Heroine's Journey
June 1, 2015 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Hey Brilliant Minds! Happy Monday :) I'm wondering if you might point me in the direction of any films, books, tv, plays, etc. that utilize a classic hero's journey structure (Joseph Campbell) from a feminist perspective and/or have a female protagonist. Thanks so much!
posted by sunnyblues48 to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
The Wizard of Oz
posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:03 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wild, the recent film with Reese Witherspoon, works perfectly if you count the guy who gives her the advice about hiking boots / helps pair down her pack as a mentor.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:05 AM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by bdc34 at 8:11 AM on June 1, 2015

posted by phunniemee at 8:12 AM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mad Max: Thunder Road... Max makes one important suggestion (he doesn't make the decision, Furiosa does) in the film but is basically a weapon/field medic for the rest. It's Furiosa's journey all the way.
posted by Huck500 at 8:51 AM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Golden Compass maybe?
posted by salvia at 8:51 AM on June 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Alice in Wonderland
Sailor Moon (?)

I also keep thinking of Hermione in the Harry Potter books but where she isn't the focus of the series (though still definitely a heroine) I don't think it fits.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:54 AM on June 1, 2015

Winter's Bone?
posted by pantarei70 at 8:54 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hunger Games
posted by mochapickle at 8:56 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Anna in Frozen
posted by puritycontrol at 8:56 AM on June 1, 2015

The movie Contact with Jodie Foster :)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:59 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Possibly related: Theodora Goss's blog series (scroll to the bottom of the post for more links) on the Heroine's Journey.
posted by xenization at 9:07 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Spirited Away, maybe?
posted by capricorn at 9:10 AM on June 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

You'll find a lot of that in anime. Sailor Moon, Vision of Escaflowne, Spirited Away, Nausicaa, and Revolutionary Girl Utena come to mind.

Anime and video game voice actor Crispin Freeman is a big Joseph Campbell fan and gives scholarly presentations on different aspects of the hero's journey. I saw his talk entitled "Mystics, Priestesses & Warrior Women" at an anime convention recently and it's exactly the type of examination of the female hero that you seem to be looking for, mainly as a comparison between Western and Japanese treatments of the female hero. Unfortunately his lectures aren't posted online but I found a couple of interviews where he talks about the subject. His main mythology website is mythologyandmeaning.com.
posted by Starling at 9:38 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gravity is a hero(ine)'s journey story minus the opening "departure"/"call to adventure" parts, but the rest is there.
posted by honey wheat at 10:13 AM on June 1, 2015

Coraline [book|film]
posted by bonehead at 10:21 AM on June 1, 2015

The booklists at amightygirl.com include a number of good books that follow the monomyth structure you're asking about. (This would be children's and YA though.)
posted by Wretch729 at 10:35 AM on June 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would suggest The Fall and Maleficent.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:37 AM on June 1, 2015

The excellent series Legend of Korra.
posted by little mouth at 10:47 AM on June 1, 2015

The book "How to be a Heroine - or what I've learned from reading too much" by Samantha Ellis is roughly about this topic and will give you lots of ideas.
posted by hazyjane at 10:54 AM on June 1, 2015

Showgirls. As in the original hero story Gilgamesh, the main character goes on a quest for immortality, which incurs the wrath of a Goddess. After she's forced to reconcile with her true parentage, she's right back where she started when we first met her at the beginning of the story. Only this time she is a "master of two worlds" who has learned the secrets of life at the top.
posted by johngoren at 11:53 AM on June 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

Try Kino's Journey. The first episode is a little boring but it gets more exciting as the show progresses (also I'd recommend it subbed)
posted by picklenickle at 2:14 PM on June 1, 2015

- Apuleius' "Metamorphoses", namely the Psyche myth, definitely an archetypal heroine's journey

- Wolkstein, Diane and Kramer, Samuel Noah, ed. and transl. "Inanna, Queen of Heaven & Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer". Another archetypal tale.

- Asbjørnsen and Moe's "Norwegian Fairy Tales" contain quite a few heroine journeys, especially "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (quite similar to the Psyche myth)

- Allen, Paula Gunn. "Spider Woman's Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women"

- The Handless Maiden

- Joy Harjo's poetry
posted by fraula at 2:53 PM on June 1, 2015

Into the Woods
posted by Dwardles at 3:25 PM on June 1, 2015

Labyrinth!! It's a great one

Also 80s-tastic is The Last Unicorn.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:00 PM on June 1, 2015

Seconding the Psyche myth. Robert Johnson has a short book called "She" which expounds on the Jungian significance of the myth.

What about the "final girl" theme in horror movies, to a certain extent? Horror movies have their own sets of themes, etc. but final girl characters still undertake that quest to survive and to reclaim normalcy. Final girls are usually in slasher movies like Halloween.
posted by mermaidcafe at 5:55 PM on June 1, 2015

Also, "Descent of Alette" (a book-length poem) by Alice Notley
posted by mermaidcafe at 7:43 PM on June 1, 2015

Any series by Tamora Pierce set in her Tortall universe. (Some of the Circle-verse as well, I£d guess.)

And maybe Wicked by Gregory Maguire?
posted by LoonyLovegood at 7:49 AM on June 2, 2015

This made me think of Diana Wynne Jones, and whether the hero doing the journey is generally female in her female pov books. It's arguable: in Hexwood I think the hero's journey is undergone by Mordion Angenos and by The Boy, and in a way the female protagonist is like an organising consciousnes; she has to understand/remember what happens for it to manifest properly. Also there's Fire and Hemlock, based on the Tam Lin ballad: while the hero is definitely female in the ballad, in F&H the journey maybe belongs more to Tom than to Polly? Maybe?

But in Deep Secret there's a super-satisfying journey undergone by Maree Mallory, though she's not the only one to travel, and The Time of the Ghost records (some) rather harrowing* psychic and emotional and fundamentally gendered transformations. Then there's The Spellcoats, which I love, where the main hero/significant figure has the narrator's voice as well.
* It's more harrowing when you know which bits of it are based on real life.

I do like me some Diana Wynne Jones.

I'd argue the hermaphrodite characters on Gethen in The Left Hand of Darkness feel female, imagined and written as they were in opposition to polarised ideas of gender at a time when an autonomous, self-directed, physically capable femininity was culturally almost impossible to conceive of. (That is, whether such people existed or not, which of course, they always have.)
posted by glasseyes at 8:14 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle. The main protagonist, the main combatant and the one who makes possibly the greatest journey both physically and mentally, is a female unicorn. The second tier of characters consist of two men (Schmendrick the magician and Prince Lir) and one woman (Molly Grue). The third tier consists of two men (King Haggard and Captain Cully), one woman (Mommy Fortuna) and a female Harpy. As an added bonus all the main female characters are, in one sense or another, tough middle-aged women, not floaty girlies - although the centuries-old unicorn does spend some months transformed into a human girl.

Beagle has also written three narrative filk songs with strong female protagonists. One is about female pirates and has the chorus "Here's a health to every prize and two for every dirty deed // And three more for the soul of wicked, loving Mary Reed." One begins "There came three ladies at sundown // One was brown as bread is brown // One was black, with a sailor's sway // And one was pale as the moon by day". The third - the only one whose title I remember - is called "Magicians' Wives" and finishes "The wives sit in the kitchen, replenishing the beer // They laugh and sew and giggle and call each other 'dear' // And now and then they make somebody's husband disappear". Leslie Fish's long narrative filk "The Horsetamer's Daughter" is an excellent example of a heroine's journey, from simple peasant to a position of power she had never wanted or sought.

You might also consider Sheri S Tepper's long SF novel "Grass", and the YA fantasies of Nicholas Stuart Gray. Gray's novels all have male main protagonists because they're all himself as a boy, but his books are full of strong female characters and his short stories often have adventurous female protagonists.

Then there's the whole of the superb Chanur series by CJ Cherryth - if you don't mind the fact that the heroine is a bipedal lioness - and her standalone novel Rimrunners. Also the Telzy Amberdon books by James H Schmitz, although Telzy is a bit of a Mary Sue.

I'm mad about Hexwood too - it's one of my favourite books, but yes, it's Mordion who makes the hero's journey. Vierran plays the role of the Dark Maid from Celtic tradition, the tough girl who both supports and chivvies the hero.
posted by whitehound at 9:12 AM on November 8, 2015

Also Terry Pratchett's "Monstrous Regiment", in which a girl goes to war to find her brother (who has learning difficulties) and becomes a military heroine. Most of his books include very strong female protagonists, especially the "witches" sequence, and "Lords and Ladies" and "The Wee Free Men" in particular follow the pattern in which a heroine is called out from relative passivity and has to learn to perform great deeds of bravery by which she saves the day for everyone else.
posted by whitehound at 9:32 AM on November 8, 2015

Oh, yeah, Terry Pratchett's YA book Nation, as well, in which a young boy and girl both learn to be heroes and to do great deeds and save everybody, the boy by physical prowess and the girl by cunning and cool-headedness.
posted by whitehound at 10:20 AM on November 8, 2015

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