The brilliant camharr and I were having a conversation about Lois McMaster Bujold’s work, and she said something so resonant and on-point I had to share it (hopefully she’ll find time to blog her own thoughts about it at some point). In an interview, Bujold makes a great point about how non-universal Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” actually is (Campbell apparently knew squat about women’s lives and made the typical male academic mistake of assuming that men’s experience is human experience full stop; we’ll leave aside for now all the other reasons the monomyth is crap). In the hero’s journey, the hero goes out into the world, does some stuff, and comes back home. But Bujold points out that given the exogamous nature of most cultures, the heroine goes out into the world, and keeps going.
And then Cameron gave the most succinct and lovely summation of a heroine’s journey archetype I’ve heard yet:
“Woman loses everything she thinks she needs, discovers her own power, and builds a family who will fight with her to the bitter end.”
Reminds me of a great article I read once about Buffy (and yes, Buffy had its problems, and yes, there are a lot of issues with Joss Whedon’s takes on female heroes, BUT). It pointed out the whole archetype of the hero as lone gunslinger, who protects the community but cannot be part of it, and who must ultimately go it alone to retain his heroic status, and described how Buffy subverts this. Spike articulates it when he notes that Buffy is different — stronger and more resilient — than other Slayers because she has a team around her, and it’s when she tries to go it alone that she (and, I think, the show) falls short. Buffy ultimately embodies a different sort of heroic archetype, one that certainly isn’t exclusively feminine, but I think speaks to more women’s experiences:
The hero is someone who builds and is the center of the heroic family.
The family may be blood relatives, it may be teammates or coworkers, it may be a group of friends or a biker gang. But it’s a collection of people that together function in the hero role.
Art by Howard David Johnson.
Here is the interview Jessica refers to. Spoilers only start in the Q&A portion, halfway down the page.
And I would like to write about the heroine’s journey at some point. Just muddling through my thoughts (and other commitments!) first.
Reblogging for that interview (now I’m super curious about Bujold’s work!).
As far as I understand it, though, doesn’t the Heroine’s Journey “end” by the Heroine returning to their starting point (which is like the Hero in a Hero’s Journey) and inspiring those around her to take their own journeys of self-discovery (which is unlike the Hero in a Hero’s Journey)?
I mean, in a sense I guess that’s the same thing as saying a Heroine’s Journey “keeps going”, since it’s cyclical and all that, But historically a large part of the feminine experience has been the sharing of knowledge within family groups, and IIRC that’s supposed to be reflected in this idea of the Heroine coming home again as the Mother/Goddess Ascendent and sharing her enlightenment with others.
For example, take DA2 (once, a longtime ago, I went into detail about how DA2 matches the steps of a Heroine’s Journey narrative). At the end of DA2, Hawke immediately either ascends to the Viscountry or leads the Mage Rebellion — but either way, he or she will eventually disappear into ether, once again becoming the faceless and anonymous nobody that they were when their story began (the Heroine returns to the starting point). And yet, according to Varric, mages across Thedas are inspired by the Champion’s example to incite further revolution (the Heroine inspires others to take their own journeys).
Anyway, sorry for butting in, but I think the Heroine’s Journey is just the coolest thing since jars of bees and I geek out whenever I see it on my dash, so I hope you don’t mind :)
Don’t be sorry! Thanks for joining the conversation! :-)
I can’t speak for Cameron, here, but part of what I liked about Bujold’s comments on the Heroine’s Journey, and about Cameron’s formulation of an archetype (and note, it’s an, not the, since I disagree with the whole premise of the Hero’s Journey idea, that there’s one archetype that applies to everyone), is that it’s different from the classic “Heroine’s Journey” formulation. The classic “Heroine’s Journey” is an acknowledgement that Male != Universal Human, and that women’s experiences—both in literature and in real life—differ from men’s.
However, where it falls apart for me is that the classic formulation still feels like an attempt to shoehorn women’s experiences into a male template with a few changes, which is pretty symptomatic of still viewing the male experience as normal and the female experience as an exception to the human rule.
Bujold’s whole point, I think, is that the assumption that the Hero ends his/her journey back home where s/he started is a very male-centric one. While a boy may leave home, become a man, and come back to take over leadership in place of his father, throughout most of history, women didn’t get to come home. Most cultures are exogamous, they’re patrilocal. A woman’s journey involves, generally, getting married and relocating. She becomes part of her husband’s family. When she goes home again, it’s only to visit, and her identity as a member of her birth family becomes secondary to her identity as a wife and member of her husband’s family.
The classic Heroine’s Journey archetype doesn’t really deal well with that reality. I’m not saying that it’s not a good story template, or even that it doesn’t work for some stories about heroines. But it’s not universal, and it doesn’t resonate with me at all. (There are similar problems with the Hero’s Journey — David Brin has some interesting stuff to say about how it describes the experience of the social elite, not men in general.)
What I liked about Bujold’s point is that I think it acknowledges that throughout most of history, for women in most cultures, part of the female experience is that you can’t go home again. And it speaks to me, as a member of a generation for which it’s not uncommon to move fairly far from home as a young adult. I have a very loving and wonderful birth family, but I live half a continent away from them, and have had to make new family out here, to a certain extent.
So again, it’s not to say that Bujold’s formulation of the Heroine’s Journey as one that keeps going, in the sense of not taking her back home, is universal. It’s that the formulation that does take her back home isn’t either, and there needs to be more than one archetype for women’s heroic stories.
I never really thought about that before, but wow, yes, you (and Bujold) are absolutely right: For so much of human history, the feminine experience HAS inherently involved that element of “you can’t go home again”.
I mean, like you said there’s the whole social aspect of it, where women used to get married and join their husband’s families, but if you want to get metaphorical about it, the feminine life cycle also has this physical element of “can’t go home again”, right? I mean, once men physically mature, their bodies pretty much stay in a stasis state (albeit one that slowly decays over time). But women? Our bodies continue to evolve ‘til the day we die.
Specifically, I’m thinking of how childbirth changes us: Pregnancy hormones rearrange your anatomy, stretching your ligaments and reconstructing parts of your skeleton and doing all sorts of other lovely things, such that your body post-pregnancy is never the same as it was pre-pregnancy. And the process repeats, with variations, for each subsequent pregnancy; meaning a child-bearing person’s body is always in flux; and of course eventually we all hit menopause, and then you really can’t go home again, can you? So, physically speaking at least, the feminine experience is basically one long journey that just keeps on going.
So yeah, now that I’m noodling over it, that traditional model of the Heroine’s Journey really DOES feel in some ways like shoehorning a female experience into a default male template, once again positioning our experience as that of the Other, even while trying to acknowledge that it exists. And the model’s flaws stand out even more than they once might have, since like you said, leaving our birthplaces and not going back has become a more and more universal experience.
In fact, now I’m wondering if, in a digitally connected and globalized world, the Heroine’s Journey is even MORE universal than the Hero’s Journey, or maybe at least more intuitive in some ways, given how many of us have never gone back home and forged new “found families” instead.
So much good stuff to think about. :)