Literary Legislation (Part 1)

A writer is something of an absolute monarch. In the domain of the author, literary legislation may be unilaterally enacted to improve the lives of women in created myth. This is not necessarily novel if the female character is divine or otherwise supernatural. Homer wrote reverently of “clear-eyed Athena” (the goddess of wisdom) in The Odyssey, and her assistance to both Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, was instrumental in driving the plot forward.

Pallas Athena by Jan Styka
Pallas Athena by Jan Styka
Painting by Jan Styka in which Athen inspires Odysseus to take vengeance
Painting by Jan Styka in which Athena inspires Odysseus to take vengeance

Fast forward, and switch media to Ponyo, the animated feature by Hayao Miyazaki. The sea goddess, Granmamere, is wise, kind, benevolent, and powerful. She has an uplifting and restorative effect on other characters in the story.

Still shot from Ponyo, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2008
Still shot from Ponyo, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, 2008

In another beautifully made animation, The Secret of Kells by Tomm Moore, there is the wood sprite, Aisling. She is a loyal friend who aids a boy in the completion of a righteous task despite dangerous opposition. She is also an interesting and well-conceived character.

Still shot from The Secret of Kells, directed by Tomm Moore, 2009
Still shot from The Secret of Kells, directed by Tomm Moore, 2009

By now, someone reading this has probably cried foul. I became aware in the 1960s that many feminists objected to the so-called “goddess image” as being a restrictive presentation of female identity which carries with it the burden of meeting unrealistic expectations. Their complaints did and do have merit, but it is important also to keep in mind that fiction is fiction. Such devices can be good for a story as long as they are handled responsibly. There is a literary spectrum in the presentation of women. If positive portrayals are limited to goddesses, excuses might be made for denying this respect to feminine characters who do not possess divine powers and who therefore more closely resemble women encountered in real life. Moving across the spectrum, I will address additional categories of female characters in my next two posts.

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