Academic journal article Mythlore

Innocence as a Super-Power: Little Girls on the Hero's Journey

Academic journal article Mythlore

Innocence as a Super-Power: Little Girls on the Hero's Journey

Article excerpt


ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR PLOTS IN FANTASY FICTION IS THE QUEST. From the ancient tale of Gilgamesh, to European fairy tales like "Jack and the Beanstalk," to The Lord of the Rings and the modern genre it has spawned, the story of a hero (or heroes) setting out to fulfill a daunting task is told over and over in countless variations.

Such quest stories are ultimately based on the archetypal myth of the Hero's Journey, as described by comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, who identified common elements of many similar myths from disparate cultures in his influential 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. (2) Campbell's briefest summary of what he called "the monomyth" is this:

   A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of
   supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a
   decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious
   adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (30)

Campbell further delineates the mythic structure and its major variations thus:

   The mythological hero, setting forth from his commonday hut or
   castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to
   the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a shadow presence
   that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this
   power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark [...] or be slain
   by the opponent and descend in death [...]. Beyond the threshold,
   then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely
   intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some
   of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir
   of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains
   his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero's sexual
   union with the goddess-mother of the world [...], his recognition
   by the father-creator [...], his own divinization [...], or
   again--if the powers have remained unfriendly to him--his theft of
   the boon he came to gain [...].
   The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed
   the hero, he now sets forth under their protection [...]; if not,
   he flees and is pursued [...]. At the return threshold the
   transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from
   the kingdom of dread [...]. The boon that he brings restores the
   world [...]. (245-246)

Many of these elements are found more in myths than in fairy tales; Campbell himself says, "Many tales isolate and greatly enlarge upon one or two of the typical elements of the full cycle" (246), and that the road of trials "is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure" (97).

The quest story in ancient myths and traditional fairy tales almost invariably featured male protagonists, who relied on things like the use of force to defeat an enemy, or courage and daring in order to voyage to unknown lands and face dangerous opponents and hazardous circumstances. Often these heroes acted alone; sometimes they had companions but the hero was still the leader (Jason had his Argonauts, but none of them actually did anything on their own). Independence and individual initiative are also valued attributes of the traditional quest hero.

We generally consider such traits as physical strength, courage, independence and self-reliance, and the tendency to use force as "masculine" traits, as opposed to traits identified as "feminine" such as empathy, nurturance, connection with community, and negotiation.

(Note that in this discussion it is important to differentiate the concepts of masculine and feminine from the actual genders of male and female. Humans--and well-written fictional characters--contain both masculine and feminine aspects to varying degrees. Examining the social and/or biological forces which result in men and women exhibiting more or less masculinity and femininity is beyond the scope of this paper. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.