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F.F. White ([personal profile] ffwhite) wrote2013-05-22 12:50 pm

A short analysis of one archetype: The Babe in the Woods

Unappreciated, underestimated, overlooked, and sometimes hated, the Babe in the Woods is an archetype used for contrast in any dangerous or strange situation. While the characters around them are capable and sturdy, the Babe is vulnerable and naive. In its most traditional form, the Babe in the Woods is a Damsel in Distress who does little more than provide a goal for other characters to strive for. Lately, a lot of Babes have become characters in their own right, following their own paths through loss of innocence and emerging into adulthood or heroism in their own way. This trend, I think, is a good thing. It is far more entertaining, interesting, and engaging to develop naive characters. After all, without them dangerous situations don't seem very dangerous and sometimes, they are the pleasant surprise no one sees coming and win the day.

So, in honor of the Babe in the Woods, I'm pleased to present a short list of recent characters and some broad categories. I can think of plenty more, but these are all pretty current.

The Victim. Sansa Stark (Game of Thrones) and Carl Grimes (The Walking Dead) have a lot in common. They are both young, naive, and vulnerable. Also, they are surrounded on all sides by horrific monsters. The victim is the kind of Babe we pity, because the outlook for their survivability is bleak and no one is there to protect them. They aren't quite Damsels in Distress because the hero isn't coming. Instead, they have to take the abuse they're given and somehow survive. This type is very good for showing frailty, both of themselves and of more capable characters, because everyone is powerless to save the victim from their troubles. Also, they make an audience uncomfortable, which is why they fit in the horror genre much more than any other.
The Punk Kid. The young John Connor (Terminator 2) and Dawn Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are just as naive as the other Babes, but they don't seem to know it. This archetype was popular during the 90s, and it is no mistake that Dawn and John come from that era. The punk kid is, by design, unlikable at the beginning of their story arc, but after confrontations with real danger, they wise up and grow into a more capable form. These characters do not make us uncomfortable, as their spirit is strong even if they are bound for trouble, so make good characters for action stories.
The Charmer. Perhaps the most beloved Babes are those who possess the moral purity of the victim and the spirit of the punk kid, but they are aware of their underestimated and undervalued status, so use their wit or charm to hide their vulnerability and manipulate the more badass characters into helping them. Peggy Olson (Mad Men), Henry Mills (Once Upon a Time), Ron Weasley (Harry Potter), and Princess Buttercup (The Princess Bride) are all somewhat clueless about their situation, but try very hard to be heroic despite their short-comings. These Babes are almost universally beloved, as cynics like them for the same reason the heroes like them. Charmers were perhaps the first complex babes to be explored in literature, as they turn up in Jane Austin novels and Shakespeare plays fairly often. For this reason, charmers make good companions for any genre, as they are right at home in the most serious tragedies and comedies.

-f. f. white

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