By **Erica Wright**
Since my five-year-old cousin giddily confided that she is going to see Tangled again, I have been thinking about female heroes. This new Disney movie retells the story of Rapunzel. Since I am a poet rather than a journalist, I feel no guilt in writing about Tangled without actually having seen it. Wikipedia is trustworthy, right? Well, according to Wikipedia, in this new version, Rapunzel gets in trouble a lot and is saved a lot by her magical hair and/or male love interest. Which is to say, she sounds like the wimpiest Disney heroine yet. In comparison, last year’s Tiana from The Princess and the Frog was a regular Mulan.
There are plenty of female heroes in real life, but what about those fictional characters that usurp our daydreams? In the past decade, we’ve had some great ones—flawed but impressive—including Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and Willow for that matter), C. J. Cregg from The West Wing, and Blue van Meer from Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Who wouldn’t want to be some variation of all three? Based on female characters from 2010, though, I am worried. There were a lot of embarrassments, including four from Sex and the City 2. Nonetheless, with a little brainstorming, research, and consultation, I was able to find 10 pretty awesome fictional females to inspire us. We may need them before the final installments of that ubiquitous vampire series featuring a heroine even wimpier than Rapunzel.
There are plenty of female heroes in real life, but what about those fictional characters that usurp our daydreams?
1. Helen Mirren as Prospero
While Julie Taymor’s Broadway actors crash their way through Spider-Man: The Musical, her reimagining of The Tempest is getting a lot less attention. Taymor had me with The Green Bird, and casting Helen Mirren as Prospero seems inspired. I am looking forward to hearing her utter, “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on; and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.”
2. Knives Chau in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
At the beginning of the film, Knives is not only wimpy, but unoriginal. She copies the hairstyles of and is obsessed with Scott’s new girlfriend Ramona. By the end, though, she can hold her own in a fight (and in life). I don’t want to be a spoiler, so I’ll leave my comments intentionally vague. She does get extra points, though, for classiness when she absolves Scott.
3. The woman in Joannie Mackowski’s “Early Nourishment,” a section from “Case Studies in Metamorphosis”
This choice is a bit of a cheat since I really just wanted to mention Joanie Mackowski’s amazing book of poems View from a Temporary Window . But the speaker of this poem is brave in the way she faces change. She steps out of her old skin and does not mourn. Rather, she hungers for new life: “Her shed skin, rigid, / translucent, stretched out on the sheet. She devoured it.”
4. Scarlett in Scarlett and the Spark of Life
I don’t play video games, but this looks charming. I anticipate discovering how rusty my adventure skills are. It’s been a few years (decades?) since I was stumped by Zelda.
5. Jess and Emily Bach from The Cookbook Collector
The Cookbook Collector is the first Allegra Goodman novel I have read. Goodman follows multiple characters for varying lengths of time. While I was not sold on this narrative technique, it does provide a fuller picture of the two protagonists. The sisters are quite different, but admirable in their own ways. Despite a paralyzing fear of heights, Jess sleeps in an ancient redwood tree to save it. Emily would never do anything so impractical. Instead, she runs high-profile, high-profit companies before and after the tech boom.
I tend to be a few years behind on novels, so there are hopefully many other admirable female characters from 2010 novels. Feel free to point me in the right direction.
6. Alice from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
So many reviewers and friends hated this movie, but I was mesmerized by Burton’s use of the 3D technology. You could almost feel his glee in positioning fuchsia flowers to bloom toward the audience. Moreover, this older Alice is much more interesting than the preteen. She’s remarkable in and out of Wonderland; not only does she slay a dragon, she chooses adventure over a more-or-less arranged marriage.
7. Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
By this point in the Narnia series, Lucy has already proven that she is a hero. With level-headedness, kindness, and bravery, she continues to be admirable in this third film installment. Lucy may be the only character on my list that my five-year-old cousin could appropriately watch, so that’s a bonus.
8. Liz Lemon in 30 Rock
Liz Lemon may be a mess, but she’s also the head writer of a successful television show. Oh, and the funniest woman on the block. It is no wonder that Tina Fey received the Mark Twain Prize this year.
9. Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights
I confess that I have only seen the first season of Friday Night Lights. Tami Taylor became my favorite character from the first episode. There is more trouble in fictional Dillon, Texas than in a barrel of rattlesnakes, but the coach’s wife (cum high school principle by season three) handles it all with believable aplomb.
10. Zora Neale Hurston in Zora and Me
I wanted to include this young adult novel even though I haven’t read it. Zora and Me is a murder mystery featuring the Harlem Rennaissance writer, Hurston, as a central character. According to multiple reviews, not only is the concept great, so is the end product. The novel even has the enthusiastic endorsement of the Zora Neale Hurston Trust.
11. Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
I struggled to get to 10 and then added an 11th. Go figure. But Hermione Granger deserves a spot on the 2010 list even though she has been successfully defeating evil since 1997. I never realized her impact until I taught a summer writing course for high school students. All the girls (around age 15) were enamored with her and the entire roster of Harry Potter wizards. I have not read the books, so I cannot add any snarky comments about the writing. I probably wouldn’t anyway because any writing that kids are reading is good writing.
Copyright 2011 Erica Wright
Erica Wright is the poetry editor at Guernica. Her “interview with John Ashbery”:http://www.guernicamag.com/interviews/507/houses_at_night_1/, “Houses at Night,” appeared in Guernica’s February 2008 issue. Read her Q&A with author Amy Greene “here”:http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1969/erica_wright_q_a_with_amy_gree/.