In this essay, Kate Meyers examines the limitations of the warrior-hero ideal in fantasy literature, and argues that works such as Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle not only create heroic opportunities for both male and female protagonists, but also provide a way of expanding how we think of the hero in classic works such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
King Arthur. Superman. Achilles. Hercules. When we think of heroes, we think of men like these who fight for what they believe in. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell studies the stories of heroes such as these, arguing that they can provide the symbols “that carry the human spirit forward” (11). Campbell treats the hero as a universal, symbolic manifestation of the rite of passage, wherein a person undergoes a transformative ritual that is vital to their full integration into society (40, 10). As such, the hero can also function as a symbol of what his or her culture values. The hero as warrior has become a particularly common motif in modern fantasy literature—often to the exclusion of other types of heroism. This is problematic, as it excludes protagonists with traits such as communication and compassion from the role of hero. Consistently coding the hero as warrior, when the warrior archetype embodies traits that are highly exclusionary to a significant portion of the readership, sends the message that only men, or at least only people possessing stereotypically “masculine” traits, are capable of heroism and the rite of passage it symbolizes. This essay seeks to reevaluate the situation of the hero in fantasy by using Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle as representative of an alternative type of hero, one who has both “masculine” and “feminine” qualities and is still able to complete the hero’s journey. Then, by taking Jones's characterization of the hero and using it to look at older works seemingly dominated by the warrior hero archetype, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we can synthesize different criteria for fantasy heroism that makes it possible for people of both genders to complete their rite of passage.