The Strong Beliefs of Aerin from McKinley's Hero and the Crown and Ellen from Gibbon's Ellen Foster
In the 1970's, rock artist David Bowie wrote a hit song entitled "Changes" that included these lines: "And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds/Are immune to your consultations/They're quite aware of what they're going through." These lyrics hint at the numerous weighty issues young teenagers must resolve while going through the "changes" that will lead to a development of adult moral codes. As any young adult will testify, an undefined moral atmosphere can result in difficulty making decisions (to cheat on a test or not to cheat on a test?), a problem that can become even more pronounced with the addition of pressure from peers, media, family, and religion.
However, some teens have experiences that result in the shaping of a strong will and as a consequence can easily form ethical convictions with nary a doubt. Two teens from this year's English Festival book selections fall into the latter category. Both Aerin from Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown and Ellen from Kaye Gibbon's Ellen Foster exhibit strong moral beliefs formed during their early teen years. Some of the values and beliefs Aerin and Ellen share are independence, self-sufficiency, and a mistrust for authority. Each girl's unique experiences help shape these beliefs, and both girls manifest their firmly held values through their actions.
The foremost trait Aerin and Ellen share is a strong sense of independence. Both girls can correctly be described as feminists-neither enjoys relying on men, instead preferring to focus on her own independent instincts. Ellen learns to be strong-willed because of an experience that brings her much grief: her mother's death. Realizing that her father has essentially killed her mother, Ellen concludes that her father's word is worthless, and all that remains is her own judgment. Consequently, Ellen learns how to run the household by herself, occasionally escaping to a friend's house when her father becomes too drunk or violent.
Similarly, Aerin takes on the responsibility of being Damar's dragon-killer, completely unbidden by her royal father. For her entire life, Aerin has been subject to the kingdom's rules and protocol, chafing under the bonds. Eventually, she breaks free, training her own horse and developing an antifire ointment in secret. "Aerin Fire-Hair" (97) becomes a successful dragon-slayer completely of her own volition, independent of anyone else's wishes or expectations.