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Reading: Impossible Journey: The Liminality of Female Heroes


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Impossible Journey: The Liminality of Female Heroes


Leah Phillips

University of Warwick, GB
About Leah

Dr Leah Phillips recently completed her PhD with the University of Warwick. This project, “Myth (Un)Making: Female Heroes in Mythopoeic YA Fantasy”, reads how this vein of speculative fiction contests dominate, hegemonic ideals of being an adolescent girl, particularly focusing on constructions of the body made possible by the fantastic nature of these texts. Her current research interests include YA literature and “speaking” adolescent girl.

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Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books appear to be about the traditionally construed hero’s journey, though with a female hero rather than the conventional male. Superficially, this change seems insignificant: the “monomyth” is reproduced. Founded upon binary oppositions, this monomyth is the male hero’s journey – the traditional journey. However, while these female heroes may appear to conform, this paper explores how, upon a close reading of the narration of two particular moments of change, or “transcendence”, within that journey, the necessary structure collapses. The journey, as is traditionally conceived, is impossible.

The first instance works to construct the apparently stable body as changeable, through the narration of shape-shifting. Through this reading, the obviousness of the body (and of identity) is explored and troubled. The second instance works, through the narration of transition into a womanhood, to question the individuality of the body. The body is again produced as changeable, but this transition works to expand readings beyond individual subjectivity to construct the body as operating within a collective. While collapsing traditional conceptions of myth, these readings also work to reposition and rearticulate the female body outside of myth’s masculine discourse, allowing a reinterpretation of that body in terms of the feminine. 

How to Cite: Phillips, L. (2017). Impossible Journey: The Liminality of Female Heroes. Roundtable, 1(1), 7. DOI:
Published on 24 May 2017.
Peer Reviewed


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