Characters in fiction do a lot for us. They let us live adventures vicariously through them, they let us experience emotions and fears we might not normally be exposed to. They give you people to relate to, people who are like you, people who make you feel like you’re not the only little weirdo like you in the world. They can validate you.
It’s interesting, taking that into account, to see who our children relate to, which fictional characters. What does it mean about who they are and how they feel about themselves?
Miss Rose, my four year old daughter, loves Rainbow Dash, Princess Luna/Nightmare Moon, and Wonder Woman.
Z, my three year old step son, loves Batman, Darth Vader, and Jack Skellington.
Each character they relate to tells us a lot, and watching them every day we can really see why those characters draw them in so much.
Rainbow Dash is a My Little Pony. Her hair is rainbow striped, she has the power to influence the weather, and she can fly. Her personality is what would traditionally be described as that of a “tom boy”. I’m not keen on that description necessarily, but it communicates well enough what I mean.
Miss Rose is very different to a lot of the little girls in her peer group. Where they have long hair with bows and braids, Miss Rose has short scruffy hair. Whereas they showed up to their first day of nursery with Frozen backpacks, Miss Rose brought Spider-Man. She likes football, trains and cars. But, equally so, she is girly. She loves tutus and glitter and fluff. She is a mixture of traditionally masculine with traditionally feminine in a striking way.
For Miss Rose, Rainbow Dash shows her that it’s okay to be a girl who likes sparkles and pretty colours, but not be traditionally girly girl with it. It legitimises her differences. It shows her girls can be like her too and she is absolutely okay for that.
I probably don’t need to tell you who Batman is, but just in case… Batman is a comic book character who fights criminals whilst dressed as a giant bat. He’s dark, brooding, violent and very masculine.
Z is the most masculine little boy I’ve ever met. He is rammed with testosterone. He has a very clear idea of right and wrong, even though he regularly crosses over to wrong as all children do, and is intolerant of breaking the rules. He believes in justice. He’s very physical and wants to fight and wrestle.
Watching Z it’s clear why Batman appeals. He gets to be a very manly man, good and true, whilst exercising his desire to fight. Z is surrounded by women. His time is split between his mother’s house, his grandmother’s house, and this house. Whilst he has the male influence here in his father, he’s outnumbered by women as there is me and his two sisters here too. Batman gives him an outlet for that masculine energy he doesn’t really get anywhere else.
PRINCESS LUNA / NIGHTMARE MOON
This is an interesting one. And my favourite of them all for it’s insight.
Princess Luna is a My Little Pony, her magic is to raise the moon at night. But she has a split personality, an evil alter ego who takes over her; Nightmare Moon.
Luna is good and sweet, she is kind and loving. She adores her sister and wants to be part of her community. Just like Rose.
But when Nightmare Moon takes over, pushes the sweet Luna aside and dominates her, she becomes angry, dangerous and cruel.
She unleashes fury… Just like Rose.
Miss Rose’s adoration of this character, I think, comes from her own internal conflict. She wants to be good, she wants to be a friend, she loves to have fun and play. But when she’s over tired, over stimulated, or hungry, she has a side that comes out that takes control. She tantrums, stamping her feet, shouting and screaming.
Miss Rose hates that side of herself but can’t always control it. Watching Princess Luna battle with the literal internal darkness of Nightmare Moon helps her understand her own internal darkness. She sees that this fury is bad, but that when Nightmare Moon is banished and Luna regains control, it is not held against her. Luna is welcomed back by her family and friends, and loved despite her actions when Nightmare Moon takes control.
Just as Miss Rose battles with her own internal darkness, Z battles with his. His dark side.
Darth Vader is the most visual and literal representation of a dark side that you can find in fiction. Under the evil Emporer Palpatine, he leads the Galactic Empire.
Z struggles with his temper, unleashing rage in the form of fists and screaming and kicking. He gets very angry, very quickly.
I believe he relates to Darth Vadar because he understands that darkness. He understands that desire to be the villain, and even though he understands that Darth Vader is a “bad guy” and has no desire to emulate him, he feels better to know that there are others out there with similar impulses. He feels that anger is legitimate and he’s not alone in feeling it.
Wonder Woman is the princess of the Amazons, a badass super hero woman who fights in the DC universe.
Miss Rose adores her daddy and she adores her brother. Her daddy and her brother love Super Heroes. Miss Rose also loves super heroes but, as she wants to connect with girls, despite feeling differently to them, she feels underrepresented in the fiction the boys enjoy. Then came Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman is strong, she is tough and she is smart. She fights alongside the boys for good and justice. She is a princess, but she is not a damsel. Wonder Woman encompasses everything Miss Rose wants to be. She wants to be adored by her daddy, accepted by her brother, and she wants to be the best. Wonder Woman is the best.
Jack Skellington is the king of Halloween. He is a dark, brooding ad moody from Time Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Jack Skellington represents a different side to Z. A more vulnerable side. There’s a loneliness to him, he’s different and isolated, he feels like he doesn’t belong and goes searching for happiness.
Z is moved between homes constantly. He spends mornings with his grandmother, afternoons at school. He’s overnight at ours several nights and at his mother’s the others. His weekend days are split usually mornings at ours and afternoons at his mothers, or vice versa. He’s rarely in one house for an entire day. Rarely with one parent an entire day. He has no “my house” as he is split evenly everywhere.
Whilst that gives him many places he feels safe, it also builds a sense of isolation. He doesn’t fully belong anywhere because he’s never fully living anywhere. His things are spread between houses, his family are spread between houses.
Just like Z, Jack Skellington is complex. He feels like an outsider and he feels weird and misunderstood. For Z it is reassuring to see he is not the only one.
When you look at who people connect to and why you can learn a lot about who they are.
So what of me? What fictional characters do I relate to most?
Buffy Summers, Sydney Bristow, and Lorelai Gilmore.
Buffy fights demons, both internal and real, and struggles with relationships, but maintains a goodness and honesty that is remarkable even in bad times. I’ve struggled with demons. I’ve always wanted to be good. Buffy showed me I can do it.
Sydney is strong and holds her own against men who try to hurt and intimidate her, and always manages to fight, never letting them win. She is strength and intelligence. Sydney came to me when I needed her. When fighting off men was too hard for me. When I needed it to be possible.
Lorelai is a mother. A single mother to a daughter she adores more than life itself, and a mother working her ass off to achieve her goals. I work constantly, every day, to achieve my goals and I desperately hope to have the closeness with my own daughters that Lorelai has with the now adult Rory. Lorelai is smart and feisty. She makes mistakes but she rides through them, and throughout it all her relationship with her daughter remains her strength. I adore Lorelai.
How about you? Who do you love and why? What does it say about you?
You can check out all my contact info an links on www.jjbarnes.co.uk, I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so you can get in touch on there, as well as find links to all my work. There’s also www.sirenstories.co.uk which has all the work by both myself and Jonathan McKinney and loads of extra content such as background stories for different characters. If you want to subscribe on Patreon, its just $1 a month to help support our work and it also grants you access to our extra podcast a week, you can go to www.patreon.com/sirenstories.
Thanks as always for reading, and I’ll speak to you soon I hope!