by Katherine Maloney
Since Joseph Campbell first described the Hero’s Journey, it has been applied to many different stories, particularly science fiction and fantasy tales. This Monomyth is essentially an outline of how a hero’s story will go, going through several stages. Typically the hero has something that makes them unique and different from the people around them, which they learn to use throughout their journey. This allows the leading hero to realize that their individuality is a blessing. However many stories provide some sort of deviation to Campbell’s classic monomyth. A common variance on his standard model is the presence of a female protagonist or heroine. For instance, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time with Meg, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with Hermione both describe tales that fit Campbell’s monomyth. Both Meg and Hermione are very different from their peers, as both girls are incredibly intelligent, though their cleverness leads them to experience uneasy feelings of self-consciousness. Nevertheless, both learn to utilize their intellectual dexterity to complete their quests and help save the day. As a result, these triumphant female characters serve as examples for the young adults reading these stories, particularly girls, proving that girls can “save the day” and be proud of their unique qualities. Through being a female heroine on the Hero’s Journey, both Meg and Hermione learn to accept and appreciate their individuality and talents, as well as provide a positive role model for young adults readers.
A Wrinkle in Time follows Meg, a young misfit girl, on her search to find her father, a tale that closely resembles Campbell’s typical heroic journey. At the beginning of the story, Meg is an outsider at school and even gets in fights with her classmates (L’Engle 8) and her only friend is her young brother Charles Wallace. Meg faces sincere insecurity concerning her abilities, as they make her different. In addition, she feels lonely, not only because of her lack of peer friends, but also because of the absence of her father for a year. As a result, Meg expresses her severe severe self-consciousness at the beginning of the novel, stating: “I hate being an oddball,” and “I hate myself” (L’Engle 17, 60). However, everything changes when Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which show up one night and Meg begins her adventure with Calvin and Charles Wallace (L’Engle 62-63) which marks the “departure” of their journey (Campbell 45-88).
By following Campbell’s Hero’s journey, the three witches serve as “supernatural aids” (Campbell 63-70). With their help, Meg then “tesseracts,” a way to travel through time and space, all around the universe in search for her father. Through the “trials” phase (Campbell 89-99) of the journey Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace travel to a few different worlds where the three witches or stars teach the children about tesseracts and the Dark Thing. This represents evil in the novel, and how this evil is all over the universe, slowly taking over planets. Then the children must go on to Camazotz, where their helpers leave them. As a result, the kids must learn to be on their own and, in a way, grow up. This also marks the approach to ordeal if we are following Campbell’s journey. Camazotz is the planet where Meg’s father is trapped, under the control of a giant brain called IT, which is the incarnation of the Dark Thing. In their search for their father, Charles Wallace falls victim to IT (L’Engle 146). However Meg and Calvin continue on, and when Meg finally sees her father she is overcome with a need to get to him (L’Engle 158-165).
After finding her father, Meg and Calvin must move on, without Charles Wallace, who is still under the control of IT. Upon finally encountering IT, Meg learns that the brain believes that it has created a perfect world, where everyone is equal since IT has control over everyone’s minds, but Meg states that being alike and equal are not the same thing (L’Engle 177). This is where the theme of freedom really comes into play. Camazotz can be thought of as a dystopia, where everything runs very smoothly, but no one is free. Consequently, Meg realizes how important independence is—ultimately allowing her to learn how important her individuality is and to value it. Carrie Hintz claims in her research that utopian (and even dystopian) young adult novels emphasize the development of the hero or heroine and independence is typically a factor (Hintz 256). L’Engle shows this in the way Meg reacts to Camazotz and IT. In this moment Meg also begins to appreciate her individuality. She remembers that Mrs. Whatsit had given her the faults of “Anger, impatience, [and] stubbornness” before leaving the children on the planet (L’Engle 176). Before Meg was discouraged by these faults, and they often got her into trouble, but now in this distant dystopia she realizes they are the only things that will save her from IT.
These faults, however, cannot save her for long and they cannot save Charles Wallace. Therefore Mr. Murry quickly tesseres himself, Meg, and Calvin off of Camazotz, but he is unable to bring Charles Wallace (L’Engle 179-180). When Meg awakens she is furious with her father for leaving Charles Wallace behind and she realizes that saving her father did not end her journey. L’Engle writes, “She had found her father and he had not made everything all right… If the long search for her father was ended, and he wasn’t able to overcome all their difficulties, there was nothing to guarantee that it would all come out right in the end” (L’Engle 189-190). This is a pivotal point in Meg’s journey because she learns that even her parents are not perfect. This is an important thing for children and young adults to learn, and is often found in coming of age stories such as this one.
This moment could also be seen as a young adult version of Campbell’s “atonement with the Father” step of the hero’s journey (Campbell 116-137). In this step the hero must resolve or reconcile a relationship with a father figure. For Meg, she has been searching for her father, thinking that their reunion would mark the end of her journey. Although, when it does not, she must come to terms with his imperfections and continue to love him in spite of everything. Meg accomplishes this after Aunt Beast heals her from the injuries she received from IT and her father’s amateur tesseract skills, and she goes into a meeting with several other aliens from the planet, Calvin, and her father to decide on a plan of action (L’Engle 207). At first, she is still angry and blaming her father and she is acting out like a child having a temper tantrum, which continues when Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which show up because they tell Meg that neither the three of them nor her father can save Charles (L’Engle 213-215). This leads Meg to realize she is the only one that can save Charles Wallace.
With this realization, Meg sets out for Camazotz alone. Upon arriving at Camazotz Mrs. Which tells Meg that she has something IT doesn’t have, but does not tell her what this is, as her last words of wisdom for Meg (L’Engle 223). When Meg finally reaches IT she realizes what she has: love (L’Engle 228). This marks the “apotheosis” step of the journey—where the hero finally reaches greater understanding and is ready for the hardest part of their voyage (Campbell 138-158). Accordingly, Meg uses her love for Charles to set him free from IT, by using the power of her love to break IT’s grip on Charles’ mind and the two are quickly tessered back to earth (L’Engle 229-230). This triumph serves as the “ultimate boon,” where the goal of the journey is completed and the last trial is finished, as well as the “magic flight,” where the hero returns back home (Campbell 159-178 182-19). Thus, Meg’s journey is finally complete, as she is reunited with Charles, her father, and the rest of her family at last, and all of them are home safe and sound.
In the fulfillment of her quest, Meg is transformed into a changed person. She has learned to use her unique talents and gifts, including even her “faults,” at times, and to be proud of them. However, most importantly, Meg learned that love is more powerful than evil. It is critical to note that the idea of love being what saves the day varies significantly from the typical hero’s journey—where more masculine traits are used. Even further, Meg uses her willfulness and love to save herself, her father, and her brother. These are more feminine traits, which David Emerson states must be emphasized in a “truly feminine version of the Hero’s Journey” (Emerson 131). Emerson also notes that the treasure the heroine gets at the end of the journey is herself (131). While Meg does receive the gift of being reunited with her family, it is evident that she has also gained self-confidence. Meg realizes how to appreciate both her individuality and her capacity for love.
Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone also shows a female heroine using traditional female characteristics to help save the day. Although Hermione is not the main character in this hero’s journey, she does contribute considerably to the success of Harry. Hermione does so by using her intelligence, rather than brute strength, to assist Harry. Like Meg, Hermione does not really have friends at the beginning of the story due to her intelligence. However, this changes throughout the story and she, Ron, and Harry become very good friends and her intelligence helps all three out of danger and on their journey. For example, she helps save herself, and her two companions from the Devil’s snare when they journey to get to the Sorcerer’s Stone (Rowling 444-456). In the end, Hermione is rewarded for her intelligence and courage.
It is also important to note that in Rowling’s story, and L’Engle’s, there is no “woman as the temptress” stage (Campbell 111-115). This is one major difference in Hero’s Journey tales that feature a female heroine as a main character. Another stereotype that is often broken in Hero’s Journey stories that feature a heroine is that of the damsel in distress, which Lynn Moss Sanders discusses in her article. Sanders discusses how female heroines show that they can take care of themselves and do not need a traditional male hero to save them (Sanders 42). Meg shows this when she travels to Camazotz alone, even though Calvin wishes to go with her. Calvin pleads with the three witches saying, “Why did you bring me along at all? To take care of Meg! You said so yourself!” (L’Engle 217). Nonetheless, Meg travels by herself and saves the day without the help of a male character. Hermione, at the beginning of the story, seems to follow the damsel in distress stereotype nicely. The best example of this is the troll scene where Ron and Harry save Hermione from the troll on Halloween (Rowling 279-282). However, almost immediately, Hermione saves the two boys in a less traditional way. When the professors find the three of them with the troll they believe the boys set out on purpose to fight the troll. Hermione immediately takes all the blame for the incident, saving the boys from being trouble (Rowling 283-284). This shows how Hermione can also help save the boys at times.
In the end both of these female characters (Meg and Hermione) are able to use their traditional female characteristics, such as love and intelligence, to help save the day. Both of these characters “provide different positive role models for young women…” as Sanders puts it (Sanders 42). Edwards also claims that the emotional and mental struggles that these female heroines go through are extremely relevant to the real world, more so than traditional male hero struggles (Edwards 131). Both of these heroines are powerful examples for young adult readers that read about their fantasy journeys.
Through L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the reader is given an example of a female heroine on a version of Campbell’s traditional Hero’s Journey. While both of these girls start out as insecure, different, and lonely after their journey both realize how useful their skills and strengths are and learn to accept their individuality. Meg and Hermione both are positive role models for the teens reading these stories, teaching them that girls can be powerful as well as boys and to be proud of oneself.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.
Emerson, David. “Innocence as a super-power: little girls on the Hero’s Journey.” Mythlore 28.1-2 (2009): 131+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
Hintz, Carrie. “Monica Hughes, Lois Lowry, and Young Adult Dystopias.” The Lion and The Unicorn 26.2 (2002): 254-264. Print.
L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Holtzbrinck Publishers, 1962. Print.
Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: A.A. Levine Books, 1998. Print.
Sanders, Lynn Moss. “Girls Who Do Things: The Protagonists of Robin McKinley’s Fantasy Fiction.” ALAN Review 24.1 (Fall 1996): 38-42. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Tom Burns. Vol. 127. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.