Thursday, 11 February 2016

Heroine Fix: Joan Wilder, A World-Class Hopeful Romantic

I first saw Romancing The Stone at a friend's house during a sleepover.  There was much giggling that there was (gasp) kissing and naked people in it, which gives you an idea of how old we were.  I remember having a crush on Michael Douglas but Kathleen Turner's portrayal of Joan Wilder stuck with me and definitely influenced my outlook.  I love Romancing the Stone and its sequel, Jewel of the Nile.

Joan is bookish (and a professional romance writer!) but it doesn't stop her from boldly going into the terrifying jungles of Columbia to rescue her sister from treasure hunters or venturing into the Middle East to research a would-be dictator.  She was always optimistic.  When her editor accuses her of being a hopeless romantic, Joan corrects her "I'm hopeful.  A hopeful romantic."  She never gives up, no matter how daunting the odds and is actually the one figuring out most of the clues and strategies that keep her and her hero, Jack Colton, alive.  She doesn't hesitate to give him her honest opinion, telling him that "a real man doesn't have to draw attention to his actions ... he's honest, forthright and trustworthy."

Rewatching the films, I found myself vicariously enjoying and sympathizing with her life as a writer.  From the opening sequence in Romancing where she's sobbing over her own ending as she types up her manuscript to her confession that she writes as a "way of living in another age", I identified so strongly that I started wondering if I owed the screenwriter money for copyright infringement.  (Since my life does not have a rough-around-the-edges man with a shotgun squiring me from shootout to shootout, I'll assume I'm still good.)  I also loved when she got frustrated enough with her characters to throw her typewriter overboard in the opening sequence of Jewel.  I've had days like that, although rarely a convenient body of water with which to dramatically express my irritation.

I love how she and Colton keep getting saved by enthusiastic Joan Wilder fans.  Someday I hope that my books are popular enough that I can avoid being killed by a drug cartel because the head honcho loves my stories.  I love how she uses events from her plots to figure out what's going on (figuring out where the treasure is hidden from her first book, Treasures of Lust and trying to scrape free of prison bars, inspired by her biggest seller, Angelina's Savage Secret).  And how the bad guys are always able to identify her from her book cover photos.  (For some real amusement, check out the back blurb for this prop from the movies.  As a writer, I found it hilarious.  Maybe I should try it for my next book.)

Joan is not a Buffy-type heroine who kicks butt and takes names, but no one can doubt her strength.  She defies kidnappers, drug lords, dictators, her editor and even the love of her life, Jack.  Not once does she back down when she believes she's right, no matter how much she has to lose.  Her personal integrity is both impressive and unshakeable.  I'm not sure that I would have the guts to tell a man with a shotgun that he is not being a gentleman when he is my only shot at getting out of the jungle alive.  She insists on expecting the world to live up to her own idealized version of itself rather than becoming cynical with compromise.

And after all of her trials and challenges, she finds herself with everything she could have hoped for.  She hasn't compromised herself, her goals or her integrity but still managed to find romance and happiness.  She is still a writer, a hopeful romantic and ready to ride into the next sunset.  She hasn't given up anything which was important in her life and she's gained everything she hoped for.  So many romantic comedies end with the woman deciding that what she wanted isn't as important as her love for the hero (which can be a good sign of character growth but still grates on me somewhat) but Joan never has to make a choice between her dreams and her heart.  And that, to me, is the perfect happily ever after.

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