Thursday, January 31, 2008

Writng for Presents 4 - Heroines - and Mice

Heroines - and mice?

I can almost see the newspaper comments now.

"Romance Authors think that their heroines are just mousy little creatures, submissive before the power of the masculine, patriachal force that is the hero."

Er . .. no.
Let me say that again - louder - No- No - NO

Quiet as a mouse

Timid as a mouse
Dull, brown and drab as a mouse

Do you remember how when I was talking about heroes, I suggested that you go over to Anne McAllister's blog - and to read the comments. One comment there was by Lidia who said:

Please don't laugh, but all of this brought to mind the old fable/fairy tale of the lion with the 'splinter' and the mouse that removes it. In some respects that embodies an alpha's partner. The woman appears to be meek and yet she is strong in many unseen ways and is not 'scared' for the big alpha. Did that make any sense?
To me, yes that made perfect sense. I'll admit that my memories of the 'Lion and the. . .' fable are slightly different -
Lion with thorn in paw - Androcles and the Lion

Androcles was a runaway slave who found a lion suffering because it had a thorn embedded deep in its paw. Gently and carefully, Androcles too the thorn out of the lion's paw so that it healed. Later, Androcles was recaptured and sent to the arena in Rome where he was to be thrown to a hungry lion. But when the great beast came into the arena, it didn't attack him - instead it ran up to him and gave his face a great lick. It was the same lion that Androcles had helped before. The two of them were released and the lion went to live with Androcles and they lived happily ever after.

Mouse helps lion - The Lion and the Mouse - Aesop's fables.

Once when a Lion was asleep a little Mouse began running up and down upon him; this soon wakened the Lion, who placed his huge paw upon him, and opened his big jaws to swallow him. "Pardon, O King," cried the little Mouse: "forgive me this time, I shall never forget it: who knows but what I may be able to do you a turn some of these days?" The Lion was so tickled at the idea of the Mouse being able to help him, that he lifted up his paw and let him go. Some time after the Lion was caught in a trap, and the hunters who desired to carry him alive to the King, tied him to a tree while they went in search of a waggon to carry him on. Just then the little Mouse happened to pass by, and seeing the sad plight in which the Lion was, went up to him and soon gnawed away the ropes that bound the King of the Beasts. "Was I not right?" said the little Mouse.

Now it doesn't matter that Androcles was male - in this story he, like the mouse, is the less powerful creature, the one that could be swatted by the lion with one sweep of his paw. And then eaten for good measure. The same with the mouse. But neither Androcles nor the mouse runs away. They both face the situation and use their own abilities to handle it as it is. Androcles uses kindness and gentleness and removes the thron that is injuring the lion and the mouse plays it safe, apologising and conceding to the King of the Beasts. But neither of them is passive, neither just lies down and lets the lion kill them. They do what they can in the circumstances.

They both survive

And then they both show the big fierce, domineering lion a new way to live, a way of sharing, and in the case of the mouse biting through the ties that hold him, restrain him, imprison him, they free him to share that new life with them. But they sometimes have to work on this slowly and carefully - like that mouse gnawing through the ties that imprison – slowly, steadily. A small creature tackling something big.

Over on eHarlequin there has been an interesting discussion of ‘strong heroines’. There’s a difference between ‘kick-ass’ heroines and the ones that are quoted in a great set of sayings that are not ‘strong women’ but ‘women of strength.’ A quiet heroine can be a woman of strength as much as - or more than – a more openly defiant one. Strength in a heroine isn’t shown by aggressiveness, by abusive language or shouting. Strength has many ways of showing itself. It can be open defiance, it can be refusal to go along with someone’s demands – or it can be in the understanding that right now the odds are stacked against you and so biding your time, waiting and seeing, can build the strength that will be needed to win through in the end. And that’s why, although I’ve written some of those quieter heroines, I’ve never actually ever written a passive one.

It’s that mouse/Androcles and the lion thing again – in those stories the lion (or the hero) might be the strong, roaring, macho male - but without the mouse or Androcles he would be lost and defeated. Deep down inside he’s vulnerable even if he’s not yet prepared to show it. The heroine comes along when he’s at his most vulnerable – and he’s at his most vulnerable because of her and the way he feels about her - and she not only rescues him by removing the ‘thorns’ that are poisoning his life. Or gnawing through the ropes that imprison him. She then gives him back a life that is very different from his old, lonely, single existence.

As Lidia said – just like the mouse, the heroine can appear meek - but she is strong in unseen ways. When the tiny, timid little mouse is gnawing away, slowly, patiently, at the ropes that trap the lion – which one then is actually the strong one?

Romance writers know that readers love the strong, Presents hero, but one thing that sometimes gets forgotten in all this is that just as the alpha wolf seeks out and mates with the very best females in his pack, so the Presents hero needs a heroine who can match him and prove a worthy mate, not just submit to him.And the wonderful Robyn Donald said in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women

The strong, domineering hero of the romance novel has long been the subject of criticism. What critics don’t realize is that the hero’s task in the book is to present a suitable challenge to the heroine. His strength is a measure of her power for it is she who must conquer him.

Every good romance heroine must have a hero who is worthy of her

And every good romance hero must have a heroine who is worthy of him. So don’t sell your heroines short – don’t make her a wimp or a doormat, but at the same time don’t make her a shrieking, aggressive harridan. She is the woman that your hero is going to want to spend the rest of his life with, the woman he will be proud to have at his side. Make her an 'adventurous woman' - a ‘woman of strength.'


Anne McAllister said...


lidia said...


Wow! You are correct about the fables. However, at least here in the states, there children's books about the lion, mouse and thorn. Maybe they "modified" that fable thinking the mouse would appeal more to children than the slave.

The HP heroine can be very "deceptive." She may appear meek, quiet (not all of the heroines but some) and yet if anyone dares to say or do anything to one of her loved ones she becomes a "lioness" -- quite unexpected.


Home Bio Books USA Readers Writers Contests Events Blog Links

Join Kate's Newsletter

Email Kate

Modified and Maintained by HR Web Concepts