Whoosh! Issue 56 - May 2001


By Sandra Falero
Content copyright ©2001 held by author
Whoosh! Edition copyright ©2001 held by Whoosh!
7767 words

Introduction (01-12)
The Warrior Woman (13-28)
Speculative Fiction (29-39)
Myth and History Re-Envisioned (40-41)
Influencing the Male (42-49)
Replacement of the Male (50-59)
Conclusion (60)



Hey!  I'm the one supposed to lead in this dance!
Xena and Herc first met on Herc's show.

[1] The success of the television series XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS should come as no small surprise. This fantasy-action adventure show has a wide demographic appeal and has seized the number one spot in Nielsen ratings from the incredibly popular BAYWATCH (TV, 1989-). Among the top ten in syndication worldwide, the series has a strong and loyal following of fans that meet for conventions and screenings across the United States and Europe.[Note 01]

[2] A spin-off of the series HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, XENA has surpassed its predecessor and left its mark in television history as one of the few series to feature a woman as the archetypal hero on a quest. While the character of Xena is unusual for television, the warrior woman image is not new. Ancient tales of Amazons and women soldiers such as Joan of Arc and Fa Mulan have been a part of cultural landscapes for ages. Yet many feminist critics are quick to point out that its success comes from the show's scanty costumes as much as from its feminist plot themes.

[3] The fantasy world that XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS creates is far from a feminist utopia, but its play with myth and history does have feminist appeal. Its story comes from a long tradition of warrior woman fiction and feminist speculative fiction, however it is innovative for television in that it not only creates new myths for women, but also transforms male myths.

[4] The Xena character arrived in HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS as a villainous and successful warlord, intent on killing Hercules and his sidekick Iolaus. Throughout both HERCULES and XENA, it was made clear that her ruthlessness and savagery were legendary, and many warlords feared and envied her. In order to create a spin-off, the writers decided to make Hercules help her to realize the error of her ways, and thus Xena renounced her dark past. The new series focused on Xena's quest to avenge the innocent, though her struggle with the darkness inside her was far from over. Following the pattern of Hercules, Xena acquired a sidekick in the pilot episode, the young and naive Gabrielle.

[5] Gabrielle joined Xena in order to avoid an arranged marriage. Along the way, she became an honorary member of the Amazon tribe of women warriors, quickly assuming the status of queen, but abdicating her throne to resume a life of travel with Xena. The evolution of the Gabrielle character into a strong, principled woman, whose exploration of pacifism was sometimes at odds with Xena's warrior nature, was an interesting path for the writers to take. Not only were two strong women headlining the series, but two women who were strong in different ways, and not simply two mouthpieces for the same world view.

[6] Before I begin my discussion of the series, I must note that discussing XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS can lead one down many paths, all valid and all relatively unexamined in scholarly literature.[Note 02] It is not simply the many themes and ideas explored in the series that contribute to the dilemma of which road to take, but the complicated nature of the series itself. There is no consistent "team" of writers for the episodes, but rather small groups of two or three who lend their own style to the series. While there are supervising producers to keep the portrayal of characters from straying too far, there are certain writers whose style and vision are often clearly delineated.

[7] For example, there are a number of episodes in which slapstick is the primary comedic element. The team of Adam Armus and Nora Kay Foster most often writes these episodes. As one critic of the series mentions, "If Gabrielle seems oddly stupid for no reason, gets pushed into the background more than usual, or endures something especially demeaning, you can bet you're watching an Armus and Foster episode." [Note 03]

[8] While the debate is still raging over whether the series should be labeled "feminist", my purpose in discussing the varied slants of the writers directly relates to the interpretations presented in this paper about myth and history and the portrayal of women within the series. My research showed that Steven Sears and/or RJ Stewart wrote the majority of episodes that deal with subverting male myth/history. Thus, it is difficult to talk about "the series" and "its" subversion of myth and history without giving credit where credit is due. Such is the drawback of discussing and interpreting a series.

[9] Considering these factors, I contacted Steven Sears via e-mail briefly to discuss my take on the portrayal of history in the Xenaverse. He remarked that (though he could not speak for RJ Stewart) he did not set out to make Xena a "female slant on history series", however, he did write the series with a few things in mind. Said Sears:

One is that females tend to be written as plot devices or things for men to rescue. I just wanted to write the characters as characters in their own rights. Write the character first, and let gender just be part of that. Secondly, I don't like to write victims ... too many times, women are victims, not heroes.

[10] Sears goes on to remark that he has had to defend the series' female slant to critics:

"... with very few exceptions, history was written by men ... there certainly WAS a female slant to history but ... it often was obscured by males who were allowed to write it." [Note 04]

In this way, it does seem that he has some investment in re-envisioning history. However, he sees some problems with attempting to pigeonhole the series as a female-slant-on-history series. That label overshadows many of the other elements the show offers viewers. Sears' approach to the development of strong characters, for example, is refreshing. Rather than let the plot drive the characters, the characters often drive the plot. This has allowed both Xena and Gabrielle to develop in a way that is a stark contrast to the superficiality of most female characters on television.

[11] Novels are often light years ahead of film and television in terms of their presentation of strong women characters. As Susan Isaacs discusses in her book BRAVE DAMES AND WIMPETTES: WHAT WOMEN ARE REALLY DOING ON PAGE AND SCREEN, novel fiction is often the result of one person's vision, which may or may not appeal to a wide audience before publication. Television and film, on the other hand, have to promise commercial success, and thus many elements of an original idea are sacrificed to please a mass audience.[Note 05] Nonetheless, it is in fiction where we find the concepts and stories used later in screenwriting.

[12] In order to understand the innovative and complex nature of this series and its approach to myth and history, we must first examine a few of the genres that it uses to achieve its goals. In doing so, one can readily see that it is very difficult to place the series in a tidy category, such as "action-adventure". In order to create the multifaceted Xenaverse, where women dominate history and become myth, the boundaries of some staid genres have to be transcended.[Note 06]

The Warrior Woman

After failing to get her knot tying merit badge in Girl Guides, Xena 
embarks on a life of evil
Xena is warrior woman personified.

[13] The woman warrior has been a mainstay of fictional and historical texts. Xena, warrior princess, by virtue of her title and portrayal, appears to be a classic woman warrior. However, she does break out of the warrior woman mold. A brief examination of the warrior woman genre will illustrate the series' break with tradition.

[14] The most prominent warrior in Western fiction is the Amazon warrior. The dime novel heroines of the nineteenth century, such as Calamity Jane and various "half-breeds" (women of Native American and white lineage) are often discussed and analyzed in their relation to the Amazon image. Often portrayed with a masculine exterior, these dime novel heroines were soon revealed to have a genteel interior self, often described as "softhearted" and "pure."[Note 07]

[15] Amazons feature prominently in XENA. However, this portrayal contributes to the overarching theme that warrior women are normal figures in the societies of the ancient world. The seemingly monolithic "Amazon" tribe is really a system of sub-tribes, which are spread out geographically, and each tribe has its own traditions and rituals. These Amazons are characterized as both feminine and masculine, as are most characters in the series. Though they do not have the warm fuzzy center of the dime novel heroine, they are usually portrayed as warriors who have grown tough in order to face the outside world, often making generalizations about men and their one-time archenemies, the Centaurs (an all-male tribe of half-men/half-horses). Some Amazon leaders begin quests for power or revenge, but they are soon kept in check by Xena and Gabrielle, who advise them to concentrate on their sisterhood and steer clear of hate and vengeance, which could break down the tribe.

[16] In the series, the Amazons are not at their peak, and many tribes are disbanding. In her darker past, Xena was responsible for the deaths of many Amazons, and so her interest in them is not simply tied to Gabrielle's status as an Amazon, but also to her own guilt. She often comments on her responsibility for the breakdown of the tribes, and her desire to make amends so that they may regain their once prominent position. This points to the fact that the world of Xena and the Amazons is far from a feminist utopia and in need of some fixing, but also that women are more than capable of figuring out solutions to complex problems.

[17] While most Amazon tales are based in the Western world, there is evidence of the warrior woman in other cultures as well. Maxine Hong Kingston's THE WOMAN WARRIOR, among other things, tells the tale of the warrior Fa Mulan, most recently adapted by Disney for its animated film MULAN (Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, 1998). In Kingston's version, Mulan and several villagers destroy a baron's house, killing all the men, but sparing the women. Mulan watches them whimper away and remarked, "They wandered away like ghosts. Later, it would be said, they turned into the band of swordswomen who were a mercenary army. They did not wear men's clothes like me, but rode as women in black and red dresses. When slave-girls and daughters-in-law ran away, people would say they joined these witch amazons. They killed men and boys. I myself never encountered such women and could not vouch for their reality." [Note 08]

[18] Though the "witch amazons" of Kingston's story describe a group of women who do not fight for their men, [Note 09] Mulan is the heroine. She fights bravely, and she kills when necessary, even slicing off the head of the emperor so that her army could inaugurate "the peasant who would begin the new order". It is made clear that she is fighting to avenge her brother's death, and in the stead of an aging father. The legend is not, then, simply of the woman who fought bravely, but as Kingston so aptly remarks, "...the villagers would make a legend about [her] perfect filiality."[Note 10] The story of Fa Mulan fits into the framework of the warrior woman genre. While there are many comparisons to be made between Xena and Mulan, Xena goes one step further in leaving her army and her family to fight alone.

Initiation rites in the 'Funky Chicken' tribe
Amazons are very popular.

[19] The parallel is often drawn between Xena and the Amazons, but the Amazons in the series are quite sedentary, while Xena is not. Though she began her life as a warrior to defend her hometown of Amphipolis, Xena's current nomadic lifestyle leaves her without a home and hearth to defend. With no father, husband/lover, or brother to fight alongside, she remains a rarity among women warriors.[Note 11]

[20] The character of Xena breaks the bonds of the traditional warrior woman image by not falling into the trap of the "Appendage Syndrome", in which the warrior woman is defined by her relationship as a wife or daughter. [Note 12] Xena's father is long absent, and though she has had many lovers, they rarely last more than one episode. Male characters do figure prominently in the series, but love interests of both Xena and Gabrielle are often killed, especially when marriage or any other long-term arrangement presents itself. It is quite clear that the most solid and most important relationship is between Xena and Gabrielle, a relationship that has come under scrutiny.

[21] Much speculation among fans and critics concerns the issue of the lesbian subtext, dealt with so often that only the term "subtext" suffices when discussing the show's plot themes. The producers and actors, including Lucy Lawless, who portrays Xena, are aware of and sanction the claims that Xena and Gabrielle are lesbian lovers. They are content with the fact that fans can interpret the relationship any way they choose, and have little problem with being held up as sex symbols for either side. Yet, interestingly enough, this supposedly controversial element of the Xena character remains true to the warrior woman image, as warrior queens are often associated with sexual ambiguity.[Note 13]

[22] Xena and the Amazons are but a few of the many women warriors in the series. Some are original characters, while others, like Boadicea, are taken from British history. During Xena's travels to Britannia, she allied with the British warrior queen Boadicea, who staged a rebellion against Julius Caesar.[Note 14] The real queen did stage a rebellion against the Romans, some 104 years after Caesar's death.[Note 15]

[23] Bringing these images together in the timeline of the series allows the warrior woman, both as an idea and as a visual representation, to enter the viewer's consciousness. Because of the prevalence of this image, many feminists have appropriated the warrior woman as another characterization of the political freedom fighter, especially in light of the positive activism Xena has taken on in her travels. Since some fans and critics have assumed that Xena's message is overtly feminist, it is interesting to note the division among feminists over the "real" underlying message.

[24] The warrior image has come under the scrutiny of many feminist scholars, who are divided on the issue. Mary Daly criticizes the warrior image, maintaining that it fails to represent the complexity of women's rage and resistance. Her main concern is the use of masculine concepts when describing women fighters, as warriors are often associated with patriarchal violence. Yet some feminists latch on to this image, as Mary K. DeShazer writes, not as a "necrophilic zest for destruction, but as a biophilic source of life preservation and enhancement." [Note 16] The warrior woman image has indeed re-entered the consciousness of women and the debate over that image spills over into debates concerning Xena.

[25] When a series undertakes a task such as re-envisioning male myths and undermining the validity of male-centered history, feminists are quick to take notice. XENA has been labeled as feminist television, and with good reason. However, inconsistencies often undercut the feminist message the series seems to want to send to the viewer. Any analysis of Xena's approach to women and history would have to take into account these arguments because the complexity of the issues discussed would be compromised otherwise.

Why a 'fill flash' attachment is so important
Gabrielle's costume has continually shrunk throughout the series, to the point where sometimes she's been naked.

[26] While Xena has a huge feminist following, there are those who would argue that there is a double standard in place where costuming is concerned. It is quite rare that a male character would be seen in overtly revealing costume. However, Gabrielle, Xena, and a host of other female characters sometimes parade around in very little clothing—especially during bathing scenes, swimming scenes, and even as part of fighting scenes. When a male character is seen in revealing clothing, it is often for comedic effect.[Note 17] This appeal to the male gaze is troubling for many feminists, especially in light of the fact that the creators and actors in the series enjoy the element of "eye-candy" and often refer to it as a great way to attract interest in the show.

[27] I take issue with the argument that Xena's costume is too revealing for a woman warrior, as it is yet another bit of artistic license taken by the writers. When I heard Aphrodite complain about a situation being "totally bogus", I re-evaluated the series' grasp of reality. However, what is troubling is the double standard. Where is the slow motion bathing scene of Ares, the super-hunky god of war? Perhaps when the creators and actors of the series discuss "eye-candy", it should be emphasized that it is women who are always the "candy".

[28] These concerns lead one to the conclusion that while XENA is making headway for women on television, it is not a feminist utopia. However, since the series uses so many different elements of what is known as speculative fiction, the argument could be made that Xena's world is a better place for women in terms of more choices being afforded to them. By wrapping these subversive elements into an "action-adventure" series, it easily slips under the radar of the non-feminist viewer.

Speculative Fiction

[29] Those familiar with the EVIL DEAD trilogy [THE EVIL DEAD (Sam Raimi, 1982); EVIL DEAD 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987); ARMY OF DARKNESS (Sam Raimi, 1993)] should quickly recognize the cinematic styles employed by filmmakers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, as well as Bruce Campbell who plays both "Ash" and the XWP/HTLJ recurring character "Autolycus". Steeped in a history of Kung Fu, horror, and science fiction films, the creators of XWP employ those elements in a primarily action-adventure format that has found great success among many different fan bases. Comedic sound effects, dramatic musical scores, and witty banter are all trademarks of the Raimi/Tapert style. Yet action- adventure is just the outer shell of the series, whose postmodern cinematic format defies classification in any one genre. The messages within are disseminated using styles of speculative fiction, specifically science fiction and feminist utopia.

[30] Speculative fiction, for the purposes of this study, encompasses feminist utopias, science fiction fantasy, and sword and sorcery. XENA uses elements of all of these to deliver its messages. Briefly, I will discuss the ways in which the series borrows from these fiction genres to illustrate that re-envisioning history from a feminist perspective is an evolution from and a conglomeration of these genres.

[31] The setting for all of speculative fiction is often a different world, yet a world not totally unlike our own.[Note 18] The "past" qualifies for both of those categories. XENA takes place in the ancient world, primarily in Greece. A world of "ancient gods, warlords and kings" may not be feminist utopia, but the microcosm of the Amazon tribe, and the consistent depiction of strong warrior women as normal are certainly elements borrowed from that format. Another element of feminist utopia is a better world for women. While Xena's world is still in need of repair, and it is made clear that she is just the gal for the job, it is a better place for women in terms of occupation and mobility. Women occupy many positions of leadership and often travel alone. Rarely does a fellow warrior dismiss Xena as "just a girl".

[32] The female heroic pattern of sword and sorcery involves female mentors. Xena's mentor and early martial arts instructor was a woman, and Xena is, in a way, Gabrielle's mentor. This pattern often involves punishment as well. Marleen Barr, author of ALIEN TO FEMININITY: SPECULATIVE FICTION AND FEMINIST THEORY reads this punishment because of a "cultural assumption that strong women are deviant and should be punished."[Note 19]

[33] While Xena is sometimes punished, it is rare that she loses a fight. On the rare occasions in which she is punished, she either lets it happen, her guilt telling her she deserves to be punished for past deeds as a warlord, or she becomes a martyr to a grand cause. Often she outsmarts the gods, and on more than one occasion, has even bested them in hand-to-hand combat. Her punishments are a constant reminder to the viewer that her dark and evil past is what is "deviant".

[34] Other elements of speculative fiction deviate from punishment and focus on re-envisioning popular myths and explaining the unknown happenings in history. Science fiction is a constant draw for many feminist television viewers, who appeal to the future's promise of strong, able women in many different social and political roles.

Cloning bed or tanning bed?  You decide.
Xena and Gabrielle get cloned in SEND IN THE CLONES.

[35] At first, comparing XENA to science fiction would seem to be a stretch. Science fiction is concerned with the future and technology, while XENA is concerned with the past. However, some striking similarities emerge when comparing the way in which both deal with women, history, and myth. Science fiction is one genre where strong women characters have had a steady foothold. Though we are not that far from Captain Kirk's episodic escapades with lusty alien ladies, the television sci-fi genre has come a long way. One recent example of a sci-fi series that has many of the same elements as XENA is the X- FILES (TV, 1993-present).

[36] Both are cult shows, and thus they operate within those narrative parameters. Both shows play a game of "what if...?" with history. It allows Xena to reconstruct the death of Julius Caesar, and Mulder and Scully to do the same with the happenings in Roswell, New Mexico and Area 51. Both offer women a pivotal and strong role to play within the series, and both shows straddle the fence between serial and episodic narrative structure. Serial elements are important in a cult show because "they reward regular viewers and give reasons for reviewing earlier episodes. At the same time, programs that are continuously serial may alienate new viewers who lack knowledge of events in previous episodes." [Note 20]

[37] It is clear that XENA's cult following has prompted the similar serial/episodic straddle, and the hunger for strong female characters on television has created a fan community that adores both shows, regardless of their differences in terms of genre. While THE X-FILES does not attempt to relay an overt message that women are and have always been central figures in myth and history, some science fiction has an overtly feminist message.

[38] This genre of speculative fiction has also carved a feminist niche. Feminist science fiction is often concerned with testing the limits of patriarchal gender ideology by placing women in alternative social and sexual relations in order to undermine the dominant ideology of gender. Like XENA, these narratives are contradictory, and offer incomplete solutions to the problems regardless of the strong heroes or women-only worlds that create the setting. [Note 21]

[39] These genres of speculative fiction have all provided a framework for a series such as XENA to emerge. They contributed to the process of acclimating non-feminist viewers to a show about a woman warrior without a male romantic love interest. They are contributors to XENA's style as well, being predecessors and contemporaries. What they have set the stage for is a series that attempts to reconstruct history from a female perspective. Though not every episode is historical, the majority of them deal with myth/history in some way.

Myth and History Re-Envisioned

[40] It is through Xena's travels that she comes to know the most prominent players in myth and history. The timeline of the series has come under much scrutiny. Xena and Gabrielle cross paths with historical and mythical figures from roughly 1500 BCE to at least 199 CE, and not in any particular order. In fact, several figures from different times can be in the same episode, characterized as contemporaries. These leaps in time are deliberate, as the stories serve to involve the characters with as many myths as possible within the "ancient" period of history. As Karen Pusateri has noted, "This kaleidoscope of misrepresented images of culture and history draws attention to the illusionary quality of identity and helps to break down the traditional canons of our society and opens the door to accepting new roles for women and ethnic groups." [Note 22]

[41] Now that there has been some context in which to put these characters, genres, and themes, we can more closely examine individual episodes and the ways in which they re-envision male history and myth. The series subverts contemporary notions of male myth and history in two major ways. Women characters influence male mythical/historical icons, and women characters replace male icons. In very few instances, focus is shifted to concentrate on the female characters in a previously male-dominated narrative. [Note 23] These avenues provide the framework of a female-centered history.

Influencing the Male

[42] In influencing male mythical and historical icons, the series attempts to give credit to women for the great discoveries of time, yet at the same time acknowledges that males have received the credit in the annals of history. This revisionist historical narrative is notable in at least five of the episodes, a few of which provide the viewer with dramatic interpretations.

First Writer's Guild stike
Gabrielle goes to the big city (Athens) for bard competition.

[43] In ATHENS CITY ACADEMY OF THE PERFORMING BARDS (13/113), Gabrielle parts from Xena for a few days to hone her craft as a bard. Having forgotten to register or make any other arrangements, she casually talks her way into the Academy. However, she is the only female bard present, the male students welcome her as a contestant, and even offer her a bunk in their cabin. The episode focuses on Gabrielle's talent as a bard and the culminating bard contest. It is here that she meets and befriends her competitors, among them Euripides (480-406 BCE) and Homer (c. 690 BCE).

[44] Homer reveals to her that he has trouble with his presentation skills, often becoming nervous because of his father's high expectations. Gabrielle works with him to get over his fears, and he becomes sure of himself and his love of storytelling. Her lack of planning catches up with her, and her participation in the contest is called into question. The other participants demand that the Academy let her perform, and it is implied, but not clearly depicted, that she won the contest and gave up her prize to Homer, who departed more confident in his abilities.

[45] Though in a sense Gabrielle creates Homer by leading him from being a pile of insecurities to an epic writer and storyteller, it also portrays her as typically feminine and a martyr willing to give up her own prize so that someone else may have the glory. It is also never really acknowledged that she is the only woman at the Academy. There are obviously no other female bards, yet other contestants welcome her without comment on her gender. This inconsistency is part of making the line between fantasy world and history blurred.

[46] We can store ATHENS CITY ACADEMY in our heads as part of history because the events involve historical figures we are acquainted with in some way. This can bring us closer to imagining or re-envisioning a history with a decidedly female center. Though Homer is indeed a celebrated artist, he did not alter the course of history in the quite the same way as other historical figures portrayed in XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

[47] Xena alters the course of history more than once through her influence on essential characters. In DESTINY (36/212), Julius Caesar (102-44 BCE) makes an appearance early on as a hostage on Xena's ship during a flashback sequence to a time when Xena was still a warlord. He felt destined for greatness, and he coaxed her into an alliance only to betray and crucify her on shore. [Note 24] This betrayal began her most 'evil' phase of murderous plunder. Caesar remains her nemesis throughout the series, until she befriends Brutus and sets in motion another betrayal.

[48] In IDES OF MARCH (89/421), Xena discovers Caesar's plan to declare himself emperor, as well as a plan to have Brutus assassinated in Gaul. When she warns Brutus of this plan, he is hesitant to believe her, yet his recent assignment to Gaul forces him to accept the truth. He then organizes the assassination of Caesar, played out in the same visual style to which we have become accustomed in films and plays. Though it was Brutus who did the stabbing, the series now gives Xena credit for being the catalyst of the whole event. In this way, history/myth is still left intact, yet re-envisioned in order to illustrate the necessary and important role of the female.

[49] In IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE? (24/124), Xena comes across a makeshift hospital in the midst of a war zone. The practicing physicians are none other than Galen and a young Hippocrates, a strange juxtaposition, considering that Hippocrates lived c. 460-370 BCE, while Galen was born later, c. 129 CE. [Note 25] Nonetheless, Hippocrates becomes involved in an intellectual relationship with Xena after noticing her mastery of poultices and herbal medicines. As further proof of her direct influence, Hippocrates comments to a colleague, "I'm going to watch her carefully" and "I can learn from her". His openness is contrasted to Galen's antiquated ideals. The episode ends with Xena discovering CPR virtually by accident.

Replacement of the Male

The first paper airplane
Xena has invented many things, and is about to discover electricity.

[50] This discovery is one of many made by Xena, who has been given the title "Mother of Invention" by fans. In A DAY IN THE LIFE (39/215), she flies the historic kite that brings the power of Zeus, aka lightning, to earth, some centuries earlier than Ben Franklin's discovery of electricity. This is a relatively minor version of replacement in the series. Replacing the male with the female is one of the most prominent fixtures in the narrative of the series. The most notable of these episodes are set in foreign lands, such as China or India. [Note 26]

[51] One of the most acclaimed episodes is really a two-part series entitled THE DEBT (52-53/306-307), set in Ch'in. It is there that Xena meets Lao Ma, the wife of a notable man, Lao Tzu, who is credited as the author of the TAO TE CHING. Yet in XENA, Lao Ma writes the book, while her husband lies comatose. Lao Ma makes decisions and signs the TAO TE CHING in her husband's name, so that her power is not contested. This is yet another instance where myth/history is re-envisioned to place the female in a pivotal role, and one of the few in which Xena is not the woman replacing the male figure.

[52] Ch'in is again the setting for an episode entitled BACK IN THE BOTTLE (97/507), [Note 27] in which Xena uses the powers of Lao Ma's book to turn a leader named Khan and his entire army, [Note 28] to stone. The visual representation of thousands of soldiers turned to stone implies that Xena herself fashioned the famed earthenware burial army of the First Emperor of Ch'in (c.210 BCE). [Note 29]

[53] While reaction to the revising of history and myth has irked some history buffs, there has been little legitimate protest. However, there are instances where the series has tread on sacred ground. Not too many worshippers of Zeus remain to protest the use or misuse of his image, but when Xena goes to India and becomes an avatar of Krishna, the series was embroiled in controversy.

[54] In the infamous episode entitled THE WAY (84/416), Xena becomes Kali after praying to Krishna for support against the evil Indrajit, a six-armed demon intent on killing Gabrielle. After Xena's transformation, she is depicted in the same symbolic fashion as Kali, and the Kali painting on the wall of the temple changes to conform her features to those of Xena. [Note 30] She defeats Indrajit by growing another set of arms and fighting him with various weapons, through the power of Krishna. Orthodox Hindus became enraged at this depiction because Xena is rumored to be a lesbian.

[55] Other problems with the episode involved Xena's lack of deference to certain representations of Hindu gods. The episode was actually pulled, edited, and rebroadcast with a disclaimer. More than any other, this episode and its aftermath reveal the boundaries that are traversed when symbols are appropriated. Krishna's image and powers are filtered through Xena, in defiance of orthodox Hindu narratives. The disclaimer advised viewers to go and find out more about Hinduism, and that the episode was not meant to insult the faith in any way. Xena's alleged insult, or interference in the history and myth of religion goes further than just Hinduism.

[56] The Israelites and their "one god" also enter Xena's world. In the episode entitled GIANT KILLER (27/203), elements of both replacement and influence arise in the re-envisioned narrative of David and Goliath. It is important to note that giants are commonplace in Xena's world, and many have become warriors or mercenaries, in other words, weapons of war. Their one weakness seems to be the spot right above the nose. One blow and a giant is easily killed. Goliath emerges as Xena's old friend, and she reveals to Gabrielle that ever since Goliath's family had been killed in war, he will stop at nothing to find the giant that killed them. This is what has put him in the service of the Philistines, who have promised him the whereabouts of this giant as soon as he completes his mission: destroy the Israelites.

[57] When Xena and Gabrielle find Goliath, they also find the Philistines, an unruly and evil looking bunch, with Israelites in tow as their prisoners of war. Gabrielle befriends them and when one rebel named David steps out of line and insults a guard, he is put on the chopping block. Gabrielle attempts to stop the beheading by inserting herself between the executioner and David, which the executioner disregards as he continues his upswing. Xena quickly saves Gabrielle and David, and proceeds to battle the Philistines alone while the others escape. This sets up a clear division of loyalties on behalf of Goliath, who must now fight Xena's friends.

[58] A preliminary battle results in the death of Jonathan, the son of King Saul and David's brother. Xena realizes the Israelites need a strong leader, and decides that David should deal Goliath the final blow. David, coincidentally, has also had the same revelation. Xena then sets up a strategy that involves attacking the Philistines and blinding Goliath with sun- reflecting shields. David is in charge of a rock and a good sense of direction. David lets his rock go at the right moment, Goliath falls dead, and the Philistines retreat. Xena mourns the death of her friend as the Israelites rejoice.

[59] It is made clear that Xena originally intended to kill Goliath, and could have easily delivered the deathblow. It is also made clear that David was "allowed" to fight, a strange move for Xena, who hardly ever risks vulnerability by allowing royalty or the inexperienced to fight alongside her. In a sense, she influenced the Israelites incredibly, since her tactical skills and ingenious ideas resulted in their victory. It would seem that the influence factor is much higher than the element of replacement. But there is a design within the narrative that hints at the fact that the "real" credit goes to Xena for winning the battle, as well as for arriving at the idea that David's credibility as a leader needed to be cemented by the act of killing Goliath. This re-envisioned male mythical/historical event has carefully tread on sacred ground by exalting David as a good, kindhearted, and promising leader, while at the same time illustrating the power a woman used to get him there. [Note 31]


Xena leads her real horse, while Gabrielle rides her stick horse
Xena and Gabrielle walk off into the sunset.

[60] XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS is a pop-culture phenomenon as much as it is a feminist and postmodern phenomenon. Much scholarship is needed to deconstruct the many, many elements that have created this successful and boundary-less series. What is evident from the, as of yet, undefined superstructure of the narrative is the ways in which the subversion of male myth and history create a new, female-centered view of the ancient world and thus contribute to a feminist message that women can and do make history.

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