Thursday, 12 July 2018

Heroine Fix: The Goddess of Death, Hela

Heroine Fix is a monthly feature looking at characters whom I admire and who influence my own writing. (Warning: this article will contain spoilers.)

I love Norse mythology and one of the things that's on my top ten list of things to do if I ever get a time machine is to go back and discover the lost sagas, particularly about the Norse Goddesses.  (Number one is to go back and see what dinosaurs really looked like.)  However, since that's unlikely to happen any time soon, in the meantime, I just have to enjoy modern interpretations.  Cate Blanchett's Hela, from Thor: Ragnarok was an amazing performance of an atypically nuanced villainess and goddess.  She may not be a heroine, but she is a strong female character and worth taking a second and third look at.

I stand by my conviction that Groot hates hats because he spent time on Asgaard.
One of the most basic pieces of writing advice is that every villain is the hero of their own story.  It's to ensure that your villain has a purpose beyond stopping the hero.  Hela's point of view actually makes for a compelling and heart-wrenching story.

She was Odin's first-born child, created out of a desire for conquest.  He raised her as his executioner, the one who executes his visions of the world as it should be and executes those who oppose him.  And Hela was very good at her job.  Powerful, dedicated, intelligent and resourceful, she conquered the nine realms for her father, binding them in chains of death and blood.  She wanted to continue, to bring all of the worlds under Asgaard's control.

But Odin didn't want that.  From Hela's perspective, once he'd achieved what he wanted, he decided he wanted to be seen as a benevolent king and wanted to cover up the dark deeds that were the foundation of his throne.  (One doesn't have to scratch too deep under the surface to see parallels between that and the civilized veneer that gets thrown up after atrocities.)  To give Odin a little credit, maybe he was horrified by what they'd done to achieve power, maybe he thought it had all gone too far.  But his solution left a lot to be desired: he imprisoned Hela in a pocket dimension, never to be heard from or spoken of until his death.

Thor: I'll just use my magic hammer... it works on everything.
Hela: Not a nail, blondie. :)
As a parent, time outs can be a good strategy.  But an eternal time out in solitary confinement does not make for a well-balanced personality.  And Odin knew she was going to eventually come out and wreak disaster but made no effort to prepare his people or Thor and Loki to deal with that.  Not the All-Father's best choice.

Hela comes back to the world and discovers she has been deliberately erased and forgotten.  Her brothers have no idea who she is and immediately attack her.  They're squabbling over what she sees as her throne, as the first-born.  Her people don't remember or recognize her and they're no longer the glorious warriors that she led into battle.  Her entire world has shifted and she no longer recognizes anything.  It would be overwhelming for anyone.

This is where she makes the choice that cements her as a villain.  Rather than try to adapt to the new world, or even taking the time to learn about what its pros and cons might be, Hela decides to recreate the world that she remembers so fondly, animating the dead soldiers and the Fenris wolf kept beneath the palace.  (Another of Odin's questionable choices: I've totally given up the whole conquest by force idea, but I'll keep my zombie army in the basement, just in case.)

Just add fire... lots of fire.
The last we see of Hela, she is fighting off the demon Surtur, who was awakened by Thor and Loki for the purpose of destroying Asgaard to weaken Hela so that she couldn't go on a galaxy-wide conquest.  (Talking out issues is not Odin's family's strong point.)  

Marvel's not big on redeeming their villains (at least not for anything beyond the short term) so while I assume Hela survived and we'll probably see her again, she's probably going to still be on the same "conquer the world" kick as before.  But I enjoy the idea of twisting stories around to show how the people we thought were bad guys actually have their own damaged motivations.  They might not have made the right choices in the past, but there's always a chance they can find a new, healthier path.  I would adore the chance to show Hela as learning and adapting to the modern world.  

She is the Goddess of Death, but death isn't always a bad thing.  It is the end of the old in order to allow for the growth of the new.  What if she began to target those who use their power to exploit and harm?  One could even plausibly keep it within her character arc by having her do it to knock off potential rivals rather than out of any altruistic goal.  But even Loki became enamoured of the idea of becoming a saviour.  Hela could begin to crave the recognition and adulation she would receive as a protector and that would allow for some interesting exploration of her motives and background.  She wants to be worshiped and recognized: what would she be willing to do to achieve those goals?

These are the questions that fan-fic is made of, but also the questions that inspire writers to write new stories in their own universes.  Because the best stories always start with "What if...?"

(Keep on reading for more information on next month's Heroine Fix and a special offer on my own books.)

Are you addicted to strong and intriguing heroines like me? Share your favourite heroines with me on Twitter with the hashtag #HeroineFix.

And if you'd like to check out my version of a damaged but strong heroine who wants and fears redemption, please check out my Lalassu series about a secret society of superheroes living among us.  Book 4 was just released and Book 1 is on sale for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

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Next month I'll be looking at Art3mis and Aech from Ready Player OneIt's time to play some games and save the world.  Join me on August 9th for your next Heroine Fix.

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