She-Elves, Princesses, and Assassins: Let’s Bust Some Archetypes

Confession time.

We writers, especially young writers like myself, pride ourselves on breaking stereotypes and making the world of literature a better place. We purge our stories of anything that even hints of cliche and strive to write earth-shattering plot twists. We find the cleverest ways to work in a “soapbox theme” without coming across as preachy. Occasionally, we have even gone “indie” and published on our own. We don’t need no stinking Big Four or stock characters to make it.

But it’s time to admit the truth. In the midst of our fight against author- and story-stereotypes, we have allowed Hollywood to take over in other areas. We have allowed them to decide on what exactly is a Strong Female Character.

So, today, we’re going to sit down and do what we writers do best. We are going to rethink the standard that Hollywood has given us, and maybe we will even break a few archetypes. I’ve chosen three which pop up everywhere in movies and books these days- and a bonus, they haven’t already been analyzed on at least fifty different blogs. The bad news is that I won’t get to pick apart Katniss or Bella. The good news? You don’t have to read yet another post about Katniss or Bella.

Hear me now: All this is not to say that the characters I will talk about are bad characters. Some of them did a good enough job in their respective stories. But, by definition, these ladies are not strong. We hold male characters to certain standards of “strongness,” and we should do the same for female characters, right? Of course right. So here we go.

The Soapbox Suffragette: Tauriel of the Hobbit trilogy is the captain of the entire elven guard, a favorite of the king, and everyone’s love interest. She can do no wrong. Moreover, she suddenly finds it feasible to rush off after her boyfriend Kili a pack of orcs, dragging Legolas and the rest of the kingdom to war like a redheaded Joan d’Arc. All this is in direct defiance of royal orders- but that’s perfectly okay, right? She is an empowered heroine who is doing the right thing!

Now, the first problem we notice is that Legolas, for instance, could have done every one of these things (save falling in love with Kili), but instead he had to take on the role of Thranduil’s indoctrinated minion. He was villainized by her very presence in the movie. And one does not simply villainize Legolas.

So if Legolas could easily have filled her role, why bring Tauriel into the story in the first place? According to TheOneRing.net, writer Philippa Boyens “created her… to bring that energy into the film, that feminine energy.” Feminine energy? Tauriel is in the movie as a beacon of girl power- but in a fantasy tale about the dangers of greed and pride? That has nothing to do with the story! Tauriel is ineffective because she distracts Kili, Legolas, and the whole audience from the real story. Now I think we have a name for that sort of character… oh, right. The damsel in distress. Not only is Tauriel irrelevant, but she is a self-defeating character.

The Immature Ideal: Rapunzel from Tangled is gullible, naive, positively grubby, ditzy, and a bit- well, um- vague. And she has a million different hobbies, but she feels that every one of them is pointless; when will her real life begin? Everybody loves character like that. Don’t they?

What Disney may or may not have realized is that Rapunzel- and every other young protagonist they write- becomes a role model for millions of kids worldwide. Little girls and big ones dress up like Aurora, sing “Let It Go,” and pretend that they have magic hair that glows when they sing. This is not necessarily a bad effect; for at least fifty years, Disney produced mature models like Snow White and Cinderella. But then came the age of Ariel, Jasmine, and Rapunzel.

As cutesy and relatable as Rapunzel is, everything that Mother Gothel says is true of her: she is immature and naive, all too ready to disobey her mother’s commands in favor of getting what she wants. Watching this movie and others, little girls are bombarded with the message that they must follow their heart’s desires. That’s right, the heart that tells them to disobey authority and run away from home with a man of poor reputation. Just like Lydia Bennet. Is that the sort of role model parents want for their children?

I think not.

The Ambiguous Assassin: Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, is the kick-butt fighter from pretty much every Marvel movie ever made. She has the mental capacity of Alan Turing, the weaponry of the ancient Chinese, and the strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger. There is no beating her. End of story. When I look at any character like Natasha, I try to figure out her place in the metanarrative, if you will. Yet this is well-nigh impossible to do.

Natasha isn’t a role model/Mentor. None of her stunts, however awesome they look with CGI, makes her a role model, even in the grayish context of the Marvel universe. If anything, she takes on the role of student rather than teacher. Yet she isn’t the Young Protagonist, either, for she undergoes little, if any, character transformation. She is not a suffragette like Tauriel. She is not here to preach girl power or fight chauvinism; she is here to fight Bad Guys.

As a primary or even secondary character, Natasha is ambiguous. She has no inalienable role in the movie- unless that is to look good, knock down bad guys, and balance out an otherwise all-male cast. But, of course, they could have gotten Thor to do all three of those things. (I’m sorry, I’m sorry…) So where does Natasha fit? Well, we have a seat for characters like her, and it isn’t on the stage of Strong Female Characters. It’s on the bleachers with the tertiary characters and the Foils.

Remember- I’m not saying that Tauriel, Rapunzel, and Natasha have no use in a story. I’m saying that they are mislabelled as strong characters and thus are given too much credit for the job that they do. Put them in different roles and they are just fine. Otherwise, I’d call these archetypes busted.

What do you think? Should we bust these archetypes, or did I overlook something important?

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “She-Elves, Princesses, and Assassins: Let’s Bust Some Archetypes

  1. Oh, gosh this bugs me so much. People say that we need “more strong female characters” when we’ve got like a ton. Bleh.
    Why not make them “strong” like morally, not physically for once?

    Like

  2. This is a great article, Hannah! I didn’t know it at the time, but now that I think about it, I think this is what bothered me so much about Tauriel (besides the fact that she’s not even in the book!). There’s really no need to have her in the story. And she’s supposed to be strong, but she’s really not.

    Like

    • Honestly, I didn’t fully realize why her character didn’t sit well with me until I sat down to write this post. I can deal with a character who isn’t in the book, but only if they play an important role in the big picture.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Unfortunately, I’m kind of a book purist; I hate it when the movie makers decide to add extra characters and plots that weren’t in the book (especially when it’s Tolkien). And when the character they add is pretty much there just to add a female character for no reason, that’s even worse. 😛

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Unfortunately your age does blind you to your one fault. You are from a conservative, christian Background. So every Character that is female will have your religion against her. Every true female Hero will be criticized for things you would have admired in male Characters.
    You even admitted as much.
    A Good, Stong female Character in the Lord of Rings is Eowyn. That has always been my favorite female Character.

    Like

    • “Unfortunately your age does blind you to your one fault.”
      Thank you heartily, Luisa, but I’m sure that I have more than one fault. 🙂 But let’s see what you think my problem is.

      “You are from a conservative, christian Background.”
      You are referring to my belief in the God of the Bible? I can also infer from this statement that you assume I have been studying this religion all my life, which is true, and that I have not looked seriously at the other religions and worldviews, which could not be further from the truth. But let’s move on.

      “So every Character that is female will have your religion against her.”
      Wow, that conclusion is quite a jump. The God who created women is against women? I think not. Take the examples of Shiprah and Puah, who saved the lives of hundreds of little children by defying a wicked king; Deborah the prophetess and Jael, who led their kingdom to victory in battle over their enslavers; Abigail, who saved her whole estate from the anger of a headstrong young David; and Esther, who risked her own life to save her kinsmen (and women) from genocide. All these women were praised and called blessed by God. And need I even mention Judith from Jewish tradition, St. Joan of Arc, Corrie ten Boom, and others in more modern days? But, again, we need to move on.

      “Every true female Hero will be criticized for things you would have admired in male Characters.”
      Including but not limited to: loyalty, courage, love, hope, strength in times of despair, integrity, and leadership? Please look back at the previous list of characters.

      “You even admitted as much.”
      I reread my blog post, but I’m still not sure to what you are referring here. Where did I say that God condemns female characters?

      “A Good, Stong female Character in the Lord of Rings is Eowyn.”
      Agreement there- Eowyn is awesome. Tolkien, himself a devout Roman Catholic who helped lead his friend C.S. Lewis to Christ, seemed to think so…

      “That has always been my favorite female Character.”
      Maybe not my very favorite female character. I personally love the character of Rey from The Force Awakens, but I’d have to think harder about who would be my all-time favorite.

      I know this has been a long reply, but I also wanted to give you a heads-up that I’m outlining a post on what I consider to be a strong female character. Hope you stick around to hear my opinions on females in fiction; I have given this subject a lot of thought and would like to share my conclusions with y’all.

      Like

      • Though I am surprised that my comment has been answered, I greatly appreciate it.
        I must confess that I have quite a bit of prejudice in regards to christianity at the moment. But that is a private matter.
        Your reply made me ponder the meaning of “strength” both in spirit and body.
        “I personally love the character of Rey from The Force Awakens” That is a character i cannot really wrap my head around.
        And please add the young “Hero” from the Hunger Games to your list of questionable female characters. That Woman is a Child in a grown up´s Body.

        Like

        • I’m grateful for your honesty, Luisa. It takes a strong person to admit any form of partiality, especially on the Internet. And you’ll learn never to be surprised when I reply to a comment! I’m a Christian and an INTJ, therefore I welcome dissent and the opportunity to argue different ideas. I encourage you to keep reading my blog so you can understand another side of the story.
          You may be right about Katniss, but I’ve never read The Hunger Games as I am not fond of dystopias in general, so I don’t know. You’re more qualified to make that judgment than I am. 🙂

          Like

Your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s