Literary Legislation (Part 3)

In contradiction to how I ended my last post, I had an easier time then expected in finding a commendable female character from ancient mythology. Though she did not do anything particularly heroic, Nausicaa is described favorably in The Odyssey for helping Odysseus after he washes up on the shore of her father’s kingdom. Still, she was relegated to a role which was typical of the times. At least her mother, Queen Arete, was alleged to have been wiser even than King Alcinous, her father.

Nausicaa by Frederic Leighton, c. 1878
Nausicaa by Frederic Leighton, c. 1878

The compassion and nurturing nature of Princess Nausicaa in this tale by Homer evidently inspired the title characterfrom Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the manga comic series (and subsequent feature animation) by Hayao Miyazaki.

Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.
Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.

This character lives in a post-apocalyptic world of monsters, deities, and warring nations. Her mixture of humility, heroism, innocence, and femininity is a refreshing departure from an overworked device of more recent manufactured mythologies.

The device to which I alluded is a type of template for female heroes: sexual attractiveness (within narrow cultural stereotypes) combined with attributes more traditionally associated with men. The latter include anger, aggression, and violent capability. The right measure of tomboyishness adds nuance. Too much tends toward boring predictability and limitation, and I appreciate Miyazaki for avoiding this. As a general observation, he gets women and girls right, and he does so with insight, variety, and respect.

An example of a writer who did something similar (especially with younger characters) is  C. S. Lewis. Lucy Pevensie, Polly Plummer, and Jill Pole from various installments of The Chronicles of Narnia series are a few of the endearing and interesting personalities he invented. In The Silver Chair,  he used Jill in a subtle but clever plot development to demnostrate the ways in which adults demean younger girls. His social statement  was tangential to the main story line and not at all heavy-handed. Such critiques are often more effective when they are not emphasized.

1998 watercolor update of her 1953 original black and white rendering from The Silver Chair, Chapter 2
1998 watercolor update by Pauline Baynes of her 1953 original black and white rendering from The Silver Chair, Chapter 2
Jill is given a Task by Alice Raterree, from The Silver Chair, The Chronicles of Narnia
Jill is given a Task by Alice Raterree, from The Silver Chair, The Chronicles of Narnia

Finally, I must mention Meg Murry, a central character in the Time Quintet of Madeline L’Engle. Given the fantastic nature of these stories, she and her mother are still put across as intelligent and believable. It is good to read a constructed myth written from a female perspective in which the heroine is neither sexy nor violent. In fact, I wish there were more male figures like this as well.

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