For some reason, I find this harder to do this for heroines - I'm not sure where to start even designing a survey - and that makes me feel bad. Am I just more critical of female characters?
I don't think so.
So I had a think about the heroines I like. Not kick ass action film heroines. Just all round heroines from books and films.
So who makes it to my heroine pin up list?
Alice Kingsley in Alice in Wonderland. Particularly in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I like her truthfulness and the fact she owns herself and follows her dreams. She has integrity. And that frisson of mutual affection with Johnny Depp's Hatter is just delicious (only Johnny Depp could make a frizzy haired maniac seem attractive).
"From the moment I fell down that rabbit hole I've been told where I must go and who I must be. I've been shrunk, stretched, scratched, and stuffed into a teapot. I've been accused of being Alice and of not being Alice but this is my dream. I'll decide where it goes from here."
Venetia the eponymous heroine of a Georgette Heyer romance. Why do I like Venetia? For similar reasons, actually. She's truthful. She's kind. She's intelligent and in the end she reaches out and takes what (or indeed) who she wants, because she has courage and maturity and she believes in herself.
“There is nothing so mortifying as to fall in love with someone who does not share one's sentiments.”
Hmmm. I'm sensing some similarities here.
Maria von Trapp in the Sound of Music. Alright, as I've grown older I've also developed a sneaking fondness and sympathy for the Baroness (she's quite heroic in her own right). But why Maria? Because she's wholehearted in her zest for life. She follows her dreams. She searches her soul and tries to be true to herself and to do the right thing.
"Oh, no, sir, I'm sorry, sir. I could never answer to a whistle. Whistles are for dogs and cats and other animals, but not for children, and definitely not for me. It would be too... humiliating."
Who else would I add to this list? Anna from The King and I (principled, intelligent, truthful and strong), Robin from Diane J Reed's YA romance Robin in the Hood (honest with herself if not with others, protective of those she loves, takes responsibility for herself), Belle from Beauty and the Beast (intelligent, kind and truthful), the Black Widow in the Avengers (clever, honest with herself, responsible), Terry McKay in An Affair to Remember (clever, funny, responsible) Princess Giselle in Enchanted (believes in her dreams, generous, kind, truthful).... I could go on.
So who doesn't make it to my list?
Bella Swan in Twilight. Cinderella (from the Disney version through to the Drew Barrymore version). Judith Taverner from Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. Pretty much any Johanna Lindsey rape-me-i'll-still-love-you heroines. Or the other type. The I-going-to-be-stupidly-strong-willed-and-a-pain-in-the-ass-and-you'll-love-me-cos-I'm-a-challenge heroines (see Judith Taverner reference).
I don't like them. Why?
Because they don't take any responsibility for themselves or their own actions, because they don't value themselves or their own beliefs, because they're overly martyred, or because they are constructed merely to be a pale and reactive mirror to their world (in Bella's case). Not that I didn't like Twilight. I actually did. But still.
So here's what I deduce from this...
1. Heroes can take many forms because they carry the fantasy. We can have multiple fantasies.
2. Heroines are more personal. They're not carrying the fantasy, so they're not essential to that aspect of a book but a really annoying heroine can intrude on your fantasy and make you want to scream.
3. The best heroines reflect the values that you personally value - and that's going to vary.
For me a heroine is proactive in shaping her own life. She takes responsibility for her own actions. She is honest with herself. She values herself - and others. She has principles but isn't judgmental or moralistic.
These are qualities I like and admire. This is the type of woman I feel deserves a happy ending.
My type of heroine.
Giselle: "But dreams do come true. And maybe something wonderful will happen."