In 2010, I introduced you to the absolutely fabulous Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. This is what I said about it:
When I was growing up, I consumed a lot of Jewish folk stories. Actually, I read a lot of folklore and myths, full stop. But Jewish stories always fascinated me because the heroes were rarely strong, but they were always smart. Didn’t matter if they were men or women, wit almost always won the day. Not being strong, but being endowed with a full measure of sarcasm and wit as a kid, I could totally get behind that. Hereville is set in a fantasy Orthodox Jewish village in Somewhere, Anywhere.
Mirka is one of a number of daughters, who wants more out of life than knitting and cooking. She’s smart, but not stupendously so, and has a terrificly snarky step-mother. Mirka gets involved with a magical pig, a witch and a troll, providing her all the adventure she ever wanted and more.
Hereville captures the feeling that I got as a kid reading stories of the Golem of Prague or of the townspeople of Chelm. That Olde Worlde Europe Jewish life that I was glad to have stories of, but was even gladder that I didn’t have to live.
I can’t think of a better book for a young me. 11-year old Mirka would have been a fine companion in my desire for adventure and magic and a chance to use my wit against the odds. If you know a young girl with an open mind, and interest in folk tales and a desire for a sword, Hereville would make a terrific, totally-not-what-they-expected, gift.
Now I want to call your attention to the absolutely fabulous sequel, Hereville: How Mirka Met A Meteorite, which was just as enjoyable, with a full measure of sarcastic-smart stepmother and a deeply Chelmite punchline. (‘Chelm’ is a fictitious town in Poland peopled by the stupidest humans on the planet, with names like Schlemiel and Mensch. They did things like buy a bag of bagel holes and capture the moon…in a pond.)
As tween sequential art literature goes, this series is top-notch. But not because Mirka is a “strong female protagonist.” If anything, it is so incredibly good because, she isn’t.
Just so we’re talking about the same things, on Quora I defined a “strong woman” as Women in control of their circumstances rather than just bearing up well in bad circumstances. Anyone might find themselves able to fight to the last breath in desperation, but the best make sure they never have to.
Here on Okazu, I have elaborated, Women who are perfectly capable living in a world populated by men and women; women who can take command of both men and women and be respected as leaders – and who are not judged by a set of standards that are skewed so they can only ever fail. Women who can find their own solutions to issues, not to have to excel at men’s thinking or men’s skills to be considered a success.
My Friedman Addendum to the Bechdel Test helps us identify if the female lead is more properly seen as a female-shaped male hero.
But let’s take a step back here. While other tween heroes may have been imbued with amazing magical skills, Mirka is a mere mortal. She is not a born leader (although if given the opportunity to learn to how, she might become one one day), not tall, not strong or especially skilled. And yet, she wins. It’s nice to see the average kid win sometimes – it gives one hope. No, we are not all talented, strong, magical, but we can all win the day, sometimes. Especially when our siblings are sharp.
Art – 8
Character – 8
Story – 8
Overall – 8