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 saving.
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.