Strong Female Characters: Susan Sto Helit

For those of you that don’t know, Susan Sto Helit is one of the many leading ladies of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Susan is the granddaughter of Death (but she doesn’t like to talk about that much) and appears in three books, all of which revolve around her trying to save the world from various supernatural nasties. Widely hailed as one of Pratchett’s most ground-breaking female characters, Susan has become the fictional equivalent of a national treasure for Discworld fans everywhere.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Most of Susan’s stories aren’t set in motion by her own actions. What usually happens is that another character does something incredibly stupid, and Susan is drafted in to clean up the mess. However, from that point onwards Susan is very much in control. When she briefly takes over the role of Death in Soul Music, she tries to bend the laws of reality and only take the souls of people who, in her eyes, ‘deserve it’ – this doesn’t end well, but later she manages to save the day anyway. In Hogfather, she’s the one who works out the villain’s plan and puts a stop to it. In Thief of Time, she’s the one who works out how to kill the Auditors – formless, timeless creatures without physical bodies who are temporarily forced to take a physical form.

auditor_of_reality
And they’re creepy as hell. (image: discworld.wikia.com)

What’s more, it’s made pretty clear that outside the main narrative of these three stories, Susan has gone to quite some lengths to have a life of her own. As the granddaughter of Death, she’s naturally able to see all the supernatural creatures that most humans automatically ignore. Susan responds to this by trying to make herself into the most aggressively normal person it’s possible for her to be, deliberately shunning her supernatural powers in an attempt to stop getting dragged into reality-bending adventures. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Susan’s hobbies are made pretty clear from her first appearance – she enjoys logical pursuits, sports which involve swinging scythe-like objects around and spending time with children. Her beliefs are clear too: she firmly believes that children should be allowed to face up to all the things adults try to hide from them, that children should be challenged at every opportunity, and that things like philosophy are inherently pointless attempts to oversimplify a complicated world. Her goals are pretty consistent too. They vary from book to book (depending on what kind of monster she’s fighting this week) but generally revolve around her desire to stay human and to protect humanity as a larger whole.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Susan is a very consistent character. She’s logical, intelligent, determined, sensible and practical to the point of chilliness, mainly as a result of her no-nonsense upbringing.

tumblr_lvajtyiksg1qzlt9yo1_500
She quite literally has NO sense of humour. (image: tumblr.com)

Her skills are much more interesting. Aside from the fact that she regularly beats up monsters with an iron poker, as the granddaughter of Death she’s inherited a few of her old granddad’s tricks. She can bend space and time to her will – frequently causing her to forget about things like doorknobs and walk right through walls, and take children on field trips to ancient battlefields. She can see the supernatural inhabitants of the Disc where normal humans cannot, and has developed a kind of hyperawareness of every single thing in the universe. She has a perfect memory – and because Death is outside time in the Discworld novels, sometimes this actually lets her remember the future as well as the past.

Her powers all fluctuate depending on what kind of situation she’s in. If she has to step into the role of Death (as she’s had to do a few times now) her abilities become far more powerful; equally, if she has to visit a realm where there is no concept of Death whatsoever, she becomes a completely normal human. Her lack of certain skills is also made very clear – she has absolutely no understanding of any kind of creative pursuit and regularly struggles with any kind of emotional skills. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A sensible, practical young woman with supernatural abilities has to become Death, start time, and prevent the assassination of a figment of the imagination.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Susan doesn’t really have much of a love life. She finds it incredibly difficult to even recognise her own feelings, let alone act on them, so her romantic escapades tend to be more along the lines of extremely subtle crushes rather than full-blown relationships.

While she does eventually end up having some kind of subtle relationship, it doesn’t influence her decisions much. What really motivates her is her desire to save the world, hold onto her humanity and stop everyone else from acting like such silly idiots.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Susan develops over the course of her appearances in Discworld. She slowly comes to terms with her supernatural abilities and starts using her powers to make her day-to-day life easier, instead of outright rejecting them. She becomes marginally more in touch with her feelings, and starts making more of an effort to develop relationships with people, although she isn’t always good at this. She also starts developing a better relationship with her grandfather, which is always going to be a little bit awkward seeing as he’s, you know, Death.

death
“So what did you do today, Grandpa?” (image: photobucket.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Susan has plenty of weaknesses. She has real trouble expressing or even acknowledging her own emotions, which puts a serious damper on her personal relationships. She has absolutely no time for anything that she considers silly or frivolous, to the point where she actually seems disdainful. But her biggest flaw, much like Granny Weatherwax, is that she’s afraid of her own powers.

Susan is constantly reining herself in, trying to make sure that she stays as human as possible. She has to remind herself to use the door rather than walking straight through walls. She’s very aware of the fact that she’s not really a part of the human race and certainly isn’t subject to the same restrictions – and she’s terrified that one day she’ll lean into that and lose her humanity altogether. She knows that she’s on the outside of the human race, looking in – and she’s scared that one day she’ll think she’s above the human race, looking down. As a result Susan is incredibly uptight, alert and hyper-aware, always second-guessing herself, and never really seems to be at ease with herself and what she can do.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Susan is a real influence on the plot. Everything she does has some kind of impact, whether that’s beating up monsters with an iron poker or stopping assassins from killing the Hogfather – the Discworld equivalent of Father Christmas.

SCORE SO FAR: 8

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Susan is very refreshing where gender stereotypes are concerned. She’s a young woman in all her appearances and directly related to a supernatural entity – but rather than falling into the standard ‘Gothic young woman’ category she’s almost the exact opposite. She’s relentlessly practical, logical to the point of chilliness and deals with the supernatural in a calm, methodical and incredibly sensible way, and that’s not even touching on her struggles dealing with her own emotions. These are far from the typical stereotypes we see in stories about young women and the supernatural.

What’s more, she takes on a whole new set of stereotypes when it comes to her profession. Susan is a teacher and governess, who isn’t sickly sweet, always challenges the students in her care and, above all, doesn’t want children of her own. Think about all the portrayals of the angelic, beautiful young schoolteacher surrounded by adoring children, and you’ll realise just how unusual this is.

julie-andrews-gif-julie-andrews-practically-perfect-in-every-way-mp
That’s not a good thing. (image: tumblr.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 9

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Susan has quite a few relationships with other female characters. As a young girl she’s friends with a dwarf and a troll who are both at her girls’ school, and the three of them band together when they find common ground in their mutual difference from the rest of the students. She’s slightly exasperated by the soppy young Violet Bottler, tooth-fairy-in-training, but helps her out anyway. But most interesting of all is her relationship with Myria LeJean, later re-named Unity.

Unity was one of the Auditors – a formless being existing outside of time and space who kept the universe running on a day-to-day basis. Like all Auditors, she had a natural hatred of humanity, as the messiness of human life made it impossible for them to predict what was going to happen and ruined all their paperwork. However, when Unity had to adopt a human form as part of her work for the Auditors, the individuality and sensory overload of the human experience turned her against the Auditors. Susan befriends her, in an awkward and stilted way, and the two bond over being apart from humanity as opposed to a part of it. Unity makes Susan question where humanity begins and ends as the two butt heads and work together, and forces her to confront her feelings. By the time Unity kills herself – having decided that she cannot reconcile being human with her identity as an Auditor – Susan doesn’t just pity her, but almost feels sorry for the rest of the Auditors too.

FINAL SCORE: 10/10

 

Congratulations, Terry Pratchett! Susan is a well-rounded character with a range of strengths and weaknesses, goals, beliefs and hobbies. She’s in control of her own life, isn’t completely defined by gender stereotypes and does have a story that revolves around who she decides to date. Top marks all round!

Next week, I’ll be looking at another of the classics: Bleak House. Esther Summerson, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

Advertisements

Strong Female Characters: Christine Daae

For those of you that don’t know, Christine Daae is (quite literally) the leading lady of The Phantom of the Opera. Originally a novel by Gaston Leroux, the book tells the story of Christine, a beautiful young soprano at a Paris opera house whose career is helped along by a mysterious and murderous phantom. The story has become incredibly well-known after being adapted countless times, and is most famous now in its musical incarnation. As the female lead, Christine is at the centre of every single story – and at the centre of endless, endless fanfics.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

For most of The Phantom of the Opera Christine isn’t really in control of her own life – the Phantom is the one who’s calling the shots. Rather than putting herself forward, other people pick her to replace the diva Carlotta, and it’s implied that the Phantom has instigated this through engineering Carlotta’s walk-out/tantrum. The Phantom is the one who trained Christine as a singer, convincing her that he was ‘The Angel of Music’ her dying father promised to send her. The Phantom kidnaps her multiple times, and decides when he’ll let her go. Even when she realises she wants to get away from the Phantom, she doesn’t just leave of her own accord – she asks her boyfriend, Raoul, who takes her away.

63eb1ef399776b13c9be2fefea65b886
On his shiny, white horse. (image: pinterest.com)

The upshot of all this is that Christine has minimal moments where she is actually making her own choices. She does make some important decisions that have a real impact on her life – namely deciding not to let the Phantom kill everybody – but these happen so rarely that it doesn’t make much of an impression. For most of the story she’s not making things happen – things just happen to her. I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

I’m not sure if I should class Christine’s singing and dancing as a hobby as it forms an important part of her career, but her goals and beliefs are pretty clear. She clearly has some kind of belief in an afterlife (or else she wouldn’t have held onto the ‘Angel of Music’ thing for so long) and, to a certain extent, in ‘the greater good’, as she’s fully prepared to sacrifice herself to let other people go free. As far as her goals go, she wants to be a great singer, get away from the Phantom, and just generally have a slightly nicer life than the one she’s got right now.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Christine is a pretty consistent character. She’s kind, compassionate, innocent, naïve and can be quite shy and retiring. As far as her skills go she’s pretty consistent there too: she’s an accomplished singer and dancer, but still needs a fair bit of training to bring out the best in her voice. In the original novel this is made clear, but in most other adaptations it’s glossed over a bit. Either way I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A compassionate, innocent young opera singer gets a start on her fledgling career, but at a terrible, creepy price.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Christine’s love life is a major factor of her story, and modern adaptations of the story really turn this up to eleven. One of the biggest parts of The Phantom of the Opera is the love triangle between Raoul, Christine’s childhood sweetheart, the Phantom, Christine’s crazy stalker, and Christine herself.

Edward-Bella-Jacob-twilighters-31600408-500-356
God, that sounds familiar… (image: fanpop.com)

This is where the original novel and the modern adaptations really start to differ. In Leroux’s novel, it was made pretty clear that any affection between the Phantom and Christine was incredibly one-sided. Not only did he kidnap her multiple times, he pretended to be the ghost of her dead father, tried to make her directly responsible for killing a bunch of people that she loved, and attempts to force her to marry him (which, at the time that the novel was written, could often be a veiled way of referring to rape). Christine is pretty understandably not into any of this, and at one point admits that she’s been carrying around a pair of scissors so that she could kill herself in case he tried to force himself on her. At the end, she does agree to become his wife and kisses him, but it’s because if she didn’t agree he would blow up the opera house and kill everyone inside.

In most modern adaptations – and more specifically, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical – all of this is toned way down. The Phantom kidnaps Christine a few times but it’s heavily implied that there is some kind of romantic or sexual attraction between them, with the Phantom representing all the forbidden, seductive stuff Christine isn’t supposed to enjoy if she wants to be thought of as a nice young girl. The threat of rape and mass murder is pretty much removed, and Christine’s choice at the end is reduced directly down to which cute boy she’s going to kiss. She doesn’t choose for the greater good, she chooses for the good of the man she loves, and that’s a big difference.

As I’ve already mentioned, Christine doesn’t actually get to make a lot of decisions for herself anyway. This means a lot of the stuff about her motivations is crammed down into the one or two decisions she does get to make of her own accord. This means that it’s often difficult to tell what’s really motivating her – for example, when she chooses to marry Raoul is she doing so because she really loves him, or because she thinks that he can take her out of poverty and away from the clutches of the Phantom? You can make a case for either and you’ll get different answers depending on which adaptation you look at.

I’m not inclined to be generous here, though, because whichever choice Christine makes she’s also choosing a man. There’s no path that she can go down that doesn’t come with a boyfriend attached, whether that’s Raoul or the Phantom. If she made more decisions of her own – even something as simple as asking to replace Carlotta, rather than waiting for somebody else to put her forward for the role – then she might have at least got a half point. But there’s no getting away from the fact that of the few choices she makes, the overwhelming majority of them are to do with who she’s going to spend her life with. I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Christine does develop over the story. She becomes much less naïve, much more confident and becomes a better singer. She stops being quite so trusting and gains a certain measure of independence – but the novel was set in nineteenth-century France, so not too much independence. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Christine does have some weaknesses – many more in the original novel than in the musical adaptation, but they are there. She’s far too trusting to the point where it actually gets her into trouble, directly catapulting her into the path of the Phantom. She also has a really difficult time letting go of the past, to the extent that she deludes herself into thinking that her father’s ghost has sent her the ‘Angel of Music’ rather than telling someone about the creepy voice she’s been hearing lately.

side-eye-2
Are…are we not going to talk about that? (image: lifeandstylemag.com)

One of the most interesting things about Christine’s character is the way she deals with grief, but I’m not really sure if this would count as a weakness. Before the story begins her father dies, and in the original novel it’s made very clear that this completely devastates Christine. When her father was alive she was training to be a singer, but after his death we hear that she lost her passion for singing, stopped attending classes and left little impression, only regaining her skill after hearing the ‘Angel of Music’.

These are all recognisably symptoms of depression. Christine cannot reconcile herself with her father’s death, clings onto any last reminder of him, and loses all her passion for something that once meant so much to her. When she finally tells Raoul about the Phantom (after she’s been kidnapped and returned to the Opera House), she actually admits that she thought about killing herself while she was trapped there. When you consider that she’s been struggling with thoughts of suicide, the choice the Phantom presents her with at the end of the book – to be with him forever, or kill everyone, including herself – takes on an unbelievable cruelty.

I’d like to make it clear that I don’t consider depression to be a weakness – mental illness is an illness, not a reflection of someone’s personality. However, it is something that Christine has clearly struggled with, has had a massive and sustained impact on her life and has clearly held her back, so I think it’s worth noting. However, even without that (and the musical does cut out most of Christine’s depressive tendencies) she still has some pretty clear weaknesses, so I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Christine does influence the plot but it’s a pretty passive influence. She influences the plot simply by being a part of it – other characters bend their decisions around her and she actually does very little. Add to that the fact that she gets kidnapped by the Phantom practically every weekend, and it’s not great. She does have her moments, but they aren’t really enough to lift her out of the doldrums.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Christine is a pretty traditionally feminine character. She’s kind, demure, innocent and compassionate, a good singer, and overwhelmingly good – she’s pretty much the perfect nineteenth-century woman. Sometimes this works against her, particularly as she’s very passive and most of her story is to do with her love life. But sometimes this manifests itself in refreshingly modern ways, such as when she attempts to protect the people she loves or when she tells off Raoul for stalking her.

At first glance she can seem pretty stereotypical, but the novel goes some way to making sure there’s more to her than that. Her struggles with depression, flashes of independence and capacity to resist the Phantom’s manipulation provide a counterbalance to all of her incessant fainting. She’s by no means free of the influence of gender stereotypes, but she has her moments.

Where she really gets problematic is in some of the adaptations, and as you might have guessed, this often revolves around her relationship with the Phantom.

In the original novel the Phantom is something like a father figure for Christine, and this is where the bulk of their conflict lies: she sees him as a mentor, and he sees her as the future Mrs Phantom. It’s made very clear that Christine does not and will not love the Phantom, no matter how hard he tries to Stockholm Syndrome her into doing so. In the musical, we have this:

2.161985
Side note: her eyeshadow is just great. (image: pinterest.com)

Most modern adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera are pretty explicit about there being some kind of romantic or sexual tension between Christine and the Phantom. In fact, in the awful terrible sequel that no-one talks about, it’s explicitly confirmed: in Love Never Dies Christine and the Phantom have a secret child together and the show pretty much says that they should have been together all along.

Almost all of these adaptations forget that the Phantom is a murderer.

While it’s true that most of the Phantom’s actions are toned down a bit from the original novel – he doesn’t usually try and force Christine to commit mass murder, for example – he still kills people. He still pretends to be the ‘Angel of Music’, and the last link Christine has to her father, who she’s clearly still grieving for. He still kidnaps her repeatedly, drops a chandelier on an audience when Christine won’t go with him, and forces her to choose between watching her fiancé die and staying in a pit with the Phantom for the rest of her life. I hope I don’t need to tell anyone that this is incredibly manipulative and psychologically damaging stuff that would make Hannibal Lecter stage an intervention.

And yet, a lot of adaptations portray this as romance. The musical in particular portrays this behaviour as twisted acts of love, and rarely shows the incredible toll this takes on Christine’s psyche. In fact, she barely seems to notice this. She’s not exactly flattered, but despite all the misery he has personally caused her – not to mention the fact that in some adaptations he quite literally imitates her dead father – she still manages to pity him, kiss him, and leave him something to remember her by.

For me, this is why Love Never Dies was such a slap in the face. Christine has gone through so much psychological torture at the hands of the Phantom. She knows that he’s killed because of her. She’s watched him attempt to murder her own fiancé. He crushed the last link she thought she had with her dead father, who she’s still mourning. And after all of that, not only has she loved him all along, but the show then tells us that Christine and the Phantom’s relationship was true love.

giphy ian
Would you, Sir Ian? (image: giphy.com)

I feel like I say this a lot on this blog, but that’s not love, it’s abuse. The original novel (which was published in the very early twentieth century, might I add) makes this pretty clear, and Christine herself admits that a) it’s not good for her to stay with the Phantom, despite what he can give her and b) if she wants to stay, that’s when she’ll know that he’s finally got to her. The modern adaptations just go for more bodice-ripping than a Mills and Boon novel. I’m giving her half a point, because even when you look at her character in the original novel, it still has some flaws.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

We don’t see a lot of Christine’s relationships with other female characters, but we know she has them. She loves her elderly guardian, Madame Valerius, even though she only appears in the original novel. She’s friends with Meg Giry, although their friendship is never the focus of any adaptation. She sometimes interacts with Meg’s mother, Madame Giry, but once again this is never the focus. Christine’s relationships with other female characters are very much on the sidelines and are rarely developed beyond the very broadest strokes, so I’ll give her half a point.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

 

Christine is a consistent character who exhibits weaknesses, development and a range of goals, hobbies and beliefs over the course of her story, but ultimately that wasn’t enough to let her pass my test. There’s no getting away from the fact that her story is hugely tangled up with her love life and she can rely on some pretty unfortunate gender stereotypes. But for me, the biggest problem with her character is that she is just incredibly passive.

Part of this is a result of the time in which the original novel was written, and part of this is due to my Universal Monster Law – which is that in a story about dealing with a big scary monster, it’s usually the actions of the monster that dictate the plot. But there are ways around this; they just haven’t been used here. If, for example, Christine actively sought out the Phantom as a tutor rather than him latching onto her, the story could still progress along very similar lines while making her a much more active character. If she did a bit more than simply choose between Raoul and the Phantom, she’d be a much better character.

Next week, I’ll be going back to one of my favourite series: Discworld. Susan, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

Strong Female Characters: Wednesday Addams

For those of you that don’t know, Wednesday Addams is the daughter of The Addams Family, a comic strip/TV show/movie series about a creepy monochrome family who were goths before it was cool. The plot of all their appearances tends to revolve around their madcap family drama (emphasis on the mad), a certain amount of which is instigated by Wednesday. A cult classic, The Addams Family has become a huge feature of the popular consciousness and an endless source of costumes, and Wednesday herself is at the centre of all this.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

NOTE: Much like I did in my review of Morticia, I’ll be focusing my blog post around the 1990s movies with Christina Ricci, as that’s what I’m most familiar with, but I may reference the originals from time to time.

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

The question of how active Wednesday really depends on which movie you look at. In the first film, she doesn’t do much that actually affects the plot, aside from delivering a few creepy one-liners. If I was only looking at her role in The Addams Family, she might not get any points at all.

The second film is a completely different matter. She’s given a lot more to do, and really comes into her own now that she has an expanded storyline. In Addams Family Values, her serial killer nanny packs her off to summer camp when she suspects that she’s trying to prevent her marriage to Uncle Fester. Wednesday then spends the rest of the movie hating the place and trying to a) make it slightly more bearable by ruining everyone else’s lives and b) break out and get back home.

giphy wednesday match
And also set everything on fire. (image: giphy.com)

Giving her more of a role in the plot does wonders for her character. In the second film she’s far more active, whether she’s resisting other people’s attempts to change her personality or bringing down the summer camp and setting it on fire. Contrast this with the first film, where the most she does on her own is set up a lemonade stand, and you can really see the difference. I’ll give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

We actually see quite a lot of Wednesday’s hobbies – we know she enjoys torturing her brother, beheading dolls, and scaring other children, and possibility all of these things at once. We hear a lot about her beliefs too: we know she really admires her Great Aunt Calpurnia, who was burned at the stake for witchcraft, we know she hates all things perky and cheerful, and we know that sticking together as a family is very important to her. Her goals aren’t quite so clear in the first film, but in the second they’re very well laid out: she wants to protect her Uncle Fester and escape and/or destroy the summer camp she’s stuck in. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Wednesday is a very consistent character. She’s intelligent, forbidding, sadistic, solemn and something of a psychopath. As far as her skills go, we see that she’s a natural leader and extremely comfortable handling medieval weapons of torture. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2.5

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A sadistic, serious young girl who wants to keep her creepy, creepy family together.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Wednesday doesn’t have that much of a love life. It’s not even mentioned in the first film at all, but in the second she gets her first boyfriend: a fellow outcast who she meets at summer camp. However, this doesn’t really distract from her storyline. The main focus on her particular thread of the plot is her trying to escape from summer camp, and this is what informs her decisions – she just happens to develop a friendship that blossoms into a crush along the way. I’ll be generous and give her the point, as it certainly doesn’t eclipse everything else she does.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Aside from getting her first boyfriend, Wednesday doesn’t really develop over the course of the story. She doesn’t change or learn anything new – in fact, most of her story arcs are about resisting the pressure to change and deliberately staying the same.

raw
As illustrated here. (image: tenor.co)

These stories provide a difficult line to walk, as they usually paint change or growth as something bad rather than as something inevitable, that eventually happens to everyone, and is often a necessary part of growing up. It’s difficult for a writer to show how their character has grown and changed if the bulk of their storyline revolves around that character making a concerted effort to stay the same.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Wednesday doesn’t really have a weakness, either. There is no fatal flaw that leads her to make mistakes, nothing that ends up making her do something she regrets. She’s a little like the other villainesses I’ve looked at on this blog, in that you can’t really call stereotypically ‘evil’ traits weaknesses as they form such a large part of her character, so all the unappealing parts of her personality can’t really count here. I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Wednesday is a real influence on the plot, particularly in Addams Family Values. In the first film she’s more passive, and the bulk of her influence revolves around her building up relationships with other characters that influence their decisions. In the second film she’s flying: she’s the force behind her own storyline and it’s a joy to watch. I’m giving her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Wednesday is very subversive when it comes to gender stereotypes. She’s intelligent, sadistic, deadpan, solemn and morbidly obsessed with – well, all things morbid. These are hardly the traits you would expect to see in a young girl.

tumblr_n91300zQnI1s5g1hko1_400
But then again, this is how she smiles. (image: hitfix.com)

What’s more, these traits don’t really make Wednesday a bad character. She enjoys doing all of these slightly horrible things, but it’s made very clear that underneath it all she is still (very broadly speaking), a mostly-good person. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Wednesday has quite a few relationships with other female characters. Interestingly, we don’t see a lot of her relationship with her mother, Morticia, but we know it’s based on love. The relationships that get the most screen time are those with people working against her – such as Debbie, the serial killer nanny, Amanda, the perfect pre-teen bully, and Becky, the terrifyingly perky camp counsellor. These all tend to take the same kind of tone – Wednesday cottons onto their plans, starts working against them, and they retaliate – but are sufficiently different to be worth mentioning. For example, Debbie doesn’t even try to tackle Wednesday, just sends her straight off to camp. Becky and Amanda both try and make Wednesday into a chipper, perfect camper – Wednesday manages to fool Becky into thinking it’s worked, but Amanda isn’t so easily tricked. That’s enough for the full point in my books.

FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10

 

Wednesday is a well-rounded character with a range of goals, hobbies and beliefs, who is neither defined by her love life nor gender stereotypes, but ultimately that isn’t quite enough to let her pass my test. Her lack of growth and weaknesses, combined with her passivity in the first film, means that she’s only just fallen short.

I think that this perfectly illustrates how much extended screen time can do for a character. If I’d only looked at Wednesday in the first film, she still would’ve failed; if I’d only looked at Wednesday in the second film, she probably would’ve passed. Whereas in the first film, she had an almost decorative role – providing more creepy window-dressing than any actual influence on the plot – Addams Family Values really allowed her character to come into its own, and made her so much more memorable in the process. I’d still really enjoy both films whether she passed or failed, but because of the extra development in the second one, it’s definitely got the edge.

Next week, I’ll be looking at a modern classic and a staple of classic horror: The Phantom of the Opera. Christine Daae, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

Strong Female Characters: Delphini Diggory

For those of you that don’t know, Delphini Diggory is one of the principal characters in the latest instalment of the Harry Potter universe – the renowned play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Set some twenty years after the original Golden Trio defeated Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts, the story picks up again when they’re all middle-aged parents and focuses on their children. Albus Potter (son of Harry) and Scorpius Malfoy (son of Draco) are struggling with their father’s legacies, and decide to take matters into their own hands. The play has been a massive success – the earliest tickets you can get are for 2018 – but the script itself has been met with mixed reviews, with some people loving it and some people preferring to pretend it doesn’t exist. Delphini – known as Delphi for most of the play – is at the centre of all this, love her or hate her.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

NOTE: No, seriously. There’s going to be absolutely MASSIVE spoilers for Cursed Child in this post, so if you don’t want to know literally all the plot twists then you should turn back now.

OOobhSi
And I do mean EVERYTHING. (image: imgur.com)

Seriously, go home.

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Delphi is actually a pretty active character. She doesn’t seem this way when we first meet her – helping Albus and Scorpius with their plans, rather than getting really stuck in with them – but (spoilers ahoy) it’s revealed in the second part that she is, in fact, our villain for the evening. Delphi is actually the secret daughter of Lord Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange who, after hearing a secret prophecy, is trying to prevent the downfall of Wizard Hitler by using time-travel to go back and stop Harry Potter ruining all his evil plans.

Regardless of what you think of this plot twist, that does make her a pretty active character. It’s revealed that she has been manipulating Albus and Scorpius into doing what she wants for the entire play – rather than going along with someone else’s plan, she’s been actively following her own. She isn’t just in control of her own destiny, she’s in control of several other people’s too – and that means she definitely passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 1

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

We don’t know a lot about Delphi’s hobbies, but it’s implied that she doesn’t have many – when she was young, she was so lonely that she invented an imaginary friend just to keep her company. Her goals and beliefs are much more clear. She believes that Voldemort is the one true ruler of the wizarding world and that she deserves a place by his side. Her goals are directly related to this, as she spends most of the play working towards bringing him back through various nefarious plots. One way or another, she’s determined to bring down Harry Potter, and goes through a range of evil plans in an attempt to stop him – but unfortunately, not this one:

I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Delphi is a pretty consistent character. She’s intelligent, manipulative and bigoted, quite bitter about the way she grew up and – it’s implied – might not be altogether sane (but given that her parents were Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, that’s not all that shocking). As far as her skills go, she’s consistently shown to be a powerful witch – but for the first half of the play, she keeps this to herself. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A manipulative, bigoted young witch attempts to alter history to meet her own ends.

SCORE SO FAR: 4

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Delphi doesn’t have a love life, but she’s not above using her charms to get what she wants. A lot of her interactions with Albus are quite flirty, and she outright kisses him before he’s about to travel through time. This isn’t because she genuinely likes him – it’s because she can see he has a little crush on her and exploits the hell out of it.

tumblr_nlumri3WMJ1u93j0po1_500
Eh, it’s a villain thing. (image: tumblr.com)

I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Delphi doesn’t develop over the course of the story at all. She’s a very static character who doesn’t learn or grow as a result of her experiences, and her personality remains exactly the same all throughout the play. I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Delphi doesn’t really have much of a weakness. Like the other villainesses I’ve looked at on this blog, I’m not going to class negative character traits as weaknesses as those are often what villains really rely on. I’ll only call something a weakness for a villain if it’s something that actually holds them back from achieving their goals over the course of their own story.

When you look at Delphi like this, I’m not really sure if she has a weakness at all. Throughout the story she’s a controlled, manipulative, intelligent young woman and all this serves her well. She doesn’t really make any big mistakes, or have a fatal flaw that leads her to misjudge a situation. She doesn’t underestimate the power of friendship, or gloat too much, or needlessly strap the heroes to a laser death trap and explain her plan just to fill out the second act.

184owiq3hokyhjpg
Naming no names. (image: io9.com)

She does occasionally make mistakes, but she recovers from these very quickly, and they don’t leave any lasting impact. The only thing that could count as a weakness is her desperate need for recognition from her father, Lord Voldemort. This is what drives her through the story, and what was almost her downfall – when Harry Potter disguised himself as Voldemort in an attempt to stop her from approaching the real Wizard Hitler, she only saw through his tricks at the very last second.

I’m not really sure if this counts as a functioning weakness because of that. Delphi’s need for her father’s acceptance and approval doesn’t hold her back – in fact, it actively propels her through the story, influencing all of her actions and decisions. Most of the time it works in her favour – it’s only once, right at the end, that it starts becoming any kind of handicap, and even then it doesn’t set her back for long. This isn’t quite enough for it to really be a fatal flaw, so I’m withholding the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Delphi is a huge influence on the plot – in fact, without her there wouldn’t really be a plot. Her manipulation and villainous schemes provide all the action in the story, and a lot of the time other characters are just trying to keep up with her. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

I’m on the fence about how Delphi relates to gender stereotypes. She’s an intelligent, manipulative and very powerful villain, who is ruthless in pursuit of her goals – those aren’t traits usually associated with young women. However, she’s also totally OK with using her feminine charms to manipulate people and is only doing all this out of a desire to connect with her father – so in a sense, her story is inextricably tied to a man.

giphy ben2
That’s a liiiiiittle bit tricky. (image: giphy.com)

It’s a difficult one to call from where I’m sitting, but overall I think that when it comes to gender stereotypes, Delphi is more positive than negative. Parents as motivation is not something that is unique to female characters, and when you take that away all that’s left is her use of casual flirting to get what she wants – which isn’t quite enough to fail her. I’ll give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 7

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Delphi doesn’t relate to other female characters.

We never actually see her have a one-on-one conversation with another female character. When she does encounter other women, it’s in a group context, and so we never get a chance to see any one relationship develop properly.

The most we know about Delphi’s relationships with other women is that she was raised by a former Death Eater called Euphemia Rowle, who took her in for the money and treated her very badly, isolating and bullying her to a frankly malicious extent. But that’s all we know. We don’t know how Delphi feels about this treatment – whether she thinks it was normal, whether she’s afraid of her because of it, or whether she resents her for it – and we don’t know why Euphemia, a former Death Eater, would treat the literal child of Voldemort so badly. This isn’t really enough to salvage even a half point here.

FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

Delphini is an active character with clearly-defined goals, beliefs and skills, who isn’t defined by her love life or the way she relates to gender stereotypes, but she still hasn’t passed my test. Ultimately, her lack of weaknesses, development and relationships with other women is what really lets her down here – which is a shame, considering the depth that has gone into the other characters JK Rowling has written about.

Ultimately, I think the bulk of Delphi’s flaws – and, to a certain extent, the play’s – is that it’s just the wrong medium. I was lucky enough to see Cursed Child quite recently, and while it was pretty spectacular (and I can highly recommend it for the experience alone) it’s also pretty clear that the story doesn’t quite fit the format. One of the things I enjoyed most about the Harry Potter books is the richness of the non-central characters, and the fact of the matter is that in a time-limited stage play, it’s extremely difficult to get the depth to do that properly.

I would have really liked to have seen Delphi’s character explored in more detail. Whatever your thoughts on her parentage – and I won’t lie, I do think it’s a little bit Mary Sue – if she had been fleshed out a little more I would have been able to comfortably overlook this. While watching the play, I was actually wondering if she really was Voldemort’s daughter at all – I had a theory that she was actually suffering from delusions of grandeur, and had simply convinced herself that she was Voldemort’s daughter – and perhaps a twist like that would have taken her character in a different direction, fleshed out her personality, or even just made her more sympathetic. But that’s just one woman’s opinion – feel free to share yours in the comments.

Next week, I’ll be looking at one of my favourite little weirdos. Wednesday Addams, I’m coming for you.

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.