April 29, 2021

Review: The Heroine's Journey

The Heroine's Journey The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an interesting little book. It approaches writing from a different perspective: an overarching story and character structure instead of the nuts and bolts of words, sentences and paragraphs. Not that the latter isn't important--Stephen King's On Writing, an invaluable combination memoir and writing tutorial, taught me, among other things, that "the road to hell is paved with adverbs"--but the concepts introduced in this book were things I simply hadn't thought of before. I'd vaguely heard of the Hero's Journey, mostly in connection with the first Star Wars trilogy, but I hadn't paid that much attention to it. This book opened my eyes both to it and its opposite, the overlooked and undervalued Heroine's Journey.

The two journeys are nearly polar opposites, as the author points out. She describes the Hero's Journey like this:

The goal or focus of the journey is different. A hero is usually concerned with defeating an enemy or retrieving a boon of great import--think classic video game quests.

A hero acts on the offensive most of the time. He is active in is pursuit of his goal and will kill or (in the case of Odysseus) trick his way to victory. His enemy is stasis.

A hero must eventually go it alone; the journey usually climaxes with a one-on-one defeat of his enemy. For him, asking for help is a sign of weakness. He must shed the restrictions of civilization and family in order to succeed on his own.

When the hero is at his most powerful, he is alone, because his quest is one of self-reliance and solitary achievement against overwhelming odds. His iconic moments will be ones of intellectual or physical superiority over someone else.

A hero, because of his need to self-isolate, has sacrificed too much for his goal, so the end of his journey is bittersweet. Iconography often depicts him alone, with the slow pan-out sequence and a sense of profound pathos. He has either grown too powerful to fit back into the world he has saved, or he has changed too much into a solo version of himself and can no longer exist in a group. Poignancy typifies the end of a heroic narrative--lonely death, hard drinking, a hermit's existence.

(The author emphasizes that biological sex has nothing to do with whether a character is a hero. A prime example given is the 2017 film Wonder Woman. "Diana is solitary...she is remembering her glory while being shown as consigned to isolation by her very nature.")

In contrast, the Heroine's Journey is described thusly:

A heroine is looking for reunification with someone who was taken from her. She is concerned with networking, connecting with others, and finding family.

A heroine goes about achieving her goals through communication and information gathering. She is not a conqueror. She is a builder and a general--she sees the skills and strengths in others and knows how best to apply them. She is a delegator, which is great for storytellers because it's easy to build vibrant, supportive, extremely appealing side characters. Also, this humanizes the protagonist, who is self-aware enough to know what she is good at and when someone else can do it better. Her enemy is loneliness or isolation.

A heroine is the opposite [of a hero]. Requesting aid is a sign of strength. It does not diminish a heroine to seek and receive assistance on her journey. In fact, the more companions she has, the stronger she is.

As a result of all of the above, when a heroine has her most powerful narrative and iconic moments, these will occur with others. They are usually characterized by intense communication and unity in the context of sex, romance, friendship, or familial relationships.

The heroine is more likely to get a happy ending, surrounded by friends and family, with an implication of continues safety.

(The example the author uses for this journey is the Harry Potter franchise: "Everything always ends with Harry reconnected--to new friends, to found family, and in solidarity with other characters who have remained strong and supportive all along. The final scene of the final movie is of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and their families in a negotiated reunification of the wizard world--for the good of all. He saved the wizarding world...but he did it with help, for the good of everyone.")

Laid out in such stark terms, and especially the contrasts between the characters' endings...honestly, it made me wonder why anyone would want to write (or read) a Hero's Journey at all. I know it's still popular--hell, for that matter, I own the Blu-ray of Wonder Woman. But I wish Diana could have gone home--or better yet, when she left, taken some of her Themiscyran friends (or maybe General Antiope) with her.

This is a very useful book, whether or not you are a writer. I think it will open your eyes to alternate forms of storytelling, and how to spot patterns in pop culture you may not have considered before. It certainly did that for me.

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