Helpless and Innocent No More by Kelsey Freson

Picture a girl with a head bigger than the circumference of her waist and curves leading to her chest and hips that mimic a replica of the Grand Canyon. The hair atop her head never strays out of place and there is nothing but the image of innocence and purity spread across her face. Picture a girl with no voice, no power, no say in what she wants, but somehow ends up with a happily ever after. Who is this girl? She is the girl you hear about every time you are told a fairytale. The way women are portrayed in fairytales isn’t new news; since fairytales were born women have been depicted as the innocent, weak, and powerless characters who needs saving. The author of The Book of Lost Things brought fairytales back to life by putting his own twist on classic fairytale stories. John Connolly attempted to redefine the portrayal of women characters, but instead ended up stereotyping them in the same way as many other fairytales. By looking closer at several of the female characters in this novel, such as the girl in red, the huntress, Snow White, and the women of the village, one can see more clearly how Connolly began to push at social boundaries created by fairytales but ultimately ended up resorting back to common tropes seen in fairytales.

One of the first tales David was told by the Woodsman was the tale of a beautiful young girl who didn’t believe any of the men in her village were good enough for her. One day on her way to her grandmother’s house the girl spotted a wolf and instantly fell in love with the creature. She then lured the beast into making love to her. It was after this that the first Loup was born (Connolly 87). This story told to David by the Woodsmen is very similar to the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” except the character that is the sexual pursuer is no longer the wolf. In The Book of Lost Things Connolly decided to push at this social boundary and make the girl in red the sexual predator and the one who pursues the wolf. By doing this, Connolly created a female character that wasn’t weak, and wasn’t taken advantage of like we usually see. Nevertheless, after being given power over others Connolly quickly took it away from her when he turned her into a sexual predator. The wolf had no interest in the girl in red and tried to avoid being seen by her, but once she caught view of this creature she wouldn’t stop pursuing him until she got her way (87). Turning her into the sexual predator did not make the girl in red any stronger of a character, in fact, it did the exact opposite by turning her into a freak that had sexual relations with a wolf. Connolly should have simply stopped at making her a beautiful woman who didn’t want to settle for less then what she thought she deserved.

The girl in red isn’t the only female character in Connolly’s book that he attempted to make into a feminist. The huntress David encounters is another example where Connolly wrote a powerful female character but then failed by making her evil as well. When David first encounters the huntress in the forest he has no idea it is a woman. It isn’t until after she captures him, takes him home, and undresses in front of him that David finds out that this awful person who kills children and fuses their heads to animals’ bodies is actually a woman (151). In our society, we don’t see female characters as hunters in fairytales, therefore, for Connolly to reveal that the hunter is actually a huntress definitely pushes at the boundaries that fairytales have created towards women. The huntress is the only female character in a fairytale where no man whatsoever is present. In all fairytale stories there is always a male character that comes to the woman’s rescue, but in this story that is not that case. The huntress lives on her own and takes care of herself. She is the most independent, strong-minded female character that Connolly wrote, but then destroyed.

Shortly after capturing David she told the boy, “I grew tired of hunting beasts, and humans make poor game. Their minds are sharp but their bodies are weak” (152). It wasn’t good enough for the huntress just to kill animals of the forest, she wanted to know that she was more powerful than that and that she could kill anything she created. It was because of this desire that David was able to trick the huntress into turning herself into one of her creations, thus killing her in the process. Evil being punished is a common trope we see in many fairytales, and by John Connolly using this trope to help teach a lesson it doesn’t push at the social boundaries, it simply reinforces them. This was a woman who was smart, independent, and very powerful and instead of using all of this for good she uses it for evil and is ultimately killed by a young child because of it.

Beauty is another trope that Connolly reinforces in The Book of Lost Things. Beauty may be a simple word, but the meanings that this word carries around with it are not so simple. When first glancing at the story of Snow White in The Book of Lost Things one would think that Connolly successfully rewrote a version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” that pushes at social boundaries and redefines the portrayal of women but in reality all the author did was rewrite a more humorous version of this classic tale.

Instead of Snow White being an innocent princess hiding from her evil step-mother and who is adored by the seven dwarfs she is a rude, lazy, and needy woman who does nothing but boss around and mooch off the dwarfs. This is not how princesses in today’s stories are portrayed to look or act like, thus, for Connolly to write Snow White’s character this way is testing the waters. Along with Snow White’s physical appearance of not meeting the “ideal standards” of today’s society she is also not one for love at first sight. In fact, she is creeped out by it. When a strange man kissing Snow White awakens her from her slumber and proclaims his love for her she does not embrace his love, instead she gives him an earful and sends him on his way (128). This is not what usually takes place in fairytales between the prince and the princess. When a prince appears out of nowhere and falls madly in love with the princess she doesn’t question it, they instead ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after together. Connolly may have started down the right path in pushing at the social boundaries associated with beauty but after changing Snow White’s appearance he once again began reaffirming these boundaries by turning her into the selfish, needy, demanding person.

We first meet Snow White while David is on his way to the king’s castle. On the way there he meets seven dwarfs who invite him to stay at their cottage, that is, after they warn him about the lazy, rude, and very unpleasant woman that lives with them, named Snow White. It wasn’t until David arrived at the dwarf’s house and met Snow White that he truly believed what the dwarfs were telling him. David was shocked when he walked into the cottage and saw the biggest, fattest lady he had ever seen in his life (132). The description of Snow White was that, “Her face was caked with white makeup. Her hair was black, held back by a brightly colored cotton band, and her lips were painted purple. She wore a pink dress large enough to house a small circus” (152). Even David was surprised to meet a Snow White like this. She was definitely not the beautiful, sweet princess he read about in his books.

Just like Connolly resorted to using the trope of evil being punished, he once again resorts back to another trope that is often used in fairytales, which is the image of beauty. Connolly attempts to push at these social boundaries by making Snow White fat and ugly but instead is reaffirming them. In fairytales beauty is seen by being thin, and in being beautiful that character is always pure and innocent. This is usually the princess in the story that is taken advantage of by someone else. Then there is always the powerful female character that is evil and mistreats the princess in the story. This character is most often less attractive than that of the princess and is seen as not having the perfect figure like the princess does. So by Connolly making Snow White not only unattractive and overweight but also rude and lazy he is reaffirming this trope that has been created.

It is almost as if Connolly thought it would be pushing at social boundaries enough if the female characters in his novel were outspoken and knew what they wanted, but it wasn’t. Just because the dwarfs feared Snow White in The Book of Lost Things her character was still dependent on them. Without the dwarfs Snow White would have been helpless. She relied on the dwarfs to take care of her. She wasn’t even capable of making her own food. If Connolly really wanted to write Snow White as a feminist character, who wasn’t submissive, he should have at least made her be able to take care of herself.

So far all of the female characters we have looked at in The Book Of Lost Things have exemplified some sort of power over others, whether they were sexual deviants, hunters, or simply outspoken and rude. The only female characters that are left to look at are the women of the village that are about to be attacked by the beast. One would think that for an author attempting to push at social boundaries and write a fairytale that redefines how people in society are viewed he would give everyday plain women power as well, but he didn’t. While the village was preparing for the attack of the beast, all the women, children, and elderly men were packed up and sent to the caves to stay until it was safe to return (201). Not a single woman vowed to stay behind and help defend her home. If Connolly really wanted to push at social boundaries he should have wrote in a female character that would have stood up and stayed behind to fight. An author can’t attempt to write a novel that pushes at social boundaries and then forget to write in brave, powerful, everyday women.

Now picture a girl that doesn’t have curves that mimic a replica of the Grand Canyon, but still has a heart of gold, and treats others fairly and kind. Picture this same girl being able to take care of herself and not need a man or anybody else to come to her rescue. This is the girl that John Connolly’s novel, The Book Of Lost Things, is missing. Connolly attempted to redefine how women characters were portrayed but instead ended up writing the same type of characters we see in other fairytales. Because the girl in red was beautiful and knew what she wanted she became the sexual predator of the story. The huntress was skilled and independent but yet that still wasn’t enough, she wanted more power and in returned was killed for it. Snow White wasn’t your typical beautiful, innocent princess but was still defined by her beauty, and would have been helpless without the dwarfs. Then there were the women of the village who all just simply packed up and headed for the caves when danger arose.

In today’s society fairytales are told mostly to children for entertainment. What people don’t realize is that these stories influence children and how they view the world. Because of the stereotypes women have in fairytales it isn’t surprising that little girls think that one day their prince charming will magically appear on a white horse and ride them off into the sunset. That is why it is important for people like John Connolly to push at these boundaries fairytales have created and allow young girls to see that not all women are weak and submissive. By having more well-rounded and developed women characters in fairytales it will change what little girls take away from the stories and change how they view their role in society. Even though John Connolly reinforced certain social boundaries he still created a fairytale that started to clear the path to expunging the typical helpless, submissive female character we have seen time and time again.