the Hero’s Quest: in which I ramble a bit about literature.

6:29 pm April 11, 2009 at 6:29 pm 5 comments

So awhile ago, my friend Silas and I were talking about literature, because we sometimes do. His complaint, at the beginning of the conversation, was that Harry Potter is a bit of an idiot and a jerk, and that most stories involving Epic/Heroic Quests had similar main characters. So, as we talked, we tried to come up with good examples of intelligent main characters… turns out my own literature collection seems to be lacking in that genre, so I can’t really knowledgeably agree or disagree. I’ll have to do some research!

However, as the conversation continued, neither of us were able to think of a single story of this type with a female lead.  We both agreed that pretty much every story we could think of with a female main character ends up being a romance.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this– the tendency for female characters to end up in romances, even if that doesn’t really seem like it was the plot the story started out with. Why does this happen? I can think of a few different reasons:

1) Traditionally, the female’s “heroic quest” has always been love/marriage. A woman’s success in life was determined by her relationship status. This is, for the most part, still the case. Oh, we like to think it has changed, and maybe it has– a very little. But most of the time, single women are still judged,  and even pitied, no matter how other aspects of their life are going. If you don’t think this is the case, I’d love to hear your opinion… but I’m not sure you can convince me otherwise.

2) It could, of course, be the usual “paternalistic society” argument, where female characters, and women in general, simply don’t have the capacity to participate in epic stories except as the sidekick or love interest.

3) The reason that I am leaning toward, however, is this one. The idea that women, in general, are more relationship-focused. I’m not just talking romantic relationships, I’m talking about family, friendships, relationships with themselves, pets, children… women, as a group, orient their lives around their relationships. Is this because society has decided that women need to care more about relationships than any other aspect of their lives? I don’t know. I do know that this doesn’t describe every woman everywhere. Generalizations never do. It does describe most of the women I know. Amazing women. Powerful, intelligent, funny, thoughtful, ambitious, intense… and caring.

Maybe authors just can’t write a story about women without involving relationships because that has always been their experience with women. I’d like to see an epic with a female lead that doesn’t turn into a romance, and I’ll keep looking for that….

But at the same time, I don’t mind that my own life revolves around all the various relationships I’ve developed, and how they interconnect. And I don’t mind reading stories about incredible women who find different types of love in whatever way suits them.

What do you think? Can you come up with more reasons? Can you think of examples of Epic stories with female main characters that DON’T end up romances?

I’d love to know.



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Why ‘glitterbubbles’? accumulated thoughts

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. treva  |  10:13 am April 12, 2009 at 10:13 am

    A) Doesn’t Harry Potter end up in a romance as well?

    B) I recommend the ‘Darkangel’ trilogy, by Meredith Ann Pierce, and ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire. There are romantic aspects/relationships in those, but they occur more as side notes, not the main point.

    I bet Heather could think of a few more as well.

    • 2. treva  |  10:26 am April 12, 2009 at 10:26 am

      I would also add ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, the original Oz series, and ‘The Golden Compass’.

      Also, I have to say I think Silas’ original complaint is a bit invalid. In most cases, the entire point of the hero story is that the hero undergoes vast changes through his journey and is transformed by the end. Of course Harry (like most other heroes) is unlikeable or unintelligent; by the end of the story, he should have learned something and become more competent or personable.

      • 3. Jules  |  12:40 am April 13, 2009 at 12:40 am

        Harry’s romance is very much, as you say, a side note to his Quest, in my opinion.

        Excellent, I’ll look into those! I think I still have Rebecca’s copy of Wicked that she loaned me FOREVER ago. I need to read it. (Treva, do you realize that I’m going to actually have free time after this summer?? I’ll be working full time, but no more homework for a year! I’m going to make a reading list as long as… something very very long. (sorry, I’m tired. haha) I’m so excited.)

        hmm, I think I still prefer Harry in books 1&3 to Harry in books 4-6… and even parts of 7. I’ve never disliked him or thought him unintelligent, although he’s not bookish… but I don’t think he grew on me as much as I’d have expected over the course of 7 novels. I still love him, of course… but I’m hard-pressed to find characters I don’t love when I’m meant to. just like real life. 😉

        I really need to expand my collection so I can do some comparisons. I can’t wait to look into this more. 😀

        I love you, Tree!! xoxoxo

  • 4. kelseroo  |  7:18 pm June 2, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    I don’t think that society has made women more relationship focused, I think we are just wired that way. It is in our dna. That is what makes us different than men.
    There are plenty of books that don’t focus on a woman in a romance- most of those have to do with friendships or family or personal realization. I’ll try to think of some titles and let you know!

    • 5. Jules  |  7:22 pm June 2, 2009 at 7:22 pm

      awesome, thanks Kels!! good to see you here, btw. 🙂 I think you’re probably right that it’s mostly an ingrained behavioral trait in women, but these things are so hard to tell, because environment and social situations have such huge effects on the development of personalities and values.
      I’d love the book recs if you get the chance! 🙂 ♥ xoxo


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