On Fantasy and Latent Heroism

October 7, 2020 by

Eowyn, from The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy

My musing started the day Wonder Woman hurtled into my classroom. Her flashing red cape flying behind her, her curls rumpled into unruly tangles, she was close to bursting with superpower. After several complete orbits around the room, narrowly avoiding capsizing the bookshelf, she executed a purposeful bound into her seat, ready for breakfast. She had accomplished this dazzling entrance so quickly that I barely had time to steady the bookcase before she was seated and waiting to be served.

“Well, good morning, Wonder Woman! Glad to see you’re ready for the day.”

She remembered to wait until her mouth was empty. “Good morning!”

“I know you often run to get places quick and help out, but in my classroom even superheroes have to use walking feet.”

“OK.” She gave me a cheerio-studded grin.

Breakfast over, Wonder Woman headed for the block corner to build a garage. After I had ensured that all my pre-K students were gainfully occupied, I walked over and had a chat with Wonder Woman. The cape had become cumbersome and kept knocking down the wall of the garage, so it was laid aside. Without the cape, and with her hair pinned back into place, Wonder Woman looked a little more like Tansy, the student whom I was more accustomed to having in my class.

“Tansy?” I waited for her to look up. “I’ve never met Wonder Woman before. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?”

Garage forgotten, Tansy sprang into her hero stance, fists clenched, arms crossed in front of her: “I fight for the world I know can be. Only love can save the world.”

It's been a year since I met Wonder Woman, but that scene often replays in my head: “I fight for the world I know can be. Only love can save the world.” Tansy had paraphrased these words from Wonder Woman with such conviction; she wasn’t quoting so much as proclaiming. She had a hero, and it was her goal to emulate the character and actions of her hero.

I didn’t need to ask myself who my hero is – I already had the answer: Eowyn. And in my opinion she has one up on Wonder Woman because rather than being a demigod, she’s human. As a woman she models my own hunger for adventure. Growing up, my classmates may have liked the princess-waiting-in-a-tower-to-be-rescued characters like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, but the shield maiden in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was far more to my liking. I love Eowyn’s fiery retort to Aragorn when he tries to tell her that she must remain behind as the men ride to battle: “All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house…. But I am of the House of Eorl and not a serving-woman. I can ride and wield blade, and I do not fear either pain or death.” Ultimately, the very aspect that Aragorn perceives as her weakness proves to be her greatest strength. In a moment of unparalleled valor on the battlefield, she laughs in the face of the Witch King’s warning that no man could deter him: “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.” She not only slays the Witch King, but she survives. She is no immortal, she has no superpower, but she possesses the courage and pride of a true woman.

Eowyn’s courage and daring, although born in imagination, are a blueprint of heroism. The same is true for Wonder Woman. Throughout their stories, they are cautioned to wait, to accept the roles that fate – read: societal norms and expectations – has assigned them, to leave the fight to others who are better able to meet the need. But both listen to their inner convictions over the advice and warnings of others. Wonder Woman disregards a warning that no man can cross No Man’s Land and instead responds to the plight of the refugees, eventually liberating an entire town. Eowyn obeys her own heart’s longing to fight above Aragorn’s advice that she take refuge with the civilians, and thus kills the king of the Nazguls. Their belief that truth and goodness are rooted in their own hearts and must be obeyed above all else revolutionizes their stories.

Unfortunately, there are no longer medieval-era quests or great battles on the Pelennor fields to galvanize the hero latent in the civilian. Instead, there are the decisions of everyday life that are seemingly inconsequential and tedious. But if I make my decisions with an ear to my inner convictions, a trust in my own heart to know what is good and true, and a healthy wariness toward the cautionary altruist, life becomes an adventure.

Wearing a cape helps, of course.


About the author


Sheyann McPherson

Sheyann McPherson studies History and English Literature at the University of Pittsburgh, and lives at Pittsburgh House.

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