I love me some classic fantasy narratives, especially that old standby, the quest story. I love doomed journeys and mistaken identities and coming-of-age moments, and questing tales are stuffed with them.
When I saw the previews for Stardust, I almost drooled. And the movie itself, a quest story if ever there was one, didn’t disappoint – until later, when I was enthusiastically comparing it to another favorite film of mine, The Princess Bride.
“It’s got the same kind of over-the-top-yet-awesome action!” I said, happily. And then, less happily, “and, actually, now that I think of it… The same kind of agency-less women.”
Don’t get me wrong. I love Buttercup. But she doesn’t do much, you know?
And it seems like, even in fantasy films where the female characters get to fight, or have magic powers, they still don’t actually get to be heroes the way male characters in the same films do.
I tend to think that things are getting better for women in fantasy movies, generally. The recent film versions of the Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia featured expanded and less-sexist roles for some female characters, which is a positive step. And there are movies with young women in the central hero role of the classic fantasy quest story, like the title character of Ella Enchanted. Though, of course, Prince Char has a lot more going for him in terms of capability and personal power than the female romantic interests in more typical questing stories ever do.
So, yes, there are lots of great female characters in fantasy movies, and even some really wonderful heroines. But I can’t think of any that quite rival the classic male heroes of the genre. Which is weird. Is there really anything about a quest story, or any other classic fantasy narrative, that makes it unsuitable for a female lead? Of course not.
So where are the strong heroines of fantasy films?