Friday, August 27, 2010

Meditations on Little Girl Protagonists

Blame it on Lucy Pevensie, Jill Pole, Polly Plummer, Sarah Williams and Lyra Belacqua, but once again I find myself resisting the urge to write an urban fantasy with Yet Another Girl-Child Heroine.

"Jill" is one of my default Jane Doe characters. When I'm jotting down a quick story idea, the first female name that pops into my head is usually Jill. Men are usually twenty-somethings named Fred.

[Oh Hell! I just realized I'm perilously close to re-writing Labyrinth (makes note to self on where not to take the story). And over the course of writing this entry, fifty year old infrastructure for downtown Eugene has caused an explosion and electrical fire in an underground vault in downtown Eugene. It's looking more and more likely that a large explosion is in my story's future.]

Back to child protagonists: A long time ago, a friend of a friend's child was the proto-typical bad little girl. We used to joke that she was a 35-year old divorce trapped in an 8 year old's body. Her mother would dress her up as an angel for Halloween, and as soon as you could say Trick-or-Treat she'd ditched the halo and dressed up as a hooker. The next Halloween, she appeared as (I am not making this up) a vampire sex-goddess. Ironically, her mother was the head of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood.

The best thing about the proto-bad-girl was imagining what she would do as an adult: it involved seducing her good-girl friend to go riding off in a black halter-top on the back of a motorcycle with a leather vested, ponytailed, motorcycled dude named Snake for the benefit of giving the good girl's father an apoplexy.

And that underlies the dangers of girl-child protagonists.
  • They lend themselves to symbolism, and so we have the pure, faith-driven cypher, Lucy Pevensie, who triumphs over adversity solely by pluck.
  • They become meditations on innocence, adulthood, and the loss of innocence, and so we have characters like Sarah Williams and Lyra Belacqua.
  • Or, in my case, they become asexual, very clever adults trapped in a ten-year-old body. . . which, as I think about it, means I'm trying to re-write Anne Rice's vampire-child, Claudia.
But the main reason that I shy away from child protagonists is because children in our society have little to no power, which makes it hard for them to be protagonists in a short story. Especially an urban fantasy short story.
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