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.

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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.

Couching a Tale…

The characters in any story may be compared with the id. The related ego is the author and any collaborators. The superego could be a combination of critique partners and editors. If this theory of mine is accurate, it may explain why writers will tell you they have arguments with their characters about what they would or would not do within the story. And while it is the author-ego who determines the “reality” of the story, the character-id makes it Go. A wise author will let the characters be the engine and do his or her job of driving.

There is an immensely strong id in Leanna Renee Hieber’s newest novel – The Eterna Files (released by Tor and available at fine booksellers like Barnes & Noble and here). The character in question is known as The Visitor (and by another name I’ll not reveal here (spoilers)). Within the context of Eterna’s first installment, The Visitor may be an actual zeitgeist – attempting to inspire the other characters as they face supernatural and potentially calamitous new realities.

Excerpt, The Eterna Files, p. 14 —
“What is it this time?” Clara gasped.
“Hello, Clara,” the visitor said quietly. One didn’t mistake an ordinary person for the visitor, for it brought with it the weight of time itself. “It’s been awhile.” The visitor smoothed the skirts of its long, plain, black, uniform-like dress, something a boarding school girl might wear. “Have you been waiting?” the visitor asked.
“I’m not a girl who waits,” Clara replied.
“That’s why I trust you,” the visitor said, pleasure in its voice.

The broader arc of The Visitor began before I was invited to be Ms. Hieber’s collaborator on some projects. The author of the above had written about her before in vignette and cameo fashion a few times before we’d actually even met. In what was unrelated brainstorming for possible inclusion in a well-known franchise, Ms. Hieber and I started to develop a strong, female character in command of her own starship. There were some difficult directorial reactions to our plans. And to the Captain’s plans. She – The Captain – almost immediately took command, as she’d been designed to do, of her own destiny.

Before long both Leanna and I had the epiphany that The Captain was The Visitor. That development and The Mission of Captain-Visitor character-id is only part of why I’m fascinated by The Eterna Files. I repeat my recommendation of buying the book and curling up on the couch with your copy.

Video credit: PsychWing and The Nerdy Duo

Excerpt, The Eterna Files, p. 16 —
“Why can’t you stop terrible things if you’re aware of them?” Clara demanded. “Why can’t I?”
“Not in our skill set,” the visitor replied. “You’ve taken too much ownership of something that is not your responsibility, Templeton. What is your responsibility, is to—”

“‘Wake up?’ Yes, I hear it, on the wind. In my bones. What does it mean?”
The woman gestured before her, to Clara’s iterations. “You see the lives, don’t you?”
“Yes.” Clara swallowed hard. “Do you?”

Georg Hegel is given credit for coining the word – zeitgeist. But he did not use the term. He believed that the spirit of the time is our own spirit and that “both” may evolve. The Visitor’s mission is the most heroic I can imagine and may be related to Hegel’s assertion that “World history is thus the unfolding of Spirit in time, as nature is the unfolding of the Idea in space.” I am genuinely excited to help write The Visitor’s future and past. She may prove to have an important role in A Song Heard in the Future and in at least one other story that sometimes makes it difficult to sleep.

“You see the lives, don’t you?”

Yes. Won’t you?