Can a Tower Princess Be Strong?

Rapunzel

Another big trope that has been loathed by many is the ‘Tower Princess’.

While not always involving a tower, this is a female character who has been locked up.  She is the prize for the male hero after he finishes his quest.  Various changes have been made such as a prince being locked up or the ‘Tower Princess’ escaping from bonds under her own power.  Both methods have been done so much that one could say they’ve become tropes.  This results in people simply avoiding having any female character who is helpless and in need of aide, especially from a man.

First, let’s be honest.  There are men and women out there who are helpless unless they get help from a stronger individual.  So, the ‘Tower Princess’ concept does have real-life examples even if we like to pretend they don’t exist.  This still doesn’t make it a great idea to have a woman as a prize.  Not unless you want to get a lot of backlash for both sexism and unoriginality.  So, is there any way to have a ‘Tower Princess’ shown in a positive light while still having a male hero?

It’s a tough challenge because you’re going to have people hating the concept as soon as they see it.  They won’t give it a chance and go in with a closed mind.  After all, the differences will be more subtle than a gender bend or removal of a male hero.  Yet, there are some ways to demonstrate that this woman isn’t really helpless.  There are a few things she can do even if she can’t escape.  It simply requires that you show what she is up to from time to time instead of staying solely with the male hero.

  1. Strength–  This is easier to demonstrate than one would think.  I’m not talking about physical strength, but mental and emotional.  A ‘Tower Princess’ can hold onto hope and sanity in the face of abuse and isolation.  Being unable to free herself, she can fight to hold out until rescue or finding an opening to do it herself.  Defiant behaviors in the face of trauma doesn’t have to be solely for the adventuring hero.  I’d say a story of captivity is where one would need to see such endurance demonstrated.  This makes the ‘Tower Princess’ more than a prize since they now have some influence over their own fate.
  2. Smarts/Cunning–  A ‘Tower Princess’ doesn’t have to sit around doing nothing beyond sleeping, eating, and bathing.  They may take some action to make a rescue or escape more likely.  I’m not talking about Rapunzel and her hair, but things that will help the approaching hero.  For example, throwing spoiled food into the moat to make the monster sick or making it so that the drawbridge cannot be lifted.  Leaving a back door unlocked at all times can help too.  Much of it depends on how they’re contained and the distance they can travel around the tower.  Show that they’re creative and somewhat proactive even if they still need to be rescued.
  3. Sharp Tongue–  This only works if the ‘Tower Princess’ has to constantly interact with her abductors.  It doesn’t even help in her escape or rescue, but it goes back to the strength concept.  A sharp tongue is what many people see as a sign of an unbroken will.

As you can see, these are more general categories.  The specifics are up to the author because they can change depending on the scenario.  A solitary tower with a dragon guarding it will have less to work with than a citadel guarded by a warlord and his semi-loyal soldiers.  The point is to not always toss out a trope because it’s typically shown with little change and in a negative light.  There’s always a way to change it up without flipping it entirely on its head.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to Can a Tower Princess Be Strong?

  1. L. Marie says:

    Great topic (and series of posts on tropes). This is an interesting discussion. I love Tangled, so I can’t say I dislike this trope. However, I can understand why some people dislike it, because they think the trope insinuates that women have to be rescued or sheltered all of the time. This brings to mind a line Elastigirl speaks in the first Incredibles: “While what? I watch helplessly from the sidelines? I don’t think so.”

    Great tips. I think the Tangled filmmakers tried to implement them so that the audience wouldn’t rebel against them. But I agree that the trope shouldn’t be tossed out because we think we’re more “enlightened.” I greatly dislike the efforts these days at emasculating the hero, who is often used with this trope (and therefore has been almost villified now). I don’t think you have to make a male character weak in order to have a strong heroine.

    A book I love that deals humorously with this sort of trope is Dealing with Dragons by Patricia Wrede: https://www.amazon.com/Dealing-Dragons-Enchanted-Forest-Chronicles/dp/0544541227

    Liked by 2 people

    • Emasculation of heroes is a big thing I’m seeing more of. I think many consider the only way to make a woman appear strong is to surround her with useless men or have her constantly defeat men. It gets a lot of praise because there’s an audience who wants to see male characters get treated poorly by a woman. It’s a major swing in the opposite direction.

      It is unfortunate that people get angry at the sight of this trope. By getting rid of it completely, we can end up ignoring those who are truly like this. While it is a woman usually in need of rescuing, I think a core concept is that there are those out there who need to be rescued. Not everyone has the strength to get out of a jam on their own.

      Liked by 2 people

      • L. Marie says:

        I agree. What I love about The Incredibles, which is still my favorite Pixar movie, is the way they handled the roles with humor and grace and believable emotion Bob wasn’t less heroic because Helen was also. They worked together. That’s what I loved about the first Avengers movie. Black Widow didn’t take anything away from any of her male teammates. All people have moments of strength and weakness.

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      • You don’t see a lot of movies like that these days.

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      • V.M.Sang says:

        In a way, making a woman seem strong by surrounding her with useless men possibly does the opposite. It says that for a woman to appear strong, the men in her life have to be weak. She might not be strong in reality, but appears so in contrast.

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      • True. I don’t think a lot of people get that though. Noticed many talk as if most men are idiots, so they think it’s reality.

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  2. I think Rapunzel specifically is symbolic of so many fairy tales where women just waited to be rescued, or their hand in marriage was offered as a prize to the hero for solving a particular problem. They reflect the social ideals of their eras.

    Our ideals now are different, and who knows, in the future, what social ideals will be held? But, considering we know the “waiting to be rescued” ideal is so out of favor, it really is on the author to either make more of the subject or find a different trope.

    Nobody is forced to read work they don’t like, and authors aren’t forced to write it, either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s part of the reason why I brought the two specific tropes up this week. I saw many people complaining about tropes, but without watching or reading the work that triggered them. There’s a big thing in modern society where people will attack instead of walking away. They act like they’re being forced to indulge in a work that they don’t like, so they rant about it on social media. This causes a wave of negativity from people who haven’t seen the work, but they don’t like the trope that is used. Even if the trope is slightly altered, people will get angry because they’ll just see ‘woman in trouble and needs rescuing’. I really do wish people would just walk away from the stories that have tropes they don’t like instead of setting out to destroy such things.

      The era thing is interesting though. I got curious and looked for the original meaning of ‘Rapunzel’. Instead, I found that it was based off the Saint Barbara in 3rd century Italy. She was so beautiful that her father locked her in a tower to keep her away from men. She had also become Christian while he was Pagan. She prayed to God to escape and a hole was created for her hide, but her father found her. He was then killed by lightning when he drew his sword. Seems like the original story is more 3rd Century Christian propaganda against Pagans.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another terrific discussion, Charles. Thanks

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  4. V.M.Sang says:

    Yes! The strong Princess. A great post, Charles.
    You are a good person to write it. I enjoy your strong women in Legends of Windemere.

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  5. I’ve actually written this one, and liked how it came out. Voyage of the Lanternfish is centered around rescuing a kidnapped wife. I didn’t spend much time with her, because it let the hero formulate his doubts for the readers. I doubt most readers picked up on this trope, but it drives the story.

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