It’s the hero’s darkest hour. Their friends are gone, they’ve lost faith, and it seems like there’s no hope for a happy ending. Suddenly, a mystical being appears with exactly what the hero needs to conquer their enemy, attend the ball, and/or save the day. Does it sound familiar? It should. This is an example of divine intervention, and it’s a common trope in storytelling. It can be seen in fairytales like Cinderella, where a fairy godmother waves a magic wand to make everything better, classical Greek mythology, where gods and goddesses visit humanity to solve the hero’s crisis, and even popular literature like The Lord of the Rings, where wise and beautiful elves offer guidance, an old wizard offers his assistance, and the rightful king summons a ghost army to end what should have been a major battle in seconds. Divine intervention can also be seen in Medieval works, including Christine de Pizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies.
Christine writes The Book of the City of Ladies kind of like an autobiography. It’s in the first-person point of view, about a woman named Christine who is a good, Christian woman in a society that is very similar to the author’s. She starts by talking about the men in her society have made her feel as though being a woman were a bad thing. Which I’m sure no one in today’s society can relate to. Unlike today’s society, however, Christine doesn’t have strong feminist role models on the internet, or anywhere else really, to tell her that women are just as smart, strong, creative, etc. as men are. So, instead of saying “I know you are, but what am I” like any self-respecting adult would do, Christine falls into despair. But lucky for her, three beautiful women (who are definitely not goddesses; that would be un-Christianly) come to tell her all about women in history who prove that women are cool as heck. They also help her build a city where Christine and other women who are ready to leave the degrading views of women that many people in power seem to have behind them can live together in harmony (think the Amazons, but peaceful).
Christine has long chats with each of the three ladies as they build the city. The first lady, Lady Reason, says that it is her duty to “straighten out men and women when they go astray and to put them back on the right path” (de Pizan 9). This is a lot like what the elves in The Lord of the Rings do. Elrond re-forges Aragorn’s sword and convinces him to take his rightful place as king. Galadriel helps the fellowship get over Gandalf’s “death” and gives them stuff that will help them later on.
The second lady is called Rectitude. She is, according to herself, “the shield and defense of the servants of God” (de Pizan 13). She’s more hands-on than Reason. Where Reason just guides the people she visits, Rectitude actually stands up for them. She’s like Gandalf. Gandalf is a semi-divine being, but he actually joined the fellowship in order to help destroy the Ring, and Sauron, for good. He actively helps Frodo and the other members of the fellowship even after the fellowship breaks apart.
The third lady, Lady Justice, says that her job “is only to judge, to decide, and to dispense according to each man’s just deserts” (de Pizan 14). She only cares about making sure that people get exactly what they deserve. If they’ve been good, she rewards them. If they’ve been bad, she punishes them. She’s kind of like a high-stakes Santa. Lady Justice only answers to God, and God said, “Let there be justice.” It’s a bit like the relationship between Aragorn and the ghost army he uses to wipe out an entire army; they spared his allies (the good) and killed his enemies (the bad).
There are several other examples of divine intervention throughout several different genres and eras. It’s a very well-used trope, but that doesn’t make it bad. I, personally, would love to have a semi-divine wizard to help me out during finals week or have three definitely-not-goddesses come to me when I’m sad and give me an entire book’s worth of examples of why I should build a small city instead of moping. And that desire for some real-life divine intervention that has kept the divine intervention trope relevant in storytelling throughout the ages.
“Galadriel, Elrond, Celeborn, and Thiranduil.” Ask About Middle Earth, https://askmiddlearth.tumblr.com/post/50918699548/hierarchy-among-the-elves.
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De Pizan, Christine. The Book of the City of Ladies. Persea Books, 1998.
“LOTR The Return of the King – The Black Ships.” Gfycat, https://gfycat.com/indeliblegiantdunlin-xegalmothofgondolin-lord-of-the-rings.
Tolkien, JRR. The Lord of the Rings.
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