…Perrault, Arabian Nights, and more were all stacked on the table when Simplia came into the Fairy Tale Lobby with the day’s mail.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m studying these books to find heroes,” Sagacia muttered. “Remember? We got all those letters about fairy tale heroines, but heroes?–not so much! Poor Searching in Sitges asked for male heroes, too.”
“You mean like conquerors?” Simplia asked, pulling out a chair and sitting down.
“I’m not sure,” Sagacia replied. “I’ve been thinking about what Laura Simms said in her email last week:
Reading these emails, I was thinking how important it is to discern the nature of the main character and their role..often can be both protagonist and hero..or heroine. Often the distinguishing reveals inner logic of the journey of the story. At least that is how it works for me.
“So I’m trying to discern just what is the nature of some of the male fairy tale heroes.” Sagacia explained. “Some have a goal to achieve, some seek their life’s mate, some acquire wisdom or maybe a treasure, some get rid of an evil foe along the way… I’m starting to wonder if we demand too much of our male heroes! Do we expect more of heroes than we do of heroines? To be considered a hero, does a male have to fix the whole world?”
“Is it like Csenge Zalka says?” Simplia asked, holding up one of the letters, then reading…
As for the guys, there I need to leave the realm of fairy tales. Vertumnus is an all-time love of mine, that’s Roman mythology. But if I had to vote for the best guy in the world of story, I’d say Zal, the white-haired Persian prince. Apart from that description that says it all, he is also smart, loyal, caring and brave.
“Yes!” Sagacia said firmly. “She had to look elsewhere to find ‘heroes’! She chose a mythical guy and a legendary one! So, are we defining our fairy tale males by the standards of legendary princes and mythical gods or maybe even modern superheroes?”
Simplia didn’t answer. It wasn’t her fault if we did.
Sagacia carried on, undaunted. “I think Fairy tale heroes are different. They have obstacles and tests, of course, but they’re not really out for conquest; they just want to ‘live happily ever after;’ quietly, you know; under the radar. If they happen to save a sibling or lead a giant onto the bridge of one hair and he falls and kills himself, that’s okay, but it’s not their goal. The goal, male or female, is to get what they went after, stay safe, and get home with their integrity intact. Isn’t that heroic enough?”
“And they’re not just princes, either,” Simplia said, looking up from the letter she’d been ignoring Sagacia with. “Nick Smith says…
The best heroes tend not to be princes, either. After all, princes have an enormous head start in life. They get all the best food, most of the best training and equipment when they start off on their quests. Give me a Jack tale or a Billy story any day. Those are the ones where a regular fellow can turn out to be a hero, slaying dragons, robbing giants, fooling outlaws and tweaking the beards of kings.
“Right! And their traits might differ from those of other heroes, like the ones Les Schaffer mentions right here,” Sagacia said. She’d left her books and was now poring over the letters, too.
One of the unsung (or at least not sung about a lot) male heroes is the young huntsman from the first part of Grimm’s “Iron John” or Iron Hans story. He disappears from the tale pretty quickly, but not before demonstrating bravery, resourcefulness, an ability to work cooperatively and non-violently … and he captures the Wild Man!
“A hero who doesn’t even have the title role in the story?” Simplia remarked. “No wonder he’s unsung!”
“Happens all the time! Take ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.’ Who’s the hero? Morgianna!” Sagacia answered her own question. “And ‘Tam Lin.’ Who’s the hero?”
“Janet!” Simplia injected.
“Right! But did they get their names in the title? No! Did they get the promotion? No!” By now, Sagacia was standing. “Did they get the corner office? Did they get the big bucks?”
“No!” Simplia bellowed. “No!”
Sagacia blushed. “Anyway,” she said sitting down, “I’ve found some good fairy tale heroes in these books. Like Aladdin. He outwitted a genie to acquire his treasure and princess, then he did it again in order to keep them.”
“And here’s Ivan Tsarevich,” said Simplia, pointing out his portrait in her book. “He mastered a grey wolf, rescued Yelena the Beautiful and outsmarted Baba Yaga.”
“Same as Vasalisa,” said Sagacia. “A hero shouldn’t have to do more than our own heroine BFF!”
“And here’s ‘Cowherd and Weaving Maid,’ from China,” said Simplia. “He tried heroically to save her, and in the end, the spell was reduced enough to let them see each other once a year.” Simplia sighed.
“On a bridge of magpies,” Sagacia sighed. (A simpleton double sigh is a thing to behold!)
“And what about ‘The Tinker and the Ghost’?” Simplia asked. “Outwaiting a ghost when one is filled with fear–is that heroic enough? I say ‘yes’!”
“You go, Girl!” said Sagacia. “I just know there are more good male heroes out there!”