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Friday, October 22, 2010

"The Heroine's Journey"

Recently, I was doing some book research in the history section of my local Barnes & Noble. I scanned the shelves carefully but didn’t come close to finding what I was looking for. “History” it seems is a synonym for hero of military battles, political ideals, pandemic infections and the weapon catalogs. Those few topics dominated the shelves and comprised the only “heroes in history” offered. According to this scantily stocked book section the only way to become a “Hero” was to get involved in a military conflict or political intrigue.
That struck me as a real shame. If I had just arrived from another planet I might come to the conclusion war and politics were the most fascinating topics to humans and possibly the only way to be thought of as a hero, and I’d be wrong. These topics are important to male historians and Joseph Campbell certainly has a lot to say about the hero’s journey but...

What about the heroine’s journey?

The history of women is one of people on the move. Historically women have been viewed as property of their tribe, country, fathers, captors and abductors. Women were traded, stolen, bought, bargained for, or claimed in battle. Women being the resilient creatures they are have always tried to make the best of a difficult situation.

Our culture talks a lot about history and the “Hero cycle” but beneath all that is something inescapable and equally important…
“The Heroine’s journey” which takes place in a woman’s heart and mind and is strongly tied to her physical sexuality.

The first part of the cycle is betrayal. This happens on many levels.

In its simplest form childhood ends, a sexual beast within awakens, teenage chaos reigns=betrayal of innocence.

Another theme is a parent or parental-figure recognizes the sexual potential in the girl and either withdraws from her on some level or acts. Power struggles, repression, fear, conflict, arranged marriage, exploitation, sexual abuse and jealousy often ensue. Either way pick your poison it all adds up to—betrayal.
Or, the most common thread in our culture, the girl trusts, gives her heart willing and suffers a smack-down betrayal.

Which starts the next important part of the cycle: “Physical love and trust.”
At this point it’s too late, the apple has been tasted and no matter if the experience was bitter, sweet or a bit of both, it’s time to brave another taste. The remedy for betrayal is trust and a huge hurdle of women’s sexuality is learning to trust and cultivating trustworthy behavior.
If you want to know more about this stage look no further than the romance section of the book stacks. The entire romance genre from paranormal to erotic is all about learning to trust and fully surrender to the call of Eros. Eros is the driving force of the heroine’s journey. She does “it” for love…

In real life I heartily recommend a woman choose a trustworthy man to fall in love with. In fiction I hearty recommend you don’t. Inherently untrustworthy heroes who have something to learn and something to lose from entering into a stable love relationship make exciting reading. The more a heroine trusts and takes risks with this possibly questionable man the better the drama.

One example is my favorite fictional hero Edward Rochester. He literally drags poor Jane Eyre to the altar only to be exposed on his wedding day as a liar and a married man. Phew! He acts selfishly and has a long row to hoe on his way back to winning Jane’s trust. Big conflict, big drama the rest of the book is filled with punishing and redeeming Rochester.

Another untrustworthy and familiar hero is Jake from Avatar. I loved watching this movie with the kids but beyond the beauty on the screen, my eyes were seeing a lot of untrustworthy behavior. Paraplegic Jake takes on a healthy Avatar body to learn the ways of the Na’ vi natives of Pandora but he also takes on a dual agenda, which he keeps secret from his love interest Neytiri. Much of Jake’s untrustworthy behavior is completely unintentional and later fills him with regret. In this twist Jake betrays himself and has to go to great lengths to win back Neytiri’s trust. Big conflict, big drama ensues and the rest of the movie is about Jake’s apology and personal redemption at the hands of the Na’vi.

Neytiri gets the full heroine’s journey. She takes a big risk with an inherently untrustworthy man, gets badly betrayed and enters the trust and redemption cycle with her eyes wide open.
That’s the brief run down of the Heroine’s journey. It’s also our journey and it’s an exciting and worthy topic.
I would love to hear about your favorite untrustworthy hero and why you love him anyway.
PS My book trailer for “Owned By Rome” is entry #18 in a video contest at
“You Gotta Read Videos” If you can, please drop by. Your vote is much appreciated!


Marianne Stephens said...

In romance books, our heroes can't be perfect or else they'd be boring. They have to have flaws to overcome so we can love them and want the heroine to love them, too.
Our heroines' journeys can be so complicated, but readers need to relate to them.
Women have different ways of finding true love, and readers need that emotional "I understand", "I've been there", "I know someone just like that", connection.

Katalina Leon said...

Beautifully said Marianne. We're all heroines of our own story and we love seeing how another solves her challenges.

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