With the final Twilight movie having recently come out I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials for the teen vampire phenomenon, which has made me contemplate a big issue that I have with the books and movies: the way that Bella is portrayed. For the majority of the action Bella is a passive figure, pining over Edward instead of doing something with herself. In my opinion, it doesn’t exactly present the greatest female role model.
But as a modern fairy tale, this shouldn’t be surprising. Most classic fairy tales are patently anti-feminist. Women are punished for stepping out of their ‘place.’ They are rewarded for marrying the prince. It’s the way fairy tales were written. I mean Sleeping Beauty is so passive that she isn’t even awake! It’s just a shame that Stephenie Meyers felt like she had to write such a sad excuse for a character in this century. After all, it’s not like strong, feminist characters have never been put to the page before.
I recently reread Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, which features just such a character, and falls into the kids fantasy genre. Dragons was one of my favorite books as a kid, and it didn’t disappoint me on my latest read through. The heroine of the novel, Cimorene, is a princess in a typical fantasy kingdom. Her parents are the typical king and queen, and her sisters are typical princesses. Cimorene is not a typical princess. She wants to learn things like fencing, (shock!) magic, (gasp!) and cooking (horrors), all things that princesses just don’t do. When her parents set up a marriage with a prince from a neighboring kingdom, Cimorene does what you would probably least expect from a girl in a fantasy novel: she runs away to a dragon.
That’s right, instead of moping around and eventually figuring out that, hey this prince isn’t too bad, she becomes a Dragon’s princess. Oh, and by the way, the very powerful and respected dragon is also a female. Oh, and by the way by the way, this book was published in 1990. You don’t see any of that very often, and it’s a shame. This is a book that I can’t wait to read with Rose, so that she can see a strong female role model. (apart, of course, from her mother, who is a force to be reckoned with)
The best thing about Cimorene is that she is smart as a whip, and uses her intelligence multiple times to save the day. A man doesn’t rush in and save the day at the last minute. It’s all Cimorene, with the help of a female dragon, and a friendly witch. So if you give me the option of taking Cimorene or Bella, I’ll take Cimorene every time. I respect what Twilight has done for reading, and I know Rose will probably get her hands on a copy someday, but until then I’ll be doing my best to put books like Dealing with Dragons into her consciousness.