Now I’ve spent a lot of time posting about the heroine. I suppose it’s important to clarify why—why spend so many words on determine what the ideal heroine should be? There are several reasons why this is so important to me. One reason is that I am so sick of reading books with awful heroines. See my review of Kristin Cashore’s book Graceling for an example. Cashore’s heroine Katsa is the cliché fighter with nothing uniquely feminine about her. I know heroines can be better than that.
Another reason I wanted to write about the heroine is that there is a lot of research out there about the hero, but not the heroine. There are books about what it means for a man to be a hero, but there is hardly anything to instruct women on what it takes to be a heroine. Heroines are important because they teach women how they can be heroic. Heroines are examples, but there are bad examples as well as good examples. It is important for readers to be able to distinguish between the two, and so readers need to know what they are looking for in a heroine.
Literature provides a plethora of characters—some examples are what not to be and others are examples worth emulating. There are so many lessons in literature. Here are some examples from the heroes of my favorite book, J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings:
Frodo teaches us that we must sacrifice ourselves for others. Sam teaches us to be faithful to those we love. Merry teaches us that even the smallest of us can have courage. Aragorn teaches us that leadership takes wisdom as well as bravery. Legolas and Gimli teach us that sometimes the most unlikely friendships are the strongest. Boromir teaches us that sometimes we do the wrong thing. Faramir teaches us that sometimes we do the right thing.
Tolkien’s trilogy also contains incredible examples of heroines:
Eowyn teaches us that personal glory is unfulfilling. Arwen teaches us that hope and faithfulness are the strongest form of support. Galadriel teaches us that power can be used for good. Rosie teaches us that sometimes the more important heroine is the one who welcomes the hero home.
Both heroes and heroines have something to offer the reader and I believe that some of the best lessons can be learned through literature. Books are not just entertainment, though they are also that. Harvey Mansfield, a professor at Harvard University, wrote in his book Manliness that “literature uses fictions that are images of truth [to speak the truth].” Literature entertains, but it also reveals the truth. It reveals the truth about who we are and what we can be, both good and bad.
Heroines are important because they show women what we can be. Bad heroines show us the costs of our decisions and good heroines show us the good that women can do. I believe that heroines are necessary because in a broken world a woman’s touch is necessary. It isn’t enough that women can be badass fighters, though they can be. Women need to know that they bring something that men don’t, something that is desperately needed. Heroines demonstrate assertiveness, compassion, kindness, courage, faithfulness, sacrifice, and many other qualities. Women in this world can do the same.
For more on the heroine: