I thought of her as a goddess once…
–Revolutionary Girl Utena, Episode 38 ‘The Ends of the World’
It’s a rough lot, being a woman in a fictional world, especially if your world is one built on the unambiguous lesson-teaching foundations of the fairy tale or the symbolism-laden slippery slope of myth. Either way, job options are scarce and you will inevitably end up in a symbolic or supporting role that props up the heroism of the main male character, be he Hero or Prince. This is something Revolutionary Girl Utena knows well, and goes to great measures to critique: first by showing a fairy tale maiden who aspires to be a Prince herself, and second by showing a fairy tale maiden who remains trapped within the expected archetypes of her genre and who is having literally the worst time in the world because of it.
Strap in, gang. It’s time for me to organise my thoughts on Anthy and what we learn about her in Episode 34, through the framework of theories of myth and how the show uses and then breaks them down. Absolute mega spoilers to follow. Continue reading
Look… your teen years are confusing as hell. In many cases I think dousing coming of age stories in magic and metaphor actually helps us comprehend them, which is perhaps why we as storytellers love structures like The Hero’s Journey so much, and also perhaps why Revolutionary Girl Utena so loves dealing in the abstract. The show’s first arc gives us the story not just of our hero Utena’s first steps into the strange dreamlike world of the duelling society, but her first clumsy steps into the world of young adulthood: the First Threshold she has to cross and the necessary first defeat that she has to go through on her personal Hero’s Journey. Just as ol’ Joe Campbell says heroes and mythic figures have to die to be reborn, so does childhood have to “die” to let said heroes grow towards maturity. For our hero Utena this first death/rebirth takes place at the climax of the Student Council Arc, and includes facing all the terrors of sexual maturity, self-identification, and the sad truth that comforting as they are, fairy tale tropes cannot always be applied to real life, and sometimes the “handsome prince” is a manipulative sack of dicks that you need to challenge to a swordfight. Continue reading
Recently, me and the rest of my cohort were tasked with summing our projects up in a short presentation–an exercise in all sorts of important skills, such as public speaking, and the ability to get your ideas across in a bitesized and succinct conversation rather than trapping everyone who asks about it in a long-winded in-depth discussion of research until their brains melt out their ears. Unfortunately, I had something approximate to The Black Death that week and couldn’t physically present, so I recorded the mini-lecture-that-would-have-been to send in for assessment. I thought I may as well post it here as well, as a further exercise in self-promotion and slowly moving past the instinctive insecurity I get at hearing my own voice. So without further ado: heroes! Gender! Archetypes! Woohoo!
If you really can’t be bothered, here’s the Three Second Thesis: Joseph Campbell says that The Hero is always a boy, and I think that’s a bit silly, so I’m writing about a Hero that’s a girl. It’s much more complex than that, though, really, so hopefully you can be bothered, and take a listen to the talk below (I do lose my voice at the very end, but bear with me–it’s a big improvement!):
Transcript: Continue reading
Let me tell you some spicy goss I’ve dug up in my research.
If you’ve been with this blog for a while, you might remember my abridged guide to The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell’s mythological theory of the Universal Narrative that is repeated as a pattern throughout the literature and folklore of the ancient world and deeply informs our current pop culture. You may also remember me tilting my head a little and pondering here and there that hey, this book kind of works on the assumption that the titular Hero is a dude most of the time. I am, it turns out, not the only reader who picked up on this. In 1981, scholar and therapist Maureen Murdock asked Campbell if there was a feminine equivalent to the decidedly masculine-tinted Hero’s Journey, and Campbell replied that…
“Women don’t need to make the Journey. In the whole of mythological tradition woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place people are trying to get to.”
Murdock, I can only imagine, kind of went:
…and in 1990 published her own book called The Heroine’s Journey. Continue reading
Gather round, gang! Like I did a few posts ago with The Cauldron of Story, it’s time to take some literary theory I’ve come across in my research and apply it to modern media—in this case, Barbara Fass Leavy’s weighty and extensive discussion of folklore about supernatural marriages, and an overtly cute anime about a dragon who is also a maid.
[Hey, if you’re viewing this in the WordPress reader, please jump to the actual blog page and check out my sweet new banner by Jess Rose! And take a gander at her other stuff too–she’s just opened commissions, winky face]
Canon has been slow roasted at 225 and carved for juicy bits
—Now-famous tags on an AO3 work
Once upon a time in his essay On Fairy Tales, fantasy’s grandpa J.R.R. Tolkien laid out the idea of the Cauldron of Story. The Cauldron of Story (or the less epic name Tolkien also gives it, the Pot of Soup) is the idea that the collective imagination is bubbling away in a hypothetical pot full of every major story that’s ever been told. If something captures people enough—be it a particular character, a historical event, a tale or an archetype–it is added to the Pot to be stirred around, taking on the flavours already in the Pot and adding its own new taste as well. When you ladle out a new bowl of soup to tell a new story, you’re scooping up elements, ingredients and flavours of things long-since added to the big Cauldron—whether you intend to or not. Continue reading
Moana was several different brands of delightful, but one aspect that captured my heart is that it draws its inspiration from mythology rather than from fairy tales—something Disney hasn’t really done since Hercules, and something that gives its heroine a very interesting dynamic. The movie features the trickster god Maui as one of its main characters and incorporates other elements of Polynesian folklore, but I was especially interested—and pleasantly surprised—to see that Moana herself has quite a traditional mythical hero’s character arc.
She is a leader, chosen by nature and destiny, who sets out on a quest surrounding an important magical object, where she ventures through the realm of the supernatural and tangles with gods. When it’s over, the balance of nature is restored and she returns to her people as a wiser and more capable ruler. It’s a quintessential hero-king quest narrative, which, incidentally, is also a quintessentially male narrative. But without so much as a shrug, Moana gives this archetype to its female heroine and sends her on her journey.
Remember how I said I could write a whole post gushing about Moana? I did, and you can read the full thing over at Lady Geek Girl!