Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Reaching beyond Reacher: Jon Land's role models for Caitlin Strong

 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Will we all agree? Or won’t we? Not counting our moms and grandmothers, who do you think illustrates a “strong” woman? Interesting, isn’t it, to think what that even means? Especially these days when strength often means juggling.

But let’s talk fiction. The fab Jon Land—creator of Caitlin Strong—has some pretty perfect ideas. And then—wants ours!


I’m thinkin’—Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. Lots of Katharine Hepburn. and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.   I love Tea Leoni in Madame Secretary and wonder if could play Jane Ryland. Yes, right?

JON LAND: I conceived Caitlin Strong, hero now of seven books with the publication of STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, to be a female action hero adept at handling a role almost invariably given to men. Kind of like a female Jack Reacher, Lee Child’s wondrously iconic series stalwart.

But strong women (pun intended!) are actually nothing new and Caitlin comes from a pop culture tradition of similarly able females, either with their fists, their guns, their wits, and often all three.

Let’s look at a few before I turn things over to you for your own thoughts and, hopefully, choices I look forward to commenting on.

1) Ripley in Aliens (Director’s Cut): I specified the film’s Director’s Cut because it establishes that the root of the great Ellen Ripley’s maternal bond with Nute lies in the fact that her own daughter was already dead by the time she returned from her original deep space mission. That sets the tone for a relentlessly intense performance by Sigourney Weaver that’s every bit the equal of anything the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis have ever done, climaxing with one of the greatest cinematic battles of all time that begins with the classic line, “Get away from her, you bitch!” The standard by which all female action heroes will forever be judged.

2) Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill, Parts One and Two:
The old saying “Revenge is a dish best served cold” has never been better applied than in Quentin Tarantanio’s three-hour-plus magnum opus. From the very first shot, and continuing through some brilliantly staged action set pieces, Uma Thurman chews up the scenery, and pretty much every bad guy/girl who crosses her path, including the Crazy 88s and the other members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad she was once a part of. She is essentially playing the kind of role mastered by Clint Eastwood, a female Dirty Harry or a Woman (literally for a while) With No Name. A wronged hero who morphs into a force of nature in the course of her deadly quest.


3) Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games:
Speaking of quests, none is more noble than Katniss Everdeen’s when she steps in for her sister to, unwittingly, claim her place in destiny. Brilliantly played by Jessica Lawrence, like Ripley and Beatrix, Katniss is only doing what she feels she has to and what necessity has forced upon her. And through all the battles and PG-13 bloodshed, you never once get the feeling she’s enjoying it or wouldn’t prefer being back home in her district shooting rabbits instead of fellow competitors and, ultimately, forces of President Snow’s tyrannical government.


4) Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz:
Is there any more simple, noble or defining a quest than Dorothy’s? No, we’re not in Kansas anymore, we’re in Oz, a world whose beauty belies the darkness that lurks both above and below the surface. Judy Garland’s stellar performance as the farm girl turned waif is wondrously magical since all she wants to do is get home. If revenge is one classic theme, then returning home is another, dating all the way back to Homer’s The Iliad and Odyssey. The book especially was a deceptively dark version of that classic, as it explored the nature and limits of childhood dreams and the fleeting nature of youth. That at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, in a world of endless enchantment, only a simple man lurks behind the curtain.


5) Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies:
Viewed in retrospect, Carrie Fisher’s over-the-top performance might seem clichéd and campy. But that shouldn’t detract from Princess Leia’s single-minded devotion to a mission that ultimately results in the sacrifice of her own home planet of Alderaan. Viewed through that lens, Leia overcomes the loss of everything by eventually defeating and destroying her tormenters. A wonderful metaphor for the abuse suffered by women, both sexual and psychological, in thrillers dating all the way back to Dracula. She turns the tables, doing whatever it takes and mastering whatever skills she needs to overcome the forces of the Empire that seeks to do to countless others what it has done to her.


6) Carrie Mathison in Homeland:
In essence, Claire Danes’s brilliant portrayal of a CIA operative who triumphs in spite of her hardships and handicaps is a kind of post-modern combination of Dorothy and Leia. Like Dorothy, all she really wants is something she can call home but, like Leia, circumstances both tragic and otherwise will forever keep her from it. She never shies from the mission because, like all great heroes, the mission is what defines her and what keeps her going no matter the terrible emotional price she pays along the way. Her bipolar disorder brilliantly defines her own solitary quest as merely trying to live a normal life, never mind one fraught with risks and challenges normally assigned male former special operators searching for redemption or absolution. Carrie’s quest, on the other hand, is both a means and an end in itself, forming a treadmill off which she can never fully step.  


HANK: Ooh,  how about Alicia Florrick?  Reds, chime in!


Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of the 38 novels, including seven titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense) and Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller). His latest, Strong Light of Day, will be followed by Darkness Rising, his sci-fi collaboration with Heather Graham coming from Forge in June of 2016. Jon is a 1979 graduate of Brown University, lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on the Web at jonlandbooks.com or on Twitter @jondland.

About Strong Light of Day
Fifth-generation Texas ranger Caitlin Strong is involved in an international plot rooted in secrets from the Cold War. She's summoned when thirty high school kids from a Houston prep school vanish during a field trip, including the son of her lover, Cort Wesley Masters. As if that wasn’t enough, Caitlin also has to deal with a crazed rancher whose entire herd of cattle has been picked clean to the bone.

41 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Strong women . . . wow, I think you've named most of the obvious ones.
The Jungle Red ladies write about women who are strong . . . Hank's Jane Ryland and Julia's Clare Fergusson come immediately to mind: women who step in, who aren't afraid to become involved, women with a clear sense of what's right.
Got to agree about Tea Leoni in Madame Secretary . . . definitely one of the strong women.

FChurch said...

There's a great piece attached to the last Harry Potter movie--about the women characters. Two of my favorites: Molly Weasley, dismissed throughout most of the books as a dithering motherly figure, who takes out Bellatrix in the last climatic battle. Also, Professor McGonigle, who sends Snape fleeing and then organizes the defense of the castle.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

How about Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie and Julia? a different kind of strong woman!

Love that you included Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz!

Hallie Ephron said...

Ann of Green Gables. Jo March. DEFINITELY Dorothy and I love Molly Weasley. Heck, I even loved Bellatrix LeStrange.

Jon named my all time favorite as far as action heroes go: Beatrix Kiddo. I also have a soft spot for her arch villain Elle Driver.

Add to the list: Leeloo of The Fifth Element. I've watched that movie about a million times and it always cracks me up.

Mary Sutton said...

I think most of the ones I'd talk about are here (I loved the fact that Molly Weasley was the one to take out Bellatrix).

I love that you mentioned not just women who know their way around a fight and a gun, but those who are emotionally/psychologically strong as well.

FChurch said...

I have always seen that scene of Molly Weasley challenging Bellatrix as an homage to Ripley in Alien.

Jon Land said...

Joan: I think Jane Ryland and Clare Fergusson are excellent choices. Tea Leoni's character too, yes, and especially Alicia Florick so brilliantly played by Julianna Margolis in THE GOOD WIFE. Alicia's character runs the gamut of the personal and the professional, struggling to strike a delicate balance between the two season after season. That's why the show's decision to reinvent Alicia this season, to take her literally back to Square One, is so effective because it casts her as an everyman (everyWOMAN, in this case!) who must battle the system in order to survive/thrive herself. And that's a classic element of heroism. The outsider who will never be totally accepted by traditional society and learns to define him or herself on those terms. Think John Wayne's Ethan Edwards character in the brilliant film THE SEARCHERS. After a nine-year quest to find his kidnapped niece, he can't join the celebration that accompanies her return. Instead, he turns and walks away, back into the world of the loner.

Jon Land said...

FChurch, you add excellent suggestions in women from the last Harry Potter film but you could just as easily have listed all the films and noted Hermoine Granger's character so wondrously played by Emma Watson. All three are distinguished by their challenge to succeed to what, even at Hogwarts in a fantasy tale, is essentially a male-dominated world. This is an especially powerful element of heroism that defines Caitlin Strong as well in books like STRONG LIGHT OF DAY. All these characters never let their feminism define them, instead choosing to define themselves on their own terms and not be limited by the so-called traditional roles women are expected to play. In fact, I'd venture to say that one of the pillars of the Harry Potter series' success is its heroic treatment of women although, interestingly enough, with the exception of Dolores Umbridge, we didn't see a lot of female villains, did we?

Jon Land said...

Thanks for the great point, Lucy, and it's nice to be e-chatting with you again! I'm so glad you enjoyed my listing of Dorothy since I thought I might be going out on a bit of a limb with that one. I also like your suggestion of Meryl Street as Julia Child, not necessarily because I agree she fits the criteria of a classical hero, but more because your point raises the crucial and elemental point that what defines a hero is open to constantly evolving interpretation. I've often told people that all great books are thrillers at heart and, by the same token, I think you can make the "hero" argument for characters like Julia Child who had to overcome so much in her own right in steadfastly rising to the top of her world. The question to ask ourselves is should we define the nature of the hero based on the relative nobility of their individual quest. In other words, yes, Julia Child's life certainly could classify her as a hero, but can we really compare the nobility of her quest to Ripley's or the Bride's? The argument could be mounted that, while it's not nearly as dramatic, it's equally heroic though, again, based on a broader definition of what makes a hero. Great point!

Jon Land said...

Halle, all interesting and solid points! Sorry I stole your thunder with Beatrix Kiddo, aka "The Bride", from Kill Bill but I find she and Ellen Ripley to both be in a class all by themselves because they've both been badly wronged, especially Beatrix. Neither of them wants to be where they are--the very nature of their individual heroism is that it's forced upon them! And that's another crucial definition and divider between a good hero and a great hero. The reluctant hero is almost invariably the more interesting one, especially when they have an opportunity to extract revenge from their tormenter. Think how Alicia Florick was utterly thrown to the wolves in the final episodes of last year's GOOD WIFE. We never related to her better or rooted for her more. Sympathy, or empathy, is another crucial element in what makes up the nature of a hero. At heart, we're all terrified of losing our way, of losing the pillar of what we call "home". That explains why Dorothy is actually a quintessential hero, since her quest is at once the most pure and east to relate to of any.

Jon Land said...

Mary, what a great point! Let me repeat it here: "I love that you mentioned not just women who know their way around a fight and a gun, but those who are emotionally/psychologically strong as well." Sometimes physical skills are as much a metaphor for more esoteric strengths as anything else and many female heroes can be both. I've been waiting for someone to raise the name Lizbeth Salander from Stieg Larson's Millienium Series because no one is more emotionally/psychologically strong as she and those traits have a direct bearing on what leads her to more physical acts of heroism. Lizbeth also bears the scars of actual physical and sexual abuse, and the fact that makes her a victim who survived to get back at her tormenters, both figuratively and literally, is what defines her core essence. Classical literature, one way or another, is about going out to slay the dragon. It's the mere attempt, the quest itself, that defines a character as a hero and while Ellen Ripley must quite literally slay a dragon, Lizbeth's dragon lurks inside herself, put their by the tormenters who abused her.

Hallie Ephron said...

I've been reading Jane Cleland's soon-to-be published book (Writers Digest Books) "Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot" and she talks about isolation -- how isolating the protagonist is a powerful plot device. It struck me like a bolt from the blue. And it occurs to me that many of these strong women get isolated (Alicia, Beatrix, Ripley, Dorothy...) from family and friends etc. They end up all alone in their struggle. I'm a solid fan of isolation as a plot device. Does this figure in STRONG LIGHT OF DAY?

Jon Land said...

FChurch: I love the point you raise about paying homage! To take it in a slightly different direction, wasn't the great DIRTY HARRY cop series, a homage to the old Western gunfighter form? Didn't George Lucas originally refer to STAR WARS as "a space western"? These are tried-and-true stories that were basically reinventions of something that's already been done. So interesting because, although storytelling has certainly evolved over the years, the nature of the hero really hasn't. He or she is what they've always been, with the possible exception of the rise of the Dark Hero. In that sense, Lizbeth Salander isn't necessarily a homage to Batman, but aren't they essentially the same character in the sense that a dark undercurrent stains their very souls and beings? Which leads to a whole other I'd like others to weigh in on. I'll even put it in caps to make sure it's more visible. GREAT HEROES ARE MADE BY GREAT VILLAINS. How do you think that notion affects some of the choices we've raised in our discussion this morning?

Jon Land said...

Wow, Halle, that's such a great point and it plays right off the point I raised earlier about John Wayne's character in THE SEARCHERS. Your question about Caitlin Strong in STRONG LIGHT OF DAY goes to the heart of the struggle that defines her through all the books. She's a modern day gunfighter at heart, a woman not always too socially adept who's far more comfortable wearing a gun than a gown. Then fate casts her as the surrogate mother to her reformed outlaw boyfriend Cort Wesley Masters's teenage sons, creating a clash between her maternal instincts and gunfighter mentality. So the answer to your question is a definitive yes, but in Caitlin's case her instinctive nature to seek isolation is counter-balanced by the fact that she's also a mother figure. That push-pull is another defining quality of their lives and the very nature of their quests. Heroes, I guess you might say, thrive on the kind of conflict that makes lesser men and women weak, and Caitlin is a prime example there!. Great point!

Mary Sutton said...

Jon, I think you're dead on with the "great heroes/great villains" point. I'm thinking cinematically, but consider The Joker, Loki, and Ultron (I'm a fan of comic-book hero movies, can you tell?). I don't think you can put your hero in the best light unless you give them a villain that truly matches them - and that means imbuing your villain with traits of greatness that "mirror" your protagonist. In other words, the hero can only be as great as the villain is - if that makes sense.

Deborah Crombie said...

Hi Jon! Always such fun to see you here--and what a great discussion. I was going to say that Hermione is just as much a hero as Harry, but you beat me to it. Hallie, love Leeloo! One of my favorite movies, but I'm embarrassed to admit I've never seen Kill Bill. Must remedy.

Love Julia Childs (as herself or as played by Meryl Streep.) Love Dorothy. Most of all love Molly Weasley taking out Bellatrix.

What about Diana Gabaldon's Claire Fraser?



FChurch said...

Jon, the 'push-pull' you describe for Caitlin is one that I always observe with trepidation--especially for a series character. Will a love interest soften the character--pull the teeth from their independence/individuality? I love the way, for example, that Deborah's Gemma and Duncan have a relationship, kids--and still retain a strong focus on their professional lives. Ditto for Clare and Russ. And Louise Penny's Gamache and Reine-Marie.

And, as an aside, I didn't mention Hermione (or Luna or Tonks) from Harry Potter only because we know right from the beginning that Hermione, at least, is no mere female sidekick.

Jon Land said...

Wow, Mary, it's like you're reading my mind! I couldn't agree more with all your points. The Ellen Ripley example is the purest in the sense that both, ultimately, are defending their young. That's what makes the epic climactic battle so brilliant and classic: essentially, two queens in their respective rights who can only survive if the other dies. Think of it this way: the villain takes from the hero what he or she values most: her dignity in the case of Lizbeth Salander, home in the case of the Wicked Witch of the West, her one chance at happiness in the case of Beatrix Kiddo, the Bride. The Joker's brilliance is defined, on the other hand, by the antithesis of that. As Michael Caine's Alfred so brilliantly intones, "Some men just want to see the world burn." The Joker's nature is defined by the fact that his quest is about nothing and yet he sees Batman as the moral justification for his own existence. And in the end, just like Alfred's army detachment had to burn the forest in order to get the rebels, Batman must resist becoming like the Joker in order to destroy him. Great stuff! And, by the way, comic heroes and villains are the purest of all in both cases!

Jon Land said...

Thanks for having me back, Deborah. I think you're really onto something with Molly Weasley's taking out of Bellatrix. It's kind of like Ripley's triumphing over the queen alien in ALIENS, isn't it--a mother defending her young. And I think you're really going to enjoy KILL BILL. The Bride has so much she has to overcome before she even has an opportunity to gain vengeance. Watch her literally dropping out of bed and crawling across the floor, because her legs have gone numb from being in a coma for so long. Her character is defined by the very determination to succeed, to refuse to fail. Nothing is going to stop her from getting out of that hospital room. And that's what also defines Molly--she isn't going to lose, she can't let herself lose. There's too much at stake. In that sense, her quest is much more selfless than the Bride's in KILL BILL but they're equally effective and, man, are you going to love both KILL BILL movies!

Jon Land said...

FChurch, a great point about how love and romance can quite easily detract from a hero's quest, although in many cases the death of a loved one is what defines that quest. In the case of Caitlin Strong and Cort Wesley Masters, and I'll think you'll like this, their relationship is at its strongest when they and Cort Wesley's sons are threatened. These are two characters who define themselves based on a kind of frontier mentality. The closer they are to losing each other forever to the threat they're facing, the closer they become. And I strive to juxtapose this against how they deal with everyday emotional crisis that come to define their characters just as much. And that's the thing about the nature of a noble quest, as defined by how far a hero is willing to go to protect someone she loves. There's a terrific film called THE DEEP END in which a mother brilliantly played by Tilda Swinton who will stop at nothing to cover-up her gay son's involvement in the murder of his older lover. No, she's not battling a giant alien monster like Ripley did in ALIENS but, essentially, her quest is the same and it's handled just as effectively and she's just as heroic in not letting anything come between her and the love she feels for her son.

Jon Land said...

And, Deborah, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I'm not familiar with Diana Gabaldon's Claire Fraser, so I'm not able to comment on her. You win the prize for stumping me!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Jon, I would love to take you to coffee and discuss this topic endlessly! I'd add Sara Crewe and Mary Lennox from A LITTLE PRINCESS and THE SECRET GARDEN, both by Frances Hodgeson Burnett . Jane Eyre. And then Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And really, just all the female characters written by Joss Wheedon. Arya from Game of Thrones. And I'm really excited to see Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) in Star Wars VII.

Jon Land said...

Wow, Susan, those are all great choices! So different and varied which is the overriding point that continues to emerge from this discussion. There are many different kinds of female heroes, just as there are male. But some themes remain dominant and omnipresent, like needing to overcome great obstacles. THE SECRET GARDEN is a perfect example in that respect. A classic quest, gothic in this case, that Mary embarks on in the wake of moving in with her uncle following a tragedy (Am I remembering that right?) The garden itself comes to define her quest, along with her figurative "rescue" of her hapless cousin, finding love herself in the process. Even though it's a gothic tale, as is JANE EYRE, the basic elements of heroism and the hero's quest are the same. You know, thinking of it that way, there are probably more classic modern heroes who are women, actually, than men!

Lisa Alber said...

Oh Susan, I love Arya from "Game of Thrones"! I love watching her character grow up in the series. From sassy Tom boy to bad-ass heroine on a quest.

I've been checking out the new Fall series -- not sure how many of them I'm going to continue watching -- but there's definitely a theme of isolation as Hallie mentions coupled with kick-assed-ness and backstory trauma/mystery. The tattooed Jane on "Blindspot" and whats-her-face :-) on "Quantico."

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Lisa, I'm so glad you're an Arya fan, too! I also love Daenerys Targarian. Haven't watched the new fall season TV shows, but Quantico has great buzz.

And Hallie and Jon, now I'm thinking about the isolation/outsider trope — wow. Lots to unpack and think about.

Off to meet Caitlin Strong — can't wait!

Jon Land said...

Lisa, you hit it out of the park with Arya. Thinking about it, she encapsulates each and every one of the qualities of heroism we've disseminated here. Kind of a younger Ellen Ripley character, forever scarred by witnessing the beheading of her father--can you imagine a more traumatic event? Her quest for vengeance follows similar lines as Beatrix Kiddo from KILL BILL, especially this past season when her paths finally cross with one of those on that "list" she keeps repeating to herself and anyone else who'll listen. And her character highlights another quality somewhat reminiscent of Lizbeth Salander in that at times, especially this past season, she just seems lost. Journeying down a road with no end and no landmarks. Finding your way is another classic trait of the hero and it will indeed be interesting to see what happens to Arya next season!

Lisa Alber said...

Daenerys kicks serious arse too. I love that she's a benevolent conqueror. I keep thinking she and Arya will cross paths at some point ... I'm hoping for that! The two of them should co-rule the kingdom.

Kathy Reel said...

As much as I read and as many authors that I've read and still have to read, I always feel like I've had my head stuck in the sand when I come across an author of your caliber, Jon, and you are new to me. Caitlin Strong sounds like a terrific character and one I want to get to know. I'm really going to need someone to wait on me this winter while all I do is read. (Of course, I do feel a bit better that you didn't know who Claire Frasure is. I've been a fan of hers for many years.)

Strong women are always an attraction for me in reading. So many have already been mentioned here by others, and our wonderful Reds are especially brilliant in their women characters, who are strong, smart, and oh so able. Strength, of course, involves the fiber of what one is made of, not just the ability to leap tall buildings at a single bound. And, that is why I thought of Delores Claiborne in Stephen King's novel of the same name. The movie adaptation happened to be excellent, so I can say that in both the book and the movie, Delores possesses an inner strength that is quite a marvel. Spurred on by her wealthy employer, Vera Donovan, Delores takes to heart the advice that, "Sometimes, Dolores... sometimes, you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has to hang onto."

Jon Land said...

This is such a FANTASTIC discussion and, Susan, your comment highlights why by adding Daenerys Targarian to the mix. I say that because she highlights another crucial element heroism: that being, the idea that all heroes must pay a price for their status. She steamrolled through the territories, defeating everyone in her path until she settles in as queen of a people who really don't want her and she is forced to make any number of difficult decisions that ultimately lead her ending up in the middle of nowhere on the back of her dragon. And the dragon is pretty much all she has at that point, able to trust so few than she ends up elevating Tyrion Lannister into her court and confidence. That's not just a move of desperation, it's emblematic of the fact that it's the price she must pay for her heroism and for continuing her quest to claim the Iron Throne. And, Susan, I think you're going to love Caitlin Strong. Let me know at jonlandauthor@aol.com!

Lisa Alber said...

I didn't see your response as I was writing mine, Jon. That's a good point about the lost quality we often see on strong heroes. It's so true, isn't it? It makes them human and relatable. I like a strong hero who has weak moments. :-)

Jon Land said...

I love the point you raise, Lisa, but the truth is two heroes as powerful and driven as Daenerys and Arya would have lots of trouble cooexisting. The combined nature of their personalities would threaten to overwhelm the product of their relationship. But that would depend on how it's defined. Could Daenerys become a reluctant maternal figure for Arya, a adult to help her wayward soul find its way? My point is there would need to be a definition, a frame of reference for their relationship. Putting two powerful characters together to simply aid each other's quests isn't enough. There has be a personal and emotional basis for what brings them together and defines their relationship.

Jon Land said...

The word that comes to mind, Lisa, is vulnerability. If you think about it, every woman we're exploring here today is ultimately vulnerable in some way, most notably who are responding to having lost something they never get back. Vulnerability isn't necessarily a weakness, not at all. But it can be depending on how the hero deals with it. The difference between the hero and the every man is that the hero doesn't let his or her vulnerability define them. He or she overcomes it and succeeds in their ultimate quest as a result.

Jon Land said...

Thanks for your kind words, Kathy, and, wow, you made me remember how great Stephen King is at building his female heroes and DOLORES CLAIBORNE is a great example. (And wasn't Kathy Bates great in the film version!?) His development of the young Abra Stone character in DOCTOR SLEEP is absolutely brilliant. In his long-awaited sequel to THE SHINING, King teams her with a much-troubled, traveled and grown-up Danny Torrance who finds his own redemption by helping her with her own gifts defeat a group of the most terrifying villains I've ever encountered in fiction, the True Knot. Abra is so real to us, so heroic and driven in her own right, that she practically jumps off the page into our world. King had previously done comparable work with young Charlie in FIRESTARTER and old Abigail in THE STAND. He's also a master of creating unlikely and reluctant heroes as opposed to those characters who willingly accept, even embrace, their nature as heroes. I believe in that respect my Caitlin Strong falls into the latter category the same way Jack Reacher does.

Jon Land said...

Lisa, I love your point about strong heroes who have weak moments because, in essence, it is those weak moments that make them strong. Again, it comes down to the process of overcoming that defines them. Using another Stephen King reference, think of the imprisoned writer Paul Sheldon struggling to overcome his crippling injuries in order to escape the home of Annie Wilkes. That's a physical act, while overcoming weakness is more of a metaphysical one, but the point and effect are the same.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Finally landed inAtlanta! What a great discussion.. I love Claire in Outlander--but she sees to be sort of serial victim, you know? She;s brave, (and I want her clothes) byut sometimesI think the story makes her be unnecessarily humiliated.

Arye, yes,indeed. ANd Khaleesi!! And talk about character development. Remmeber when she was a wimp? I guess eating a horses heart will change you.

I am the outlier about The LIttle Princess. I really don;tike that book.

Iw onder if it has to do with--not being happy in some way. The high school "outcast" situation, class clown or iconoclast--who's a misfit until they find their true self.

Jon Land said...

Hank, your point about finding their true self is spot on. We're really getting into some great, detailed stuff here, but the physical quest the hero is on is paralleled by precisely that metaphysical quest. The point you're alluding to is that only by succeeding in their physicals quest, can the hero succeed in her/his metaphysical one. And, in that sense, finding one's self becomes the ultimate payoff, the reward for finding whatever it was they set out in pursuit of. This created the very structure of the novel, modern stories distinguished from older ones mostly by the fact that the metaphysical quest comes to dominate the hero as opposed to or instead of the physical quest as in the work of Hemingway and Graham Greene just to name a couple. Excellent point and best of luck with the launch of your latest!

Lisa Alber said...

I agree with you, Jon: vulnerability. That's spot-on what I wasn't communicating precisely. I'm still pondering your comment about Daenerys and Arya ... :-)

Jon Land said...

Thanks, Lisa. My comment about Daenerys and Arya is more a general one about the prospects of bringing two characters together whose quests were previously mutually exclusive--kind of like "crossing the streams" in the first Ghostbusters movie. It would be fascinating to watch, and if anyone could pull it off it would be the people behind GAME OF THRONES, but as writers we are all somewhat beholden to the classic structure Joseph Campbell laid out in THE POWER OF MYTH whereby all characters who interact are playing specific roles: hero, sidekick, mentor, villain, rogue, etc. STAR WARS is the most obvious example these days and your point is well played there since Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker are on different quests that ultimately intersect. And maybe that will be the basis of a meeting between Daenerys and Arya in a future season just as it was last season when Tyrion met up with Daenerys. That make more sense?

Jon Land said...

Hey, everyone, I'll be off line for a couple hours but will be returning here around 6:00. So keep the comments and questions coming and check back here around 7:00 for more answers and exchanges. I'll also be on-line all the way up to around midnight, so if you've got some time, pop back in and leave a comment, then check out my response. Been great so far and I'm looking forward to Round 2 this evening! Thanks for joining me on the ride! Jon

Jon Land said...

I have returned. So if by chance you're checking this page this evening and want to leave a comment, I'll be on-line all night and checking in regularly. Otherwise, thanks for participating and for a really great exchange of ideas on the nature of the hero in general and female heroes in particular. Jon

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure about the Anya and Dannerys. Only because it's such a common trope to have powerful woman at each other's throats. Like Princess Leia -- there can be only one woman in the universe at a time, apparently.... Would it be so crazy if women formed sisterly bonds? Or at least could work together? I just feel we don't see this in literature or pop culture, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. We're just not conditioned to think of women getting along, especially strong women.