Same Melody, Different Lyrics: Woman's Her-oic Journey

in Women Who Run with the Wolves, The Piano, and Whale Rider

In her best-selling book Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, Clarissa Pinkola Estes interprets ancient stories from many cultures and establishes them as archetypes for key phases in a woman’s journey to recover her “innate instinctual” self—the self that Estes calls the “Wild Woman archetype” (Estes 6). Although Estes purpose was not to provide a static model for a woman’s her-oic[1] journey, she did invite readers to use the stories as “soul vitamins” and as “map fragments” that could “lead us back to our own real lives” after having lost our authentic selves to patriarchy (20). In 1993, I had just finished reading Estes when I saw Jane Campion’s award-winning film The Piano and found startling parallels between Estes’ archetypal stories and Ada McGrath’s her-oic journey.[2] Over ten years later, I watched Niki Caro’s internationally-acclaimed film Whale Rider (based on Witi Ihimaera’s novel) and became intrigued with the idea of discussing the ways in which these two films by white women directors from New Zealand depicted the her-oic journeys of a white colonial 19th century woman and a Maori girl in the 21st century in relation to Estes archetypal stories. The comparison reveals many parallels in these stories told by three women in two different countries (New Zealand and the United States) and in different media (two films and a book) which suggests the significance of these archetypal stories as guides for women’s her-oic journeys.

Estes’ book was a best-seller and received much critical acclaim. Both Campion’s and Caro’s films won numerous awards and were well-attended by diverse movie audiences. Although literary and film scholars may decry works with popular appeal, one obvious conclusion is unavoidable—these stories reflect truths that are widely recognized. In a fundamentally patriarchal world community where women still struggle to have a voice, let alone be the her-oes of their own stories, Clarissa Pinkola Estes has published the sheet music from which women can teach themselves to sing. Filmmakers Jane Campion and Niki Caro have written two different, but equally poetic, sets of lyrics to that melody.

Ada’s “Weird Lullaby”
At the end of the film, when Ada has at last found her authentic self (her authentic song), she tells us in voice-over narration: “At night I think of my piano in its ocean grave, and sometimes of myself floating above it. Down there everything is so still and silent that it lulls me to sleep. It is a weird lullaby and so it is; it is mine” (Campion). On Ada’s her-oic journey to this place, her story and the stories of Baines and Stewart parallel the characters in three of Estes’ archetypal stories—
“The Handless Maiden,” “Manawee,” and “Bluebeard.”[3] Ada is Bluebeard’s wife, as well as the Handless Maiden who embarks on a “rite of endurance” in the “underground forest” in order to connect with “the underworld of female knowing” (Estes 388-389). Stewart’s character, as Ada’s “predator” husband, is present in “The Handless Maiden” and the Bluebeard story. Baines is represented in “The Handless Maiden” and the story of Manawee as the mirror of Ada’s Wild Woman nature and as her true mate.

Like the Handless Maiden, Ada’s journey begins when her father gives her away. Ada’s father arranges her marriage to a man half way around the world whom she has never met. Estes says that it is the father’s role to “help her embark” on her journey (Estes 395). As Ada walks the archetypal path of the Handless Maiden, trees serve as one of the recurring symbols marking her journey to self-discovery. Estes says that the “tree is the archetypal symbol of individuation” (398). The Piano opens with Ada sitting under a tree peering through her fingers, and Campion uses trees as visual messengers throughout the film. Ada travels with her daughter Flora from Glasgow, Scotland to live in the forests of New Zealand. Her new husband, Stewart, is busy removing the trees from the land in order to farm it. He is frequently seen with an ax which demonstrates his metaphoric chopping of Ada’s individuality as well as foreshadowing his literal removal of her finger.

During a drenching rain storm, Stewart chops off Ada’s finger with the ax that has been ever-present in the film. After her mutilation, Ada collapses in a large puddle with an expression of numbness that mirrors Estes’ description of the Handless Maiden at this stage of her journey. Estes says, “we are numb once we have passed through this stage and realize what has been done to us, how we surrendered to the will of the predator and the frightened father so that we wound up being made handless” (401). Like the Handless Maiden, after she has been mutilated the predator (Stewart) cannot get near her due to her cleansing tears—”there is something about the purity of true tears that causes the Devil’s power to be broken” (Estes 409). Ada sheds pure tears whose cleansing power is enhanced by the purifying tears of mother earth—the New Zealand monsoon rains. Stewart cannot get near her.

According to Estes, at this stage of the journey, the Handless Maiden “gives herself over to be guided by the wild soul” (414). Ada allows her “will”—Campion’s substitute for her instinctual Wild Woman nature—to take control. She halts Stewart from sexually assaulting her by mentally communicating with him that she cannot control her “will” because it has become so strong. This is the dawning of Ada’s connection between her outer and inner selves. Estes says that it is “through the conjunction and pressure of dissimilar elements inhabiting the same psychic space that soulful energy, insight, and knowing are made” (421). Ada can no longer justify the gap between her mutilation and attempted rape at the hands of her “good Christian” husband Stewart and her instinctual passion for the “uncivilized” Baines who loves and appreciates her. For a woman in a culture that has taught her that her only value lies in relationship to men, the avenue for her self-discovery logically becomes the men in her life. Baines becomes Ada’s link to the instinctual Wild Woman nature that her outer self—confined by the binds of Victorian culture—has kept hidden from her.

According to Estes, “Anyone close to a wildish woman is in fact in the presence of two women; an outer being and an interior criatura, one who lives in the topside world, one who lives in the world not so easily seeable” (119). Ada’s outer self meets the standards of Victorian society—she wears restrictive dark clothing and a tight, restrained hairstyle; she possesses a silent, passive attitude; and she agrees to marry a man she’s never met. The presence of her “criatura” can be heard in her piano playing, and can be seen in her passion for Baines. In a patriarchal culture that grants her no voice, Ada McGrath has chosen not to speak. We know through her narration that she stopped speaking at age 6, but we aren’t told why. Without language, she uses two other means of communication—signs that only her daughter Flora seems able to interpret and the music she plays on her piano. Her piano is the voice of her true self—Estes’ innate instinctual Wild Woman self. Although Ada has some contact with her Wild Woman self through her piano, she must integrate this instinctual knowing with her outer self. Baines serves as Ada’s catalyst to help her balance this natural duality.

Baines can also be seen in parallel with Estes’ Manawee. Estes says that the “Manawee man has his own dual nature: a human nature, and a dog nature” (121). By associating Baines with the Maoris—the native people of New Zealand—Campion creates a strong character who has made the link with his “wild” self. Baines, a Scotsman by birth, speaks Maori, has intimate relationships with Maori women, and has Maori tattoos on his face. He also demonstrates a respect and appreciation for the Maori traditions that is completely lacking in Stewart. Stewart, who is easily identified with the white patriarchal colonizers, disrespectfully stomps through Maori burial grounds, steals Maori land, and tries to rob them. Although he clearly intends to settle there, Stewart has not bothered to learn the language or to understand anything about Maori cultural traditions which emphasizes Stewart’s lack of contact with his wild instinctual nature. Cyndy Hendershot contrasts Stewart’s patriarchal image of masculinity with Baines who because “he cannot read (master the word) . . . has difficulty identifying with the signifiers of patriarchy” and seeks an “alternative masculinity.” (4)

Campion further connects Baines to Manawee and his dog nature by giving him a dog companion, the three-legged Flynn. Estes says that Manawee’s human nature “is not enough to win the courtship. It is his dog nature, his instinctual nature, that has the ability to creep near the wildish woman” (121). It is doubtful that Baines’ human nature could have made the connection between himself and Ada, but his dog nature does upon first sight of her. When Baines and Stewart arrive on the beach to pick up Ada and Flora after their arrival from Scotland, Stewart asks Baines what he thinks of her:
BAINES. She looks tired.
STEWART. Well, she’s stunted that’s for sure (Campion).
Even at this early stage, Baines connects with Ada’s interior, with her feelings, with her as a whole person. Stewart sees her as an object that does not meet his standards. In fact, Stewart is so deaf to Ada’s inner voice, that he cannot understand her need for the piano. Even when she asks him to leave behind everything else and carry only the piano inland from the beach, he instructs the Maori to do just the opposite. He defines what she should want—her kitchen things and her clothes, not her inner voice. The piano—Ada’s voice—is left on the beach with the waves lapping its legs.

Ada’s instinctual nature understands this difference between Baines and Stewart, even if her outer self does not. Later, she asks Baines to guide her through the woods back to her piano on the beach. At first he refuses, but she and Flora sit in silence outside his hut until he relents. They go to the beach, and amid the crashing waves and the brilliant blue sky, Ada plays and Baines listens—he not only listens, he truly hears. This is a pivotal moment in the story for both characters. Ada chooses to reveal her true instinctual voice to Baines. Estes says, “If a woman wants a mate who is responsive in this way, she will reveal to him the secret of women’s duality. She will tell him about the interior woman . . .” (128). It is significant that Ada chooses to reveal her interior to Baines, but not to Stewart. Later in the story when the piano is finally returned to her, Ada refuses to play for Stewart. Although her outer self may not yet understand, her inner self knows that Stewart cannot hear her truth. Baines, who as Manawee is in touch with his dog nature, can hear “outside the range of ‘human’ hearing. This mediumistic aspect of the instinctual psyche intuitively hears . . . the deep music, the deep mysteries of the feminine psyche. It is this nature which is able to know the wild nature in women” (Estes 124). Baines hears Ada’s music, and his dog nature hears her Wild Woman.

Quite contrary to Baines, Stewart is not only incapable of hearing Ada’s Wild Woman, the signs of the strength of her inner voice are frightening to him. He is very troubled to discover her “teaching piano” to Flora at the kitchen table on which she has meticulously carved an entire keyboard. Later, out of Ada’s hearing, he asks one of his white neighbors if she’s ever heard of someone playing a table as if it were a piano, but the woman supports his suspicion that Ada’s somehow “not right.” Baines overhears this conversation and realizes the importance of the piano to Ada, and his dog nature recognizes his desire to connect with her Wild Woman. Baines, like Manawee, “wishes to touch this most ubiquitous but mysterious combination of soul-life in woman . . . Since he is himself a wildish, natural man, he resonates to and has a taste for the wildish woman” (Estes 121). He devises a plan for her to spend time with him by bargaining away 80 acres of land to Stewart in exchange for the piano and Ada’s teaching services. Stewart, who is also representative of Bluebeard, bargains away Ada’s inner voice without her knowledge or permission. While Baines (like Manawee) is fascinated by Ada’s dual nature (her outer self and her instinctual self), Estes says that men with “Bluebeard-like” energy (Stewart) cannot tolerate the duality (121).

Campion uses the Bluebeard story as a subtext for her film by selecting it as the church play. Estes describes the Bluebeard story as an archetypal representation of the “natural predator” that the Wild Woman must come to recognize in order to survive (39). The enactment of the Bluebeard story by the church members sets up an intriguing backdrop juxtaposing Stewart and the “civilized” Christian culture against Baines and the native Maori culture, as well as foreshadowing Ada’s mutilation with an ax at the hands of her husband Stewart (Bluebeard).

Estes says that women must remain in possession of their instinctual selves in order to restrain the predator (44). Ada’s instinctual self is present in her communication via the piano, but her outer self is not in contact with it. Further, her instinctual self represented by the piano has been bargained away to Baines who serves as a dual link to her Wild Woman nature—by possessing the piano and through his own wild nature. Therefore, when Ada rejects Baines at the church play and allows Stewart to hold her hand, she rejects the recognition of her instinctual self and makes herself vulnerable to the predator. In choosing the “civilized” man Stewart over the “nature” man Baines, Ada in fact chooses the predator over her instinctual self. At this stage, Ada, like Bluebeard’s wife, is too out of touch with her Wild Woman nature to recognize the danger. Campion also underlines the fact that an association with nature reflects an understanding of the instinctual self by having Maori warriors rush the stage to save Bluebeard’s threatened wife.

The Bluebeard story revolves around a small key, and Campion substitutes a piano key as the device that opens the door to Ada’s instinctual self. Estes says that for women in fairy tales “the key always symbolizes entree to . . . knowledge” (56). By using the keys they are told not to use, Bluebeard’s wife and Ada discover their Wild Woman instinctual natures. Bluebeard goes away and leaves his keys with his wife giving her permission to use all of them but one. Stewart, who has only recently removed the boards from the doors and windows trapping Ada in the house, leaves and instructs Ada that she is not to contact Baines. Bluebeard’s wife uses the key and discovers the beheaded remains of all of her husband’s previous wives in the locked room. Ada removes a piano key and inscribes the following on its side: “Dear George you have my heart. Ada McGrath.” Bluebeard returns and threatens to behead his wife with an ax when he discovers she has used the key. Stewart returns and threatens Ada with an ax after Flora delivers the key to him. Bluebeard’s wife is rescued by the combined efforts of her sisters and brothers. And, here the parallels diverge, because Ada, having made contact with her instinctual Wild Woman—her “will”—instigates her own rescue.

Ada understands that if “she attempts to obey Bluebeard’s command not to use the key, she chooses death for her spirit” (51). Instead, she recognizes her instinctual self and thereby chooses life. It is Ada’s “will”—her instinctual self—that saves her. Just as Estes describes, “she wills out at the end, for she is able to see into the truth of it all, and she is able to hold it in consciousness and take action to resolve the matter” (55). Ada’s will understands that her marriage with Stewart will suffocate her Wild Woman. As Stewart is about to rape her while she is lying bandaged and unconscious from his brutal ax attack, Ada awakes and sends him a message without speaking, mind-to-mind: “I am afraid of my will, of what it might do. It is so strange and strong. I have to go. Let Baines take me away. Let him try to save me” (Campion). Although Ada has at last heard her instinctual self, she is still afraid of it. Ada does not complete the connection with her instinctual self until later when she is forced to choose between life and death.

Ada, Baines and Flora set out to sea in a canoe paddled by the Maori with her piano precariously balanced in the center. With this image, Campion creates another brilliant juxtaposition of the “civilized” culture (representing the outer self) against the native culture (representing the instinctual Wild Woman self)—Ada’s survival rests on balance. The piano, a creation of “civilization,” must be balanced in the canoe, a creation of the “natural” Maoris, in order for all of its occupants to survive. And, Ada must find a balance between her outer self, a product of the limits patriarchal society places on women, and her instinctual Wild Woman self, which until now has ironically only manifested itself through her piano and more recently through her passion for Baines.

Once they are out at sea, Ada insists that Baines throw the piano overboard. He argues with her, but ultimately agrees to do what she wants. As the piano is sinking into the sea, Ada places her foot amidst the uncoiling rope attached to the piano and allows herself to be sucked overboard. Campion shows the piano silently sinking underwater with Ada floating above, attached by the umbilical cord-like rope. Estes says that in the “old women’s religions, a small ritual ax was used to sever the umbilical cord of the newborn, freeing the child from the underworld so it could live in this world” (Estes 406). The next image is Ada struggling to loose herself from the rope, succeeding by leaving her shoe still tangled in it, then shooting to the surface and gasping for air. She says (in voice over narration): “What a death! What a chance! What a surprise! My will has chosen life” (Campion).
Her “will”—her instinctual Wild Woman self—has chosen life. And the image that Campion uses shows us that it will be a different life. She literally bursts forth from the underworld of the sea to the outer world of the air. Estes says that there comes a point in the Handless Maiden’s journey when she is tempted to stay in the underworld of the instinctual nature. “But this is not the best way, for the outer world at these times is the only rope left around the ankle of the woman who is hanging, wandering, working upside down in the underworld” (Estes 424). In turning herself over to her “will” and to life in the outer world, Ada has turned “herself over to be guided by the wild soul” (Estes 414). Her wild soul has chosen life—the path whereby she can learn to balance the outer and inner selves.

Ada, Baines and Flora begin a new life together in a city called Nelson where Ada learns to speak and teaches piano. The integration of her inner and outer selves allows her to release the piano as her only means of communication with the outer world and to learn to communicate in a way that others besides Baines and Flora can understand. The piano takes a more appropriate place in Ada’s newly balanced life, as one of many means of communication.

Like the lover in the Handless Maiden, Baines fashions a silver fingertip for Ada. According to Estes, “silver is the special color of the spirit world and of the moon” (Estes 405). She adds:
To be given silver hands is to be invested with the skills of spirit hands—the healing touch, the ability to see in the dark, the ability to have powerful knowing through physical sensing . . . These psychic hands will cause her to better grasp the mysteries of the underworld (Estes 428).
Baines, who has served as Ada’s wild guide to her instinctual self, fashions a silver fingertip for Ada that will help her stay in constant touch with the underworld—the domain of the Wild Woman. Baines is Ada’s true mate because like Manawee, he accepts both sides of her—her outer nature and her instinctual Wild Woman. Estes says, the “mate for the wildish woman is the one who has a soulful tenacity and endurance, one who can send his own instinctual nature to peek under the tent of a woman’s soul-life and comprehend what he sees and hears there” (129). Baines peeks under Ada’s tent figuratively and literally. Baines first peeks under Ada’s tent when he truly hears her piano music—he understands that it is her instinctual Wild Woman speaking and he wants to know more. Later, in a passionate and erotic scene when Ada and Baines first make love, Baines crawls under Ada’s hoop skirt which had earlier served as a tent for Flora and Ada on the beach. Baines is stirred by the Wild Woman in Ada as well as her outer self. Estes sees “it as an act of deepest love to allow oneself to be stirred by the wildish soul of another” (129).

Paikea’s Whale Song
In The Piano, the central characters are all Europeans who have immigrated to New Zealand and the native Maoris are cast as “other” in the story. Although Ada’s her-oic journey culminates in her claiming her “native” instinctual self, her story is only loosely connected to the Maori culture, and that primarily through the white European Baines. Niki Caro’s 2003 film Whale Rider, tells the story of Paikea, a young Maori woman whose her-oic journey is most refreshingly at the center of the narrative. Europeans are barely visible and only relevant to the story in terms of the 21st century socio-cultural effects of their 19th century colonization on Paikea’s Maori community. The film has been popular among many international audiences, but perhaps most importantly among both pakeha (white European New Zealanders) and Maori (Schembri 2).

Paikea’s story shares some parallels with Estes’ “Sealskin, Soulskin” story which has been told in various versions by “the Celts, the Scots, the tribes of northwest America, Siberian, and Icelandic Peoples.” (Estes 257). Estes says that this “story tells about where we truly come from, what we are made of, and how we must all, on a regular basis, use our instincts and find our way back home.” (257) In Whale Rider, Paikea uses her instincts to lead her people back home, and to help them remember what they are made of. The film opens with a voice-over narration by the young girl Paikea, who creates the context for the story by explaining the 1000-year old Maori story of Paikea, the ancestor who arrived in what is now New Zealand on the back of a whale:
PAIKEA: In the old days, the land felt a great emptiness. It was waiting for someone to love it, waiting for a leader, and he came on the back of a whale, a man to lead a new people, our ancestor Paikea. (Campion)
With this opening, both the spiritual context for the story and the story as her-oic quest are established. The next scene shows Paikea’s mother struggling to give birth to twins, the first of whom is a boy and the second of whom is Paikea. As in The Piano, the central character narrates:
PAIKEA: There was no gladness when I was born—everyone was waiting for the firstborn boy to lead, but he died, and I didn’t. (Campion)
In a rebellious act against his father who refuses to acknowledge his new granddaughter, Porourangi decides to break with tradition and name her Paikea. Neither he, nor the family knows it yet, but the name proves to be prophetic. The firstborn is in fact the leader they have been waiting for, but she is a girl. Like centuries of stories by women writers that feature female characters who are orphaned by their mothers early in life, without her mother as a role model Paikea is free to redefine “womanhood” outside of dominant cultural norms.

Crushed by his wife and son’s deaths, Porourangi goes to work as an artist in Europe and leaves Paikea to be raised by her grandparents, Koro (grandfather) and Nancy Flowers. She especially loves her Koro (grandfather), whom she calls Paka (which means “bugger”) (Ihimaera 152). She has apparently learned the term early in life from Nanny Flowers, who frequently threatens to “divorce the old Paka.” Paikea’s use of this term without objection, could be seen as a preliminary demonstration of her perceived power.

The story continues years later as Koro begins to worry about the condition of their community and the lack of a new male leader. He starts a school to train the boys in the community about their heritage and hopes that this will elicit a new chief. Paikea wants to learn and tries to participate to no avail. Koro is captive to the traditional view that leaders can only be male, and repeatedly shoves Paikea away from the teachings. Estes says that we lose touch with our instinctual selves when we become “too involved with ego . . . too exacting, perfectionistic, or unnecessarily martyred, or driven by blind ambition.” (266) Koro is trapped and made blind by these very attitudes. There is a scene where he’s trying to fix a motor boat pull-cord while Paikea asks him questions about their ancestors. Koro shows her the end of the and broken, frayed pull-cord explains: “Weave together the threads of Paikea so that our line remains strong—each thread is one of your ancestors.” (Campion) Koro attempts to start the motor and the rope breaks. He marches off in frustration to get a new rope. Paikea ties the rope together and starts the engine. Instead of being happy that she started the engine, he chastises her to never do that again. It is a foreshadowing of the entire story. Paikea knows how to weave the threads of the ancestral line together, but Koro cannot see her gifts as a leader because he is caught in the trap of his ego-view.

In spite of her grandfather’s constant rejection, Paikea continues to love him and forgive him. This unconditional, all-forgiving behavior embodies divine love as it is often defined. She never seems confused about who she is, but always acts on her own truth. Estes says that the “spirit child” is able to “claim dual heritage, world and soul” and is “one who will be able to carry messages and gifts back and forth between the two.” (272) There is certainly something otherworldly about this young girl’s capacity for love and forgiveness, and in the end, she is the one who reconnects her human community with their spiritual heritage.

Another particularly poignant demonstration of Paikea’s capacity for love and forgiveness is when she invites Koro to her school presentation even after he has exiled her to live with her Uncle Rawiri. He does not respond to the invitation and we don’t know if he will come. Nanny Flowers lays his clothes out on the bed. He dresses and it seems that he will attend after all, when he heads to the shore and discovers a school of beached whales. While he is busy trying to save the whales, Paikea dedicates her speech to her grandfather and choking back tears delivers this powerful message to his empty chair:
PAIKEA: If the knowledge is given to everyone, then we can have lots of leaders and soon everyone can be strong, not just the ones who have been chosen. Because sometimes even if you’re the leader and need to be strong, you can get tired. (Campion)
The next morning dawns on a beach covered with dying whales and dozens of members of the Maori community trying to help them. Paikea stands and watches from the hill as they try and fail to send the largest of the whales back out to sea. Exhausted the group turns away and decides to wait until the tide is higher.

Earlier in the story, after Koro’s select group of boys had failed to retrieve his whale carving from the sea, he sat and grieved and chanted to the whales to help him. Paikea stood in her father’s unfinished waka and chanted to the whales to help her Koro. Estes says that the spirit child is able “to hear the call, hear the far-off voice that says it is time to come back, back to oneself.” (273) Estes adds, “the one who hears and responds to the call from the sea is the little spirit child.” (277) Now, Paikea hears the whales call and responds to it. When no one is watching, she climbs atop the large whale and turns it out to sea. Nanny Flowers is the one who notices she’s missing and spots her in the distance on the back of the whale. She turns and hands Koro his whale carving (which Paikea retrieved on a fishing outing with her Uncle Rawiri) and he asks: “Which one?”. Looking out to see towards Paikea, she responds: “Which one do you think?” Finally, Koro sees and hears. Paikea is found unconscious by fishermen and taken to a hospital. Waiting for Paikea to regain consciousness, Koro sits by her bedside and says: “Wise leader. Forgive me. I am just a fledgling new to flight.” (Campion) Paikea opens her eyes in acknowledgement.

In the final scene, Paikea’s father Porourangi has finished his waka, and he and his brother Rawiri are the lead paddlers as Paikea sits next to Koro chanting the waka out to sea. With the visionary leadership of the “spirit child” who goes between the world and the sea, the human and the spirit domains, their Maori community has been reborn. As both women and men paddle the waka out to sea, Paikea tells us in voice-over narration:
PAIKEA: My name is Paikea Apirana and I come from a long line of chiefs stretching all the way back to the whale rider. I’m not a prophet, but I know our people will keep going forward all together with all our strengths. (Campion)
What is perhaps most remarkable about Paikea, and starkly different from Ada’s her-oic journey, is that Paikea seems to know who she is throughout the story. Like many women characters in film and story, Ada’s her-oic journey is to make whole an identity that has been fractured by patriarchy. In contrast, Paikea’s story is unique among most of the her-oic stories about women because her journey is not about self-actualization. Paikea does not need to “discover” how to be whole in the face of patriarchal splintering of her identity. She is already whole when the story begins. She seems at peace with who she is in every dimension, not trapped in the expected confines of gender roles. (In fact, she even appears androgynous with her long, lean, flat-chested physical body.) She is not embarrassed or ashamed to beat the young boy Hemi in a duel with the sacred Taiaha (a long fighting stick). She is not so demure and shy that she can’t tell her Nanny Flowers and her friends that “Maori women have got to quit smoking” because they’re going to wreck their childbearing properties. She is not cowed by her grandfather’s rejection, and still lovingly calls him Paka. She seems to be guided by her inner spirit from the very outset and the story is simply about how she her-oicly leads others to hear their inner spirits.

I agree with John Petrakis who said that Whale Rider was “more than just another coming of age story” and called it “a parable, celebrating the power of love, sacrifice and resurrection.” (1-2) In this case, it is the resurrection of a whole community through the courage of one young visionary leader who happens to be a girl. Perhaps the story sustains its authenticity in part from the fact that it was filmed on location in the North Island coastal village of Whangarei, where legend has it Paikea rode the whale to shore 1000 years ago” and the people “who settled the area and lay claim to the Whale Rider legend, were used as consultants during the making of the film.” (Schembri 2) In a climate where “nearly 65 percent of Maori women had no school qualifications” (in 1996), “half of Maori women aged 16 and over have dependent children,” “Maori women in the labour force continue to be concentrated in low employment growth sectors,” and “Maori women are more likely than non-Maori women to undertake unpaid work outside the home” perhaps the tiny girl her-o Paikea in Whale Rider served to inspire the real community of Whangara as well as the fictional one (Magee 39). Estes says, “Stories set the inner life into motion . . . [and] lead us back to our own real lives as knowing wildish women.” (20) Paikea’s her-oic story has undoubtedly set something in motion; she helped us hear the music of the soul.

Works Cited
Atwood, Feona. “Weird Lullaby.” Feminist Review. 58 (Spring 1998): 85-102.

Dapkus, Jeanne R. “Sloughing off the burdens: Ada’s and Isabel’s Parallel/Antithetical
Quests for Self-Actualization in Jane Campion’s Film The Piano and Henry James’s
Novel The Portrait of a Lady.” Literature and Film Quarterly. 25.3 (1997): 177-188.

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild
Woman Archetype
. New York: Ballantine, 1992.

Hendershot, Cyndy. “(Re)visioning the gothic: Jane Campion’s The Piano.” Literature Film
. 26.2 (1998): 97-109.

Ihimaera, Witi. The Whale Rider. New York: Harcourt, 1987.

Magee, Ann. “Women.” Asia Pacific Viewpoint. 42.1 (April 2001): 35-45.

Petrakis, John. “Girl Power.” Christian Century. October 4, 2003. EbscoHost.
Metropolitan State University Lib. 4 November 2003

The Piano. Dir. Jane Campion. Screenplay. Jane Campion. Miramax, 1994.

Schembri, Jim. “The Power of Maori Myth.” The Age. May 9, 2003. LexisNexis.
Metropolitan State University Lib. 4 November 2003

Whale Rider. Dir. Niki Caro. Screenplay. Niki Caro. Newmarket, 2003.
[1] I first used the term “her-oic” (as well as “her-o” and “her-oism”) in my 1996 master’s thesis “Visions of the Possible: Models for Women’s Her-oic Journey Applied to Madrone’s Path in The Fifth Sacred Thing” as a way of resolving the male-centric connotation that “heroic,” “hero,” and “heroism” still evoke. The hyphenation is intended to emphasize the “her” in these terms.
[2] I originally explored these ideas in a paper for a graduate school class in literature in 1994, but have never published or presented them. As I was researching other essays in an effort to update this one for publication, I found another author who also experienced a synchronous converging of events between book and film. In a 1997 paper in Literature Film Quarterly, Jeanne R. Dapkus reports that she saw the film and read Henry James The Portrait of a Lady shortly afterward and found profound connections in structure and meaning.
[3] In her essay titled “Weird Lullaby,” Feona Attwood also explores the significance of the Bluebeard story as well as several other fairy tale motifs (namely “The Silent Bride” and “Little Red Riding Hood”). However, her work does not reference Estes, nor does it specifically relate these narratives to woman’s her-oic journey.