1 October 2007


Hearing an excerpt from The Who's Tommy last week, I wondered if there were any stories that transformed the hero myth for female heros. I'm sure feminist studies has tackled this many times over, but it's new to me. I suspected that the whole framework would need to change (and not just replace Mr's with Ms's), but I couldn't imagine how that change would be manifest. From A Historical Overview Of Heroes In Contemporary Works Of Fantasy Literature:

Although Joseph Campbell's book and many other works of mainstream literature have assumed that the hero is almost always male and that women play a part in heroism as either the goddess or the temptress archetype,9 the development of "heroic fantasy" in Weird Tales (and other pulp magazines) challenged many of those out-dated notions. In fact, C. L. Moore introduced the first female hero less than two years after Conan with "Jirel of Joiry," in a 1934 issue of Weird Tales. Six other highly colorful, romantic tales followed, firmly establishing the archetype of the female hero. Today, many other women writers, like Ursula Le Guin, Katherine Kurtz, Jane Gaskell, Janet Morris, Tanith Lee, and C.J. Cherryh, have been attracted to heroic fiction, and have created heroines that easily rival their male counterparts. Jean Auel's Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear (1980) and Sharon Green's Jalav (1985) represent two of the more popular characters, while Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon is memorable for its revisionist portraits of the women of Camelot.

Somewhat of a narrow overview.

The Wikipedia entry for Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces echoes the accusation of sexism: Pearson and Pope (1981) claim that Campbell's model discounts the possibility of female heroes: "The great works on the hero--such as Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces...all begin with the assumption that the hero is male" (p. vii). The Pearson and Pope referenced are Carol Pearson and Katherine Pope in their book The Female Hero in American and British Literature. That seems to hit the nail on the head with this description: A female-oriented version of Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces which chronicles the archetypal patterns of the female quest in literature; references to an immense variety of canonical and non-canonical texts -- very rich and enjoyable. And this lone review from Amazon: Thought provoking study of personal growth potential using female literary protagonists as examples. Similar to style of heroic studies by Joseph Campbell. Bit academic, but well worth effort to read and digest. Was used as a text in local college lit. class at my suggestion. Interesting as a very personal read OR as study of contemporary literature, provoking lively discussion.

The introduction to a book called The Sound of a Silver Horn, by Dr. Kathleen Noble, is available online, ending with this somewhat declamatory quote: I am convinced we need a female hero myth that teaches us to claim, not suppress, the power of our femininity and to perceive ourselves as the heroes of our own lives and the authors of our own stories. The difference here is that Dr. Noble views the female hero as an example of expansion of self but not so much an expansion of society. This is described by Campbell as a return to the ordinary world after the hero has transcended himself, and a subsequent bestowing of new knowledge to society. Another quote from here: [E]ach quester who wins her way through to the portal of transformation must discard some part of herself in order to create a larger self and give birth to her own possibilities.

[ posted by sstrader on 1 October 2007 at 4:23:43 PM in Language & Literature ]