Monday, January 6, 2014

The Bow of Artemis

Towards the end of 2013, we've seen the image of formidable science fiction and fantasy heroines grace big screen and small, armed not with flashy high-tech or exotic magical weapons, but with something much more basic and ancient:  the longbow and arrow.

Jennifer Lawrence of course reprised her role as sci-fi heroine Katniss Everdeen in the second and well-received installment of the Hunger Games franchise.  Katniss has become a trendy fantasy role model for teenaged girls in this country, and seems to have sparked a fad among girls to learn archery.  And, in the equally successful second installment of the Hobbit franchise (the first one that didn't put me to sleep, BTW) we see Evangeline Lilly (of Lost fame) playing a character J.R.R. Tolkien never even dreamed of:  another dynamic archer heroine, a deadly elf warrior who acrobatically slays goblins with bow and arrow and stirs the blood of male elf and dwarf alike.  Even Disney animated movies have successfully offered young female viewers a fiery red-haired archer maiden who fights for her right to control her own life.

Why the longbow?  The image of a strong, eagle-eyed young woman expertly wielding a bow is certainly nothing new.  It goes all the way back to ancient Greek mythology, to the legendary Amazon warriors of old, and to the hunter goddess Artemis.   It can certainly take on a sleek and daringly romantic image.  Forget the medieval image of the helpless damsel in distress that forms the basis of familiar western fairy tales; This is something older.  Maybe that's why the evolving popular fairy tale character Snow White has taken up the long bow in the fantasy T.V. series Once Upon a Time.

Of course, the warrior woman takes different forms in classic mythology.  For instance, the armored, sword-wielding warrior maiden of ancient Norse mythology, which we've seen Marvel comics reinvent in comic book and film.  The more modern warrior heroine has taken on darkly captivating images:  Raquel Welch's Hannie Caulder with her six-gun, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley with her flame-thrower, Sarah Conner with her arsenal of automatic fire-arms. But, there just seems to be something about the bow-wielding heroine that seizes the imagination of the modern young western girl.  Perhaps partly because it's easier to take up archery in junior high than to go to a firing range or learn to handle a broad sword.  But, maybe it's something deeper than that.  The discipline, the focus, maybe?  The power?  A physical power that comes from the mind more than the body, and has equalled the strength of a man long before the invention of the gun, or even the crossbow.  Perhaps it's liberating and empowering without necessarily being violent.

A lot of girls seem to take naturally to horses, too.  (My sister did, as a teen.)  The horse.  The bow.  Who knows?  Maybe there's a residue of the Amazon spirit alive in the heart of every young girl.  Whatever the attraction, it certainly makes for some fine and entertaining fiction.

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