I read 50-80 books a year and post reviews for 10-20 of them. This is the only one that is not a review. I’m posting this in the hopes of getting more writers, movie moguls, TV producers, etc to understand how a real literary heroine works. Since everyone finally caught on to The Hunger Games, writers everywhere are writing kick-ass female heroines into their thrillers. But most of them just don’t get it. They don’t understand why Katniss Everdeen is such a rarity. This is not a fan post. This is a deconstruction of the 21st Century’s greatest character (and it’s coming from the creator of Pia Sabel, the pre-apocalyptic heroine and runner-up).
Since Odysseus came home to find Penelope surrounded by suitors, heroes in fiction have followed a fairly straight path: They slog their way home after partying with an enchantress for a few years*, walk in like they still own the place, kill everyone in sight, and scoop up the babe. Heroines in modern thrillers follow that same path (except for who scoops up whom).
After decades of equal rights progress, all I get is a heroine who acts like Chuck Norris in drag?
I know several upstanding, civilized men who I imagine, if their children’s lives were at stake, could go on a killing spree to save the innocents. Do we expect the same level of ultra-violence from women? No. The women I know would give anything and everything to save their children. However, they would tend to kill as a last resort and not as a first thought.
This is where Katniss Everdeen comes in. She thinks before making a decision. She shows concern for human life, even the bad guys. She gets angry without being mad. Yes, she literally killed everyone in the first book’s finale, as would any male protagonist, but she killed them the way a woman would—thoughtfully. Don’t laugh. The kill-or-be-killed situation after the death of her innocent friend; the ‘gotta kill ’em all’ attack of the undead; the execution decision in the end; etc. were welcome departures from standard male hey-let’s-kill-everyone-who-sticks-his-head-out-a-window decision making process. The difference is subtle when you parse it out but it is the catalyst for her success. She is a believable heroine because she thinks before she reacts.
Sure, we have some fine 20th century heroines today. It’s the underlying realism, or lack thereof, that keeps them at a distance. Kay Scarpetta? Temperance Brennan? How many lab rats do you know even own a gun let alone train with Army Rangers six days a week? Evelyn Salt … you remember the movie, Angelina Jolie, vicious double agent? No? Well, anyway, Angelina did her part well. Problem was: her character was Sean Connery with boobs. Why don’t movies starring great actresses like Angelina take off? Because of reactionary kills in overwhelming quantities. While mega-death is entertaining, instant-killing is the realm of heroes not heroines. We expect Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne, even crippled Lincoln Rhyme, to kill as a reaction to a sound or a shadow. When we see women do this same thing, we hesitate. Why?
Doesn’t fit the gender.
Katniss Everdeen fits the gender. She thinks. She worries. She gets angry. She makes decisions. She demands respect. She kills only when there is no alternative. That fits the gender.
That is a realistic heroine. And she has our respect.
TV & Film producers, writers, etc, please get it right. Ask yourself, “What Would Katniss Do?”
Peace, Seeley James
*My wife was not as forgiving as Penelope…