THE HERO'S PATH: GABRIELLE AS FOCAL HERO IN XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS
IAXS Project # 015
By Richard Carter Jr. (cjcs@flash.net)
Copyright (c) 1996 held by author
2800 words




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Gabrielle made a lot progress between her leaving Potedaia and her return


[1] Hero -- from the Greek meaning to watch over or to protect.

[2] The theme of this essay may seem a bit odd at first, considering that Gabrielle is ostensibly the recorder and narrator of the legend of Xena, Warrior Princess. She is that. Because of this, it is easy to assume that Xena is the hero of this epic, but in this essay I contend that it is actually Gabrielle who is the focal hero, and Xena acting as a catalyst and/or mentor to that end.

[3] I will concede up front that Xena has the qualities of a hero, and is a hero in her own right. She has been through her own epic journey: from defending her village, to being led toward the shadowy side, and then redemption with the belief and trust given to her by Hercules. As a result, while Xena is still a great hero, she is at the end of her defining journey. Her task now is to provide guidance, advice, and friendship to her eager squire Gabrielle.

[4] If we use an easy example from the realm of motion pictures: Gabrielle is to Xena as Luke Skywalker was to Ben Kenobi in STAR WARS. Like Ben, Xena is the battle-scarred veteran who, with misgivings, takes on a student as they set out on a grand adventure to rid the world (or galaxy) of evil. For this course to be successful, our wizened warrior much teach the student everything necessary to survive, and yet still keep them on the path of goodness and honor.

[5] Heroes come in many forms. There are reluctant heroes such as the aforementioned Luke Skywalker. This isn't our Gabrielle. She is a more than willing conspirator in this whole enterprise. She forced herself into Xena's company because Xena's actions represented what Gabrielle wanted most -- a chance to have adventures and to help people along the way. So, this journey is actually Gabrielle's journey. But that alone doesn't make her a hero. What does? Traditionally, a heroic journey is comprised of a series of stages that the hero generally goes through before it is complete. Let's look at the earliest of these stages and see how they apply to our bard.

THE ORDINARY WORLD

[6] This is where the story starts. We see the hero in their world, without the trappings of adventure. Gabrielle's world is one where might rules and the weak fall. The teaser in the very first episode, SINS OF THE PAST, introduces us to this world, and shows us the basic character of the person we will follow throughout XWP. Gabrielle selflessly offers to sacrifice herself to Draco's war party in exchange for the freedom of her fellow Poteidaians, and was almost whipped for her trouble. Pretty darned heroic act. Then Xena pops out of nowhere and does what Gabrielle doesn't yet have the skills to do -- she overcomes Draco's men. Needless to say, Gabrielle knew her course was to follow Xena and learn from her -- regardless of Xena's protestations.

[7] At this stage, we get only two more glimpses of our hero's ordinary world. After the fight, Gabrielle's family and fiancee want nothing more than to rid themselves of the woman warrior. They don't want anything around that might disrupt their peaceful town, even if she did save everyone from the slave pits. Our last hint at this time is when Gabrielle tries to sneak out and has to say goodbye to her younger sister Lila. This exchange points out that no matter what Gabrielle expects, she's definitely not yet a warrior (Lila: "*I* can beat you up.") This exchange ends when Gabrielle gets up and walks out the door of her family's home and into Xena's world.

[8] Our hero's story has now begun.

[9] It's interesting to jump ahead a bit and contrast this version of Gabrielle in Poteidaia versus the version that returns to Poteidaia in THE PRODIGAL. When Gabrielle returns to Poteidaia, she is no longer a part of their world, and they are no longer part of hers. This is shown most succinctly in a scene where Gabrielle and her sister Lila are in the woods with the mercenary, Meleager the Mighty. Gabrielle and Meleager discuss strategies for the defense of the village as equals, while Lila is left dazed and confused by their martial knowledge and jargon. It is clear that Gabrielle is no longer a farmer's daughter. She is a warrior's apprentice, and more...

CALL TO ADVENTURE

[10] In order for the hero to leave their ordinary life behind, they must answer a call to adventure that transports them into their new life. Again we must visit SINS OF THE PAST. Gabrielle receives her call to adventure when Xena is at her brother Lyceus' crypt. In the previous sequence to this scene, Gabrielle jumped between the members of Xena's home village and Xena herself as Xena was about to be stoned.

[11] Gabrielle's intervention certainly saved some lives. Even to this point, Gabrielle still has the option of returning to her own village and its ordinary life. However, at Lyceus' crypt, Xena tells her brother that, "It's hard to be alone." Gabrielle reveals her presence when she replies, "You aren't alone." It is at this point that Gabrielle has sloughed off her old life and has essentially contracted with Xena. From this point forward, there would be no turning back.

REFUSAL OF THE CALL

[12] Well, almost no turning back. With the reluctant hero, it is soon after the Call to Adventure that s/he balks and tries to get out of it mostly due to fear. We must remember that Gabrielle is an eager hero, and so it takes her some time to reach this stage. In fact, she will go through several of the traditional stages of the hero's journey (discussed later) before having to face her fear.

[13] It's in THE PRODIGAL that Gabrielle finally loses her nerve. In a brief skirmish with some highway thugs, Gabrielle froze at a crucial moment in the fight. She has never before known paralyzing fear. Her bravery had never before let her down. This causes her to run back home to Poteidaia and try to find answers in her old life.

[14] As I mentioned above, Gabrielle had gone much too far into her adventure to be able to easily return to her home. In her time away she had directly freed three Titans, and was a part of the team that freed yet another. She had become an Amazon Princess, and had a part in freeing Hades' sister Celesta from the hands of King Sisyphus. These were not the deeds of a girl from a small village.

[15] In the end, it was her sister who sent Gabrielle back to her adventure. They both knew that the old Gabrielle was no more. They also both realized that Gabrielle was at the beginning of a grand and important journey. With renewed vitality, Gabrielle once again set out from Poteidaia for adventures with Xena.

MEETING WITH THE MENTOR

[16] Probably the single most important event in our hero's adventure is the meeting of the mentor or mentors s/he will need to teach them along the way. Gabrielle's most obvious mentor is Xena, but she has had others.

[17] It isn't until DREAMWORKER that Xena actively accepts the role of mentor to Gabrielle. Up until this point, Gabrielle is still considered by Xena to be little more than a tag-along travelling companion. However, in the teaser of DREAMWORKER, Xena begins with an important lesson to Gabrielle about the seriousness of fighting and taking up arms, and gives her some very important advice which saves Gabrielle's life in their up-coming adventure: (Xena: "The Rules of Survival: Number 1. If you can run -- run; Number 2. if you can't run -- surrender and then run; Number 3. if you are out-numbered -- let them fight each other while you run; Number 4--." Gabrielle: "Wait. More running?" Xena: "No. Four is where you talk your way out of it, and I know you can do that. It's wisdom before weapons.").

[18] The episode concludes with Xena's first attempt at wisdom when she tries to use a rock in a lake as an analogy to Xena's life and how killing changed her. But the warrior's life is not a safe one, and in PROMETHEUS, we see that Gabrielle is starting to pick up some of the medical knowledge Xena demonstrated in CHARIOTS OF WAR. While her knowledge is very limited at this point, by the time we reach the end of the season and IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?, we see that Gabrielle has learned how to suture and dress wounds. While it will be some time before she has Xena's level of skill, she is learning.



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Gabrielle has some Amazon problems in her travels


[19] One of the most obvious pieces of mentoring comes at the hands of the Amazons. In HOOVES AND HARLOTS, Gabrielle's innate bravery has the quite unintentional consequence of causing her to become an Amazon princess. Being an Amazon means that she must learn how to fight. Therefore, the queen orders one of the Amazons to see to it that Gabrielle is taught. Yet another Amazon actually trains her in the use of the war staff.

[20] Fighting with weapons was something Xena had refused to teach Gabrielle as early as DREAMWORKER. However, the path a hero must take will not be denied, and so fate intervened and forced a set of circumstances that allowed Gabrielle to further her education as a hero.

[21] In an interesting twist in another episode, Gabrielle becomes a mentor where it was she who was competing to be a student. THE ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERFORMING BARDS has Gabrielle teaching the young Homer and other potential students of the prestigious academy the tricks and methods she's learned about telling a great story. She even outshines the teachers she had gone there to see. In the end, after she's won the competition, she sets out to rejoin Xena; living adventures instead of just telling them.

CROSSING THE FIRST THRESHOLD

[22] What really gets the adventure going is the hero having to commit body and soul to the adventure, and entering this rarefied world totally. This stage occurred to Gabrielle in two steps.

[23] In PROMETHEUS, Gabrielle sees that Iolaus is more than a traveling companion to Hercules. Iolaus fights by the hero's side. From this experience, Gabrielle realizes some of what her potential is with Xena. She doesn't act on it at this time -- Xena has made it very clear that she doesn't want Gabrielle becoming a young warrior, so Gabrielle bides her time.

[24] The threshold that Gabrielle must cross to fully enter her path as a hero occurs in HOOVES AND HARLOTS. Without thinking, she tries to save the life of an Amazon she's only just recently met, but who has already opened her mind to a new way of thinking -- the Amazon way of thinking. Before the Amazon dies, she confers upon Gabrielle all of her rights and privileges. Gabrielle knows that it is an honor, but doesn't appreciate all that goes with it. In this one moment, Gabrielle has crossed the threshold, and she isn't yet aware of it.

[25] She realizes the significance of what the Amazon did when the queen tells Gabrielle that she is now not only an Amazon, but an Amazon princess in the line of succession. Suddenly, Gabrielle finds herself on a path that her mentor had been protecting her from. The path of the warrior.

[26] The first thing that happens to Gabrielle is that she loses the outer trappings of her former life. Gone is the peasant dress of the girl from Poteidaia. She is now dressed in the leathers of an Amazon. In one day Gabrielle has gone from being a farm girl tagging along with a formidable hero, to being an untrained Amazon who could one day end up as their queen. The door to her past life is now closely shut behind her. Xena, too, understands the significance of this transformation. She had chosen a path early in her life that dictated all that she would do and learn for years to come. It now falls upon her as Gabrielle's mentor to help guide her down the perilous road of the hero's journey.

TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES

[27] Our embryonic hero needs to learn who to trust, who to oppose, as well as finding the limits to their own mettle. There are many pitfalls for the unwary and unprotected.

[28] TIES THAT BIND presents Gabrielle with a complicated test. Xena takes as an ally the man proclaiming to be Xena's father. Gabrielle sees him as an enemy. Does she trust her mentor's judgment at this stage in her training, or her own? In choosing to set aside her own reservations, Gabrielle severely endangered herself, Xena, and an entire village. Though she was able to salvage the situation, she learned the important lesson so many intelligent warriors forget: thinking can get you killed.



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Gabrielle makes a point in THE GREATER GOOD


[29] This wasn't Gabrielle's blind spot in THE GREATER GOOD. She fought off a score of seasoned soldiers in trying to rescue her friend driven by the surety of her own emotion and skill. Unfortunately for her, her skill hadn't quite reached a stage where she could defeat a well-seasoned warlord. Gabrielle pushed her limits in this incident and became a better warrior and friend because of it.

[30] The trouble with heady success such as this is that the hero can get overconfident and get themselves into a situation that they might not survive. Such an event happened to Gabrielle in IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?. Thinking she could handle a simple rescue on her own, she left the safety of the healing temple in order to save some man's son. As a result, Gabrielle was fatally injured. Being a hero, she was able to return from the jaws of death (with Xena's help). Death is another threshold that heroes must often cross and return from if they are to survive. What the results of this crossing will be, only time will be able to tell. One thing is certain -- Gabrielle now has no illusions about her own mortality -- a very important lesson, indeed.

[31] The rest of the stages of the journey are yet to be told for Gabrielle, as this is still only the beginning of her story. In fact, this current stage of tests, allies, and enemies is likely to continue for a while as Gabrielle still has much to learn.



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Gabrielle's first love is writing


FUTURE STAGES?

[32] Coming up for Gabrielle in the following years of her life with Xena should be several more stages which will see Gabrielle face that which could destroy her or Xena (or their quest -- should the writers ever give them one), she will then have to face her greatest fear and upon a successful completion will find herself some sort of reward.

[33] By this time Gabrielle will have changed considerably, and will have to deal will the consequences of everything she's done on the journey to this point. She'll find that like at the beginning of her adventure, she will have to be reborn -- this time so that she is once again able to be a part of the ordinary world. Finally, she will bring back with her something which will give her journey meaning.

[34] As I mentioned at the beginning, Xena has already been on this journey. Hers was a path on the shadowy side, but upon her resurrection to the ordinary world, she brought with her a morality to fight against tyranny, and the skills and knowledge to be successful. Gabrielle has a long way to go before she becomes a hero, much less a hero of the stature of Xena. Although the show's title is XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, the tale is actually one of a young woman from Poteidaia who wanted some adventure in her life. To be continued as the story develops....

NOTE

[35] For the purpose of this work in progress (as XWP is a work in progress), I borrowed heavily from the terminology Christopher Vogler uses in his book, THE WRITER'S JOURNEY: MYTHIC STRUCTURE FOR STORYTELLERS & SCREENWRITERS. I could just as easily have used instead Joseph Campbell's incredibly important work, HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, but since, as a screenwriter, I reference Vogler's work very regularly and am very familiar with it. I've decided to use its simpler structure for this essay.


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