What is the Heroine’s Journey? (part XV)
I guess what I enjoyed most about the humor that worked for me was when it wasn’t strained, nor about humiliating and belittling others. Humor that made me sincerely laugh, that arose naturally from the situation, worked fantastically well. Mercy’s sly teasing, and Cassie’s unintentionally hilarious dialogue (especially while under fire), both were genuinely funny. I’m always impressed by authors who can pull off such witty, enjoyable writing.
My final category in this proposed (and incredibly long-winded!) Heroine’s Journey is one that was so necessary, so integral to the stories for me, that I didn’t even realize I had it until a good friend pointed it out — thanks, George! That element is:
Whether or not there’s enough action in a story simply makes or breaks it for me. If there is no action to speak of, but for one flurry at the dramatic ending (a classic staple of romance novels, for example), then I get bored — but when there’s plenty of interesting action then I’m enthralled and delighted. There also has to be a point to the action, of course — just beating people up because you can is not a good reason to do so either fictionally or in real life. Further, as I mention in “Personal Independence,” the heroine has to be directly involved. A protagonist who is nothing more than the prize at the end of the action is (pardon my bluntness) a waste of my limited entertainment time. Her battles may be physical or mental (a mix of both is preferable, actually), but either way, I want to read about a woman who is willing to get into action in order to defend either herself or her friends and allies!
I also noticed frequent use in several of the series of an interesting literary technique which feeds the reader’s sense of pressure and tension, leading to a stronger sensation of action even when there wasn’t much happening. This technique occurs quite frequently in the noir genre: the heroine is somehow damaged or handicapped, making everything they do harder, and hampering their ordinary abilities. Other means of accomplishing this effect is to throw a deadline of some sort at the character, or have them running from someone or something that’s trying to kill them.
Harry is a perfect example of this: as I’ve noted before he’s always under deadline, fleeing lethal allies and enemies, and constantly getting beaten up or brutally attacked or otherwise hurt! I find myself curiously wondering if his damage is so much more pervasive and continuous, compared to the other heroines, because it’s culturally considered by some to be “all right” to physically attack and damage men in stories — but women are still regarded as something you shouldn’t hurt.
Interestingly, the one situation where I feel physical attack or damage doesn’t lead to a feeling of increased action is rape. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a curiously gender-linked form of attack in most of the fiction I read this summer. It’s like the male authors are self-blinded, as if they cannot even conceive of a man being raped — which is a dangerously inaccurate illusion to still bear in this day and age. Fortunately, since rape is not something I much care for in my entertainment, it turns up only once in the four series I most enjoyed; I think the author handled it relatively well.
There is one other curious ramification of the “girls shouldn’t get damaged” effect here: there are very few major female villains that the heroines get into physical battle with. Harry, for example, has plenty of mastermind female bad guys — all the fae queens count, as does the true ruler of the White Court — but because they are so powerful, we likely won’t ever see him engaging in magical fisticuffs with them. Even Aurora was killed by Harry’s allies, the Wilde fae.
Kitty has two major female villains I can think off off the top of my head, and neither was killed by Kitty herself, even though she was involved in the fight against one of them. Cassie does her best not to get into hand-to-hand battles, but again, there don’t seem to be many major female “bad guys,” as opposed to masterminds — since there are plenty of those, and some of them are even her allies on occasion. Mercy has a similar situation to Cassie’s, as her one really big female villain is so powerful that Mercy wouldn’t stand a chance in physical conflict with her.
I find myself curiously asking: is the lack of physically battle-able female mastermind/villains due to a desire to not have to write a “beat up a girl” scene? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question to ask. The male villains the reader meets and sees defeated can be sociopathic individuals with intricate plans, or demonstrate their evil solely through the body count of raped and murdered young women they leave behind them, or have minions both male and female… but curiously, very few of the books I’ve read this last summer had female villains running the show in a similar fashion. Frequently they don’t even appear, or they’re flat out insane — and therefore (at least to Harry) not really women any more.
So by the point we’re currently discussing within the story, Aurora would definitely be quantified as a bad girl.
Literally speaking, I’d agree. But here’s the thing: there’s inconsistancies. There are women on that list above that he has gotten into a real fight with. But for the most part, they have been vampires, or demons, or something more Other than just being a woman.
Aurora’s different. She’s not malevolent, she’s a misguided zealot. She did evil in the name of good, utterly convinced that she was doing the right thing, that the ends justified the means.
What I wonder, here, is if that colored Butcher/Dresden’s perceptions. Does he only get his hands dirty with someone that’s sufficiently ‘bad girl’? Or do they have to cross the line into your earlier literary reference of ‘not a woman any more’?
You’re pretty much making my points for me by now, Greg. :)
One caveat: a woman usually starts out (metaphorically speaking) as a good girl/Madonna. Once she behaves in a way a man disapproves of, that’s when he labels her a bad girl/whore. So by the point we’re currently discussing within the story, Aurora would definitely be quantified as a bad girl.
I double-checked: no, that’s actually not what happened. He was up close with her, and one of the changelings, Meryl, took on Aurora’s Lord Marshal to give him the chance to take on Aurora. He beat her to the table, and denied her the knife she was going to use.
When the time came, though, that they would have slugged it out, the pixies with their Cold Iron was his weapon. He used them deliberately, instead of attacking her himself. Yes, the cold iron boxcutters were an effective weapon, and so was a swarm attack. But… the question is, and the question I’m not sure either Butcher or Dresden would ask themselves is this:
Did he do it because he wasn’t sure he could mount an effective attack on a Queen of Summer by himself? or did he do it so he wouldn’t have to get his hands dirty, and kill a Woman(madonna?).
I don’t know the answer either.
Interesting points, all. I confess this is still something I’m turning over in my head, so I can’t really say one way or another yet. Thanks for the list of names; that helped refresh my memory. One caveat, though: I don’t recall Harry being next to Aurora at all while the Wilde fae slew her. She was gloating that he couldn’t reach her in time, and that’s when he released them, IIRC?
You’re right, that Mercy doesn’t have that many female villians to choose from… but I would argue, at least, that Briggs can write a female to female fight scene, since that’s exactly what she did in her other series, Alpha and Omega. The interesting thing to not was that in both books, the fight was over so soon. No posturing or jutting or drawn out fight scene… often the combat was over after just seconds. Though to be honest, in one case it was a coup de grace, and the other, it had to be a swift, unexpected strike because the villianess in question was so much more powerful than Anna, and surprise was her best weapon.
The Dresden series… I don’t know. I can think of many female mastermines off the top of my head that Harry has fought, though I can’t remember which of them actually got damaged by him personally.
Through the series he has fought: Bianca, Leanansidhe (think was only a contest of wills), Aurora (who, while not attacked physically by Harry, did die of multiple wounds from boxcutters while Harry sat on her: not a nice death), Mab, Elaine, the Churchmice, At least two female Denarians (not including Lasciel, who he never met in the flesh), Mavra, Lara Raith and her sisters, Kumori, and, while not strictly a badguy, Ancient Mai.
While I’ll grant you that most of them did not have a fight that resulted in serious injury of bloodshed, and those that did might no longer qualify as ‘women’ (like the Denarians, or the White Court), there was at least one instance where some of Harry’s female allies were badly wounded in combat (though one of those instances happened off screen, so it doesn’t count as much). Still, when you’re helping a woman sew up her disembowled belly…
I think the obvious issue is this: if anything, Butcher is reluctant to have messy fights with or against women who are not preternaturally good at taking or healing damage. Of course, when you’re talking about urban fantasy, that counts for a lot of women… especially werewolves.