For those of you that don’t know, Door is the leading lady of Neil Gaiman’s wildly successful novel, Neverwhere. Originally a TV series made in the 90s (complete with awful haircuts), the story centres around Richard Mayhew, a young man who gets drawn into a magical subterranean world called London Below when he rescues a young woman – Door. The story has proven to be one of Gaiman’s most popular and enduring books, remaining a feature of Waterstones everywhere, and was adapted as a BBC radio play not too long ago – and that had Benedict Cumberbatch in, so you know it’s good. Door herself is at the centre of all this, and is one of Gaiman’s most famous female characters.
But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Door is only in control of her own destiny to a certain extent. The plot is set in motion when her family is murdered and mysterious assassins try and hunt her down. A variation of the Universal Monster Law applies here: because Door is constantly on the run from these assassins, she’s always on the back foot and is often in a very reactive position. Because she has been forced onto this path, she doesn’t have the same amount of control as someone who chose it.
However, Door isn’t a total doormat (heh). She decides she wants to find out who killed her family, so engages a bodyguard and sets about trying to free the Angel Islington as she believes this will help her. She decides where she goes and what she does, and her decisions affect the rest of her party too. This is slightly undercut when we find out that the Angel Islington is actually a secret baddie, orchestrated the murder of her family and has been manipulating Door into setting him free all along, but cut the girl some slack. She was being manipulated, but she still made the decisions of her own accord, she had a backup plan, and when she realised Islington’s real intentions she put a stop to his plans pretty sharpish. She’s not perfect, but she does deserve half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- 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 Door’s hobbies, apart from that she has an incredible capacity to eat, and I’m not sure if that counts.
Her goals and beliefs are much clearer. Her family is very important to her, she doesn’t like to see people get hurt and she always includes a third thing in her lists. When it comes to her goals, she wants to find out who killed her family, free (and then stop) the Angel Islington, and live a relatively normal, murder-free life.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Door is a pretty consistent character. She’s intelligent, determined, brave, compassionate, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and has a strong sense of loyalty. Her skills are consistent too: Door is an Opener, someone with the talent to unlock any door and magically create openings. This is a rare talent that remains consistent throughout the story.
SCORE SO FAR: 2.5
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
An intelligent, determined and magically talented young woman sets out to discover who murdered her family.
SCORE SO FAR: 3.5
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Door doesn’t really have a love life. It’s kind of hinted that she and Richard have something of an attachment, but it’s never really made clear whether this is romantic or just a really strong platonic bond.
What really affects her decisions are her goals: to find out who murdered her family and to find the Angel Islington.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Door doesn’t really develop over the course of the story. She’s something of a mystery, and unfortunately a lack of solid character development is something that we occasionally see in characters who are intended to be a little bit mysterious. I’ve talked about this in greater detail in my post about Trinity, and while Door is nowhere near that bad she still doesn’t pass this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she have a weakness?
Door doesn’t really have much of a weakness, either. The most you could say about her is that she’s a bit on the gullible side, because she falls for the Angel Islington’s charade – but so does pretty much everyone else in the novel, and as she’s supposed to be quite young I don’t think this is really fair. I’m withholding the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Door is a huge influence on the plot. When you take out the assassin element it is her actions that drive the story. She finds herself a bodyguard, she goes looking for the Angel Islington, she makes a duplicate key to Islington’s prison in case the real one is stolen. She may not set the entire story in motion as some other heroines do but she is nevertheless a very active player.
SCORE SO FAR: 5.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Door is a pretty progressive character as gender stereotypes go. She’s from a noble family in London Below but she has absolutely no issues with sleeping in sewers, eating cats and other things noblewomen are traditionally supposed to sneer at.
She’s a young girl at the centre of a kidnap and murder plot – but she’s not a victim or relegated to the sidelines: she’s very firmly at the centre of the action and gets to take her revenge. She’s being pursued by assassins and has to hire a bodyguard – but that bodyguard is a woman, and isn’t much help in the end, so Door has to get rid of them herself. All of these are inversions of some fairly standard tropes that we see pretty often, so she definitely passes this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 6.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Unfortunately the only relationship Door has with another female character is with her bodyguard, Hunter. It’s a pretty stilted relationship, mainly due to Hunter’s taciturn personality, and doesn’t get a lot of depth or development. She interacts briefly with some other female characters, such as Lady Serpentine, but there’s not much else there. We know she loved her mother and sister, but as we never actually see them I can’t really count this.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10
Door is a character with a certain amount of control over her own destiny and a range of goals and beliefs, who is consistent, progressive when it comes to gender stereotypes and isn’t dominated by her love life. However, this isn’t enough for her to pass my test. The biggest thing that lets her down is her lack of character development and weaknesses, which are important parts of any character.
This seems to stem from the broad building blocks used to make her character – she’s quite clearly an inversion of the ‘Damsel in Distress’ trope we’re all so familiar with, but just inverting the trope isn’t always enough. Interestingly, Neil Gaiman himself has said something similar on his blog, in a short article about novels having genders (which is really interesting, so I’d definitely recommend reading it).
But does this mean I don’t enjoy Neverwhere, or I don’t find Door’s character compelling? Absolutely not. I’ve always enjoyed this book and I probably always will – acknowledging its flaws won’t have any effect on that.
Next week, I’ll be looking at a character that will get us into the Halloween spirit and diving into Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride. Emily, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.