Posts Tagged ‘heroine’

So, here’s my book report on Mockingjay—the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. At least, my take-away impression, not so much of the heroine, Katniss, but on expressions of being a heroine.

For anyone that hasn’t read the book—spoilers, dead ahead!

Katniss, in this conclusion to the trilogy, has escaped the namesake Hunger Games and been taken in by the mysterious District 13—thought long dead and destroyed by the Capitol. As figurehead to the resistance, Katniss works to help overthrow the Capitol government and President Snow, only to realize along the way that District 13’s leader, Coin (not my favorite name for this series, but an excellent name for a thief in some other fantasy series), is no better. Even Gale, her lifelong friend and potential love interest is thought to have helped devise a deathtrap responsible for the death of Katniss’s sister along with an entire city block full of children. Yech.

In the end, Katniss manages to kill both President Snow and new President Coin, essentially with a single arrow. (Amazing, I know). But it’s a pyrrhic victory. Katniss is left broken and disillusioned; and between her potential suitors, she’s left with Peeta, equally damaged beyond repair.

It’s a fine series; and while even the last book felt the weakest of the three—the military strike through the Capitol wasn’t quite the same as a third Hunger Game competition, although the author tried to set it up as such—it still had me tearing through it. I can’t remember the last series that had me so excited to keep turning its pages.

However, my main complaint was with the nature of being its heroine. Katniss is tortured throughout the entire series—physically, mentally, emotionally; by the third book, she’s in and out of the hospital, taking medication just to cope with her nightmares, and at times is sunken into one hell of a bleak depression for a YA novel (granted, it’s not the bleakest element of all considering the series revolves around a children’s death match). But clearly, it’s no fun to be the “hero” in the Hunger Games.

That seems to have been a common trait in other series, as well. Harry Potter comes to mind; in the early books, the dark dangers of the story are tempered with his delight in Hogwarts and everything he discovers there. By the end of the series, this magical world is a dreary, oppressed one indeed, and it’s all Harry can do to keep as many of his friends alive as possible.

Perhaps even more so, Frodo in Lord of the Rings experiences extremely little joy along his journey. He does meet up with Bilbo for a brief respite in Rivendell (and even that’s spoiled by the ring), and then it’s a brutal slog through Middle Earth and Morder, with Samwise having to physically haul his broken ass up a mountainside by the end of it.

Now, obviously these are dramatic stories and the odds are supposed to be stacked heavily against the hero so that It’s all the more incredible when he or she ultimately succeeds.

Still, I suppose my take-away from The Hunger Games at least is that I tend to enjoy stories where the hero gets to enjoy, at least for part of the time, being a hero. Han Solo seemed to have a blast. Likewise, characters in The Princess Bride. Fafhard and the Grey Mouser. Iron Man (especially after seeing The Avengers this weekend… great movie, but you really don’t have to stay through the end of the credits on this one). And—as a child of the 80’s—Arnold Schwarzenegger, throwing off as many one-liners as he was grenades/knives/circular saw blades in the middle of the action.

To some extent, it should be rewarding in its own right to be a hero. You shouldn’t have to survive being a hero just to ultimately win some peace in the end. To me it’s the equivalent of Cape Fear movies and all their kind, where the protagonist is tormented up until the end, when they finally overcome.

I much rather the hero enjoy themselves along the way.

Going back to fairy tales, I was pretty excited to catch the following trailer making the internet rounds this week, for Snow White and the Huntsman. I never heard of the movie until now, but—at least visually—it looks fairly compelling. At least, visually interesting. It also sounds like they’re using Daft Punk’s score from Tron: Legacy as placeholder music, which is a good choice to present the classic fairy tale as a slick, modern retelling. Then there’s Thor, throwing axes instead of his hammer, so his presence alone will probably convince my wife to go see it.

Part of the update involves Snow White herself. In the past, she always fit the model of damsel-in-distress. But here, at least in one quick glimpse, it looks like Snow White’s clad in armor—more like the dashing knight than the helpless damsel. (Maid Marion had a similar makeover in the most recent version of Robin Hood.) According to the movie’s site, the story even has Snow White actively ‘training in the art of war’ to defend herself against the evil queen.

There’s not much interest in a helpless damsel-in-distress for modern audiences, is there? Both male and female viewers, I believe, now prefer strong female characters. I asked earlier if there even were any such modern damsels, and the only one I could think of was Newt—the little girl from Aliens. As a child, we accept her as helpless (of course, who wouldn’t be against those aliens—they still appear in my dreams as the default look for “demons”).

And, appropriately enough for modern movie conventions, it’s Ripley, the ‘strong as a space marine’ heroine, tasked with rescuing her. And like Snow White, there was her own huntsman (Hicks) training her in the art of war.

Here we go! The results are in for our most heroic princess (from parts 1 and parts 2).

Averaging out their scores (from 1-5 in terms of their heroism), we have:

  • Sleeping Beauty: 1.63
  • Snow White: 2
  • Ariel: 3
  • Cinderella: 3.13
  • Belle: 3.56
  • Jasmine: 4

Now, I’ve admitted that I half-expected something of these results going into these polls. The earlier princesses—Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella—seemed “classical” fairy tale characters, to be sure: likable, beautiful, and of course downtrodden until rescued by their Prince Charmings. They were also very much in the role of damsels in distress.

But how heroic does that make them? Not very, although Cinderella ranked higher than I expected. That said, with the help of her fairy godmother, she does take steps to improve her station. These are also heroines appearing in pre-1960’s movies. My assumption was that their more traditional depictions represented the more traditional, conservative cultural values of the audience at the time, as they pertained to women in society.

The later princesses—Ariel, Belle, Jasmine—represent a much different, more progressive society. (Although Ariel scored much lower than I expected; she is a bit of a damsel in distress character, but she seems to me similar to Cinderella—more so, as she has to leave her family and home to meet her prince.) They are more of what we look to in our heroines today.

We still have damsels in distress in movies, but they’re far, far more heroic (Princess Leia, Marion Ravenwood). So, I’d like to ask—are there still any helpless damsels in distress being depicted today? And do we care about them at all, or are they no more than MacGuffins—plot devices of sorts, but instead of being objects to find, they are people to rescue?