I’ve noticed a trend in storytelling where characters are only applauded if they save themselves. Damsels in distress are right out. Don’t be needy.
But, as a Christian storyteller, I find this concept to be
exceptionally distasteful. (On many levels.)
I need a savior.
I am completely incapable of saving myself.
I can’t pull myself up by my bootstraps and fix my life.
And I get it. I’m an American. We fought for our Independence.
We celebrate rebellion. Our gene pool is stuffed full of people who went at it
to explore, conquered, and carve out homes for themselves far from safety. Our
mythos is the Cowboy and the WW2 soldier. We love stories of strong men and
women out there against the world and winning. We love stories of the underdog
who rises up and saves the day. I love those as much as anyone else. I love
stories of bravery and courage, but I also love stories of sacrifice and
It seems our culture finds it distasteful for a man to save
a woman. She needs to save herself. She needs to not need him. But, what if she
does need saving? What if you found yourself in an inescapable situation? Wouldn’t
you want to be saved? How many times does the Bible talk about God hearing the
cries of the oppressed? He doesn’t tell them he’s going to sit over here and
let them save themselves because it will be good for them.
Independence has its place, but we have given something
that should be balanced with her sister Dependence, a seat alone. Independence can
give us the ability to help others, the strength to do what needs to be done, creativity,
but she should never be in the foremost. When Independence takes the lead alone
she becomes harsh, bitter, selfish, and pushes everyone away. She’s not nice. We
praise YA books that teach us women that we don’t need a man to save us, but I,
as a women, have health issues. I actually do need my husband’s help. There are
things he is better at than I am. There are times, yes in small, ordinary ways,
he rescues me. I need to be saved.
I am a sinner. I can’t save myself. I can’t wash my sin
away. I can’t, by sheer force of will, make myself acceptable. I must have
someone stronger than I come in and help me. I must be saved.
As a child, I didn’t find the idea of the Damsel in
Distress distasteful. I only found it distasteful when she stood in a corner
and screamed, or fainted. I always yelled at her to pick up a rock and fight. Then,
when I was in my teens, my goat herd got attacked by two dogs—our dogs attacked
my goat herd. I stood at the top of the hill watching these dogs ravish this
herd of sweet goats and I screamed. I couldn’t move. I was frozen in horror. It
was one of the weirdest moments of my life. I literally could not move. I could not save the ones I loved. I was in deep
distress. (I actually don’t remember screaming, but my Mom told me later she
could hear me on the other side of the hill.) The one time I needed to pick up
a rock, I could not.
Being the Damsel in Distress is humiliating. Waiting around
to be saved, finding out you’re weak, realizing you’re dependent on others is
humiliating, but it is also so very good for us. It is good for us to need
others. It is good for us to need our friends. It is good for us to need our
spouses and families. It is good for us to realize we are finite.
And, it is good to remember that if you are struggling,
being abused, fighting depression, or any other dark thing, get help. Don’t go
it alone. Don’t let your pride or your belief that you must save yourself set
you on a path of total independence. Admit to the fact that we are all damsels
in distress at some points in our life and need saving. Then, at that moment,
in the valley of the shadow of death, remember the fairy tales: knights come.
I think our stories would be better if we didn’t throw out
the Damsel in Distress and the White Knight, but if we honestly realized we can’t
handle it all, we can’t save ourselves. We do desperately need a White Knight.
This isn’t some oppression tactic to tell little girls that they have to sit on
their hands, and to tell little boys they get to have all the fun. This is to
say that we all need saving, and we should all help others when we can, even
when we are weak.
I saw a post about Harry
Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban that praised Harry for saving himself at
the end. That the whole point of seeing himself and realizing it wasn’t his
father was to show that Harry saved himself. I just laughed. Harry had to have
so much help to reach that point, so much help, that it’s silly to think he
saved himself. It was just one last step. He took the final step. That’s like a
woman with a broken-down car who changes her own tire. The tire her father taught
her to change, the tire her husband left in the car, or the tire that she
purchased. We don’t’ save ourselves.
We always have help.
We have friends who support us or bop us over the head. We
have people who hug us and people who drive us. We have stories. We have music.
We don’t save ourselves, even when we have to take that final step.
And saying Harry saved himself is sad. It removes the magic
of the fact that in a way his Dad did save him. It removes all the work Hermione
did with the Time-Turner. It chases away the magic of finding out about the Marauders.
It changes the whole scene, and not in a good way. The beauty of that scene is
the longing of an orphan to see his dad, of realizing he is going to have a
home, of all of that culminating in a twist of realizing he can do the magic he
needs to do. Focusing on Harry saving himself belittles all the other things
going on to make the magic of that moment. Yes, Harry was armed with the knowledge
that empowered him to fight, we all need that, cause we can’t save ourselves.
Harry realized he was capable of a difficult spell and saved Sirius, himself,
and Hermione. But he didn’t do it alone. He was only the final step.
So, dear readers, you may crack open one of my books
someday and find that there are Knights, usually a bit muddy, and Damsels in
Distress, usually ones with brains, yes. Because I love them. I, as a woman,
like being saved. I like having a knight. You will also find Bands of Brothers,
you will find Best Friends, and you will find Teams, Found Families, and
Communities. You will not find people succeeding when they go it alone, because
we all need help, we’re all dependent, and we all need to be saved.