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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Archetypes Part 3: From Celtic Princess to Punk Goth Chick in one grunting thrust

First of all-- Tinkingbells? You're absolutely right--I don't know how I could have missed out on Vamps, because they're important--but it has always felt (to me, and the circle of stuff I end up reading) that the woman who gets all of the penis she can handle is usually using her happily gathered empirical knowledge to whack that puppy off with efficiency and style. If I was doing this for any sort of academic organization AT ALL, I would go back to the drawing board and research me some slutty penis lovin' trollops--and I will probably still do that, but not now. I've got somewhere I'm going with this, alas, and that's not just a little country side road, that's an (aherm) well traveled highway, with lots of important phallic shaped landmarks, so we'll have to make the sluttey penis lovin' trollop a whole other vacation stop, yeah?

That being said, it's funny that you all should have mentioned Celtic heroes and Sanna in your comments, because, oddly enough, I was wandering in that direction myself.

It's funny--when I first started this little archetype exploration, I thought I was going to be writing about women--but it turns out, I'm spending a lot of time writing about the Holy Penis, and, sadly, this bit is going to be no exception. It turns out, as I was trying to name women who fit the American Romantic heroic archetype and trying to figure out what made them so different from the women who fit the Gothic archetype, what it all came down to was, in fact, that little bit of inflatable gristle that gets so much of our attention, scorn, and fascination--bear with me on this, I've got back up.

First of all, traditional fantasy and Celtic heroines tend to live in American Romantic Hero-land--no shittin' around.

I was falling asleep last night (around 2:00 am, for anyone who wonders how tired I'm going to be this week) and trying to wrap my brain around heroines who were American Romantic Heroines but who WEREN'T Gothic heroines, and it's harder to do than it sounds. See, the American Romantic Hero is what America was doing with it's literary archetype around the same time Britain was doing the Gothic archetype--and the thing that defines them both is that they both work outside of societal norms. The American Romantic hero is independent of what all of the big city, big brained, big-book learning eggheads deem "proper heroic behavior"--they color outside the lines. John MacClane, Dean Winchester, Natty Bumpo--we've covered this already--these guys are known for their independence in order to answer a higher moral code, and, as we talked about with the Gothic heroes, that 'rising above society's rules for the greater good of mankind' is what leads a hero to fall.

Well, the thing that seems to make our heroines fall seems to be coming down to is the fact that it gives our American Romantic heroine easy access to (you guessed it) the penis.

Brigid, the Celtic warrior heroine fits into the ARH archetype, and so does Lloyd Alexander's incomparable Eilonwy, Patricia McKillip's female characters, Tamora Pierce's heroines, Paksenarion (yup, Needletart, I've read those and loved them!) and our very own Sanna, beloved child of Roxie's clever, innovative, silk-wool-spun mind. All of these women measure up--they work outside of societal boundaries to answer a higher moral sensibility, they are all determined to make their own individual worth richer for their varied experiences, and they are all young or young at heart--and they are all, to some extent, isolated by age, experience, or simply writing style, from the penis. It's not that these girls are flat characters, or that no one hits on them (Sanna gets her share) or even that they're all virgins (we know what Eilonwy was doing when she went through that doorway with Taran, oh yes we do!) it's that the nature of the conflicts they deal with makes the sexual relationship secondary to their other three major relationships--filial, platonic, and divine. (And, oh shit, this is a whole other essay, but, thank Triane, one I've written already so if you're interested, let me know and I'll post it.) Anyway, it seems that in the balancing of the personal and heroic agenda, the romantic relationship--while important, is equally balanced and completely separate from the heroic agenda and never the twain shall meet. (Notice--this is the same dilemma of the American Romantic Hero, both past and present). The heroine's power as a mover and shaker of big things in the world has no relationship to her power as a woman--she is simply a woman who works outside of society's strictures ABOUT women, in order to achieve her objective, the end.

Her more modern counterpart does not seem to have that sort of simplicity as an option.

The Urban Contemporary Fantasy Heroine has a higher agenda, works outside of societal norms, uses spitloads of yankee ingenuity, values individual experience over fancy booklearning, and, unlike her traditional fantasy counterpart, has up-close, public and personal knowledge of the penis.

Emma Bull's Eddie, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Charlaine Harris' Sookie, Lilith Saintcrow's Danny Valentine, Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels, Jeaniene Frost's Cat, Carrie Vaughn's Kitty, my own Lady Cory--all of these heroines start out as American Romantic Heroines with that all important fantasy/magic gender equalizer, and then an interesting thing happens.

They have sex and turn into Gothic heroines.

It sounds like an oversimplification, but being a Gothic heroine is not simply a matter of consorting with vampires or wearing black make-up and multiple piercings. The Gothic heroine needs to rise about humanity in some way so that her natural human flaw will send her life spiraling out of control. To a one, all of these women fit the bill--and to a one, the romantic relationship/s (many of them have multiple lovers-on-a-leash) act as a catalyst to bigger-than-human behavior. The combination of their special skill set AND their empowerment as women works to put them in a position high enough, with enough societal heft, that when they fuck up, the entire world shouts "Dammit, Bitch, KISS US FIRST!".

Now I can hear a lot of you out there fuming. That's not FAIR! Shouldn't a woman be able to rule the world and get laid and not have to worry about opening up a pit of hell or decimating an entire indigenous species or starting open warfare between vampires, shapeshifters, and elves? My answer is, "Well, the men can't do it--why should we?"

It's true--in real life, some of our best leaders have the most fucked-up relationships (Bill Clinton, anyone?) and some of our worst leaders can air their dirty laundry in public precisely because their are no stains on the sheets. (The Ex-President who shall not be named comes to mind.) I once did an entire twenty page paper for a Master's class on why Hamlet's entire damage was caused by his increasingly disastrous attempts to put his personal damage and his political agenda in a blender and get something palatable by man or archetype--why should women be any different? Just because we (or our heroines) don't have a penis doesn't make it anymore acceptable to put a collar on a bunch of them and take them for a walk like little fluffy dogs--the Gothic heroine who takes that personal female empowerment (which often goes stellar on the magic scale) and uses it as a tool to rule the world is doing exactly that. If Sookie uses her mind-reading ability to judge a lover before exploring his motives and good points, well, she deserves to be betrayed. (And she was.) If Kitty uses her radio talk show to instigate a war, well, she's going to lose her best friend and have to deal with that failing. (And she does.) If Anita can't keep track of who she's boinking and whose power she usurping, well, she deserves to get boinked by strangers and attacked in the parking lot (and I personally just wish she'd stop whining about it!) and if Cory Kirkpatrick uses her sexually-powered-emotional-fusion-ray-gun to wipe out all of the vampires in Folsom--well, she's going to spend four books in the series trying to redeem that Gothic fall from grace.

It seems the uneasy mix of personal empowerment and political power gives our UCF women the same benefits and weaknesses it's been giving Batman, Frankenstein, Childe Harold and Roderick Usher for going on two centuries: the ability to fuck up so badly, the LIGHT from the planet F'ucKe-DuP takes a million light years to penetrate the miasma of guilt and misery the Gothic Heroes have been cloaking themselves with in sheer self-defense.

Congratulations, girls--we've reached true literary archetype equality.

(This is the never ending essay. Sometime next week, I want to get to the shit Julie and I talked about and the Mary Sue type, but I'm burnt and fried and have earned myself some time in front of the television watching whatever the fuck I want and either knitting or cuddling. And then I get to clean the kitchen. Suffice it to say I'll never be a Gothic heroine because I am perfectly aware of my inability not only to not "do it all", but I remain unconvinced of my ability to even get close to half of it. Keep the comments coming, guys--you're totally inspiring me to do my best and I love you all!)

5 comments:

Rachel Cotterill said...

More interesting stuff :)

Roxie said...

You just totally kick ass! So it seems there's a magic power to virginity for the woman. Stir it up with that mystical penis, and grief and regret follow? Could it be that the old wives had it right? Man you have given me a LOT to think about!

Julie said...

Yanno. Buffy fits the Gothic Heroine archtype, because it was sex with Angel that changed her from cheerleader who hunts vampires to dedicated asskicker.

And, um, let me know when you're up for more discussion, because, well, do you read Girl Genius? Because I think Agatha's gonna get laid soon, or at least, I hope so...

Ilona said...

"Emma Bull's Eddie, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Charlaine Harris' Sookie, Lilith Saintcrow's Danny Valentine, Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels, Jeaniene Frost's Cat, Carrie Vaughn's Kitty, my own Lady Cory--all of these heroines start out as American Romantic Heroines with that all important fantasy/magic gender equalizer, and then an interesting thing happens.

They have sex and turn into Gothic heroines."

Interesting point, but no, my heroine doesn't have sex with anyone in the course of three books so far out in the series. It's not sex but friendship and the need to protect that are the driving forces behind her motivation to sacrifice herself.

That said, the ability to love is what makes us better people. A person who possesses no ability to love another human being is self-centered to the core and therefore is not interesting to the readers at large.

Eric said...

This makes me curious now to know what type of heroines Robert Jordan has been using. Half the characters in his novels are female (as it should be) and almost all of them are strong or were strong at one point (and none really seem to have a fear - or even respect - for the phallus). I bring this up because the inner core of this group of protagonists start out as ARHs but turn into people who no longer stand outside of society, but who work WITHIN it to change the world.