Monday, April 8, 2013

Red Haired Heroes Everywhere

Redheads, redheads, everywhere in fantasy and S.F., the redheads rule. I've noticed it from my earliest beginnings in fandom. The hero, or more likely heroine, of the story has flaming red hair. Even Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's notorious FOUNTAINHEAD has fiery red hair. Not just in fantasy fiction, but in comics too...the famous and powerful Jean Grey in the X-Men, or Batgirl, or Natasha the Black Widow, or Red Sonja the swordswoman. If a woman is powerful and aggressive and bad-ass, she's probably red-haired too. If a woman is the only woman on an otherwise all-male team, she's almost surely a redhead. In classic science fiction, the female "Lensman" had red hair, as did the fantasy female knight Jirel of Joiry. I could cite other examples all night long. And with fantasy art as well, just look at any compilation of current fantasy females and you'll find red hair everywhere.

It really started getting overwhelming with Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, where the psionically empowered characters, mostly in major roles, all had flaming red hair. The brighter the color, the more powerful they were. Just pick up a fantasy tale, and you're bound to find red haired persons. But gosh, why? There just aren't that many true (undyed) redheads in real life, so why so many in fantasy? It got to be such a cliche that I started to compile examples from fantasy/s.f. books I read. I used to ask authors, why did you make your hero/heroine red-haired? They said, well, I didn't think too much about it, I wanted my heroine to stand out. Huh? Like they had never read any number of books with red-haired heroes already? And they just went with the cliche. 

I finally wrote an article about this phenomenon, called "Red-haired Heroes, Brown-haired Losers." I published it in "Science Fiction Review" in 1985, where in those pre-Internet days you actually had to read something printed on paper. This article still exists somewhere, now online of course. In the article I described a "hair color hierarchy" in which the color of a character's hair determines what  happens to him/her in the book's plot. Black hair is for macho male heroes, like Conan the Barbarian; blonde hair for desirable princesses who need to be rescued. Red hair, as I've described it, is a sign of singular gifts and magic powers. And brown hair is never the leader or the hero. Brown hair, like the proverbial Star Trek red shirt wearer, dies early in the story, often protecting the hero.

Of course none of these color themes is absolute. You can find brown haired heroes if you look for them. But here I am again, posting a fabulous redhead from the lineage of Amber, Fiona. I almost didn't post it, but it was quite a popular painting in its day, so why not. When I was in Ireland I saw people whose natural red hair was so bright it was neon-fluorescent, described by Arthur Conan Doyle in his famous Sherlock Holmes story "The Red-Headed League." This flame color fades as the person gets older but you can still find them in Ireland somewhere. The rest of us, including myself, must have recourse to the dye bottle to make ourselves into superpowered heroes.

"Fiona of Amber" is gouache (opaque watercolor) on illlustration board, 4" x 7", spring 1982.

1 comment:

Tristan Alexander said...

Very Mucha-esque I realy like this one. Nice pose, great face, nice format!