Once upon a time, the princess slept in a castle or in a woodland bower, innocent and untouched until the brave prince defeated the evil witch to win his way to her side and awaken her with a kiss. They got married–and the story ends.
Today’s princesses run away from the castle, seek out the witch for training, and solve their own problems. Today’s princesses earn their queendoms through their own actions and lead their people in new directions.
We have been witness to an evolution of agency–the taking on of personal power–in the heroines of science fiction and fantasy movies and television over the last 90 years. Female characters have been moving into greater and greater arenas of action, stepping up to becoming not just heroines but superheroines–and, in the 21st century, goddesses.
In Snow White Powers Up: Watching the Sleeping Beauties Became Warrior Goddesses, Jody Gentian Bower traces this evolution with examples from Disney princess movies, the Marvel and D.C. universes, the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, and many others. Dr. Bower discusses how our changing culture has changed the landscape of film, allowing for new depictions of not just women but people of color, the nonbinary-gendered, and the differently abled. She expands on her earlier book on heroine journeys with a chapter on the four types of hero/heroine journeys, providing new names for each that are not gendered (for example, the Hero is now the Guardian).
Dr. Bower also discusses how the “archetypal field” of a movie–the costuming, props, and background scenery–plays into making a female protagonist believable. She traces the different ways in which female characters gain agency and explores how the goddesses of ancient myths are showing up in new guises on our screens. The concluding chapter argues that we are already shifting into new paradigms of heroism that are far more inclusive and diverse.
What the reviewers are saying:
“This book reminds us why we need sci-fi and fantasy: to give form to the rich cast of archetypal characters that speak to our souls and inspire our lives. The mythic dimension is all around us, and Dr. Bower shows here how film and TV characters give us access to that realm, explosively expanding the roles we can envision for women (and men) on and off the screen. A well informed and very enjoyable read, Snow White Powers Up gives us the empowered heroine in all her diverse forms.” — Rebecca Diggs, scriptwriter and film consultant
“Building on her groundbreaking work in Jane Eyre’s Sisters, Jody Bower reveals the deep mythological sources beneath some of the most iconic characters of popular entertainment. Societal roles and gender identities are in a rapid state of flux and this finds expression in the main protagonists of our movies and television, particularly in fantasy, sci-fi, and animation. Bower shows that even as the old paradigms for heroes and heroines are being smashed, the new heroic personas draw on ancient models of story and myth that span across cultures. Snow White Powers Up will be essential reading for anyone looking to understand the old archetypes built into our new heroes, anti-heroes, and superheroes.” — John Gordon Hill, Director
Publication April 2020; available through the usual online and wholesale distributors.
Cover art by Brian Flores.