• The Heroine with 1001 Faces

  • By: Maria Tatar
  • Narrated by: Julie McKay
  • Length: 12 hrs and 9 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (39 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

World-renowned folklorist Maria Tatar reveals an astonishing but long buried history of heroines, taking us from Cassandra and Scheherazade to Nancy Drew and Wonder Woman.

How do we explain our newfound cultural investment in empathy and social justice? For decades, Joseph Campbell had defined our cultural aspirations in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, emphasizing the value of seeking glory and earning immortality. His work became the playbook for Hollywood, with its many male-centric quest narratives.

Challenging the models in Campbell's canonical work, Maria Tatar explores how heroines, rarely wielding a sword and deprived of a pen, have flown beneath the radar even as they have been bent on social missions. Using the domestic arts and storytelling skills, they have displayed audacity, curiosity, and care as they struggled to survive and change the reigning culture. Animating figures from Ovid's Philomela, her tongue severed yet still weaving a tale about sexual assault, to Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, a high-tech wizard seeking justice for victims of a serial killer, The Heroine with 1,001 Faces creates a luminous arc that takes us from ancient times to the present.

©2021 Maria Tatar (P)2021 Tantor

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Men Get Myths, Women Get Fairy Tales

I got this book with the hope that I would be shown the female embodiments of heroism and be given models for creating fictional heroines with character arcs and journeys that were unique and distinct from the male version. Unfortunately the book did not deliver on the promise of its title. The “heroines” in this book were mostly women making the best of their victimization at the hands of the male heroes of stories and myths. The author had to rely heavily on fairy tales and folklore to find examples of female heroism, but even those stories offered few positive role models. It isn’t the author’s fault that history, literature and mythology disproportionately feature men’s heroism and give women bit parts, but I was hoping for a new, more positive perspective.

A glance over Netflix’s thumbnail posters of their offerings makes it abundantly clear that male heroes are the norm in storytelling and the author discussed this imbalance, but without providing a remedy. Hollywood uses the hero’s journey, as detailed by Joseph Campbell, like a form letter. That is unlikely to change unless they get an alternative version for heroines that is just as powerful. I had hoped that Maria Tatar would provide that, or at least put forth a blueprint for creating it, but all she did was catalog the myriad ways women get left behind in history, in popular culture and in life.

Instead of learning about what made and motivated heroines I heard one horrific story after another about how women struggled to be seen and heard, and how they paid for their bravery with the loss of their lives and liberty. Instead of hearing stories of how heroines took charge of their own destinies I heard about how they made the best of their subjugation and victimization. The book was scholarly and well-researched, but it was more of a report on that research than a thesis with ideas and strategies for changing the male-dominated narrative. I found the book informative and thought-provoking, but ultimately discouraging and disappointing.

The narrator had the daunting task of pronouncing long, difficult names in many languages, and overall did a good job. Nevertheless, she undermined the credibility of the book by mispronouncing the surname of Emmeline Pankhurst as “Parkhurst” in a chapter celebrating the suffragist movement. She also mispronounced “bow” (of a ship), giving it a long “o” sound, as in “bow tie”. But overall, her voice was strong, confident and easy to listen to, which is an accomplishment in a book of this length.

In summary, this book was well-researched, well-written and well-narrated, but I found it overly long, repetitive and frustrating. Perhaps that was due to my expectation that I would be given a strong female archetype to match Campbell’s male hero, and a model for the heroine’s journey that would be uniquely female but equal to that of the traditional male hero. Instead I got an extensive chronicle of gender and racial inequality through the ages, with little hope for change any time soon.

3 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

Given Tata’s academic status, and her choice of title, I’d hoped for something to rival Campbell’s work in its scope and depth. Honestly, I’d hoped for something even better.

Unfortunately, with very rare exceptions, Tata clings even more to the old Central European tales and myths than Campbell. She may briefly reference some other tradition, but never leaves the trajectory of Proto Indo Europeans. Worse, we never even hear from any extra-colonial sources. Her source texts are all delivered to us by the same group of people - colonial men, whether they come to us from Greece, Germany, Persia or Santa Barbara. There is no interrogation of text itself as a tool of oppression. The closest we come to a legitimate oral source is a discussion of contemporary Disney films.

This is a long, depressing review of the flat features of women in stories translated into texts by white European men. There is not even an ounce of discussion given to ways in which the brothers Grimm, translators of the Arabian nights, or even writers at Disney blanketed much wilder tales with their own moral fears and shame.

I was hoping for a wider world of women’s and femme stories as women and femmes have long told them, and instead got Ovid and Bluebeard and Nancy Drew.

The epilogue alone is somewhat redeeming. Here she finally begins to reveal that other canons exist; that tales and storyways exist that can show us very different kinds of heroes, heroines and tricksters. If the book had just started as it ended, it might have redeemed itself. As it is, sadly, I can’t recommend it.

2 people found this helpful

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Amazing

It's a start to see beneath the veil of prejudice towards women in story