For my last installment on this topic, I will conclude with the animation which is, for me, perhaps the most compelling. The Secret of Kells by Tomm Moore is an interesting mix of history, cultural conflict, and spirituality, and its visual approach alone expresses these themes without words. The plot receives additional dimension by the inclusion of Aisling, the forest sprite. She injects an air of mystery, and her supernatural friendship with the boy, Brendan, is compelling.
The artistic style is based on the ornate style of the real Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript that is regarded by some to be the greatest national treasure of Ireland. This marvelous document is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library in Dublin and can be viewed, page by page, in digital form on their website. I myself spent a fair amount of time admiring the workmanship of every page when I visited that site.
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.
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.
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.
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.