The Heroine’s journey

Recently, I came across a book about “The Heroine’s Journey” by Gail Carriger. It piqued my curiosity since I had done a lot of research the Hero’s Journey and I wondered how the Heroine’s journey could be different. Joseph Campbell was first to use the phrase, and his ideas where developed and expanded by Chistopher Vogler in his “The Writer’s Journey” — a book I would I recommend to any new writers. Gail Carriger is not the only one to write about the Heroine’s journey. There are others who have written on the subject, although they don’t necessarily take the same tack.

Her approach starts with analysing some of the mythical stories about heroines. She chose the myths of Demeter, Isis, and Innan as examples. I confess I was not familiar with any of them, but she gives an easy to understand overview of the stories. The purpose is to identify feminine behaviour, traits and story themes and compare them with current day stories.

The first point to note about Carriger’s book is that heroines are not defined by biological sex, but by their cultural gender attributes and behaviours. At the start of the book she distinguishes the two types of stories in a humorous way as follows:

Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory and honour.

Hero’s journey

Increasingly isolated protagonist strides around with good friends prodding them and others on to victory together.

Heroine’s journey

So the main difference she identifies between the two journeys is that the hero is a loner that finds his inner strength to overcome insurmountable odds to reach victory and glory, while the heroine’s strength comes from her ability to unite or reunite others to achieve her aims. On this basis Wonder Woman (2017) is a hero (a loner), while Harry Potter is a heroine (he works by getting the best out of his team of friends).

Carriger explains the main story beats in the hero’s journey and compares them to the beats in the heroine’s journey. I am not going to go through each of the beats. But in simple terms the hero’s journey consists of four basic phases: the hero’s ordinary world, the descent into the underworld, the ascent from the underworld after the ordeal, and return to the ordinary world. The heroine’s journey is much the same, except the hero normally has a choice to go on his quest and chooses to do so. The heroine’s descent from the ordinary world is often involuntary and arises from losing her familiar relationships and network and much of her journey is about rebuilding or repairing those relationships.

Many of Hero’s journey stories are coming of age stories where the hero grows into his heroic role. The heroine, however, is often looking to build or unite the family and friends she had before. Her strength is in finding compromise rather than defeating an adversary or gaining revenge. Her success is uniting her new or repaired family and ‘a happy-ever-after ending’.

Some of the examples of each of the journeys is given in the book as follows:

Hero’s JourneyThe heroine’s Journey
Star Wars: New Hope. Harry Potter
Die Hard (1998)The Twilight Saga
James Bond franchiseStar Trek: The Next Generation (1987)
Deadpool (2016)Supergirl and most superhero teams
Jack Reacher booksAll romantic comedies
Most noir and thrillersYA romances
Wonder Woman (1997)Female empowerment comedies

One small criticism I would make of her approach is to redefine the Hero’s journey in a somewhat over-rigid way. This was never the approach taken by Campbell or Vogler, who both saw the story beats as guidance, optional and variable in timing. For example, the hero might bask in glory at the end of the her’s journey. But Vogler never had them riding off into the sunset (AKA the typical western hero) as Carriger seems to imply. Sometimes such as in Die Hard and Indiana Jones, he unites with his romantic interest.

However, overall I found Carriger’s analysis interesting, particularly as I identified at least two of my published novels as falling into the heroine’s journey, and my third novel had elements of both.

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