For those who don’t know, I am currently earning my master’s in English—a very rewarding and fulfilling area of study for me. It’s been a whirlwind these past two years; working full time and switching jobs all while going to school full time can be stressful!
My project has many layers, but to simplify it, it focuses on the female heroine in fantasy literature. The fantastic as a genre offers readers the opportunity to explore the impossible, and because of this, authors of this genre are able to introduce readers to worlds beyond our imagination.
The genre itself also opens up doors for protagonists to do what might not be as easy to do in reality. A heroine establishing their autonomy and fighting solely to save the world they live in has unfortunately not been a storyline commonly produced by authors from other genres throughout the centuries. That’s what I ultimately argue; the genre and its elements allow these heroines to be who they truly are.
Since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to fantasy simply because of its availability of heroines. From Lucy and Susan Pevensie to Coraline alike, I have always admired them and been inspired by their valor. Growing up and entering academia, it’s easy to say that feminist theory has been the foundation of my research and a number of research papers at the end of each semester.
So, I spent the summer reading the fantastic (doesn’t that sound awful? ;)). Here’s what I read:
-Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (reread) – Lewis Caroll
-The Princess and the Goblin -George MacDonald
-The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
-A Wrinkle in Time -Madeleine L’Engle
-His Dark Materials -Phillip Pullman
-The Hunger Games (reread) -Suzanne Collins
-The Harry Potter series (reread, focusing on the development of Hermione Granger) -J.K. Rowling
-Coraline (reread) -Neil Gaiman
After reading all of these books (and a billion pages of scholarly articles), I found something inspiring about the heroines depicted in these stories: they all control their narratives (except Meg from A Wrinkle in Time…did anyone like that series?).
I found, overall, that each heroine works to control their narrative in their story and rebel against forces working against them.
I immediately decided that this was my project, but I couldn’t write about every single heroine (at least not yet).
I decided to take a contemporary approach and focus on three beloved heroines: Lyra from His Dark Materials, Hermione from Harry Potter, and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games.
After more research, I began to dive deeper. I soon discovered that these three heroines not only establish their autonomy in their stories, but they also bend their gender.
I then studied the topic of tomboys and concluded that each Lyra, Hermione, and Katniss display different tomboyish characteristics, therefore separating them from the regular heroine: Katniss, the hunter, and Lyra, the rascal, and Hermione, the bookish and unkempt.
Further, they all own their identities, and even if they sometimes represent femininity in their stories (Lyra being dressed up by her mother, Katniss being dressed up for the Games, or Hermione dressing up for the Yule Ball), they do it as a choice and perform femininity without losing their core, tomboyish essence. They remain in control throughout their stories.
The fantastic offers endless opportunity, and because of the genre, authors can bring these heroines to the forefront; these lovely, amazing, gender-bending, rebellious heroines that we all love so much.
I am now in the final stretch: writing my master’s thesis. This past month, I submitted my first chapter for review.
Right now, I am focusing on my Katniss chapter. I am very excited to write more about one of my favorite heroines (and arguably, one of society’s favorites). And, I’m even more excited to present my project on Katniss at a national conference in Boston this March.
I bet you’re wondering how a person working full time has the time to write a master’s thesis? She doesn’t, folks. She just doesn’t.
It’s been a really tough process. Lots of tears, lots of therapy sessions. It’s hard to leave work and keep that creative energy to last beyond after-work gym sessions or making dinner/spending time with my husband.
It’s hard to say no to plans, to move plans around, or cancel plans to write or research. Heck, it’s hard to sit down and write. But, I wanted to be honest with those who are wondering, and an ally to those who might be going through the same thing as me.
This is what I love to do, and I’m excited to share my love of writing and the topic and genre I love so much with the world.
Thanks for reading! Has anyone taken on a project this large? Any advice? Want to just rant about it to a safe, open space/person? Feel free to comment below!
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