confronting the raging, uncontrolled monster inside himself, learning to master it, and destroying its power over him. With the monster beheaded, Theseus seizes Princess Ariadne and escapes with her back to Athens. Frequently, this is a father-son battle between Luke and Darth or Theseus and the tyrant. By destroying Minos’s authority, Theseus symbolically grows past his father’s influence and becomes an adult.
For the heroine, the ugly inner voice is the evil witch, murderess of the innocent. This woman is as powerful and tyrannical as the heroine is childish. She is Mrs. Coulter of The Golden Compass, who murders children in deadly experiments. The dried up Wicked Witch of the West. Jadis, the White Witch, who freezes Narnia in sterile winter. All the wicked stepmothers and witches from the catalogue of Disney villainesses.
Though Katniss realizes it too late, this adversary is President Coin. Coin tortures Katniss’s childlike prep team, and Katniss soon realizes this is meant as a declaration of her authority. When Coin assigns Peeta to Katniss’s squad, Katniss knows Coin wants her more than controlled: she wants her dead. Katniss has become so likeable that Coin fears for her own position. “You’re the face of the rebellion. You may have more influence than any other single person,” Boggs tells her (Mockingjay 266). Coin is not a wise leader, but a jealous force of sterility and cruelty – she must control everything, or it must perish.
“The woman who views marriage as a reassignment of living quarters cannot anticipate the steadfast core of Katniss’s compassion. She nor Snow ever really understand love at all” (Borsellino 38). Coin has no apparent family, no one she cares to protect. In this, as with everything else, they are opposite extremes. The active, loving, battling Katniss has more power than Coin has ever had, from her hunting skills to her circle of loved ones. Thus Coin, like Snow White’s stepmother, resolves to destroy her to maintain her own rulership. Katniss is a beloved symbol of revolution, Katniss could name another to be president; therefore, Katniss must die.
Their conflict is a metaphor for the mother-daughter battle for independence. The daughter is growing up, claiming power in her life as she discovers adulthood. “Mother and daughter start off as a single united set of desires, one that can be challenging for the daughter to reject without rejecting the mother’s love, while the mother has an equally hard time accepting the daughter as a distinct individual” (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 133). If the mother is unwilling to give up control and let her daughter become the new heroine and ruler of the world, the two must battle. Here is the tale of Cinderella or Snow White, in which the mother will not give up her role as the fairest to let the girl win her happy ending. Frequently in tales, a wicked stepmother is substituted for the real mother, to soften the pain of the conflict. Coin is the surrogate mother and president of District Thirteen, but not Katniss’s relation.
Katniss must realize who her true enemy is. Snow is a murderer of children, but Coin is the one to murder Katniss’s sister. Worse yet, Coin’s Games will resurrect the cycle of the Games, taking revenge on the innocent. Katniss aims her silver bow at her true target and fires. She makes the decision to kill Coin “to eliminate the threat of violence in the future, rather than take revenge for violence in the past” (Brennan 9). As she did in the reaping, Katniss is deliberately sacrificing her life to save the helpless.
After she shoots, Katniss tries to commit suicide, but Peeta, the guide who represents the hopeful, sweet voice within her, won’t let her do it. “Katniss never gets to sacrifice herself. She doesn’t get the heroic death. She survives – and that leaves her doing the hardest thing in the world: living in it once so many of the ones that she loves are gone” (Barnes 26-27).
Having children at the end isn’t settling – it’s learning to love and clinging to life, building a new family in the world where she lost the old one. It’s going on. By becoming a mother, Katniss fulfills the traditional heroine’s quest and becomes a leader for the next generation. She will use her father’s plant guide and the new book she writes as a memorial to improve the world and try for a better future.
Theseus’s reputation lived on far after his story ended: As classical Athens reached its height, Theseus was depicted as a national hero in art, literature, and more. The shrine of Theseus, built around 475 BC, displayed Theseus on his heroic adventures side by side with the Athenian resistance to the Persian invaders at Marathon. As such, he became a national icon of resistance and strength, much like Katniss the Mockingjay. In his Parallel Lives, meant to flatter political figures of his time, Plutarch compared Theseus to other great heroes. He noted that Theseus
offered himself for inglorious and dishonourable servitude among insolent and cruel men when he volunteered to sail away with maidens and young boys, words cannot depict such courage, magnanimity, righteous zeal for the common good, or yearning for glory and virtue. (“Comparison of Theseus and Romulus” 1.4)
This is also Katniss’s heroism.
Is Katniss a feminist icon? Certainly. In a world of Harry Potters, Percy Jacksons, Batmans and Avengers, she’s a powerful girl hero. She grows and changes as her actions have consequences: in fact, dealing with the trauma makes her stronger and more relatable. The only danger is in telling her audience that being the warrior woman is the only path to power or that only fighters are worthy of respect. Saying that Katniss, as a warrior, can’t marry and have children at the end is as dangerous as saying women must do so.
Second-wave feminists (to generalize wildly) tended to be down on the feminine; they saw frills and pink and bows and childishness (or even, in the case of radicals like Shulamith Firestone, pregnancy itself) as part of the patriarchy’s effort to infantilize and denigrate women. Third-wave feminists, on the other hand, have been (in general) more interested in reclaiming the feminine. (Berlatsky)
Third-wave feminism, letting women save the day in pink miniskirts or minivans full of kids if they wish, has led to the “girl power” stories of the nineties and beyond. Xena wears armor but is happy to bear a child, whom she defends with her life. More importantly, she fights beside sympathetic, sweet Gabrielle, a woman as strong as she is, who’s on a more pacifist path. Buffy is a warrior on her series, but her friend Willow is a gifted witch and computer genius, Anya is a sultry vengeance demon, and Tara has intuitive magic and creativity, even as she cooks funny-shaped pancakes. These are all paths to power, often without a sword or bow.
In fact, The Wizard of Oz, Narnia, Coraline, Abarat, A Great and Terrible Beauty, Wicked Lovely, The Mortal Instruments, and other heroine’s journey novels feature powerful girls who aren’t trying to be warriors or tomboys. Hermione, Ginny, and Luna in Harry Potter are brainy witches, Violet from A Series of Unfortunate Events and Agatha from Girl Genius are inventors. Pippi Longstocking goes on marvelous, parent-free adventures, while Sookie Stackhouse, like Nancy Drew, solves mysteries.
The heroine’s journey is about defeating evil, about sacrificing one’s life to protect the innocent and growing up. The path to adulthood for men and women is dangerous, magical, terrifying. It challenges questers to surrender all they are. Whether for a boy or girl, a warrior or an intellectual, this is the path of true heroism.
Karma, a Vietnamese X-Man, has a poignant arc in Marjorie Liu’s Astonishing X-Men: Weaponized, when her half-sister reappears in her life. Shunned in her childhood, D’ao Coy Manh grew up in her father’s “other family” – hidden from his proper wife and good daughter as the neglected and unwanted one. When she and her mother fled to her father’s house for sanctuary, her father shot her mother and the daughter was sold as a slave. Now she returns to take vengeance on Karma, Shan Coy Manh, the “good daughter” who always had everything she wanted. Thus she tries to take over her life (by seizing control of her mind, as this is a superhero story). In a glamorous red dress that repressed, uniformed Karma would never allow herself to wear, D’ao (who also calls herself weapons dealer Susan Hatchi) kidnaps her respected, proper sister and her X-Men friends.
A showdown ensues as D’ao attacks their father. Despite her munitions, she’s more eager for a verbal confrontation as she protests being ignored and discarded. Shan has her own mental debate, noting to herself that she’s silently allowed all this to happen “because good girls…good little soldiers…we never complain, do we?” She realizes that swallowing the pain, accepting that no one will listen to them can make young women monsters – exactly what has happened to her sister. In a moment of courage, she embraces the other girl and links with her mentally, telling her “Look at me, Susan. See my life. Both of us were abandoned. Abused.” She promises her sister she’s not alone and that she’ll never let her go.
This sympathy for the rejected sister symbolizes understanding and loving the rejected part of the self. Same-sex siblings tend to be both Shadow and ideal self for each other. As Jungian analyst Christine Downing puts it, “She is both what I would most aspire to be but feel I never can be and what I am most proud not to be but fearful of becoming” (111). The shadow is all the parts of the self considered unacceptable and thus buried – rage, lust, cruelty, selfishness. These are all the well-behaved heroine will not allow in herself, but when she meets another person who embodies these qualities, she’s disapproving yet compelled. “The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly—for instance, inferior traits of character and other incompatible tendencies” (Jung “Conscience, Unconscious, and Individuation” 285). Seeing them in another coaxes her to confront them in herself and discover what she’s been repressing for so long.
On many levels, Harley Quinn is the rejected sister of the DC universe. She’s a rather recent invention, appearing first in a 1992 Batman: The Animated Series episode. Since then, she’s appeared in DC Animated Showcases and video games as well as comics. The Birds of Prey television series had her (played by Mia Sara) as the main adversary. The character will also appear in the 2016 film Suicide Squad, portrayed by Margot Robbie.
In 2010’s “Holiday Story,” Harley Quinn visits her family for Christmas, revealing her Jewish-Catholic roots in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. When she arrives, her mother screams at her, waving a hot doughnut dipper in her face, “I should throw you all out. Force you to fend for yourselves for once! Then maybe you’d all finally grow up!” Her brother Barry dreams of being a rock star, but lies around the house uselessly. Harley Quinn’s father tries to con her for money from his jail cell. She tells him, “The main reason I became a psychiatrist was so I could understand why you did the things you did to our family.” Like D’ao, she is unwanted, persecuted, rejected. Superheroes often have bad family lives, and explore these scars through their costumes and personas.
Harley Quinn’s early comic book appearances are spun around her abusive relationship with the Joker. While working as a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, Dr. Harleen Quinzel tries to treat him and is slowly sucked into his spell until she falls desperately in love. Maddened, she steals a clown costume and frees him. Thanks to Poison Ivy, she is immune to poison but goes even madder than before and takes on her clownish name, a play on “harlequin” (Dini, “Mad Love”). While she fancies herself desperately in love, their relationship is shown to be abusive as the Joker hits her, demeans her, and finally throws her through a window (Dini, “Mad Love”). Here, too, she is unwanted, ignored even by the man she believes loves her.
DC’s New 52 has her in a new, more revealing costume, with her hair half-red and half-black, like her old jester cap. Now she has bleached skin from being kicked into a vat of acid by the Joker (Glass). This time, while Harley Quinn began as the Joker’s counselor in prison, he committed to finding out her own trigger points. He killed the man who once killed her father, then slowly drives her mad. At last, he drags her to his lab and hurls her into the toxic chemicals that made him. After, her madness centers around her “puddin’” as she’s determined to please him (Glass). Their relationship grows increasingly one-sided.
When the Joker returns to Gotham in the “Death of the Family” storyline, he forces Harley to lure Batman into the same chemical plant. There, Harley tells Batman that he’s no longer the Joker she had fallen in love with (Snyder, Batman #13). Following this, she breaks with him and sets off on her own arcs. Nonetheless, her new writer Amanda Conner notes:
The Joker is someone that she’ll never be able to shake, nor is she really going to want to. Their relationship is a lot of what defines her now, although she is going to get into a lot of stuff where it has nothing to do with him. But that will always be looming in the background. She’ll have some serious ex-boyfriend issues. (Phegley)
Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti relaunched Harley Quinn with her own comics, specifically seeing her without the Joker. Conner notes, “I always thought it would be cool to see Harley (but not her Harleen self) outside of her costume, and what she would be like. That’s kinda what we have with this version of her” (Phegley).
Their Harley Quinn: Power Outage has her in a truly unlikely team-up – with DC’s blonde paragon Power Girl. This heroine, far taller and more classically beautiful than Harley, is adored by everyone. (She’s also lusted after by everyone, thanks to her impressive cleavage in her revealing uniform.) As Power Girl, Kara also has indescribable abilities, since she’s Superman’s cousin. Harley discovers the superheroine has crashed on earth and has amnesia as well. Immediately, Harley begins pulling the other woman’s angelic white supersuit off. She tells her imaginary rodent friend, “She’s one a’ the biggest, toughest girls in the whole wide world. I’m gonna be with her when she wakes up, so it’s very important that I steer her on the right path.” When she finds the superheroine is a blank slate, Harley is eager to mold her – into Harley’s best friend. This suggests a desperation for acceptance by the most beloved of heroines in Harley’s rather barren universe.
She does not seek to make Power Girl a villain, but rather to make herself a hero – starved of affection, neglected and mistreated by her “Mista J,” Harley finds herself seeking respect and admiration – something she can find at Power Girl’s side. Conner adds: “Like Jimmy always says; A villain almost never believes that they are the bad guy. They usually think that they’re doing something for the greater good, or that they’re downtrodden and trying to overcome their repressors, or more than likely, they just want something” (Phegley).
As such, Harley echoes Power Girl’s buried, unwanted aspects seeking voice. “The shadow cast by the conscious mind of the individual contains the hidden, repressed and unfavorable (or nefarious) aspects of the personality.” However, “Just as the ego contains unfavorable and destructive attitudes, so the shadow has good qualities – normal instincts and creative impulses” (Henderson 110).
Harley is certainly creative as she finds them a new pair of uniforms. Both are red and black with diamond patterns and cleavage windows – a compromise between their normally opposite designs. Harley even adds red and blue eyeshadow for both of them. She’s coloring saintly Power Girl in, to be more like herself, while she in turn, hopes to be more like the perfect heroine.
The new outfit rips at once, indicating how bad a fit it is, metaphorically and literally. Nonetheless, Harley charges ahead, designing a new life for Power Girl with a goofy strongman secret identity and a life in which they’re roommates and best friends (and get paid for saving people!). Harley takes Power Girl clothes shopping then out for burgers, showing her the joys of her ordinary world. Palmiotti notes, “She looks at the world differently and we will be building on that and looking even closer on her past and what makes her tick. There are so many layers to this fantastic character that we cannot wait to explore” (Phegley). Along with her Brooklyn references, Harley quotes pop culture and buys t-shirts with slogans, enjoying the everyday world Power Girl usually holds herself above. Kara in turn, finds herself having fun on their girls’ romp through the mall. She’s much larger than tiny Harley and eats more, emphasizing her large presence in the world. The tiny shadow side is starved by comparison, with little acknowledgement or attention…until now.
The Shadow is the buried voice deep within, urging the everyday polite self to stop being so “nice” and lash out, have fun, give in to one’s urges. When the hero listens, she discovers inner qualities she’s buried – “such things as egotism, mental laziness, and sloppiness; unreal fantasies, schemes, and plots; carelessness and cowardice; inordinate love of money and possessions – in short all the little sins about which he might have previously [ignored in himself]” (Von Franz, Individuation 174). Siblings in real life tend to polarize, half-consciously dividing attributes like “I’m the bright one and she’s the pretty one” (C. Downing 111). Certainly, Harley is “the bad one” – rambunctious, violent, mad, sexy, and silly, while Power Girl is all stately dignity. Still, an affection grows, perhaps because of these differences.
The pair are taken prisoner by the alien queen Eidijamon (a name Harley finds hilarious, of course). After Harley shoots the queen’s human captive and lover – who’s about to tell Power Girl the truth, Power Girl defends her new sidekick. The topsy-turvey world reflects their own sudden backwards relationship – everything is skewed. Following this, Power Girl naively tells Harley that to get a ring from the supervillain Manos, “I’m going to approach him and tell him our situation. I hope he understands what we’re going through and lets us use the ring to go home.”
Appalled, Harley insists on a more violent plan with Power Girl blasting the villain with her heat vision. When a giant alien guard who resembles space pizza turns hostile, Power Girl finally gives in to her dark side and begins punching – but only Harley’s big gun stops him. When the two women see the great Manos destroy an entire planet, Power Girl attacks him and celebrates her own strength and even anger.
For the individual, one of the major tasks in the process of psychological development is to recognize, acknowledge, and accept those rejected aspects of the self (the shadow). The process of integration through acknowledging and accepting the shadow aspects of our personalities gives us depth and access to a greater range of expression. Oftentimes the shadow will hold hitherto unknown powers and capabilities. (Von Franz, Individuation 170-171)
As they team up, Harley drags Power Girl further into her world. Soon enough, Power Girl giggles about the villain’s “cosmic organ” while Harley is watching her language – they each transform the other through their partnership. Power Girl begins listening and thus discovers her inner violence, just as Harley becomes a superhero and defender of innocent worlds. “These discarded, devalued, and ‘unacceptable’ aspects of soul and self do not just lie there in the dark, but rather conspire about how and when they shall make a break for freedom,” Estés warns (237). With Harley around, Power Girl can go a bit wild, letting her shadow side take over for a mad romp before it’s bottled up once more.
Of course, Harley is still Harley, showing off her barely-covered rear end and finding more embarrassingly tight costumes for Power Girl. In his essay, “Sexuality, and Toughness: The Bad Girls of Action Film and Comic Books,” Jeffery A. Brown argues of the classic bad girl, “On the one hand, she represents a potentially transgressive figure capable of expanding the popular perception of women’s roles and abilities; on the other, she runs the risk of reinscribing strict gender binaries and of being nothing more than sexist window-dressing for the predominantly male audience” (47). As she faces bad guys with cleverness, yet strips Power Girl for the audience and shows off her own tight costume, Harley Quinn spreads over the entire bad girl spectrum.
On a space adventure together (in a separate Harley Quinn and Power Girl graphic novel whose story takes place within Power Outage), the women find themselves at the Carnal Canyons of Lustox Moon, where the scantily-dressed Lord Vartox carved sexy statues of his lost love, Power Girl. Harley is delighted, gleefully recounting her own lusty high school drawings, while Power Girl is repulsed. In traditional fashion, Vartox in turn is repulsed by the immature shadow’s juvenile taunts (and drawings of butt-cheeks), preferring Kara the shining warrior. Like everyone else, he prizes the beautiful hero above her shadow sister the monster.
On meeting the blatantly sexy Vartox, Harley bursts out, “I like him already” – once more expressing Kara’s buried feelings that the proper superheroine can’t express. Though Power Girl retorts haughtily, “There’s no reality where I willingly dated that,” Harley pleads, “Aw Peej, give ‘im a chance! Why don’cha be more open-minded?” Power Girl is all control and propriety while the voice of libido urges her to break free. Nonetheless, proper Kara drags them away from the seducer and back to the ordinary world (Conner and Roux, Harley Quinn and Power Girl).
Through their partnership, Power Girl gains more of a sense of humor, even dropping her friend out of the sky when Harley ridicules her hair. Nonetheless, Harley defends her friend from salaciousness and insults. She also transforms and begins shooting villains to wound not kill under her friend’s teachings. The pair grow increasingly close and both enjoy the storyline as they grow beyond their traditional roles. However, this artificial dynamic can’t last forever.
A spot of bird droppings landing on her head jolts Power Girl out of the amnesia. She’s furious of course, but Harley protests, “We were…are…best friends. We had each other’s backs through all the insanity. Sure. I told a little white lie, but look how much fun we had.” Only slightly mollified, Power Girl strands her on top of the Eiffel Tower and that’s the end of that.
Rick Riordan may be the most beloved children’s author currently writing, now that Harry Potter has ended. His Greek, Egyptian, Roman, and Norse series feature half-god children battling through a world of gods, demigods, and monsters to save everyone.
The Egyptian series stars Carter and Sadie Kane – half Black, half white, and more than a little divine. Their magic manifests in the world as ADHD, at least for Sadie, who can instinctually read ancient Egyptian, as she’s a descendent of the Pharaohs and shares in their powers. In the first book, fourteen-year-old Carter is raised by his father as they travel the world, while twelve-year-old Sadie stays home in London with her grandparents. Thus the siblings are estranged and remarkably different down to their skin color. Riordan adds: “I think anytime you’re writing to the middle grades, you’re writing to young readers who are trapped in a number of ways between two worlds: between childhood and adulthood, between their friends and their parents. Often they’re trapped, trying to identify where they fit in their culture.”
In the first book, while they’re visiting the British Museum, the ancient gods of Egypt return. “Carter and Sadie learn that they are descended from ancient Egyptian magicians. This means they are the only ones who have the magic that might be able to put the gods back where they belong — before the world spirals out of control” (NPR). As young teens, the kids are possessed by the gods Isis and Horus and each given their godlike attributes. Isis is the winged mother goddess, source of life, while her son Horus is the falcon-headed avenger. Both children find the power intoxicating, but must reluctantly surrender it.
The second book sends them on a quest to restore the dying father god Ra to power. Before they succeed, however, Sadie embarks on a rescue mission much closer to home.
The villain Menshikov hurls his staff and it transforms into a two-headed snake, which bites Carter. “My grandparents had been possessed. My friends had been attacked, and my birthday ruined. But my brother was off-limits. No one was allowed to hurt my brother,” Sadie thinks angrily (Throne of Fire 182). She drags her brother to his feet and hauls him away.
The true goal of the heroine is to become this archetypal, all-powerful mother. Thus, many heroines set out on rescue missions in order to restore their shattered families: a shy princess knits coats of nettles to save her six brothers from a lifetime as swans, Psyche quests for her vanished lover. Demeter forces herself into the realm of the dead to reclaim her daughter, while Isis scours the world for her husband’s broken body. Little Gerda in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale quests all the way to Finland to rescue her playmate from the unfeeling Snow Queen. This goal does not indicate by any means that the girls are trying to “stay at home” or “play house.” Though they redeem beloved family members or potential husbands, these heroines work as hard as any fairytale hero. And they do it without swords. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 4)
A sister rescuing a brother is a common pattern – actually a less frightening substitute for a mother rescuing her child. These young women stride into fairyland, or the gates of hell itself, to save their beloveds. Sadie’s connection with Isis, a goddess famed for reuniting the pieces of her husband’s body and thus restoring him, emphasizes the power of this tale.
While escaping and at death’s door herself after portaling underwater, Sadie receives a visit from her friend Jaz, or at least, her spirit. Jaz reminds Sadie of the myriad parts of the human soul according to the Egyptians. There is the ba or personality. The ib, _][_sheut, and ka are the others – heart, shadow, and life force. Finally, a ren, also known as a secret name, is the true name that encompasses all a person truly is – their experiences and identity that add up to their soul. When she offers this lesson, Jaz acts as the buried part of the personality pointing out unseen clues to allow the hero to triumph. The author of The Snow White Syndrome emphasizes how the dwarves fulfil this role in the fairy tale:
The dwarfs, Snow White’s rescuers, are the helpers who seem to come into our lives magically, just at the moment we need them. In the “real world,” these helpers may be therapists, friends, relatives, mates, ministers, or just a stranger on a bus. In the story of Snow White, the dwarfs are humble, nonthreatening, empathic, understanding, nurturing men with qualities that present a true contrast to those of the wicked queen. The dwarfs are miners. They dig deep into the earth, seeking precious gems and metals. They help Snow White mine for what is precious in herself. The dwarfs bring Snow White down to earth. They watch over Snow White and try to guard her from her envious mother. They warn her, they support her, and give her a role, a purpose in life. (Cohen 9-10)
Jaz functions as a similar friendly helper, pointing Sadie’s way to the truth. She reminds Sadie, “Grief really isn’t productive. You do better when you’re angry” and “When you wake up, you’ll only have a few minutes to heal Carter. You’ll have to act quickly.”
The vision suddenly carries her to the mythic past, leaving Sadie in the body of Isis. The father god Ra, poisoned by a snake bite himself, begs young Isis to heal him and, to enable this, he must give her his secret name. When she accepts, the name burns her, for it is so powerful it wreathes her in flames.
Isis leaned forward. I thought Ra would whisper his name in her ear, but instead he grasped her hand and placed it against his withered brow. Her fingertips smoldered. She tried to pull away, but Ra held her wrist. The sun god’s entire form glowed with fiery images of his long life: the first dawn; his sun boat shining on the newly risen land of Egypt; the creation of the other gods and mortal men; Ra’s endless battles with Apophis as he passed through the Duat each night, keeping Chaos at bay. It was too much to take in—centuries passing with each heartbeat. His secret name was the sum of his experience, and even then, in those ancient times, Ra was unthinkably old. The fiery aura spread to Isis’s hand, traveling up her arm until her whole body was wreathed in flames. She screamed once. Then the fires died. Isis collapsed, smoke curling from her dress. (Throne of Fire 200)
She absorbs its awesome power and yet survives. Using the name, she heals Ra, but his power and divinity are broken. Ra is forced to leave to the heavens, partly out of humiliation.
Isis makes her husband Osiris the king of the gods, though this spirals the world down into entropy, leaving Sadie and Carter dealing with this threat thousands of years in the future. Ra warns, “The balance between Ma’at and Chaos will slowly degrade. Egypt itself will fall. The names of her gods will fade to a distant memory. Then, one day, the entire world will stand on the brink of destruction” (Throne of Fire 202). All this, of course, takes place. Now the dark god Apophis threatens to swallow the sun and plunge the world into chaos. Only Sadie and Carter can stop him. The only way to stop him is to bring back his archenemy the father god Ra and find the Book of Ra – in one week.
When Sadie wakes, she takes the wax figurine that Jaz once gave her, a talisman she can use to accomplish her goal. She also realizes why Jaz came to her and showed her the vision she did: Sadie can do as Isis did and heal the hero…but only with his secret name. As she relates:
I’d never thought about it before, but the ren was the same as one’s secret name. It was more than just a special word. The secret name is your darkest thoughts, your most embarrassing moments, your biggest dreams, your worst fears, all wrapped together. It’s the sum of your experiences, even those you’d never want to share. Your secret name makes you who you are.
That’s why a secret name has power. It’s also why you couldn’t simply hear someone repeat a secret name and know how to use it. You had to know that person and understand their life. The more you understood the person, the more power their name could yield. You could only learn a secret name from the person himself – or from the person closest to his heart.
And heaven help me, for me Carter was that person. (Throne of Fire 207)
She asks Carter for his secret name, and even unconscious, he resists, as it’s a terrible trust to give another person. “You can do this,” she tells him. “You’re my brother. I love you. All the embarrassing bits, all the annoying bits, which I imagine is most of you – a thousand Zias might run away from you if they knew the truth. But I won’t. I’ll still be here. Now, tell me your name, you big idiot, so I can save your life.” Zia may be the girl he admires, but she is his sister, a lifelong all-encompassing bond.
The heroine’s goal is to become a complete mother, resplendent with power. If her family is shattered, by either grief or remarriage, she cannot become whole without assembling the pieces. …Sometimes claiming one’s reward is a dramatic moment—seizing Tam Lin off his horse, or claiming the prince in marriage. Other times, it is the quieter love and acceptance which makes one a wife or mother in more than name. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 145)
With his last strength, he gives her his secret name. Using it, she heals him. Sadie reads his entire life as she touches his forehead: their shared young childhood, their separate lives as they grew older, their parents, Carter’s private moments and secret shames. As she thinks, “After seeing into the darkest recesses of Carter’s mind, I was a bit ashamed, possibly even in awe. There really wasn’t much there. Compared to my fears and embarrassing secrets – oh, dear. He was tame. I hoped our situations were never reversed and he had to heal me” (Throne of Fire 209). Later in the book, Carter says that he should change his secret name to “Embarrassed to Death by Sister.”
For the heroine, this is not the king’s abstract intellect; it is the nurturing wisdom of the queen, guiding her people through strength, compassion, and love. Sometimes she only brings teachings and the dual knowledge of the underworld. And sometimes she indeed brings the “runes of wisdom” or the water of life that will heal the dying leader. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 146)
After this achievement, Sadie and Carter prepare for a greater test – sailing the mystical Duat all through the night to retrieve Ra piece by piece. Mimicking his nightly journey to bring the dawn, they can restore light and life to the world.
Riordan notes how the children’s biracialism and adolescence puts them at several thresholds – mirrored by Egypt’s status as another crossroad altogether. Riordan explains: “It’s part of the European tradition and culture, but it’s also very much a part of the African tradition and culture. And it sort of belongs in both worlds.” As he adds:
Even if these stories are 3,000 years old, there’s still so much about the characters, about the dilemmas, about their understanding of the universe that still resonates. The whole idea of order and chaos, which is really central to the ancient Egyptian understanding of the world, is still very much with us. You know, how much order is good? And when does order become too restrictive? Is a little bit of chaos OK, or is chaos always an evil force? I mean, these are questions that any kid who’s ever been in a school cafeteria can relate to. (NPR)
Thus the heroes can heal the splits within themselves by facing the chaos in the world and battling it.
The very ship rejects Sadie, sensing her Isis magic and appalled by her presence, as Isis was the one to bring down Ra. She creates spectral oarsmen made of light but they won’t obey her. With her newfound strength and self-possession, Sadie must become a queen and leader.
“Behave,” I told the lights sternly. “This isn’t for me. It’s for Ra. If you want your pharaoh back, you’ll man your stations.”
I thought I’d be roasted like a tandoori chicken, but I stood my ground. Since I was surrounded, I really I had no choice. I exerted my magic and tried to bend the lights to my will—the way I might have done to turn someone into a rat or a lizard.
You will be helpful, I ordered. You will do your work obediently.
There was a collective hiss inside my head, which either meant I’d blown a brain gasket, or the lights were relenting. (Throne of Fire 334)
As Sadie takes charge of the inner world of the Duat, she finds more balance within herself. Of course she starts the series as a very conflicted character and only slowly begins to achieve inner mastery. “My mom was an Air Force kid who grew up in London and moved back to the U.S. in high school,” Riordan says. “She felt she didn’t really belong in either country and was caught between two cultures. It was an interesting dynamic for me to play around with” (Castellitto). Sadie of course shares this story.
The young heroes sail through the Duat, restoring Ra piece by piece with The Book of Ra Sadie has painstakingly reassembled. They risk their lives fighting monsters, though as they do, their Horus and Isis powers grow until they become truly formidable and divine. This growth through testing is a metaphor for growing up – understanding and incorporating new powers and strengths. They also gamble with the trickster god Khonsu for extra hours, hazarding their ren, as they face death and once more emerge stronger.
Apophis’s servant tempts the heroes with power in the ultimate test. As he tells them, “The two of you have been godlings. Combine with Horus and Isis again, pledge to serve Apophis, and you could survive this night.” As he adds further bribes, both heroes find themselves envisioning “a new world where anything was possible, where no laws applied, not even the laws of physics, and we could be anything we wanted” (Throne of Fire 405). The terribly selfish force of chaos draws them in, but the ultimately resist temptation. They restore Ra to his throne and surrender their own power – in some ways the greatest test of all. All this demonstrates the maturity they’ve earned through all their terrible trials.
The third book gives them parallel missions as Sadie goes to rescue their friend Bes while Carter struggles to bind the Serpent’s Shadow – the vulnerable part of Apophis, god of darkness. “He wanted to annihilate the earth, so he could go back to the darkness and swim forever in the unrestricted expanses of Chaos” (Serpent’s Shadow 301) Once again, he is the warrior and she the savior. Holding the crook and flail of Ra, Carter thinks:
Me, Carter Kane, a homeschooled fifteen-year-old who was still learning how to shave and could barely dress himself for a school dance – somehow I’d been deemed worthy of the most powerful magic weapons in creation. (Serpent’s Shadow 287)
Of course, Sadie finishes her mission and brings reinforcements to the battle, much as the Narnia girls do for their brothers. She is shaken by the fact that her two love interests have merged into one body, but she hurries to her brother’s side and rescues him.
Their final mission is revealed at last – Carter is to be Pharaoh. Ra tells him, “I am here to fight my old enemy, not to assume the throne. That is your destiny. Unite the House of Life, rally the gods in my name” (Serpent’s Shadow 327). Sadie’s reward goes unmentioned. In myth, Isis did the work of tricking Ra, but she won the throne for her husband Osiris then her son Horus, rather than herself. It seems Sadie may share a similar fate.
As the heroes of the House of Life battle demons, Sadie protects the unconscious with forcefields. However, the roof is about to come down and bury them all.
I raised my staff and called on the power of Isis.
She immediately understood what I needed. Together, we tried to find calm in the Chaos. I focused on the most peaceful, well-ordered moments of my life – and there weren’t many. I remembered my sixth birthday party in Los Angeles with Carter, my dad and mum – the last clear memory I had of all of us together as a family. I imagined listening to music in my room at Brooklyn House while Khufu ate Cheerios on my dresser. I imagined sitting on the terrace with my friends, having a restful breakfast as Philip of Macedonia splashed in his pool. I remembered Sunday afternoons at Gran and Gramps’s flat – Muffin on my lap, Gramps’s rugby game on the telly, and Gran’s horrible biscuits and weak tea on the table. Good times, those were.
Most important, I faced down my own chaos. I accepted my jumbled emotions about whether I belonged in London or New York, whether I was a magician or a schoolgirl. I was Sadie Kane, and if I survived today, I could bloody well balance it all. And, yes, I accepted Walt and Anubis…I gave up my anger and dismay. I imagined both of them with me, and if that was peculiar, well then, it fit right in with the rest of my life. I made peace with the idea. Walt was alive. Anubis was flesh and blood. I stilled my restlessness and let go of my doubts.
“Ma’at,” [Balance] I said.
I felt as if I’d struck a tuning fork against the foundation of the earth. Deep harmony resonated outward through every level of the Duat.
The Hall of Ages stilled. Columns rose and repaired themselves. The cracks in the ceiling and floor sealed. Holographic curtains of light blazed once again along either side of the hall, and hieroglyphs once more filed the air.
I collapsed into Walt’s arms. Through my fuzzy vision, I saw him smiling down at me. Anubis, too. I could see them both, and I realized I didn’t have to pick.
“Sadie, you did it,” he said. “You’re so amazing.”
“Uh-huh,” I muttered. “Good night.” (Serpent’s Shadow 348-349)
In the same moment, she reconciles her inner conflict and saves everyone by channeling balance and justice through her godforce. The heroine’s inner and outer battles often mirror each other in such a way – healing one’s self is healing the world.
Together, side by side, Sadie and Carter cast the spell with the Serpent’s Shadow that casts Apophis from the world. After, Carter takes the throne of the House of Life. He announces, “If war comes again, I’ll be here as the Eye of Horus and as pharaoh. But as Carter Kane …” (Serpent’s Shadow 376). He announces that he’ll go back to Brooklyn, teach the younger magicians and finish high school, leaving rulership in the hands of his uncle the steward. Though Sadie (admittedly the younger sibling) does not receive this physical token of power, she joins her brother as his equal and co-teacher. Together, both raise the next generation of magicians to defend the world.
The classic British show Doctor Who returned to television in 2005 to instant acclaim. It stars the mysterious centuries-old time traveling alien called only the Doctor, but also his human companion. While many of the show’s human friends remain ordinary through their journeys, his first, Rose Tyler, reaches divine transcendence. “Rose’s transition into the Bad Wolf and beyond also parallels her transition from ordinary working-class girl to true companion of a Time Lord and Defender of the Earth” (Larsen 122).
Rose begins the story with a classic heroine’s journey pattern – she’s the everygirl who becomes a goddess. At first, she’s stuck in a mundane life: her job at the shop, boyfriend Mickey, her mother. Rose notes that she left school for a boy and never finished her A-levels. She’s an ordinary Londoner, one among millions. Why is Rose so loved? “Probably because she’s like one of their mates. The girl down the road, that’s her appeal, I think,” a critic responds (Hattenstone, Kindle Locations 776-777).
Then one night the mannequins come to life and the Doctor arrives with another reality. He of course is the magical wizard of her tale – Merlin or Gandalf or Dumbledore. He has arcane knowledge of a world beyond her own, one of inexplicable wonders. He has new insights, a deeper way of thinking. Upon meeting Rose, the Doctor shows her his typical methodology when tracking the alien monsters:
DOCTOR: They’re made of plastic. Living plastic creatures. They’re being controlled by a relay device in the roof, which would be a great big problem if I didn’t have this. (a small bomb) So, I’m going to go up there and blow them up, and I might well die in the process, but don’t worry about me. No, you go home. Go on. Go and have your lovely beans on toast. Don’t tell anyone about this, because if you do, you’ll get them killed.
(He shuts the door behind him, then opens it again.)
DOCTOR: I’m the Doctor, by the way. What’s your name?
DOCTOR: Nice to meet you, Rose. Run for your life! (“Rose,” 1.1)
In this first encounter, Rose’s mentor of a sort is Clive, an internet addict who’s been studying the Doctor. As he tells Rose, “If he’s singled you out, if the Doctor’s making house calls, then God help you….I think he’s immortal. I think he’s an alien from another world” (“Rose”).
“In the first stage of this kind of adventure, the hero leaves the realm of the familiar, over which he has some measure of control, and comes to a threshold” (Campbell 146). For most companions, this moment is stepping through the door of the police box spaceship the TARDIS, into a world where dimensions need not follow the rules. As they all announce that it’s “bigger on the inside,” they enter the world of possibility. When Mickey is replaced by an Auton and Rose runs into the TARDIS, she crosses a far more devastating threshold. In the TARDIS she bursts into tears, not from culture shock as the Doctor thinks, but because she fears Mickey is dead.
However, Rose is the one to figure out where the Nestene Consciousness is hiding. While the Doctor uselessly negotiates with it, Rose turns into an action girl and saves the world. In so doing, she saves her mother (who’s being menaced by the Autons), Mickey, and the Doctor as well as the whole planet. As she charges, she realizes the special power she has to offer, crying, “I’ve got no A Levels, no job, no future. But I tell you what I have got. Jericho Street Junior School under 7s gymnastic team. I’ve got the bronze!” Rose chops through the rope holding a long chain to the wall, grips it, and swings out along the side of the catwalk, kicking the two Autons into the vat.
When Rose tells the Doctor, “You were useless in there. You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me,” he admits she’s right and gives her the chance of a lifetime – to go “anywhere in the universe.” He then offers Rose two alternatives: a normal life or an extraordinary one:
DOCTOR: What do you think? You could stay here, fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go anywhere.
ROSE: Is it always this dangerous?
DOCTOR: Yeah. (“Rose”)
Like most heroes, Rose balks, but only for a moment. When the Doctor returns in his TARDIS to try persuading her a second time, she’s ready to leave.
“The heroine’s task is first to separate from her mother and then to grow enough so that she can supplant her” (Gould 30). As such, Rose becomes a mother-sister figure to the Doctor – his caretaker and protector, or as Jung would call her, his anima and feminine side. As they adventure, she continues to be the heart of the series. The Doctor, scarred from his experience in the Time War is crueler, with Rose his connection to his lost humanity. Under her influence, the Doctor brings Jack, Mickey, and (briefly) Adam along as companions. Rose even asks mercy for the villainous Cassandra, while the Doctor retorts, “Everything has its time and everything dies” (“The End of the World,” 1.2). She protests when aliens wish to live in human corpses while the Doctor dismisses her concerns as provincial human morality. In “The Unquiet Dead” and “The Impossible Planet,” Rose chats with Gwyneth the servant girl and the Ood slave race, and shows concern for their working conditions. Upon meeting the last surviving Dalek, Rose offers to help it and touches it, acting from pure compassion. It is physically changed as well as emotionally, as it absorbs her DNA and becomes capable of deeper feelings.
She is sunlight incarnate – a heavenly glow of grace and warmth.
On occasions when she is backlit (such as the scene in “Dalek” when she and the Dalek are walking out to the upper level), her blonde hair appears to glow like a halo. The same is true whenever she wears white, such as the white shirt in “Dalek,” white jacket in “The Aliens of London,” and white lab coat in “Army of Ghosts.” (Larsen 124).
In “Tooth and Claw” the werewolf notes that she “burns like the sun,” and in “Dalek,” she inspires the Dalek to touch the light and protects it as it does.
Of course, Rose changes as much as the Doctor does – she represents emotion and he, rationality and unearthly science. With this experience, he teaches her and becomes her Animus, the masculine inner voice. The highest level of Animus is as catalyst to wisdom. It “connects the woman with her spiritual side, making her even more receptive to her own creativity. Thus, the heroine, as well as the hero, obtains the mystical feminine energy that offers endless emotion, sympathy, nature, magic, insight, and perception,” (Frankel, Girl to Goddess 23). This journey to feminine wisdom is the first season finale.
The Doctor responds to her compassion in kind and sends her back to earth as the Daleks attack. Talking with her mother Jackie and Mickey, Rose reveals how she’s changed:
It was a better life. And I don’t mean all the travelling and seeing aliens and spaceships and things. That don’t matter. The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. You know he showed you too. That you don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away. (“The Parting of the Ways,” 1.13)
At last she comes up with a plan. She will open the heart of the TARDIS and communicate telepathically with it. Thus she flies the TARDIS not with the training of another Time Lord or the birthright of part-Time-Lord River Song, but with pure heart and trust. Rose has companions to aid her, as Mickey and Jackie, her earth team, come to the rescue. Jackie is the motherly voice of caution, but Rose wins her over and she finds an enormous truck to power the experiment. Mickey is physical drive, implementing her plan. And Rose, the heart, succeeds and merges with the heart of the TARDIS.
This is her descent into the belly of the beast, penetrating the locked TARDIS and touching its core. Mickey and Jackie are cut off from her, as the hero or heroine always faces the greatest descent alone.
Alone, she flies to aid the Doctor and emerges from the TARDIS as transcendent, covered in light. She calls herself “life” and gently divides the Daleks’ atoms, scattering them into dust. She brings the power of death as well as life, the natural cycle, as she notes, “Everything must come to dust. All things. Everything dies. The Time War ends.” Golden light surrounds her like a goddess, as she rejects the emperor as a “false god.” She disintegrates the Daleks, brings a murdered Jack back to life, and discovers she can control all of space and time.
DOCTOR: You can’t control life and death.
ROSE: But I can. The sun and the moon, the day and night. But why do they hurt?
DOCTOR: The power’s going to kill you and it’s my fault.
ROSE: I can see everything. All that is, all that was, all that ever could be.
DOCTOR: That’s what I see. All the time. And doesn’t it drive you mad?
ROSE: My head.
DOCTOR: Come here.
ROSE: It’s killing me
DOCTOR: I think you need a Doctor. (“The Parting of the Ways”)
The Doctor kisses Rose. The golden energy transfers from her eyes to his, and then she faints in his arms. The Doctor exhales the energy back into the TARDIS and its doors close. This kiss is a symbolic marriage, a moment of transcendence surrounded by golden light. This is a culmination of their growing affection through the series. “Other characters, such as Pete Tyler, Jabe the Tree, Mickey, and even a constable in ‘The Aliens of London’ are quick to pick up on what Rose and the Doctor deny is the true nature of their relationship, even to themselves, until it is too late” (Larsen 126).
“No one can go through an experience at the edge of death without being changed in some way,” warns hero-myth scholar Christopher Vogler (30). Even for ordinary humans, after a near-death experience, “colors seem sharper, family and friends are more important, and time is more precious. The nearness of death makes life more real” (164).
Snow White lies unconscious, perfectly preserved in glass, but at the same time, the coffin is like a crucible, transforming her from frightened child into powerful queen. This sleep, of course, symbolizes the heroine’s descent into death, where she must confront her mortality and gain wisdom from the experience. When she wakes, she has become stronger. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 30)
She faints, and when she awakens, it’s to the Doctor’s transformation. By absorbing the energy before it kills her, he must regenerate. Now he is the newborn and helpless while she must accept being human once more, and yet, far more in charge of the mission than ever before.
Rose’s second season begins with a shift – the Doctor is unconscious for most of the episode. It’s Rose who must negotiate with aliens, protect her family, drag the Doctor into the TARDIS. As such, she establishes herself as an authority in her own right. She volunteers to speak for the entire earth, noting, “Someone’s got to be the Doctor” (“The Christmas Invasion,” 2.1). Upon seeing his helplessness, she knows she must save the day without him. Not only her travels but also her transcendence has given her this power.
As Rose travels and grows into a time traveler in her own right, she’s leaving her old life farther behind:
JACKIE: No, but really. When I’m dead and buried, you won’t have any reason to come back home. What happens then?
ROSE: I don’t know.
JACKIE: Do you think you’ll ever settle down?
ROSE: The Doctor never will, so I can’t. I’ll just keep on travelling.
JACKIE: And you’ll keep on changing. And in forty years time, fifty, there’ll be this woman, this strange woman, walking through the marketplace on some planet a billion miles from Earth. But she’s not Rose Tyler. Not anymore. She’s not even human. (“Army of Ghosts,” 2.12)
Jackie is right to be concerned as Rose slips further away from her and Mickey. She’s becoming a universe traveler, expanding her mind and gaining wisdom. On her adventures, she teases Queen Victoria and battles Cybermen in an alternate universe. In “The Satan Pit,” Rose forces out the Beast’s mind with her own cleverness, shooting out the windshield and opening his seatbelt. At the same time, she’s losing connection with Earth. “God, I’m all out of synch. You just forget about Christmas and things in the TARDIS. They don’t exist. You get sort of timeless,” she notes (“The Christmas Invasion,” 2.1). Each time she comes home, she finds it a terribly difficult transition, becoming ordinary again.
In season two, Rose faces many cautionary shadows of herself, as the Doctor has already done. She turns into Cassandra, the most spoiled, selfish human alive. She also meets Madame de Pompadour, another bright, brave blonde with whom the Doctor falls in love, and Sarah Jane, the companion he once abandoned. Rose visits an alternate family where she never existed, and watches as her mother there is killed by Cybermen. All these suggest the terrible fates she may meet out in space.
Meeting Sarah Jane is a great revelation for Rose, who had thought she was the only companion. Sarah Jane was the Doctor’s dear friend, and then he abandoned her on earth (in the wrong city!) and left forever. Rose protests, “I thought you and me were…I obviously got it wrong. I’ve been to the year five billion, right, but this? Now this is really seeing the future. You just leave us behind. Is that what you’re going to do to me?” (“School Reunion,” 2.3). Amused, Mickey calls them “The Missus and the Ex,” but in truth, Rose will be another ex soon enough. Sarah Jane even kindly suggests Rose contact her when that happens. While Sarah Jane warns Rose about the misery of being left, Sarah Jane also decides to get on with her life and find happiness for herself – it seems she finds a happy ending after all. Rose in turn confronts the Doctor and he tells her their relationship is different – whether she believes him or not, she commits to become the companion he’ll never leave behind.
However, she is forced to choose and choose again. The Battle of Canary Wharf at the season finale represents an emotional challenge for Rose more than a physical challenge for the Doctor. Without much effort, he whisks the Daleks and Cybermen into the Void. Rose, however, has a great decision to make as Jackie, Mickey and her alt-dimension father Pete flee to safety in Pete’s home dimension. Now the choice of being goddess or mortal lies before her, and this time, it will be permanent.
ROSE: I’m supposed to go.
ROSE: To another world, and then it gets sealed off.
ROSE: Forever. That’s not going to happen. (“Doomsday,” 2.13)
She chooses an adult life traveling with the Doctor over safety on earth with her mother, telling her, “I’ve had a life with you for nineteen years, but then I met the Doctor, and all the things I’ve seen him do for me, for you, for all of us. For the whole stupid planet and every planet out there. He does it alone, mum. But not anymore, because now he’s got me” (“Doomsday”). When the Doctor sends her to safety, she returns to him and helps him seal the breech, reminding him that she’ll never leave him. However, she is swept into the void and only Pete’s rescue saves her from joining the Cybermen in eternal nothingness.
Though she finds herself in a new world, she has returned to the ordinary life – on an earth if not the earth, surrounded by her parents and Mickey. “In Rose’s case the personal imperative was fused with the identity of the person who awakened her to its call, and without him life lost its meaning” (Akers 155). On the classic journey, this is known as the refusal of the return, as Rose mopes in the ordinary life. Like children adventuring in Narnia, Oz, or Neverland, she’s had a magical adventure filled with untold wonder, and she can’t bear to be an ordinary woman once more, settling down with chips, retail, and having babies.
At last, the Doctor burns up a star to project a final goodbye to her in Bad Wolf Bay.
ROSE: Am I ever going to see you again?
HOLO-DOCTOR: You can’t.
ROSE: What’re you going to do?
HOLO-DOCTOR: Oh, I’ve got the TARDIS. Same old life, last of the Time Lords.
ROSE: On your own. I, I love you.
HOLO-DOCTOR: Quite right, too. And I suppose, if it’s one last chance to say it, Rose Tyler –
(The Doctor vanishes. He stands in the TARDIS, crying, as Jackie runs go comfort her sobbing daughter.) (“Doomsday”)
They are parted forever, with both universes in danger if either dares to cross over. “Because of their sense of duty and their voluntary willingness to act for the sake of the greater good, the Doctor and Rose experience an unfathomable personal loss” (Smith 175).
Despite the permanence of her situation, she appears to be fighting to return to the Doctor’s reality for an entire year, as she appears momentarily on screens during third companion Donna’s adventures. She finally returns to earth to confront Davros in “Journey’s End” and foil his plans to conquer the universe. In return, the Doctor leaves her a copy of himself: though Mickey returns to our reality, Rose is given her magical prince at last.
DOCTOR: We saved the universe, but at a cost. And the cost is him. He destroyed the Daleks. He committed genocide. He’s too dangerous to be left on his own.
NEW DOCTOR: You made me.
DOCTOR: Exactly. You were born in battle, full of blood and anger and revenge. Remind you of someone? That’s me, when we first met. And you made me better. Now you can do the same for him. (“Journey’s End,” 4.13)
The final job Rose is assigned is the role of lover and anima to a new, human Doctor who needs her. With him, she can combine the magical and ordinary lives, bringing up her new baby brother and also staying with her Doctor (a cut scene would have had them receive the seed of an infantile TARDIS as well, to continue their adventures). Her new love is a part-human Doctor with one heart who unlike the original is willing to express his love. He says, “I’ve only got one life, Rose Tyler. I could spend it with you, if you want.” When he commits to Rose and says he loves her, she chooses a Doctor with whom she can have an equal relationship.
When Twilight exploded on the scene, many readers winced at the new definition of teens’ fantasy. Vapid Bella Swan mooned after Edward, the vampire-boyfriend with more than a bit of a stalker side. She professed a willingness to give up everything: family, friends, college, career, her very mind and soul to be with Edward forever. Was this the new ideal?
Sara Buttsworth, author of “Cinderbella: Twilight, Fairy Tales, and the Twenty-First Century American Dream” sees Bella’s heavy connection with fairytales (beginning, of course, with her name): There’s mention of Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Little Red Riding Hood. Jacob mutters “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” when speaking to Carlisle, the fairy godmother of the story (Breaking Dawn 237). Bella thinks of Rosalie as a Sleeping Beauty (Breaking Dawn 253) and describes Esme, the perfect housekeeper as “like meeting Snow White in the flesh” (Twilight 282). But most of all, Bella follows the American Dream that has melded with the Cinderella story: wealth and happiness through self-sacrifice and marriage to Prince Charming. Buttsworth notes, “‘Forget Princess, I want to be a Vampire’ sums up an entire culture whose ideal of having it all conflicts with the realities of income differences and sexual inequality that still characterize American society” (67).
Indeed, this is a story of fairy tale re-creation of the self, though the real payoff only comes in book four. John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor, writes, “Bella’s name means ‘beautiful swan’ and her adventures are about her transformation from ugly duckling to goddess in something like apotheosis” (37).
In the first three books, many critics complained of Bella’s lack of agency – she often lets Edward make the decisions instead of making them herself. Bonnie Mann in “Vampire Love: The Second Sex Negotiates the Twenty-first Century” describes “The strong sense I had of having gone back in time to an old-fashioned world where women were seen as empty conduits of masculine desire and valued for their propensity to self-sacrifice alone” (134). She compares the themes of the first three books with feminist philosophy text The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.
For de Beauvoir in 1949 France, the tragedy of adolescence in the feminine was its demand that the girl give up both herself and her hold on the world. As she enters womanhood, she learns that she is destined to be a “relative being” whose existence has meaning only in relation to the man who loves her. As if Meyer wished to provide the perfect literary illustration of de Beauvoir’s claim, when Edward leaves Bella for a time in the second book, Bella describes herself as “ like a lost moon – my planet destroyed in some cataclysmic disaster – movie scenario of desolation that continued … to circle in a tight little orbit around the empty space left behind.” Bella’s mother marvels to her upon seeing her with Edward later in the story, “The way you move – you orient yourself around him without even thinking about it….You’re like a…satellite.” (Mann 134-135)
De Beauvoir claimed that throughout her childhood, the girl learns that “the world is defined without reference to her.” Men make the big decisions; women only choose where to ally themselves and which man’s life to share. Thus too many adolescents learn that there is no future for them.” (331). de Beauvoir adds, “At the age when the will to live and make a place in the world is running strong. At just this conquering age, woman learns that for her there is to be no conquest, that she must disown herself, that her future depends upon man’s good pleasure” (359). That was in the fifties; now matters should be different. But not in the Twilight world.
This contrast looms large in Meyer’s novels. Bella is facing all of the simple cultural markers for adult womanhood: her eighteenth birthday, graduation from high school, first sex, marriage, and motherhood. Yet through most of the story, Bella’s vampire is father and mother, as much as lover. By the second book there is a competent, well-muscled werewolf named Jacob who is an equally protective parent. As Bella is handed off for safekeeping from vampire to werewolf and back, she describes the experience as “like when I was a kid and Renée would pass me off to Charlie for the summer.” Her weakness contrasted with their strength is that of an infant, contrasted with an all-powerful adult. (Mann 135)
The vampires and werewolves protect her, carry her around in their arms, make decisions for her and even give her curfews. She has indeed forfeited all agency to her all-powerful supernatural men, save for choosing one or the other.
Of course, this explains her desire to be a vampire – the Cullens protect each other and fight, even the women. Rosalie is the best mechanic and Alice calls many of the shots. Gazing at them, Bella can see a world of power as well as equal, loving relationships (in contrast with the scarred human wives of werewolves who often have their destiny set for them thanks to imprinting). Bella insists at the end of Twilight that she wants this for herself because she wants shared power: “A man and a woman have to be somewhat equal, as in, one of them can’t always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally … I can’t always be Lois Lane. I want to be Superman too” (473-474).
It’s not just about which boy do I want. It’s a lifestyle choice. With Jacob, you’d have an earthbound life, a normal life in some ways with family and children. Edward represents the ethereal, fantastical life. That makes for a strong triangle. Frankly, just choosing which boy or girl you want is a little shallow. For Bella, it’s a matter of life or death. Literally. (Wloszczyna 3)
Her helplessness and unrequited longing change with the fourth book, Breaking Dawn. Bella fights for and finally wins the right to marry Edward. This is a massive transition, emphasized in the film by a nightmare on the eve of Bella’s wedding: She and Edward marry on a wedding cake that’s a pile of bloody corpses. Claiming the prize has a foreshadowing of death – her own as well as her loved ones. Everyone is in white, with red rose petals, red bouquets, and red boutonnieres that transform into blood. The innocent maiden, symbolized by white, is entering the domain of motherhood as well as martyrdom.
The actual movie wedding by contrast is beautiful and takes place among long strands of hanging wisteria. Out in the forest, it’s truly a fairytale scene as the bride bonds with the woods then the island paradise of Brazil. Their honeymoon is a time of transition. As film costume designer Michael Silkinson describes it, “Bella struggles with this new image of herself, not feeling quite herself in the ladylike dress Alice packed for the arrival in Rio” (Vaz 75). She is a wife, but not ready for all that entails. However, on their honeymoon, she falls pregnant. Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter, adds that the honeymoon is: “where the conflict is more complex, with all the adult issues common in marriage, like sex and family” (Vaz 84).
The more complex fairytales like the Vietnamese Cinderella, original Grimms’ Sleeping Beauty, or Grimms’ The Goose Girl/The White Bride and the Black Bride follow the heroine after her fairytale wedding, trying to reconcile the sweet, untutored maiden with the woman suddenly made wife, queen, and prospective mother.
Part of her balks. She doesn’t know how to grow suddenly from housemaid to queen, with no warning or training. “But it will all work out,” she tells herself. “I’ve found my Prince Charming. I’ll never be unhappy or angry or regretful. This is the best time of my life.” Upon hearing this, the Black Bride destroys the White Bride, chopping down her wobbling perch of affirmations and killing her. (Frankel, From Girl to Goddess 39)
In all these stories, the ogre mother-in-law, stepsister, or treacherous maid banishes the sweet bride and takes her place, as will soon happen to Bella, who transforms into a strange moody hybrid with her vampire pregnancy as a stage before her full transformation. Unlike passive maiden Bella, this heroine fights angrily to defend her unborn child and defies her new family to protect it. “This intruding Black Bride is aggressive, dynamic, mercenary (often for necessary reasons), on fire with jealousy, self-centered, and self-reliant … she is the subversive force that has been repressed in maidenhood until it explodes on the way to the wedding” (Gould 194). When the Black Bride arrives at the palace, disguised as the promised princess, she’s often uglier, crueler and needier than the new husband had fantasized when he proposed.
As always comes with magic and transformation, there is a cost to Bella:
Meyer still doesn’t offer her young readers a clear story of female desire without penalty. For a moment she seems to be providing us with the most brutal critique of heterosexual pleasure and motherhood that we’ve seen in thirty years. First sex with the vampire leaves the bed in splinters and Bella covered with bruises. She becomes pregnant with a vampire child who threatens destruction from the inside; every fetal kick causes internal bleeding. Depleted to the point of death by the accelerated pregnancy, on the verge of becoming a “ broken, bled-out, mangled corpse,” Bella drinks human blood, supplied from the blood bank by Edward’s doctor vampire father, because nothing else seems to quiet “the little executioner.” Rather than letting the little beast chew its way out, a vampire cesarean is performed as Bella plummets toward death; Edward is compelled to inject his venom into Bella to save her, transforming her. (Mann 140-141)
To keep her alive, Edward transforms her, and Bella’s world is never the same again. Bella retreats into a Sleeping Beauty chrysalis, a sleep of transformation that prepares her for the next stage. She is not only transforming to a vampire, but to an adult wife and mother – a change so severe she metaphorically retreats from it, returning only when she’s ready.
After, however, she wakes as a vampire. She’s in a different world, one with new sensations and perceptions. “For the first time, with the dimming shadows and limiting weakness of humanity taken off my eyes,” as she puts it, she discovers new senses, so much she feels she needs a new vocabulary (Breaking Dawn 390). This, combined with her remarkable new appearance, emphasizes how different her life is. Staring into the mirror, she describes herself as “the alien creature in the glass,” “she” rather than “I” (403). As Bella looks in horror, she decides, “I couldn’t find my face anywhere in the smooth, perfect planes of her features” (403). Now she is part of their vampire family, suddenly transformed to a wife, and more significantly, a mother.
At the same time, this is a glorious world. She awakes “in wonder” to a “fairy tale” (386, 479). She adds, “I’d been so ready to string along my human time … I should have guessed … [becoming a vampire is] better” (482). She also has her shining child, Renesmee, a half-human half-vampire baby.
Being a vampire offers Bella complete wish fulfillment, particularly an escape from being weak and human and from the “years of mediocrity” that she assumes being human entails. She achieves eternal life and love. She has a child and saves her species. She equals or supersedes in ability all of the vampires who used to personify her desires. She matches Edward’s undying love and surpasses Carlisle’s self-control, Esme’s maternal devotion, Rosalie’s beauty, Emmett’s strength, Alice’s loyalty, and Jasper’s power over others. (McMahon 204)
In her new vampire form, Bella is a superhero. All of the Cullens are shocked at her self-discipline as she can refrain from biting a stranger or her father. She’s stronger than all of them but just as self-possessed. She revels in this strength, adding, “I could feel it now — the raw, massive strength filling my limbs. I was suddenly sure that if I wanted to tunnel under the river, to claw or beat my way through the bedrock, it wouldn’t take me very long” (410). Edward tells her she’s acting decades old rather than days (420). Instead of Edward’s carrying her through the woods like a baby, she runs with him:
I flew with him through the living green web, by his side, not following at all …. I kept waiting to feel winded, but my breath came effortlessly. I waited for the burn to begin in my muscles, but my strength only seemed to increase as I grew accustomed to my stride. My leaping bounds stretched longer, and soon he was trying to keep up with me. I laughed again, exultant, when I heard him falling behind. (413)
Movie producer Wyck Godfrey reports, “It was fun because she got to play a different character, with a different stature, different control of her voice, and a lot of the nervousness of Bella is replaced with this cool, collected calm of Bella as a vampire. It’s no longer her on Edward’s back. He’s now chasing her, and she’s faster” (Abele 124).
Of course, her new sensations are a metaphor for her new relationship as Edward’s wife, after three books of hesitation. “Now I was in the story with him,” Bella adds triumphantly (479). Their romance too expands into a place of equal strength rather than hesitancy. She explains: “He was all new, a different person as our bodies tangled gracefully into one on the sand-pale floor. No caution, no restraint. No fear – especially not that. We could love together – both active participants now. Finally equals” (482).
From Bella’s point of view, Edward changes from an exalted, all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful demigod to a devoted lover and husband, whom she is able to protect with her own special gift of psychic shielding. Edward admires and supports every stage of Bella’s coming into her own powers, and is even able to accept the love of both Bella and their daughter for Jacob Black…Edward is very much the new sensitive and caring man to Bella’s new able, powerful, and courageous woman. (Zack 121-122)
Esme, the matriarch of the Cullen family, gives them a new cottage with a room for the baby, emphasizing their new family status. The cottage, according to production designer Richard Sherman, is “a really cozy, comfortable, womblike place, nestled in the forest with a beautiful garden (Abele 122). A home is a feminine symbol of protection and security. Of course, Bella’s is instantly filled with everything she could want, like her new life. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson reports Bella’s walk-in closet being stuffed with pieces from the archives from high-end designers “so when you open the door, it’s almost like Ali Baba’s treasure trove” (Abele 123).
Likewise, her baby is a wonderful gift, reflected in her charming power of sharing everything she’s experienced with whoever she chooses. As Renesmee reaches out to people, she binds the new family together – from Charlie and Jacob to other vampire clans. No one can keep her out of their minds (even Bella) and no one can keep themselves back from her charms. For a time, everything is unspeakably perfect.
Every Western ideal of romantic love and the contemporary success of heterosexual women is thereby fulfilled for the heroine of Twilight: She married the vampire she loves and thereby joins a rich, cultured, and loving extended family, after which she skips through pregnancy in a couple of months, becomes a vampire to save her life, and attains the powers of a superheroine. Talk about “what women want!” (Zack 122)
The Volturi soon come to threaten the new family’s existence. They represent decay and stagnation, as well as murderous savagery towards the new little family. Jane, the Volturi’s bodyguard, is tiny but warped like an evil child, causing pain to their enemies. The heroes slowly realize that the Volturi leaders Caius and Aro “come to destroy and acquire” rather than maintain justice (682). “Their guard is just a mindless weapon, a tool in their masters’ quest for domination” (718). The Cullens, a peaceful happy family, are a threat they must conquer and obliterate. Critic Sharon Slade Jackson adds: “Often, Bella’s story is seen as a bildungsroman coming-of-age tale that finds its finale in Bella’s transformation from helpless clumsy human to shielding vampire saviour, with its climax in the confrontation with the Volturi” (Jackson).
The baby plot feeds directly into the Volturi attack, as well as their eventual defeat. Granger notes: “The divine-human androgyne, of course, costs Bella her human life in delivery but her sacrifice results in apotheosis. More wonderfully, the child born of God and Human is the cause of peace between vampires and wolfmen, the revelation of the evil Volturi’s power lust and their eventual defeat before a crowd of witnesses testifying to her reality (91)
Several covens unite in books and film: Egyptian, Amazon, Denali, Irish, and Romanian, along with many nomads, showing worldwide unity in the face of the Volturi threat. When the werewolf pack join the Cullens too, Bella notes to herself that the werewolf children could die. With the Volturi seeing some of them take the Cullens’ side, all are in danger. “They had gambled their entire species on this stand” (683). Her natural world is unifying against the patriarchal threat, though this is also another scene of the Volturi preying on the innocent – in this case, adolescents.
In the face of this threat, Bella begins cultivating her own superpowers. A visiting vampire identifies her as a shield, blocking mind readers (even Edward) from her innermost self. Shielding is a particularly feminine power, used to defend one’s loved ones as well as oneself. Realizing that she has the only power that can block the Volturi, Bella quickly begins training. She defends Edward inconsistently; only when their vampire friend Kate uses Renesmee as a target does Bella’s strength grow, like a momma bear defending her cub. Soon Bella can shield all her friends, building a curtain of protection around all of them. With her adult powers, she dresses more elegantly, in a simple black dress when meeting with J. Jenks and heavier eye makeup. She wears a leather jacket for toughness during the Volturi showdown.
When the Volturi arrive, on seeing the “smug little smile” of Jane, the deadly child who tortures and murders, Bella commits.
That smug little smile did it. My fury peaked, higher even than the raging bloodlust I’d felt the moment the wolves had committed to this doomed fight. I could taste madness on my tongue – I felt it flow through me like a tidal wave of pure power. My muscles tightened, and I acted automatically. I threw my shield with all the force in my mind, flung it across the impossible expanse of the field – ten times my best distance – like a javelin. My breath rushed out in a huff with the exertion.
The shield blew out from me in a bubble of sheer energy, a mushroom cloud of liquid steel. It pulsed like a living thing – I could feel it, from the apex to the edges.
There was no recoil to the elastic fabric now; in that instant of raw force, I saw that the backlash I’d felt before was of my own making – I had been clinging to that invisible part of me in self-defense, subconsciously unwilling to let it go. Now I set it free, and my shield exploded a good fifty yards out from me effortlessly, taking only a fraction of my concentration. I could feel it flex like just another muscle, obedient to my will. I pushed it, shaped it to a long, pointed oval. Everything underneath the flexible iron shield was suddenly a part of me – I could feel the life force of everything it covered like points of bright heat, dazzling sparks of light surrounding me. I thrust the shield forward the length of the clearing, and exhaled in relief when I felt Edward’s brilliant light within my protection. I held there, contracting this new muscle so that it closely surrounded Edward, a thin but unbreakable sheet between his body and our enemies. (690-691)
After, she resists Jane – the first one to ever do so. As she adds, “I could see Alec’s narrowed eyes, doubt on his face for the first time as his mist swirled harmlessly around the edges of my shield” (728). Her powers, as well as the alliance, convince their enemies to retreat without violence. After the Volturi depart, Edward tells her, “So it was a combination of things there at the end, but what it really boiled down to was … Bella” (742). Her shield power has protected her family and friends, as well as their independent way of life.
The series concludes with her using her powers in a new way: to demonstrate her love for Edward by sharing her mind. “It is not enough for Bella to be transformed into a god-like vampire with superpowers that enable her to stop a vampire war before it starts. That was merely a pit stop on the way to Bella’s true moment of glory: when she achieves complete unity with her mate for the first time” (Jackson). In the novel Breaking Dawn, this scene happens in Bella and Edward’s cottage; in the movie, it occurs in Edward’s meadow. Meyer explained in her interview with Shannon Hale, “I had to write all four books to get to those last two pages. Just to have Bella and Edward really be able to understand each other – that made it worth writing four books” ([_Official Illustrated Guide _]40). In this moment, Bella achieves true unity with her husband – a metaphorically spiritual joining as well as the literal one.
As John Granger adds, “In this coital finish of Breaking Dawn, we get the conjunction of opposites, human seeker heart and the Divine Mind, in which the human heart finally opens up completely to the God who would never force his way there. The result is a love that is ‘forever’ or eternal and a bliss that is continuous in the ultimate communion of Creator and created image” (146).
The film loops the image back to the beginning with the image of the meadow, their perfect place, glowing with heavenly light. Bella has become a goddess and found heaven on earth.
The beautiful sequence, with gorgeous music and scenes from all the films, had us all cheering, especially when it was concluded with an image of the book’s pages flipping to that wonderful last page, the page Meyer says is her favorite of the whole Saga, with highlighting on the last word, “forever.” (Jackson)
Disney Princess as a brand is taking over fandom. Princesses are sweet and glamourous. Occasionally they kick butt, though more often they don’t. The biggest problem is the overwhelmingly large franchise, which admits no alternate paths for brainy girls, tech geniuses, young warriors, or problem solvers. Disney’s message is often one of weakness:
At the same time the studio is promoting the resurgence of The Little Mermaid, with its archaic message of “change yourself for your man,” we also get a film like Brave, which actively avoids those tropes and features a princess who dreams of independence rather than the love of a prince. And then that progress was undermined with the infamous slimmed-down, glammed-up redesign of Merida. Even Tangled, with its capable, headstrong version of Rapunzel, left the final heroic act to her leading man. Knowing the studio’s history, you could be forgiven for expecting Frozen _]to follow suit. But it doesn’t. Instead, it cleverly tweaks the formula, all the while acknowledging that it [_is a formula.
Without going into too many spoilers, let’s just say that Frozen’ s climax does not involve a man coming to the rescue of a starry-eyed princess. The princesses at the center of this story -- sisters Elsa and Anna – are defined by their unique upbringing and estranged relationship to one another, not by the men in their lives. They are fully fleshed out characters with a wide spectrum of human qualities including love, fear, loneliness, anger, frustration, bravery, and vulnerability. What drives the film is Anna’s longing to connect with her sister and Elsa’s struggle to protect Anna by keeping her distance. The stakes couldn’t be higher for them. Romantic love is an aside, a subplot; the men are supporting players in this love story between two sisters. I have no problem with them being role models for my daughters (White, “Feminist Controversy”)
Frozen revolutionized Disney: at last a princess movie emphasized that teamwork between women was more valuable than the prince’s kiss. At the same time, it was notable for its presentation of a powerful queen and sorceress as the heroine…not the villain.
With Snow White’s stepmother, Maleficent, Ursula the Sea Witch and more, the older, strong sorceresses were always the villainesses. Heroines would beat them, not with magic, but with purity and sweetness of heart. In fact, in all three of these cases, they didn’t beat them at all but their male princes or in the first case the dwarves faced down and slew the evil women, safeguarding their sweet little brides. Even the original “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen follows this pattern, as little Gerda saves her playmate from the Snow Queen using the power of love.
Of course, Frozen’s beginning makes little sense in the grand scheme of things. Young Elsa has magic that needs controlling, and love is the key to it. Thus the trolls advise her to wall herself away from her sister and any potential friends. Their patriarch the Grand Pabbie tells her: “It’s for the best. Listen to me, Elsa, your power will only grow. There is beauty in it. But also great danger. You must learn to control it. Fear will be your enemy.” Thus her father king resolves to lock the gates, reduce the staff, “limit her contact with people, and keep her powers hidden from everyone. Including Anna.” In retrospect, separating her from her loved ones and forcing her to bury her powers is bad advice, though it certainly fits the Disney princess pattern. It would seem her parents want her to fit this classic mold – friendless, powerless, and sweet.
Thus young Elsa becomes the ice princess, shrouded in long gloves, locked in her room as she keeps away from everyone. Idina Menzel (Elsa) describes how her character has been “compromising and sacrificing herself and her own identity just to protect her sister” (Weintraub).
Elsa has always been told to hide her powers – so really, she must hide herself. She is naturally reserved and uncomfortable in social situations unlike outgoing Anna, so at first this is easier for her than her sister, but to constantly repressing an enormous power she never asked for, to never be able to hug someone in case she freezes them and can’t undo it? Elsa pretends she’s aloof when really, as we see in the magnificent “Let It Go” scene, Elsa has a lot of passion. (AudreyFreak)
At her coronation, she teases Anna and tries to charm her subjects, even as she prepares to hold back her magic like a teen cramming for the perfect audition – there will only be one chance. She tells herself she must continue being the “good girl” – “Conceal. Don’t feel.” Her hands shake in a way unusual for poised, unworried Disney princesses. Of course, she’s startled and her magic escapes her. The Arendelle crowd is horrified, and Elsa has lost her apparent perfection. “Monster, monster!” the duke cries, as many men have said of powerful women through the centuries. As he cries, “Has it dawned on you that your princess may be conspiring with a wicked sorceress to destroy us all?” he vilifies the young queen. At last, he orders his men to “put an end to this winter” by killing Elsa.
While other Disney princesses are always the good girls, who are meek and gentle even when treated like Cinderella, Elsa finally lashes out. This is literal with a wave of ice, then, after she climbs the mountain, she proclaims that she’s done being submissive and perfect, in likely the most beloved song Disney’s ever made.
Truly alone for the first time on the mountain, she unleashes the full potential of her ice abilities. Her new freedom is visually manifested in a gorgeous ice castle and (gasp!) a decidedly sexier dress. Whereas before, Elsa covered herself to her neck and hid herself away for fear of hurting others, her new sparkling outfit boasts sheer, off-the-shoulder sleeves and a slit that runs a few inches above her knees. While she sings about being happy “for the first time in forever,” she lets her hair down, shimmies her hips, and puffs out her chest. Here she is powerful, independent of the male gaze. For a Disney heroine, finding empowerment in her own feminine physicality, for herself and not the prince, is revolutionary. (Leon)
Up on the mountain, Elsa transforms into a taboo look – no gloves and no bound hair, as she discards both of these. Her crown, too, is not a symbol she wants with its heavy responsibilities. This is her journey into the barren wilderness, though she doesn’t fight the elements – she celebrates the wind and snow, and then makes them more beautiful. In her snow castle, she’s revealed as her ideal self, like a superheroine in costume rather than in a suit and glasses who suppresses her powers and passes as ordinary.
For those of you who have taken psychology, you may be familiar with Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow, the unconscious part of yourself that you dare not recognize but that you eventually must integrate to become whole. Elsa’s secret power that turns everything into ice is her shadow, the part of herself that she hides to conform to society’s expectations. She sings “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.” … It is Elsa’s shadow that she accepts, after years of concealing, and lets go. When she lets her shadow go, she builds a marvelous ice castle in the mountains; her shadow is finally liberated, as is her hair when she lets it down. (Nikoloff)
With her new transformation, she’s free, and with it she’s beautiful. She reflects this by transforming herself (without the aid of Cinderella’s godmother) into the glittering ice queen she truly wishes to be, blazing with power and song.
Importantly, Elsa challenges the prevalent “good girl complex,” a term designated to describe the pressure girls are under to be perfect in all areas. In her song, “Let It Go,” Elsa sings “that perfect girl is gone.” She refers to the pressure of having to be the perfect daughter, sister, and princess. In this song, Elsa releases herself from these pressures and allows herself the freedom to make mistakes and live how she chooses. Elsa also challenges the virgin/whore dichotomy. When Elsa changes into a more overtly sexy outfit and looks directly at the camera with a raised eyebrow, it appears that she is a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality and she does not care what anyone thinks. She slams the door in the audience’s face, indicating that she needs privacy to understand herself or that the audience does not have to be present for her sexual awakening. This defies the fetishizing of young women for audience consumption. (Feder)
Unlike in stories like Cinderella or even The Hunger Games, she’s not beautifying herself for an audience, but simply for her own pleasure. Her retreat at the end signals that she needn’t dance around to entertain the audience but can discover who she is all by herself. As one of the song’s writers, Robert Lopez, notes, “At that moment in the story, we did have a moment of transformation from a shy, repressed girl who was worried about all the time about being herself, and at the end of the song not only has she transformed into someone who has accepted her power and letting it out but also has physically transformed herself and has built her own palace, her own metaphorical palace in the mountains.”
Lopez and his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez reveal that Elsa was originally intended to be the classic Disney villainess, with this song the moment of claiming her villainy:
ROBERT LOPEZ: She was the villain at that point, yeah. She was blue-skinned, and she had spiky hair, and at the end of the movie, she came down the mountain with an army of evil snowmen to ransack, the town, which is very different from the way the movie now ends, but it took a long time to get there.
And one of the focal moments of when that started to change was when we wrote “Let It Go,” and we wrote “Let It Go” so that she still might be the villain. That line…
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: Let the storm rage on.
LOPEZ: Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway, was meant to, if we were going down that villain path, it would fall in line with that lyric. But basically when this song came to us, we were on a little stroll through Prospect Park in Brooklyn near our house, and we both started to sort of improv what Elsa might be feeling like.
ANDERSON-LOPEZ: And actually it was Bobby who kept saying I feel like if I were a high school student, that this would be that moment that you had worked, and you’d studied, and you hadn’t gone out, and then you just failed a test miserably. And what would that feel like? And he came up with the line.
At last, Anderson-Lopez describes the movie’s message of “don’t allow fear or shame to keep you from being the person you should be.” Indeed, her fear is Elsa’s greatest enemy – a struggle many young fans understand. She has made a terrible mistake, revealed her most embarrassing secret in public. Now she only wishes to stay in her ice castle and never emerge. Even her sister’s coming to her door won’t budge her. Director Jennifer Lee adds:
For me, it was the sister story. I have a sister. I went to that immediately. But also, the potential for these characters to be more than anything you’d seen before in female characters. They’re both equally powerful, vulnerable, very real, very relatable. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders. I mean, they’ve got a kingdom one has accidentally put in peril, the other’s stuck in the middle. And I thought the stakes were high, and I loved that the stakes were on them.
The story then transfers to Anna as she goes questing to bring Elsa back and have her end the reign of snow and ice. Her friend and hired guide Kristoff is fun and loving (and nice to reindeer!), but not really Prince Charming…and far from a classic Disney hero. “Though they dive off cliffs and face a giant snow monster together, transportation is the only way Kristoff ever actually helps Anna. He rides with her to her sister’s ice castle then, when things go wrong, he rides with her back to Arendelle. In one scene of role-reversal, he finds himself dangling off a cliff. Anna has to pull him to safety” (Leon).
Anna, meanwhile, is on the classic savior mission seen in fairytale princesses as well as butt-kicking warrior-heroines like Katniss. Her voice actress, Kristen Bell, explains:
As opposed to Ariel who wanted to just explore, Anna wants to explore, but she also wants to nurture the relationships around her and a foundation of nurturing your relationships in life, is nurturing your relationship with your support group, which is your family, whether it is blood or not and you can identify family however you want, but that’s what the relationship between Anna and Elsa is it’s a non-romantic love.
When she finally finds Elsa, she finds her sister prefers a world without pretense to the laws and manners of Arendelle. She notes, “I belong here. Alone. Where I can be who I am without hurting anybody.” On Anna’s compliments, Elsa tells her coolly, “Thank you. I never knew what I was capable of.” Only failing the proper princess test, fleeing, and “letting go” allowed her to discover her awesome magical powers, held back all these years. While Disney princesses usually have no might of this kind, only Cinderella’s meekness, Ariel’s curiosity, Jasmine’s wiles, and Belle’s book smarts, Elsa’s true conflict may stem from her Disney villainess origins.
Elsa is given opportunities to make mistakes that Disney Princesses have not been given in the past. Elsa often feels threatened, codes the world as black and white, and runs into trouble a number of times because of her ambiguous moral compass. Elsa shows herself as willing to murder to protect her heightened sense of self-preservation, and judging from the look of shock on her face every time she loses control, she is clearly more prone to violence than she thinks. Abandoning one’s throne is the highest level of treason a monarch can commit and Elsa does this at the first provocation—she chooses herself over her kingdom and refuses to explain. Moreover, Elsa threatens Anna’s life when she creates her snow monster and appears to have no qualms about killing people that have come to retrieve her. (Feder)
The sisters can be read as proper daylight Disney princess (Anna, with no secrets, who’s happy to fall in love with the first prince she meets) and Shadow. For indeed, Elsa, locked up like the family’s dirty secret, discovers the strength and power of being the monster unleashed after shedding her good girl disguise. Elsa tells her sister to go back home and be the traditional happy princess. “Go enjoy the sun and open up the gates.” Elsa will stay on her mountain, reveling in bad girl power.
Of course, though she’s been taught power is evil, she’s not using it selfishly, except by accident (freezing her home country). Elsa truly thinks the kingdom has rejected her and she has no place there. The shadow, made up of all the forbidden behaviors and desires the hero must keep bottled up, certainly has reason to believe this. “Elsa remains a hero because she chooses to make the difficult choice of continuing to lock herself away, even when her parents are no longer present, to protect the people she loves. Her redeeming quality is her unwavering desire to protect her loved ones even when it comes at the cost of her quality of life” (Feder).
At last Anna must tell her that Elsa has frozen Arendelle.
ANNA: You kind of set off an eternal winter…everywhere.
ANNA: Oh, it’s okay. You can just unfreeze it.
ELSA: No, I can’t. I…I don’t know how!
Of course, all the blocks on her returning and putting things back together are emotional. “Like many people coming to terms with themselves, Elsa must grapple with accepting her immense powers, which have been stigmatized by her society as negative. The movie gives us no reason to believe that anyone, except Elsa herself, ever doubted that she could easily remove the ice. What Elsa feared about herself was what made her different, powerful, and special” (Feder).
Anna pleads that they can work together, but as Elsa gets more agitated she sucks her latest blizzard back into herself and then it bursts out and accidentally hits Anna in the heart. She has her snowy marshmallow man throw Anna and Kristoff out, rejecting their friendship and sympathy.
The creators note that Elsa’s fear and suspicion of the world comes from the original story – in it, the Snow Queen’s mirror cracks, and a shard ends up in little Kai’s eye. Thus he values isolation and snow over the love of his best friend, and she must help him to overcome this.
BUCK: There are some very basic parts of the story that are in our story. This theme of this young girl—Gerda is the girl in the story—who won’t give up on finding her friend Kai. … And Kai is living in fear. There’s a troll in it and a mirror and shards and all this stuff and Kai gets a shard stuck in his eye and he only sees the negative in the world and the fear. But Gerda somehow did not get the shard and the only thing she really has in her, she’s not a superhero or anything, but she has love. And it’s love that conquers fear in the end. She pursues her friend and saves her friend from the Snow Queen.
LEE: Yeah, the issue with the original for us in a lot of ways is it’s a very symbolic story. It’s very hard to translate symbolism into concrete things. Film is concrete, so you translate it. So the Snow Queen was not very well drawn; she was symbolic. And so we really imbued Kai in Elsa to give character. So you’ve got sort of that same core. (White, Q&A)
With Anna’s hair turning white (giving her a shard of inner ice herself), Kristoff knows she’s in trouble so he takes her to the trolls – his pushy, hilarious adoptive family. The Grand Pabbie tells her, “Anna, your life is in danger. There is ice in your heart, put there by your sister. If not removed, to solid ice will you freeze, forever.” He adds that “only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart.” Kristoff vows to rush her back to Prince Hans for her perfect kiss.
Back in her ice palace, Elsa tells herself, “Get it together. Control it. Don’t feel. Don’t feel. Don’t feel. Don’t feel!” Elsa looks around and notices ice spikes growing out of the castle walls. Clearly her attempt to repress everything once more is doomed – the power won’t be caged again.
The Duke’s guards attack Elsa with crossbows in her palace. Even Hans tells her, “Queen Elsa! Don’t be the monster they fear you are!” The guards knock her out and drag her to Arendelle where they chain her up.
ELSA: Oh, no. What have I done? [Hans enters] Why did you bring me here?
HANS: I couldn’t just let them kill you.
ELSA: But I’m a danger to Arendelle. Get Anna.
HANS: Anna has not returned. If you would just stop the winter, bring back summer. Please.
ELSA: [looking distraught] Don’t you see, I can’t. You have to tell them to let me go.
HANS: I will do what I can.
Elsa no longer wants to rule – she wishes her good girl sister to take the throne, following all the rules of man and earning the people’s love, while Elsa revels in power in her own ice palace. In the wilderness no one condemns her for having power and using it. However, the townsfolk’s reactions have taught her that she can’t have power and respect at once – the people fear her too greatly.
When Anna and Elsa finally reunite, Elsa appears to be suffering from extreme guilt and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, haunted by the fact that she nearly killed her sister. This reaction is triggered by Anna herself, as is apparent from the Elsa’s flashback to this event and instinctual flight from the room. There are also symptoms of an uncontrolled panic attack present here. Elsa’s powers are beyond her control once she becomes agitated; her singing becomes more and more incoherent until it is nothing but a shout (“I can’t!”) despite Anna’s evident sympathy and logical pleas. There is a pervasive tendency in US culture to view people suffering from mental illness as weak, lazy, inadequate, or lacking control. Creating a Disney princess who happens to have an anxiety disorder is a progressive step towards creating characters that accurately represent our world. Elsa is not portrayed as selfish or “crazy,” but as someone who is doing the best she can in her situation. (Feder)
Her sister’s unconditional love and trust helps Elsa through her damage – allows her to see that making mistakes isn’t the end of the world, and that her powerful magic side isn’t as ugly and monstrous as she believed.
Anna finally arrives for her kiss and Hans tells her the truth: her sweet naïve Disney princess outlook has left her helpless. As he adds, “As heir, Elsa was preferable, of course, but no one was getting anywhere with her.” Elsa was the protective, powerful, invulnerable shadow. Anna, however, was so “nice” that she was easy pickings. Once Elsa went off on her own, no one was left to forbid the marriage and protect the sugary sister from her own optimism and heedless trust.
HANS: All that’s left now is to kill Elsa and bring back summer.
ANNA: You’re no match for Elsa.
HANS: No, you’re no match for Elsa. I, on the other hand, am the hero who is going to save Arendelle from destruction.
He frames Elsa for killing Anna, as one more powerful man condemning her as a monster. As she realized when she fled up the mountain, Elsa knows that she cannot earn the people’s love, so she may as well confirm their worst fears and embrace her bad girl side. Once more claiming her power for herself, she blows a hole in her cell and escapes.
Unlike most Disney Princess movies where the princess undergoes a transformation in the movie that positions her to be less than she was before—Ariel from a singing mermaid to a mute human, or Cinderella from a hopeful maid to a woman whose true love danced with her all evening yet cannot remember her face, or Sleeping Beauty and Snow White who are actual cadavers, literally lacking life force – Elsa transforms into an adult, ready to have an active role in her own life, in full control of her powers. This transformation takes place in a self-preserved prison created by stigmatism and fear—a setting that prompts valuable questions for Disney. (Feder)
Anna, Disney princess still, tries to run to Kristoff the goofy good boy for her kiss. However, Hans finds Elsa in the storm outside.
HANS: Elsa! You can’t run from this!
ELSA: Just take care of my sister.
HANS: Your sister? She returned from the mountain weak and cold. She said that you froze her heart.
HANS: I tried to save her, but it was too late. Her skin was ice, her hair turned white. [Elsa suddenly realizes what she’s done] Your sister is dead…because of you.
ELSA: No. [totally distraught, Elsa turns and falls to her knees, instantly the blizzard stops]
With this stillness, Anna, nearly paralyzed with cold, sees Kristoff hurrying toward her. Anna runs to him, but she looks to the side to see Hans has raised his sword ready to kill Elsa, who’s on her knees weeping. Kristoff may be her true love (or not) but Elsa is like half of herself. Instead of claiming her kiss, she throws herself in front of Elsa just as Hans is about to strike. “In another of Frozen’s perfectly devised fake-outs, Kristoff never comes within fifty feet of her. Anna sees him from across the ice, hesitates, and chooses to help her sister instead. The love between Anna and Elsa is what Frozen wants its audience to recognize as ‘true love’ —not whatever a princess and some guy she just met share” (Leon).
Anna’s whole body freezes to solid ice. Elsa embraces her and cries, until suddenly Anna’s body starts to unfreeze and returns to life.
ELSA: Anna? [they hug each other and hold on to each other tightly]
ANNA: Oh, Elsa.
ELSA: You sacrificed yourself for me?
ANNA: I love you. [Olaf’s face lights up as he realizes what saved Anna]
OLAF: An act of true love will thaw a frozen heart.
ELSA: Love will thaw… [she looks at Anna] Love. Of course. [she looks at her hands]
ELSA: Love. [Elsa raises her arms and suddenly the ice across the kingdom melts, bringing back the warm summer.]
ANNA: I knew you could do it.
Love, not isolation is the key to Elsa’s mastering her powers. Director Jennifer Lee adds: “There was an ending everyone had responded to, all of us, the minute we heard it. And when I came on, it was [studio president] Ed Catmull who said you have to earn that ending. And that was not going to be easy” (White, Q&A).
The girls earn their ending nonetheless, without the aid of princes or handsome sleigh drivers. While the two settle down to happy rulership, with open gates and open hearts, the most important theme comes in Elsa’s acceptance for who she is. Now she glories in her power, showing off for the villagers with a skating rink in summer. They cheer for their dazzling, magical queen, celebrating her abilities. She gleefully drags her sister onto the ice, teaching her to enjoy her power, working in tandem, with both sides of the sisterhood finally at peace. Elsa can have her magic and her daylight queenship while Anna can learn strength away from all the adoring young men. Both can find larger love and acceptance from their community. “Anna is tired of being alone and ready to change it now that she has a chance to. Elsa has been isolated but must now deal with facing people, and later, she accepts her self-exile as she no longer is forced to be alone – she is free. … Both girls are incredibly, wonderfully different, but both deal with loneliness and have a strong capacity to love and be loved that is ultimately what saves them both” (AudreyFreak). As a published graduation address from the Harker School adds:
Acceptance and liberation aren’t enough, however; Elsa still has to integrate her shadow. Not until she allows herself to love her sister, and her complete self, does she fully integrate her shadow and use her powers for good, like creating ice skating rinks for her adoring subjects. Also, because shadow material contains all of your so-called imperfections, integrating your shadow means dropping perfectionism, too. Elsa sings, “That perfect girl is gone.” I know that good is the enemy of great, but perfect can be the enemy of good enough, and believe me, there will be plenty of times in your life when good enough will have to be, well, good enough.
In closing, all of the weaker, less desirable parts of yourself, those parts that you hide to conform, can be sources of power, of your unique expression in the world. They are the metaphorical frogs that transform into princes, or the dragons that fight for you instead of breathing fire at you. In the movie Shrek, remember how helpful Dragon becomes once she discovers love with Donkey? So my advice to you today is to let it go, with the “it” being that part of yourself that no one, not even you, acknowledges. Lao Tzu, the great author of the Tao Te Ching, said the following: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” You have spent 18 years becoming what you are and if you dare to let it go, you will discover just how wonderful who you are really is. (Nikoloff)
If you enjoyed these essays, you might try the books they’re from:
“Tris’s Threshold” from Choosing to be Insurgent or Allegiant: Symbols, Themes & Analysis of the Divergent Trilogy. USA, LitCrit Press, 2013.
“The Narnia Kids’ Magic Talismans” adapted from “Why Don’t More Girls Carry Swords? The Heroine’s Journey.” Sirens: Strong Women in Fantasy: Collected Papers 2009–2011. Ed. Hallie Tibbetts. USA: Narrate Conferences, Inc., 2012.
“Rey’s Enemies and Allies” from A Rey of Hope. USA, LitCrit Press, 2016.
“Clary’s Lover” adapted from Myths and Motifs of the Mortal Instruments. Allentown, PA: Zossima Press, 2013.
“Katniss’s Tyrants” from The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen: Examining the Heroine of The Hunger Games. Allentown, PA: Zossima Press, 2013.
“Rose’s Transcendence and Return” from Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey: The Doctor and Companions as Chosen Ones. New York: Thought Catalog, 2013.
“Ms, Marvel’s Coming of Age,” “Squirrel Girl’s Animal Helper,” “Vixen’s Wilderness,” and “Harley Quinn’s Shadow Sister” coming soon to Superheroines and the Heroine’s Journey.
All available on Amazon from the author’s page –
The Oz Books by L. Frank Baum
[*The Chronicles of Narnia *]by C.S. Lewis
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magicians Nephew
The Last Battle
[*The Hunger Games Trilogy *]by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games
[*The Enchanted Forest Chronicles *]by Patricia C. Wrede
Dealing with Dragons
Searching for Dragons
Calling on Dragons
Talking to Dragons
[*The Song of the Lioness Quartet *]by Tamora Pierce
Alanna: The First Adventure
In the Hand of the Goddess
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
[*Immortals *]by Tamora Pierce
The Realms of the Gods
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
The Tiffany Aching Books by Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men
A Hat full of Sky
The Inkheart Trilogy by Cornelia Funke
Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The City of Ember
The People of Sparks
The Prophet of Yonwood
The Diamond of Darkhold
[*Sorcery & Cecelia Series *]by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Sorcery & Cecelia
The Grand Tour
The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After
The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
The Red Pyramid
The Throne of Fire
The Serpent’s Shadow
The Young Wizards Series by Diane Duane
So You Want to be a Wizard
A Wizard Abroad
The Wizard’s Dilemma
A Wizard Alone
Wizards at War
A Wizard of Mars
The Abhorsen Triology by Garth Nix
The Books of Abarat by Clive Barker.
Days of Magic, Nights of War
The Great Alta Saga by Jane Yolen
Sister Light, Sister Dark
The One-Armed Queen
The Girl Who…by Catherynne M. Valente and Ana Juan .
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
The Kairos and Chronos Series by Madeline L’Engle
First-generation (Murray) (Time Quartet)
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
The Arm of the Starfish
Dragons in the Waters
A House Like a Lotus
An Acceptable Time
Meet the Austins
The Moon by Night
The Young Unicorns
A Ring of Endless Light
Troubling a Star
More Children’s Books
Wildwood Dancing and Cybele’s Secret[* *]by Juliet Marillier
Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward by Patricia Wrede
Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip
Tehanu by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Caroll
Coraline by Neil Gaimen
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Days of Blood and Starlight
Dreams of Gods & Monsters
The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Sweet Far Thing
[*Modern Faerie Tales *]by Holly Black
The Heralds of Valdemar by Mercedes Lackey
Arrows of the Queen
Fire and Thorns Trilogy by Rae Carson
The Girl of Fire and Thorns
The Crown of Embers
The Bitter Kingdom
Graceling Realm Series by Kristin Cashore
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
City of Bones
City of Ashes
City of Glass
City of Fallen Angels
City of Lost Souls
City of Heavenly Fire
The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare
Steampunk Chronicles by Kady Cross
The Girl in the Steel Corset
The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
The Girl with the Iron Touch
The Girl with the Windup Heart
The Custard Protocol by Gail Carriger
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games
The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie
Uglies Quartet by Scott Westerfeld
The Selection Trilogy by Kiera Cass
The Prince (novella)
Birthmarked Trilogy by Caragh M. O’Brien
Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth
Free Four: Tobias Tells the Story (novella)
Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver
Legend by Marie Lu
The Chemical Garden by Lauren DeStefano
Teen Classic Books
Till We Have Faces
Tess of the D’Umbervilles
Gone With the Wind
Romeo and Juliet
All’s Well that Ends Well
Measure for Measure
As You Like It
The Faerie Queene
Lives of the Greek Heroines
The Handmaid’s Tale
Their Eyes were Watching God
Like Water for Chocolate
Daughters of Copper Woman
The Color Purple
The Joy Luck Club
The Woman Warrior
The Scarlet Letter
To Kill a Mockingbird
(While the outfits and proportions are unfortunate, as is the tendency for someone like “Batgirl” to be cast as a sidekick, there is often a strong heroine’s journey arc for the characters, especially on their own series.)
Birds of Prey
DC Comics: Bombshells
Thor: The Goddess of Thunder
Independent comics for kids to try
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Dingle, Adrian. Nelvana of Northern Lights. 1941. San Diego: IDW, 2014.
Foglio, Phil and Kaja. Girl Genius. Seattle: Studio Foglio LLC, ongoing.
Jones, Casey and Jason Reeves. All Fall Down. Burnaby, BC: Arcana Comics, 2011.
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Shapiro, Mark and Ogaz. Eartha Kitt: Femme Fatale. USA: Bluewater Productions, 2014
Yolen, Jane and Mike Cavallaro. Foiled. USA: First Second, 2010.
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Glass, Adam, et al. Suicide Squad Vol. 1: Kicked in the Teeth. New York: DC Comics, 2012.
The Hunger Games. Dir. Gary Ross. DVD. Lionsgate, 2012.
Knisley, Lucy. “Growing Pains.” I Am an Avenger #4. New York: Marvel, 2010. Marvel Unlimited. Marvel.com.
L’ Engle, Madeline. A Wrinkle in Time. USA: Random House, 2005.
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.
–. Prince Caspian. USA: HarperCollins Publishers, 1951.
Liu, Marjorie and Mike Perkins. Astonishing X-Men: Weaponized. New York: Marvel, 2013.
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McGuire, Seanan “Velveteen vs. The Isley Crayfish Festival,” “Velveteen vs. The Coffee Freaks,” “Velveteen vs. the Old Flame” “Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots” “Velveteen vs. The Blind Date.” in and Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots. USA: ISFiC Press, 2012.
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–. Twilight. USA: Hatchette Book Group, 2005.
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North, Ryan and Erica Henderson. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2015.
North, Ryan, Dan Slott and Erica Henderson. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 2: Squirrel You Know It’s True. New York: Marvel Worldwide, 2015.
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–. The Amber Spyglass. USA: Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2000.
Rick, Riordan. The Serpent’s Shadow. New York: Hyperion Books, 2012.
–. The Throne of Fire. New York: Hyperion Books, 2011.
Roth, Veronica. Allegiant. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.
–. Divergent. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.
–. Insurgent. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 1999.
–. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. USA: Scholastic, Inc, 2007.
–. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. USA: Scholastic, Inc, 2005.
–. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. USA: Scholastic, Inc, 2003.
–. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 1997.
Slott, Dan and Kieron Dwyer. The Thing #8. New York: Marvel, 2006. Marvel Unlimited. Marvel.com.
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–. “Nuts to This.” Age of Heroes #3. New York: Marvel, 2010. Marvel Unlimited. Marvel.com.
Snyder, Scott, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion. Batman #13. New York: DC Comics, 2012.
Spirited Away Dir. Hayao Miyazaki 2001. Walt Disney Home Entertainment Presents A Studio Ghibli Film, 2003.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Dir. J.J. Abrams. Disney Studios, 2016.
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–. Ms. Marvel: Crushed. New York: Marvel Entertainment, 2015.
Wilson, G. Willow and Cafu. Vixen: Return of the Lion. New York: DC, 2009.
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“A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell.” Disc 2, DVD Extras. The Hunger Games.
“A Conversation with Suzanne Collins.” Scholastic Web Site. http://www.scholastic.com/thehungergames/media/qanda.pdf.
Abele, Robert. The Twilight Saga: The Complete Film Archive. New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 2012.
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Valerie Estelle Frankel is the author of many books on pop culture, including Doctor Who – The What, Where, and How, Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1-3, Doctor Who and the Hero’s Journey, and We’re Home: Fandom, Fun, and Hidden Homages in Star Wars the Force Awakens. Many of her books focus on women’s roles in fiction, from her heroine’s journey guides From Girl to Goddess and Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey to books like Women in Game of Thrones and The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen. Once a lecturer at San Jose State University, she’s a frequent speaker at conferences. Come explore her research at www.vefrankel.com.
Throughout the world of story, the heroine’s journey story pattern has always existed – less common than the hero’s journey, perhaps, but just as dramatic and transformative. The great children’s classics like Alice in Wonderland and Narnia show young girls redeeming the world with faith and cleverness – not swords and savage battles. Modern teen dystopias see young fighters who wield their bows and throwing knives to defend the helpless and strive for an end to war. Comics today are giving girls greater roles but also twists on the classic superhero with Vixen who transforms into animals, Squirrel Girl who wields the power of compromise, and Harley Quinn, who channels her bad girl energy into occasional heroism. As female chosen ones join even the world of Star Wars, they follow the oldest story patterns of goddesses and heroines…not just male heroes. This book explores the steps of the heroine’s journey through all these tales, tracing the chosen one through the heroine’s descent into the unconscious and triumphal rebirth. Through this pattern, the young woman grows to understand her purpose in the world as she cuts her chosen path.