BOOKS ....... FREE STORIES ....... TALES OF TAM YS ....... ARCHIVE ....... EDITING ....... SARAH

The Grass Girl and the Girl in the Tower

Two archetypes of women finding their freedom

One of the more tedious kinds of blogposts out there is that in which the blogger describes her dream of the night before. I don't know about you but I find other people's dreams invariably dull, regardless of how explosive their plotline, unless of course they feature me.

Despite knowing this, I have a tendency to want to share my own dreams. Like the one I had last night in which I attended a mythic writers conference run by two beloved leaders in the field. I won't give you the details because, it's true, they would be interesting to no one but me. But it was personally very educative to watch myself move through this conference in the same way I have moved through my relationship with the mythic writing field. A lot has changed in my heart since I began.

I mention this dream because in it I spoke on two fantasy heroine archetypes - the flowering grass princess and the girl in the tower. 

The first was formed from a question asked by a famous mythic writer in the dream: "who is the princess of the grass?" I replied that she was the girl who belonged to a certain land, and whose original identity was seeded in that land, but her roots were ultimately not the most important thing about her and she moved with the winds of fate, becoming so much more than a kingdom's special princess. I produced Raederle as an example, impressing myself even in the dream. I'm sure I could think of many more. Emma from Deep in the Far Away would certainly count.

I then, in the dream, posited another archetype, the girl in the tower, which of course already exists in the real world of, er, fantasy worlds. Not that I can immediately find an article describing it, but we all know it exists. I've even attended workshops on it. Innocent maid trapped in a symbol of masculine potency - although ironically the most famous towered girl, Rapunzel, is imprisoned (or protected) by an old woman.

As a female writer, I can't help but write about towered girls a lot. Most explicitly in The Towered Lady, a story in The Coracle Sky, but any woman who is trapped by patriarchal institutes or male power is a kind of girl-in-the-tower.

And yet, "man traps woman" is too simplistic, I think. My heroines actually suffer more from either other women's manipulation of that patriarchal power, such as in Roses for the Dragon, or their own response to it, such as in Captured.

And then there's Isolda, who spends most of her story inside a tower that is quite conspicuously a symbol of masculine potency. She's perhaps my favourite of all my heroines. Although she's not exactly trapped in the tower, a close reading (and certainly the back story I created when trying later to make it a novel) suggests that she hasn't many choices in being there. I like how she transforms it into a place of her own power. And in doing so, transforms herself. All of us find ourselves inside towers of one kind or another, and we can't always break them down or escape. Some we even have to walk into with our eyes open. But we almost always have a choice about who to be within them.

Archetypes are interesting, but mainly as a starting point from which so much complexity can be explored. I always find it disappointing when the only story is "woman struggles against the patriarchy." The tower is one thing, but tell me about the rose brambles, and the old woman who created and maintains the spell, and why the princess never just climbs out of there using her sheets, hair, ripped-up dresses. (Hint: she has no money, nowhere to go, he's convinced her the tower is a palace, the walls are all inside her now.) And with all due respect to Raederle and other self-assertive women, show me a princess who loves her freedom but still needs, wants, can't escape from, her grassroots in that old kingdom.

That's what I want my women readers to think about and set against their own lives.


  1. Hi Sarah, I've been really enjoying the fresh new tone to your writing lately. In my own life, I feel like I've been on a path of moving away from my own fantasy world and finding a place in the real world. Your writing, among other things, has been a kind of bridge for that process. I think sometimes we don't even realise how much we can help another person without realising it.

    I have often felt like the archetypical girl in the tower, trapped in a life that I never wanted and full of barely hidden resentment. But the longer I go on, the more I see that it is only a matter of perspective, a perspective that I can change at any time to be one of personal power. Who knows what the future holds, and how my experience will enrich it. As to assigning blame, I think the idea of patriarchy is an illusion. There are reasons we women allow ourselves to be disempowered, I do not think it is an us versus them situation, but like you say is far more complex than that.

    Just to let you know that the second and fourth images are blocked by Pixabay.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us Sarah, I don't often comment, but I enjoy reading when I can. xx

    1. Thank you Kim, your comment was so helpful and encouraging for me. I have been feeling anxious about changing things here because I know some people found real valuable in what I offered before. But actually I'm like you - moving away from a fantasy world of what could be into the real world of what is, and finding a place for myself there. I actually almost feel like being lyrical and quiet was a kind of tower I built around me to hide away. Or a tower I told myself was a beautiful treehouse, and all the world was trees - only now that I've come down from it I see there's a whole other world out here full of people who want to talk and engage and share, and it's wonderful.

      I love poeticism. But I love community better.

      Ironically, things have become even more quiet here at the weblog. That's okay.I suspect this place will become a side place for my social media anyway.

      I'm so glad my writing has helped you with your process. That means alot to me <3

      ps thanks also about the photos, I fixed it. :-)

    2. Oh bother, I hate when I type quickly, post even more quickly, and then see all the errors! Excuse them, please.


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