A couple of weeks ago, a friend pointed me towards this post by Mad Marvel Girl. The post basically asks, what are your three stories — the stories of your heart? The stories that grip you and don’t let go, which you could read or watch over and over, and why? It’s not about how good the text is, it’s about the actual story, the part that makes your heart happy.
As one very smart friend of mine paraphrased, what are the stories which, if every other story was a riff off them, you’d still be pretty happy with?
I’ve been thinking about this on and off since. I’ve managed to come up with two.
Star Wars. (If I must be more specific, The Empire Strikes Back.) There are a lot of general things I love about the trilogy: the space opera backdrop, the rag-tag band of rebels taking out a much more powerful enemy,1 the epic scope of world-building, the fact that the movies are fun before all else. But let’s face it: for me, the big, big thing is Leia and Han. I love Leia and Han. Or rather, I love Leia, and am in love with Han.
About my love of Princess Leia: I love that she’s making serious contributions to the rebellion even before the movies start. She’s a leader, and she’s good at it. Once captured, she remains defiant (“I should have recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.”). Even when she’s the one being rescued, she’s still perfectly able to grab a weapon and kick down an exit where one doesn’t exist. She can run around and do the action hero thing, as well as the pretty, dress-wearing, traditional fantasy princess thing. She’s smart, she’s angry, and she kicks ass. I adore her.
Han… well, he’s my fictional type. Smug. A rogue with a heart of gold. Not necessarily nice, but certainly nice to look at. He can do bad things, but generally does the right thing in the end. And smug. Did I mention that? My first fictional crush, when I was about five, was Peter Venkman in the Real Ghostbusters cartoon; I have no idea how I was wired to find smug jack-ass-ery particularly attractive, but it is absolutely typified by Han Solo.
Beyond anything else, the story of the two of them falling in love while snarking at each other and having adventures speaks to my soul. The Empire Strikes Back is my idea of a perfect romance.
To sum up: a kick-ass woman and the smug guy she loves (and often rescues). 2 If they starred in every story, I would be a happy camper indeed.
My other story is Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey. I’m amazed it took me this long to realize that, actually, as I’ve read that book at least fifteen times. I first read it when I was in fifth grade, and even though, as an adult, I can spot plenty of flaws in it, it’s still among my all-time favorites and I reread it every couple of years.
In it, our hero, Talia, runs away from the home where she’s always been unloved and unappreciated, gets Chosen, is swept off to Valdemar’s capital city and thrust into circumstances she doesn’t fully understand. But once she’s there, by way of tenacity and hard work (plus being super-duper-special) she overcomes the odds and makes it, proving to both herself and the world in general that she’s truly deserving of her new-found status.
Or, in other words, a girl who feels awkward and out of place — particularly because she’s bookish and none too feminine — is just sure she can do and be more than anyone realizes, if only she gets the chance! And when the chance comes, even though it’s hard, she’s plucky and determined! And in the end, she succeeds! Hooray! 3
It isn’t a complex story, but look, there’s a reason I not-so-secretly love Mary Sues. The story, simply as a story, speaks directly to my id. But it gets me in Arrows of the Queen in particular, I think because when I was 11, I identified so strongly with Talia. Ultimately, I don’t need the story to be about someone bookish, or even about a girl,4 because it’s the I’m-something-more leading to plucky determination leading to success! that gets me. I could happily read that over and over again. I have read that over and over again.
I think, if it came down to it and I absolutely had to pick one character archetype over the other, it would be Leia over Talia. But maybe that isn’t a surprise, either. I identify with Talia in ways that reflect who I am: someone who often feels awkward and out of place, who wants to do and accomplish more, even though I don’t know how or even, really, what I want to do. I want to be part of something important, something that matters, even though I haven’t figured out what yet. But that’s where Leia already is, where she starts her story. Maybe it’s just that ultimately, I’d rather read stories about what I aspire to than what I am now.
Especially if I get Han Solo in the end. Just sayin’.
(Unrelated ETA: upgraded WordPress, fiddled with plugins. Threaded commenting should now exist. And possibly automatically posting to Facebook. So if this shows up there… Hi!)
- My all-time favorite stand-alone movie is Newsies, so really, variations on a theme… ↩
- See also: Veronica Mars and Logan Echolls of Veronica Mars season one; Aeryn Sun and John Crichton of Farscape. ↩
- See also: essentially every coming of age story ever, particularly in fantasy and scifi, up to and including Star Wars itself. ↩
- Interestingly, though, the Leia archetype for me does have to be about a girl. I’ll happily read a story about a male leader who kicks ass and takes names, and have a lot of fun doing so — but it generally won’t grab me the same way it would if the character were female. ↩