Six Great Heroines of Fiction

It’s a challenge to think of a heroine who isn’t passive, either loving from afar or loving too hard.

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina

And while these passionate characters are to be admired, they tend to limit us in our view of what it is to be a woman of substance. Where are the heroines to rival Odysseus, Atticus Finch and the Cat in the Hat? cat_in_the_hat-300x591I offer you my Top Six.

6. Joy Adamson (Born Free) joyadamsonThe co-protagonist of the Born Free series, along with Elsa the Lion, Adamson is more outspoken and independent in the books – to say nothing of real life – than offered on film.

5. Hannah Arendt  (Hannah Arendt) hannah-arendtThe 20th-Century philosopher, as portrayed in Margarethe von Trotta’s 2013 film, is intimidating, uncompromising and could smoke anyone under the table.

4. Gloria (Gloria) gena-rowlandsGina Rowlands’ portrayal in John Cassavetes’ 1978 film, a modern-day Fury, is striking in her combination of anger and sentimentality.

3. Chihiro (Spirited Away) senEven after her parents are turned into pigs and her name is stolen, Chihiro wants to help everyone, including the evil witch.

2. Clytemnestra (Agamemnon) Guerin_Pierre-ClytemnestraWhile it may be true that she has the blood of her husband and Cassandra on her hands, Aeschylus makes it clear that she has her reasons.

1. Doctor’s Wife (Blindness) blindness2008-012The only hope offered in Jose Saramago’s post-apocalyptic parable is a woman willing to sacrifice herself for the good of everyone else. Imagine that.

Born Free: A Film Review

Born Free (James Hill, 1966, UK) **** (Four out of four.) There are so many great things about this film — the terrifying opening scene with the blood and clothes flowing down the river, the sped-up shots of the lions attacking, George Adamson bringing Elsa back from the airport, the rock hyrax Pati-Pati, Elsa chasing the elephants and defending Joy Adamson from the snake. There’s also the scenes of George’s painkiller addiction, which is so intense because it seems impossible for such a loving and reasonable man to be so intense, and then the scene of him killing the man-killer lion in his pajamas. There’s also the fact that Joy and George have separate single cots, and they never seem to kiss. I know it’s all very British, but it’s very unnerving too. Joy was so beautiful. And of course there’s the music. But the biggest thing about this film is Joy and George’s attachment with Elsa. Everything seems so genuine — the scene of Joy feeding the milk to the kittens from her thumb, George pushing Elsa out of his bed, Elsa waiting at the end of the driveway for Joy to come home, Joy walking through the savannah crying, “Elsa! Elsa!” and finding her almost dead and then Elsa gone for so long to suddenly reappear with her own kittens.

The real Elsa and Joy Adamson

It was all a movie, and it yet really did happen. If they go on to make a movie of McPhedran’s My Bad Side, it should be like this. Apollo would play himself, and I would consult.Joy Adamson went on to raise leopards and cheetahs and was killed by a disgruntled employee. George Adamson tried to start his own pride of lions and was killed by poachers. The actors, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers (married in real life), became involved in the protection of lions. And Elsa…she died when she was just five, of a fucking tick bite. Not going to happen to Apollo. I’ll tell you that. (Review by Dee Sinclair.)