The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger: A Review
If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while, you know that I have a passion for story structure. I love delving into its nuances, into different types of story structure—basically everything about story structure I find fascinating! Well, to feed my obsession Gail Carriger, the author of the fantastic steam-punk series The Parasol Protectorate, has come out with a new book on The Heroine’s Journey. Needless to say, I gobbled it whole. Here are some of my crumbs, er, take-aways.
First of all, I loved the book, I love the concept, I really, really love Carriger’s snarky voice! She is an amazing writer and that talent is on full display in this book. Secondly, she’s an archeologist by training so she has an in-depth knowledge of classical myth which she uses to full effect (she uses three myths as examples to explain the heroine’s journey: Demeter (Ancient Greek), Isis (Ancient Egyptian), and Inanna (Sumerian)). She also uses pop culture references (Harry Potter and the Twilight Series). So, in essence, no matter what your preferred flavor, she’s got a way for you to get a good taste of the heroine’s journey (good! I think I must be hungry or something! So many eating metaphors.)
To begin with, she defines the hero’s journey for us (in a way that’s slightly different from what I’ve studied, but okay). And she stresses that the hero’s journey is one where independence is a strength. Coming away with a prize (be it a shiny bauble or a concept) is the point.
She summarizes the hero’s journey in this way: “Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory and honor.”
Yeah, that’s a little simplistic, but even she admits as much and goes on to describe it in much more detail.
Here’s here simplified version of the heroine’s journey: “Increasingly networked protagonist strides around with good friends, prodding them and others on to victory, together.”
You’ll immediately see her main point here – the hero’s journey is about independence, doing things alone (although I have to say, one thing that I’d always learned about the hero’s journey was that he gathers around him friends and allies and with them goes to defeat the bad guy, but clearly that’s nothing something that Carriger was taught or she conveniently ignores it).
The heroine’s journey is specifically about friends and family – losing them, gaining them, working with them to solve a problem which, in the end, is brought about by compromise where everyone gets something in the end. Here is her breakdown of the heroine’s journey (and I’ve applied it to the Wizard of Oz, my all-time favorite movie):
Loss of family or something that represents family
Toto is threatened. Aunt and Uncle have no time to listen to Dorothy’s woes – they shove her away.
Family offers aid but no solution
Dorothy is told by her aunt to find someplace where she can’t get into any trouble – a suggestion but not a good one. (This happens out of sequence—according to Carriger’s formula it usually happens after the Withdrawl)
Withdraws from/throws off all power and prestige
Dorothy runs away.
Isolation and danger
Running away puts Dorothy alone to meet a stranger (the fortune teller) and then into the tornado which deposits her in Oz.
Heroine disguises herself
This one’s a little more iffy in the WoO, you could consider her putting on the ruby slippers a disguise. It’s certainly nothing a sweet little farm girl from Kansas would ever wear.
Finds others to truly help her. Creates a new family, creates organization, builds civilization An important point here is that the heroine is never afraid to ask for help, in fact, Carriger considers that her greatest strength.
Dorothy finds the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. Together they form a “family” of sorts.
Visits the underworld
Dorothy goes to get the broomstick from the Wicked Witch.
Family/friends render aid
The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion come to rescue Dorothy from the witch.
The ascent or return
Dorothy returns home to Kansas.
Negotiation/compromise to benefit all
She promises never to run away again.
Network is established (or re-established in an altered form)
Her family is happy to have her back and hopefully won’t ignore her again when she’s got important news. She realizes that there’s no place like home.
Carriger points out that the heroine’s journey is most prevalent in romance and cozy mysteries, but can also be found in a lot of scifi/fantasy novels and buddy movies as well.
The one thing that I found a little off-putting was that she seriously dislikes the hero’s journey and, in fact, goes so far as to blame all of the current problems the US is having right now on the prevalence of the story (“the emphasis on individuality, revenge, reticence in asking for help, and success as defined by the death of another person”). Needless to say, I found this a little far-fetched. Oh, and the heroine’s journey is clearly the answer to all our problems emphasizing togetherness, family, and the strength to ask for help when you need it. Hmmm…
Aside from this last bit, I found the concept of the heroine’s journey fascinating. The book is a great read and she does a really good job of describing this useful and interesting story structure that’s been sitting under our noses for the longest time without us even noticing.
If you would like to delve more deeply into this book, feel free to join us on my Discord server where we will discussing and analyzing it over the next few weeks starting May 24th. Just email me to join in if you aren’t already a member of the server!