When you think of female heroes, Judy Garland may not spring to mind. But she was my first, as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I was four years old. There it was, the hero’s journey with its archetypal elements – the call to adventure, the road of trials with its allies and enemies, the ordeal, seizing the sword (in Dorothy’s case, the broomstick of the Wicked Witch) and the hero’s return – all set to a catchy musical score. Little wonder that female heroes and the hero’s journey sank deep into my psyche.
Making allies along the road of trials
I continued to fill the well with the images and stories of the strong female heroes I found in the books of my childhood. Mary Lennox, the unloved, unloveable orphan of The Secret Garden, warmed to life along with her secret garden. Stubborn Maria Merryweather, who braves death in order to restore peace to her world of Moonacre in Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse. Troublesome Meg Murry, risking all to save her little brother in Madeleine L’Engle’s sci-fi classic, A Wrinkle in Time. There were male heroes, of course – Huck Finn, Jim Hawkins, Richard Hannay in John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps – but I was hooked on girl power.
A little later, I added characters such as Jane Eyre, Moll Flanders, Becky Sharp, Elizabeth Bennet, and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing to my ever-growing list of fictional female heroes.
Alex Kingston, ‘The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders’
Heroic characters are determined, resourceful, courageous and self-sacrificing, with sacrifice being the hallmark of the best heroes. They’re willing to give up something of value for the greater good, up to and including their own life.
Self-sacrifice is by no means restricted to the male of the species. Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc.
I spent a lot of time at the movies, in the cinema and glued to the TV on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when the other kids were outside playing. My parents wrung their hands over their unsociable geek child, lurking in the gloom of the basement rec room, but I was in heaven. I was forging a strong bond with movies and visual storytelling. And I was discovering the powerful women of cinema, particularly in films of the 40s and 50s, reflecting the post-WWII shift in the status of women. My female film heroes were, and still are, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford. In all their various screen incarnations of independent, resourceful women who gave as good as they got, they provided a rich source of inspiration and aspiration. They were making their way in a man’s world and doing quite nicely, thank you very much.
Charlie and Rose (Bogart and Hepburn) on their heroic journey to sabotage the enemy in ‘The African Queen’
Every character is the hero of her own life. The female heroes in my books – Saba, Emmi, Mercy, Maev, Epona, Ash, Auriel and Molly – all have something of my favourite real-life, fictional and screen heroes in them. Male and female alike, from Dorothy Gale, whose most violent act is to slap the Cowardly Lion, to Lee Child’s lone-wolf vigilante for justice, Jack Reacher. It all goes into the well. It’s all good.
Moira Young’s blog tour continues tomorrow at