seeks SFC…

For about the last 25 years I have posed this as a puzzle: Name four real people to whom you are not related that have contributed significantly to your identity. Once I’d formulated this pseudo-riddle I first answered it myself before presenting it to others. The result is not exactly a Favorite Heroes list and I’m usually suspicious of answers that come within an hour. It took me a year to provide my own response.

My selections were – Gene Roddenberry for teaching me that ideals existed and which might chosen, Jim Henson for demonstrating the value of purposeful whimsy, Carl Sagan for showing that all subject matter regardless of discipline can be interconnected, and Richard Scarry for making it clear that nothing is complete when regarded only at face value.


From about the time this question had been crafted to the mid-90s each of these men passed away. Being dead was, therefore, not a requirement to make the Mt. Rushmore of Personal Sources. Neither should being a white male have been; it wasn’t intentional but it happened.

While it isn’t necessarily an exercise in favorite heroes (my list of those is somewhat different and longer) there is some similarity in both musings. Due in part to the emphasis in history and to traditional gender roles it’s just more difficult to find heroes who were or are also women. That may be one contributing factor in the true dearth of strong female characters.

When we do find them they seem to be required to be renegade warriors such as Katniss Everdeen or Black Widow. Further we must also see them as being in a relationship – more often with a man than not – or seeking one. A demonstration of sexuality has much more emphasis with female characters than with males. Buffy Summers’ story was sometimes more concerned with her romances with Angel and Spike than with actual vampire slaying.

The hero’s journey of a SFC takes a back seat to some man’s saga by the third act. River Song, Donna Noble, and Sarah Jane Smith (all from the Doctor Who franchise) are very capable characters and, while the series is about a titular man there’s no reason his story cannot be the B-plot. There has been some recent suggestion that the Doctor might some day be portrayed by an actress.

Dame Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep have both been advocates of broadening the roles available to women over 40 years of age to include more than just witches or grandmothers. Surely it should be easy to design a fictional role as homage to women like Abigail Adams or Dolly Madison – and without her motivation being only to support her husband in his career and ambition.

Both Molly Pitcher and Rosie the Riveter are folkloric amalgamation uncounted real women. A dramatization could certainly be written in in less than a year. But how would the writer address such women being driven back to more traditional and more subservient roles after the Revolution and WWII, respectively?

Boudica, queen of the Iceni and al-Kāhina, her Berber equivalent are worthy subjects, however both met quite tragic ends after living lives of sacrifice. These two and many other woman throughout history seem to be made to pay for their heroism-despite-gender with humiliation and/or execution. Small wonder that fictional sisters face comparable fates.

wrexie-leonarWhether it’s due to fear of aging and change or to any sense of being challenged by a woman this does have to change. “Strong female character” is not a description of a fictional person as it is the name of a problem. So I’ll be letting Carl Sagan graduate from Mt. Rushmore to Elysium – with Wrexie Leonard taking his place. She was the professional companion of Percival Lowell from about 1883 to 1916. She was a scientist in her own right and there’s no evidence she felt disappointed that she and Mr. Lowell never married or viewed life as she lived it as being tragic at the end.


Jim Henson will be found on the other side of the rainbow now because his spot is going to Keumala Hayati, laksamana (admiral). Not only was she Indonesian (a nation that contributes 25% to my ethnicity and heritage) but also an opponent of the status quo she and officially a diplomat. Her 16th century career in the navy of the Aceh Sultanate seems very likely to have brought her to the attention Queen Elizabeth I during the final year of said monarch’s life and reign. I have yet to find any account of her death and – in my opinion that gives a wide territory in which to invent legends of the Lion(ess) of the Sea; which I now have plans to do.

My business partner and coauthor on upcoming work, Leanna Renee Hieber, has recently written about feminism in the gothic tradition. Coming from her discussion on these topics definitely carry more weight then when it’s on my mind.



writing and righting wrong…

Back to the fabled past — in ancient Greece with Teiresias

In watching a documentary series (The Ascent of Women, written and presented by Dr. Amanda Foreman) about the devolution of the role and treatment of women (from the establishment of the Code of Hammurabi between 1792 ʙᴄ and 1750 ʙᴄ on), I’ve had cause to revisit my ideas for a novel about which I’ve posted here and will eventually return to the front burners. As readers of this blog may recall, the saga of Teiresias (working title: A Song Heard in the Future) is intended as my restoration of that mythological figure’s story as a central character rather than, in essence, the chief of the Chorus in the accounts of others.

Apart from his oracular talents the famous seer is also remembered for the chapter in which he is transformed into a woman. Before work on Song was tabled in favor of my science fiction/thriller Astral, I had managed to reconcile some of the conflicting aspects of Teiresias’ fragmented chronicle but I hadn’t managed to do the same for the tragic treatment of women in ancient Greece with what I believe the zeitgeist views as heroic efforts to correct that state.

The documentary established the serpent as a symbol of the power of men and their obsession with honor.


Therefore, one explanation of the change of the identity of Teiresias is the result of his having killed the male of a pair of snakes. In Greek mythology (then religion) women were seen as a much greater contrast to men than they are perceived today; they were regarded as a separate and inferior species and category of property. Women then had to be controlled and concealed from public life. Some of this ironic travesty in the cradle of democracy persists today.

The diviner was being punished when he was made female and, although the exact transgression against honor has been lost, he must have been meant as a cautionary tale – presumably for boys on the cusp of establishing their adult status. In brief, being a man meant in part avoiding demonstrating any feminine quality. The result was strictures on the behavior of both genders with the injustice of a much more strict code imposed on women.


The metaphor in the myth indicates that Teiresias was able to regain his masculinity by finding another pair of snakes and then killing the female. In the story I intend Song to be it will not be a failure in maintaining honor that first changes Teiresias. Given that there would be not need for an act of absolution.

When it is restarted Song will illustrate a quite different account of the acts and fate of the counselor to kings of the city-states with more validity for today’s culture. Rather than a demonstrating Teiresias’ time spent as a woman as a punishment, I may choose presenting it as an opportunity to defy convention. Something like that should help make him – and her – as more heroic. The restoration of honor will be, in my small way, an unworthy aspect of legend and history.

The snake metaphor will still be present but with a vastly altered metaphor and meaning. The former view of caution is inappropriate to a modern version – still simmering on the back burner.

Back to a possible future — in the Dalim star system of Astral

Or off the clock…

If someone in Ancient Greece were introduced to Joseph Campbell’s title – The Hero with a Thousand Faces, all of the visages might be expected to be those of women.

Greek Hero

Albeit of modern Greek women, this is a composite of a great number of their faces. She would be comparable to the anticipated Hero.

The word or, more precisely, the name Hero (Hērṓ) was considered feminine. The best-known example would be from the tragic story of Hero and Leander (Léandros). They lived on opposite sides of The Dardanelles strait and Hero would set a lamp in a tower window each night, essentially as a lighthouse for Leander‘s swim. This lasted for months until the light was extinguished in a storm and Leander drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower to her own death.

There is, of course, a male Hero – one of the sons of King Priam (Príamos) of Troy. This Hero is not distinguished in any detail by his own myth. Giving him the benefit of the doubt and considering Hero to be a unisex name, the Ancient Greek would still expect a veritable battalion of female faces with the above premise.

Words and their definitions evolve over time and across borders. When we borrow words from foreign languages we don’t always get all the nuance in the bargain. We should, however, try to be diligent in the use of our vocabulary. We set the meaning and context by our selections. This has ramifications outside of conversation and writing, too. Words are how we think.

Last week, I wrote a summary of the monomyth. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been devoting much of my thought to what makes a hero. The shortest answer is, “We do.” And, I think, we should be careful in our choices. In the current social climate we’re much more likely to hear the word hero applied to celebrities from the worlds of music or sports. If you ask several people what makes a hero, courage will rapidly rise near to the top of the list. It is true that the musician and the athlete must be brave to be successful; I’m not sure that’s any less true of all other profession requiring dedication.

When I was a child all of my heroes were fictional characters or persons who’d been dead long enough to have legends associated with them. In youth I think this is acceptable and natural. Early in my adulthood my emphasis and definition changed and I invented a puzzle for myself (and eventually others).

 Name four real people, none of whom are related to you, that contributed to your identity – and be specific about how.

I didn’t know it at the time but, I believe now, this provides a wonderful definition of what a personal hero may be. A hero should be someone – male or female – who inspires us to be more. In the original puzzle I suggested that the four figures would represent a personal Mt. Rushmore. This was a handy way to refer to this mental exercise but it was an error. The answer to this puzzle should not be immutably etched in stone. Identity, exactly like definition, evolves.

My answer to my own puzzle was:

  • Gene Roddenberry, for introducing the value of ideals
  • Richard Scarry, for illustrating the necessity to look beyond and behind face value
  • Carl Sagan, for demonstrating the interconnected nature of all subjects and disciplines
  • Jim Henson, for the gift of purposeful whimsy

You might notice all of them are men. In my young adulthood I was interested in defining what sort of man I would be. As a writer, however, I am dedicated to presenting heroes of all genders and having each character be – as much as is possible in fiction – real people.

So, I’m adding two women to the Mt. Rushmore:

  • Nancy Grace Augusta Wake ᴀᴄ, ɢᴍ – a British SOE agent and ally of the French Resistance during World War II. Known aliases: Heléne, Andrée, the White Mouse, and Witch.
  • Hannah Callowhill Penn – the acting governor and proprietor of the Province of Pennsylvania at least a generation before the era of the Founding Fathers. She was the second wife of William Penn.

Keep ’em flying, son…

Marvel Comics announced last year that a female version of Thor would feature in a new storyline. Given that an African-American would assume the mantle of Captain America was announced at about the same time, it seems a reasonable suspicion that Marvel executives might have issued a “More Diversity” directive.

There was a degree of push-back on both Thor as a woman and Cap’ as a black man. I didn’t agree with the opposition to either character and still don’t. I’m very much in favor of stories that encourage an understanding of diversity. There is great value, particularly in entertainment that appeals to children and young adults, in a reader finding heroes that are readily seen as “like me” by said reader. This should not be limited to fiction either.

But I do understand why there was opposition. People are very resistant to change. In fairness, I don’t care as much about the dozen other characters who have taken up Captain America’s shield. If it isn’t Steve Rogers

So, these additions to the Marvel Universe met with immediate and vociferous objection from many – including, in the case of Thor appearing as a woman, from fauxminist Joss Whedon. If there was a memo, he seems to have missed it. According to Variety, the creator of Buffy and director of Avengers said via Twitter:

A female Thor? What the hell makes them think THAT would be cool?”
July 15, 2014

The likelihood that I’ll meet Mr. Whedon to discuss this seems a poor one. As he identifies as an atheist, I’m not sure his negative reaction to Thor as a woman is the one in which I’d most be interested. There are practitioners of Ásatrú (i.e., those who actually do worship Thor and other members of the Norse pantheon) and I’d rather chat with them about Asgardians in comic books – should I ever meet any. A far, far distant second place would be actual readers of Thor comics.

I was able to speak with a vocal protestor of the Thor-as-a-woman panic (who will be anonymous in this entry – as a courtesy). The objection boiled down to his confessed inability to glean as much meaning from a story when the central character is female. In essence, that renders every fictional woman an Unreliable Narrator. It would not be fair to suggest that this anonymous opponent of the female Thor went on to say the same lack of apprehension applied to true stories told by non-fictional women. He did not. And I hope not.

With the prospects of Ms. Thor, the objections seemed to go deeper and in a different way than Black Cap’. There was far more bile and venom thrown up about a “God” of Thunder portrayed as a woman. Nevermind that at least three women have lifted the Hammer in past comics. Fans don’t seem to have objected as much – if at all – when Loki appeared as a woman. (And why was that okay? There’s an entire other set of questions that could raise.)

Isn’t it likely that the gender and/or sexual preference of fictional persons is rarely the point of the work of fiction in which they appear? Tales are made of emotions, decisions, and words. English, unlike such languages of Greek and French, does not gender its words. Why, then, is our thinking so gendered? When we are defensive, what are we defending? And is it really under any attack?

I learned in preparation for this post that the Thor-aswoman title is selling better than the Thor-asman issues. It was also news to me that the Captain America of at least one fictional future is Danielle Cage (the daughter of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, a.k.a. Power Man).

danielle-cageIll have to put Ms. Cage as Cap’ on my reading list.