Introducing a new feature in which we acknowledge some of the great ladies of fiction – real strong female characters. Let’s start with someone who might be a little unexpected:
Who: Princess Eilonwy, she of the red-gold hair (one of the many things Disney messed up about her characterization)
Where’s she from?: The Chronicles of Prydain, a five-book Newbery-Medal winning fantasy series by Lloyd Alexander
What’s the deal?: If you’ve ever seen Disney’s terrible adaptation of The Black Cauldron, you’ve been introduced to the Eilonwy above, but let me tell you, that gives you no idea of who this young lady really is. She’s a princess, sure, but that’s the least of who she is, and the least of what she’s interested in being.
We first meet her in The Book of Three, the first book in the Prydain series, when she saves Taran, who is the main protagonist of the books. You read that right – the princess saves the hero from capture. At the time, however, he has no idea she’s a princess – she doesn’t bother with telling him since to her, it seems unimportant. Described as having red-gold hair (not the blonde Disney felt she should have) and blue eyes, Eilonwy is stubborn, hot-tempered, and sarcastic. She’s also fond of rather unusual similes, particularly when she’s perturbed. “I don’t like being called ‘a girl’ and ‘this girl’ as if I didn’t have a name at all. It’s like having your head put in a sack.”
She’s also an enchantress, from a long line of the same, and possesses a small golden sphere that she refers to as her bauble, which she uses to create a magical light that saves her skin (and that of her companions) numerous times.
Why is she so kick-ass? When I was a kid, I was completely obsessed with fairy tales, fantasy, and sword-and-sorcery type adventures. In many of the traditional tales, princesses are either mere objects of a quest, something to be rescued and won by the prince, or at the best are on the fringes of all of the action. In Eilonwy, for the first time I found a character who reminded me of myself – a little stubborn, prone to walking around barefoot, and right in the middle of the action – because she wouldn’t have it any other way. It didn’t hurt that she was a postively-portrayed red-head, either. (The piece on Anne Shirley is forthcoming). Eilonwy could do magic, but she could also swing a sword, shoot a bow and arrow, and think her way out of a jam. That’s the kind of Disney Princess I can get behind.
A final piece of wisdom from the lady herself:
“I don’t believe people should be allowed to come stamping into other people’s dreams without asking first,” Eilonwy said, with some vexation. “There’s something impolite about it. Like walking into a spider web when the spider’s still using it.”