Category Archives: Heroine’s Journey

The Mother Daughter War Reenvisioned: Snow, Glass, Apples

Snow White is the conflict of mother and daughter as one grows toward marriage and queenship as the other steps aside. This forces a conflict and reintegration far more profound than the epic battle of father and son. “Snow, Glass Apples” reverses the traditional pattern, casting the young princess as a murderous werewolf and leaving the heroic queen to try to save the kingdom from this threat.

The Grimms’ stepmother is clearly threatened by her daughter’s beauty and the fear that the daughter will supplant her. She neglects the kingdom to peer selfishly into her mirror each day and reduces her vision to the two of them, valuing only herself and the need to be uniquely desirable. More frightening still is her demand for Snow White’s heart. Eating one’s enemy is far more intimate than any other form of possession; by consuming Snow White’s youth and beauty, the queen hopes to absorb them.

Gaiman’s stepmother, by contrast, looks outside the two women’s relationship to see the needs of the kingdom, as trade and the population are slowly dying from Snow White’s destruction. This innocent side of the queen has become a killer. The queen takes her heart and protects it, guarding it with berries and garlic to save others from Snow White’s power, rather than taking it for herself.

At the same time, like the original story, the two women are inextricably bound as they desire the same men and prey on each other, Snow White biting her stepmother and the stepmother keeping Snow White’s heart, until they’re bound like two sides of the same self, innocent and evil, light and dark, nurturing and devouring. The greatest tragedy is that the people of the kingdom, like those who read the story, assume the stepmother must be the monster.

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Shadow World, Shadow Self: The Heroine’s Journey in Mirrormask

When Helena’s mother falls ill, Helena descends into the shadow world to wake the sleeping queen and restore her world. But when she does, she discovers the princess—shadowHelena—has gone to earth and taken her place. Shadow Helena fights with her father, rages and storms. She’s the dark, angry side of Helena, the side she usually keeps buried beneath the paper-covered walls of her room.

More than simply the inverse of the heroine, this shadow has hidden positive qualities as well, often strong and assertive where the heroine is silent and passive. In her battle to achieve a higher consciousness, the heroine pits herself against this shadow, and must integrate it into the self.

In the Otherworld,Helenatries on the shadow princess identity like a costume. What would it be like to look mature and glamorous, to sit at a stately table and be a perfect daughter? Through windows and mirrors the rebellious princess rages, screaming for attention and independence as she battles through adolescence. And yet, the rage and power she has evoked are too strong within her and she can’t figure out how to fight through it, to return to the sunny Helena the juggler she once was.

At last,Helena harnesses the power of the mirrormask—a tool that both lets her perceive the world and show the world the face she wants to reveal. Using it she climbs out of the darkness and reclaims her place from her bratty, miserable self before the world of pen and paper, of imagination, creativity, and beauty is lost forever. Here is the heroine’s classic journey.

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Coraline: The Classic Heroine’s Journey

The heroine’s journey sees the adolescent girl receiving a mirror, seeing stone, or tool of knowledge and perception (like a book, magic spectacles, or a golden compass) rather than a hero’s sword. She quests, not to topple the tyrant and rule his kingdom, but to rescue a lost sibling, parent, or lover. However, her quest is no less valiant for its lack of weapons as the heroine often struggles through the darkness, helpless and alone, battling her deepest terrors to save those she loves.  And she does it swordless.

Armed with only a seeing stone and her own wits, Coraline has plenty of horror to face, most particularly in the sickly-sweet Other Mother who wants to remake Coraline into a dark, frightening self. If Coraline agrees, the Other Mother will one day devour her and leave nothing but a ghost floating pathetically behind the mirrors of her home. This reflects the archetypal struggle for independence, as girls long to leave home and grow up, but the fairytale dark mother clings too tight, begging her to stay home and be a child forever, let her mother dress her and take over all aspects of her personality. Girls everywhere must learn to avoid the temptations of ice cream and dancing toys, to outwit the mother and become adults.

In the pattern of heroine quests everywhere, Coraline defeats the Other Mother with a hollow stone and a riddle game, and then conquers her disembodied hand with a doll’s tea set. As she does so, she’s following the tradition of mythic heroines across the world, who use magic thread, charms, potions, and their own wits to recreate the world and save their most beloved.

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Buffy and the Warrior Woman’s Classic Quest

I just wrote the book Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey (Feb 2012, McFarland). And why not—it’s an obvious place to go. A long list of authors have analyzed Buffy’s becoming the Chosen One, refusing and then accepting her calling, and finally descending into death (twice!) to return stronger than before, with a deeper wisdom of adulthood and its costs. In these steps, the hero’s and heroine’s journeys are basically the same. But there’s really more going on.

There’s the hero’s quest, in which Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker battles his dark father, sacrifices his life, and returns stronger than before. There’s the lesser-known classic heroine’s journey in which Snow White or Psyche faces the evil stepmother and sacrifices her life to save her loved ones. And there’s the warrior woman’s quest, which blends both in a fascinating story arc. This is Buffy’s journey.

There are many warrior women: Eowyn, Artemis, Mu Lan, Annabeth of the Percy Jackson books, Xena, Elektra. The 2010 Alice in Wonderland, long hair flying over her shining armor. The upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman. And now Katniss of The Hunger Games has captured our hearts. These heroines ride and fight beside men, often dressed as men, like Alanna of the Tamora Pierce books. They follow the hero’s quest with male mentors and male weapons, fighting to defeat the dark lord and save the world. Yet after they succeed, they feel a discontentment, a lack of something. She has outfought all the boys and, in doing so, has become a boy herself. The heroine sets out again, this time questing for her lost feminine side. She battles the wicked stepmother and child killer, once more sacrificing her life, but this time to protect her most innocent self, the little sister Dawn Summers or Primrose Everdeen.

My study follows Buffy’s path as she defeats the male monsters of the patriarchy (the Master, the Judge, Angelus, and the Mayor) and then finds something is missing. She turns to other mentors than fatherly Giles: Professor Walsh, the “evil mom,” Dracula, the deep, mystical masculine and dark mentor, the savage First Slayer. All of these encourage Buffy to accept that death is her gift, that she needs the dark energy of the unconscious rather than the shallow masculine world of the everyday.

All this crystalizes in season five when Buffy gains a new sister to protect. The heroine’s journey is about rescuing loved ones: Meg Murray’s father and brother in A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline’s parents, and Katniss’s family and friends in The Hunger Games. Even Twilight’s Bella becomes a powerful shield when her baby daughter is endangered.  In season five, Buffy harnesses her new dark-born powers to accept that death is a gift and to save Dawn. She also battles the first of the female Big Bads, Glory. This blonde goddess is fashionable, flippant, and spoiled, like Buffy’s season one cheerleader self she must leave behind to become a good adoptive mother. After Buffy returns from death in the culmination of her heroine’s quest, Glory is succeeded by Dark Willow and the First, once again, Big Bads that mirror Buffy and try to slay the innocent while Buffy struggles to protect them.  Buffy finally grows into a leader, but also surrogate mom for an entire household of young slayers. At last she remakes the world, redefining it as a place of feminine power, where an army of her chosen ones can defend the helpless and take back the night.

While the hero always gets a sword (as Buffy does when she battles Angelus) or a knife (echoing Buffy’s stakes), heroines fight with tools of life and perception—holy water like Lucy’s healing potion, or a silver amulet like Buffy’s cross. Silver, seen in Artemis’s bow or Galadriel’s ring, is associated with mirror magic and sight because of its clarity. It’s also a symbol of purity and protection. The heroine is also known for a distance weapon like a bow—Katniss in The Hunger Games has a silver bow, then later a black bow of fire and death. Buffy too frequently shoots a crossbow.

Buffy’s ultimate weapon, of course, is the scythe, echoing the crescent moon and the ancient axes wielded by the priestesses of Crete. It is the death weapon, casting Buffy as the mature slayer, no longer a sweet princess clinging to her daylight powers. She rules the night and knows that death truly is a gift. And she pulls it from the stone, establishing herself as the one true slayer, the mythic hero coming to remake the world.

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The Companions and the Heroine’s Journey

Captain Jack grows from his adventures with the Doctor, from a lighthearted playboy into a serious leader of Torchwood. But what of the female companions?

The heroine’s journey involves facing one’s hidden side (as Romana does in “The Androids of Tara,” or Nyssa does in “Black Orchid” for instance). Romana and Princess Astra are strangely linked in this way, each reflecting and needing the other. The heroine also dies and returns to life with new wisdom, the guardian and protector of the next generation. However, she must do all this as more than a helpless damsel. As shown through the alternate time episode “Turn Left,” Donna actually is the most important person in existence, as her one choice makes her the savior of earth. Amy Pond, too, is presented as the most important, as she must restart the universe with the Pandorica.

Essential to the heroine’s journey arc is an existence and story ending independent of the Doctor. The Doctor’s daughter Jenny (“The Doctor’s Daughter”) achieves this sort of liberated wisdom, as she rises from death to become a great traveler like her father. Melanie Bush, leaves the Seventh Doctor to likewise continue her adventures. Dr. Grace Holloway of the 1996 movie has an equally interesting twist. Called a “doctor,” she dies and returns to life. She also refuses to be a companion, inviting the Doctor to stay on earth instead. Martha Jones, like Sarah Jane Smith, becomes a defender of earth.

Though River Song’s identity is tied to the Doctor’s, she overcomes her origins to become far more than the child of Companions or the Doctor’s perfect mate. She goes on adventures and challenges the Doctor at every turn. She also battles her programming, determined to become an agent of good in the world. This is the heroine’s true test.

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Katniss and the Heroine’s Journey

The classic heroine’s journey appears in many beloved books, like Coraline, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. It features in works by Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen, and Juliet Marillier. And it permeates The Hunger Games, casting Katniss as a classic heroine beside classic heroes Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.

The true goal of the heroine’s journey is to become the all-powerful mother. Thus, many heroines set out on rescue missions in order to restore their shattered families: Meg Murray of A Wrinkle in Time quests to save her father then her little brother. Coraline tries to save her parents, Meggie of Inkheart, her mother. Alice and Dorothy struggle to return to their families. Katniss is protector of the family from her earliest years, as she feeds and cares for not only her little sister but her mother. She extends this protection to Gale’s family, her own district, and finally all the people of Panem, as she provides food and support for her loved ones and protects the innocent.

Katniss, like Artemis or Percy Jackson’s friend Annabeth, shoots a silver bow. Silver is the color of moon magic, perception, and feminine strength, while a bow is the elegant distance weapon of the classic warrior woman. Even Susan in the Narnia series is called “the great archer.”

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 magical protection of her forest or ocean home. This, like the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle, is the masculine world of law and tyranny, where the young heroine is truly helpless. The Hunger Games themselves are a similar fortress of the tyrant’s power, where the Gamemakers can torture Katniss with firestorms and viciously changing rules. In the final book, Katniss enters the Capitol itself to assassinate Snow on his home ground. She sneaks through the city-sized trap he has created, filled with mutts and deadly “pods” to find him awaiting her in his palatial mansion in the center.

By realizing that the tyrant’s power over her has ended, the heroine finds independence and strength. Just as Dorothy discovers the Wizard is a humbug, or Lucy and Susan see Aslan dead and helpless, Katniss perseveres through Snow’s threats and traps to see him die in the Capitol square.

However, the patriarch is not the real power in the heroine’s tale – he’s little more than a pompous blusterer who melts away when confronted. For the heroine, the true threat is the evil witch, murderess of the innocent. She is Mrs. Coulter of The Golden Compass, the Wicked Witch of the West, the White Witch of Narnia who tortures Edmund and keeps the land bound in sterile winter. Though Katniss realizes it too late, this adversary is rebel president Alma Coin. Coin, like Snow White’s stepmother, resolves to destroy the young heroine through jealousy and to maintain her own rulership. Katniss is a beloved symbol of revolution, Katniss could name another to be president, therefore Katniss must die.

Discovering the dark matriarch’s power, understanding her, confronting her, but not becoming her is the key to adulthood. Katniss destroys Coin’s influence over herself and over Panem, her world, and then retreats into the simplicity of the countryside. There she becomes, not a warrior woman, but a mature adult, protector of her family and figure of morality. This is the key to the heroine’s journey—traveling toward acceptance, balance, and nurturing love.

More information on the heroine’s journey, from charts to a booklist can be found at http://vefrankel.com

 

Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in The Hunger Games http://www.amazon.com/Katniss-Cattail-Unauthorized-Symbols-Suzanne/dp/146996824X

 From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine’s Journey in Myth and Legend http://www.amazon.com/From-Girl-Goddess-Heroines-Journey/dp/0786448318/

 

Comparison of Models

The Steps of the Journey

 

Campbell‘s Hero’s Journey The Heroine’s Journey Stages
The World of Common Day The World of Common Day Innocence and Discovery
The Call To Adventure The Call To Adventure Innocence and Discovery
Refusal of the Call Refusal of the Call Innocence and Discovery
Supernatural Aid The RuthlessMentorand the Bladeless Talisman Innocence and Discovery
The Crossing of the First Threshold

The Belly of the Whale

The Crossing of the First Threshold

Opening One’s Senses

Journey through the Unconscious
The Road of Trials Sidekicks, Trials, Adversaries Journey through the Unconscious
The Meeting With the Goddess
Woman as the Temptress
Wedding the Animus

Facing Bluebeard

Finding the Sensitive Man

Confronting the Powerless Father

Meeting the Other
Atonement with the Father
Apotheosis
Descent into Darkness

Atonement with the Mother

Integration and Apotheosis

Meeting the Self

 

The Ultimate Boon Reward: Winning the Family Meeting the Self
Refusal of the Return
The Magic Flight
Rescue From Without
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
Torn Desires

The Magic Flight

Reinstating the Family

Return

Meeting the Self

 

Master of the Two Worlds Power over Life and Death

 

Goddesshood and Wholeness
Freedom To Live Ascension of the New Mother

 

Goddesshood and Wholeness

 

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Katniss, Queen of Children

The classic heroine’s journey sees girls questing to rescue their lovers and families from danger, questing into fairyland to retrive a stolen child, or stealing a husband from the troll queen. The most quintessential quest is protecting a daughter or little sister—the other half of the self.

Prim is both these to Katniss, the tiny sister she has mothered when their own mother withdrew from them, the girl she spends each day providing with food. As Prim bids her goodbye in Katniss’s own baggy dress, she’s Katniss’s younger most innocent self, the self most needing protection.

The Hunger Games is coded as a battle of adults versus children. Katniss’s parents are useless, from her dead father to her withdrawn mother who forces Katniss to care for herself and her sister (before abandoning her in the final book). Katniss is the one to hold the family together and keep them from starving, and through the book she dwells on her mistrust for her mother. Only Gale, a fellow teen and protector of his own family, can be relied on.

In Katmiss’ world, the older children protect the younger, as she does her little sister, or Rue does for her younger siblings. Since Rue is the eldest in her family, there’s no one to protect her but Katniss. Katniss realizes that Thresh and Rue would be her friends if not for the true enemy, the ones who hold the games.

Her true allies, she ones she shares sympathy with are the tongueless girl in the capital, Thresh, who would have been a friend, her hunting partner Gale back home. Even Madge, the baker’s daughter, gives her the mockingjay pin she wears as a symbol of home, while Katmiss discards her mother’s dress and shoes. Half the children in the games are reluctant to fight, from Thresh, who lets Katniss escape, to Rue, showing her she’s in danger from hornets, to Foxface, darting in to steal and run.

Adults are using her, from Cinna, who selects her dazzling outfits to show off his own talent long before he sees her as a person to Haymitch, who pushes her to shine for the sponsors. The Games themselves are the most fundamental example of this, run by adults to kill children for entertainment. In this world, the president is the ultimate adult and ultimate user, murdering families to control the victors of the games.

However, Katniss fails to become a leader. Book one sees her outsmarting the game to save Peeta as well as herself, but she has no message of rebellion for her audience. She charms the president into publically sparing her by using, of course, childish charm. In Catching Fire, she disturbingly never rises above a pawn, as Haymitch arranges with most of the other winners to protect Katniss and Peeta and smuggle them to safety.

At the end of book three, Katniss finally embarks on hrer own mission, leading the adults to go assassinate President Snow. However, a group of children including Prim are deliberately murdered as the final casualties of war. When Katniss realizes that rebel president Coin is the culprit, and that Coin plans to restart the Hunger Games and kill even more enemy children, Katniss decides who her enemy is and breaks every adult law and expectation to shoot the real target. She turns from the protector of living children to the champion of the dead, even as she leaves her own childhood behind forever.

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