I have a question for any reader who cares to answer. In recent days, we’ve had a discussion about strong female characters. We did not discuss little girl characters.
With little girls, the question of sex (outside of perversion) drops out of the equation. But little girls can still be feminine or masculine, a tom-boy or not. My question for readers is this: can a little girl be a strong character?
I am thinking specifically of Dorothy Gale as she is portrayed in the books by L. Frank Baum. I noticed that when reading the first twelve Oz books to my sons that the great charm and the drama from Oz is not so much exciting battles or murders or suchlike. The adventures are usually travelogues or simple quests where the girl (Dorothy, Trot and the oft-forgotten Betsy Bobbin) travel from point A to point B meeting odd characters or quaint villages of talking animals or animate objects along the way.
The Friendship between Dorothy, Trot, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, the Hungry Tiger, the Sawhorse, the Glass Cat, Cap’n Bill, and Scraps the Patchwork Girl and so on and so forth is the main appeal of the series. There is not the slightest hint of romance in Oz (all the little girls are too little) and so the menfolk do not appear as father figures nor as romantic leads, but as friends.
It is rare to see men portrayed in a book starring a female main character simply as friends.
In none of these books, so far as memory serves, even when stranded on a sunken island or trapped by magical islands or transformed into geese or what-have-you, Neither Ozma nor Dorothy nor Trot nor Betsy cries or whines or acts like she needs a Prince Charming to save her. I have not counted up how often or when the girls get rescued by friends versus how often the friends get rescued by girls, but it was not the kind of obvious formula we see in, say, the Barsoom novels of Burroughs, where Princesses get kidnapped with such regularity that one assumes they wear carrying-handles to tote them.
Whatever it is that people are looking for when they look for ‘strong’ characters could be one of several things. If it is typical masculine behavior, the reader does not see that in Oz. If it is being the prime mover of the action, the one who makes the decisions, or on whose acts the plot hangs, that the little girls in Oz certainly have.
This leads to a second question: is it the genre? I tend to think the sword and sorcery genre is one where it is difficult to portray a strong female character, unless she is a good witch or something, because the action revolves around manly deeds of masculine physical strength, such as fighting pools full of nipping weasels. Or chthonic horrors. I meant to say chthonic horrors. Whereas the detective story genre, or the magical schoolchums genre are more welcoming to girl characters, because the Veronica Mars or Hermione Grangier are in situations where brains count for more then brawn.
Is Dorothy Gale a strong female character? What about Wendy Darling, or Alice Pleasance Liddell?