Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Kind of Heroine

This is another round-robin tour, so please take some time to enjoy several different views on what type of heroine makes you grab a book and read.

I’ve been reading for a long time, and have found it is the characters that attract me to a story first, specifically, the heroine and the hero and their personal qualities. This said, the way the heroine or hero is depicted on the cover always catches me, too, so maybe my choice is also a visual thing. Lately, many covers leave off the face, I suppose so readers can identify with the characters even if they look different from the reader. Cover art certainly has changed over time. Oops, digressing.

As a child and before horses took over my best character in a book, I loved Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. I think because the girls had an important part in the story, the children helped each other survive. Before that, my reading had been about all the princess type girls in all fairytales I read. Princesses are often portrayed as spunky, but ultimately the prince saves them. East of the Sun, West of the Moon was different. The girl settled her own future even though initially abducted by her prince.

I started working in a drug store at fifteen back in the sixties, and because I was working, I had money. The bookstand drew me. I bought a copy of Emilie Loring’s Trail of Conflict which was written in 1922 about the post-WWI arranged marriage between the socialite daughter of a rich businessman and the man with upper crust ‘family ties’ fallen on hard times. Not her best, but interesting for a teenager, and like me, the heroine was searching for love. Geraldine was a spunky but sometimes clueless heroine who was courageous, but like most women of the time, she put up with a lot of expectations from their man. (Not that Stephen is an evil, obnoxious abuser, just used to giving orders.) Still, the heroine dye was set for me as a reader for a while: Men protected naive, powerless women. 

It got worse with Barbara Cartland’s romantic Regency novels. Georgette Heyer’s heroines were interesting, but still, the man ended up protecting his ‘princess’ no matter what her social standing. Most books of the time presented spunky, stubborn heroines who for the most part capitulated to their man. I also found I liked Betty Neel’s heroines who usually were average looking, quiet ladies whose qualities only one discerning handsome, rich Dutch doctor could appreciate. (Pretty strange, huh?) I wonder if this image is what women were really like or just sold to romance readers? I also wonder what I was thinking. Luckily, life taught me remaining naive and powerless held a cost, too, and to be wary of preconceived, prepackaged ideas.

In my late teens, my taste in heroines began to change. In fantasy, Andre Norton’s women in her Witch World series attracted me, and then the Lisa in the Dragons of Pern. Sure, I liked the old ‘princess’ heroines, but a new image began to emerge. I began to like bold women who took charge when necessary, who often became the protector and worked with their mates in equal partnerships while fighting for their futures. This often happened in science fiction and fantasy, although the character of Philippa in Dorothy Dunnett’s Renaissance based historical The Lymond Chronicles, fell into this pattern even though she did not become a major character until the later volumes; yet she always made her presence known and was a true surprise. 

Today's message seems to be teaching women about being strong and powerful. This also has costs, yet this might just be another prepackaged formula. Having studied Vladimir Propp and Joseph Campbell, I have a new viewpoint. These heroines and my choices are part of my psyche that need exploring.

I read across a wide variety of genres: fantasy, scifi, romance, mysteries, suspense, chick-flick, contemporary, and I find many more heroines whose stories suite me. I like those working against horrible odds and disadvantages and living up to the challenge even if their happily ever after isn’t perfect or they fail their challenge in some fashion. I dislike heroines who start out with possibilities they never live up to, or fall back into the old “I need a man to take care of me” pattern. These are the books I close and do not reopen.

Other authors are talking about their type of heroine. Next on the list is Marci Baun. Take a look. At any time a link might be lost, they are all listed below.

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