In Three Weeks with Lady X, a historical romance by Eloisa James, the character of Thorn Dautry presents an interesting case of the wounded masculine discovering the means of self-healing and integration through male institutions and male intuition. Seemingly a strange place for a masculinist story arc, the popular romance novel offers a keen insight into the nature of masculinity and how male heroes can be portrayed as archetypal, rather than stereotypical, men’s men.
Thorn’s character evolves through a series of events that require him to face the horrors of his past, and so reveal in turn his capacity for compassion, his self-destructive and competitive nature, his need for the wisdom of the father, his ability to walk between worlds as a leader of men, and his power to achieve the symbolic Herculean Task. His arc follows an abridged form of the monomyth that inevitably results in the power to communicate his truest and deepest emotions for his beloved (being the titular heroine, Lady X.)
The arrival of Thorn’s ward, the aptly named Rose, initiates a period of introspection which results in the hero’s first understanding of what it means to truly love someone. The girl provides blunt challenge to Thorn’s ideas about love, home, and marriage throughout the book, and her arrival serves as his ‘Call to Adventure.’ (If we must go there, she’s R2D2 showing up to challenge Luke’s otherwise predictable Tatooine.)
His plans with Lady Xenobia change with the girl’s arrival, and the ward is shunted into a smaller house on Thorn’s newly acquired estate. This betokens the ‘Refusal of the Call.’ Even as the the Hero and Heroine give in to the strange attraction between them, the child’s sequestration serves to remind the reader that both protagonists suffer the delusion of denial.
Thorn arranges a potential marriage between Lady X and his rival-friend Lord Brody. The rivalry heats up as Thorn discovers his true feelings for Lady X, leading to a falling-out between the men. Powerless to express the complexity of his emotions, he lashes out and drives Lady X away. He turns to his father, the Duke of Villiers, who inspires and uplifts his son in the younger man’s darkest hour.
The end result of Thorn’s reconciliation with his masculine nature, the step to integration, is the undertaking of the Herculean Task. In this ritual ablution, Thorn reconciles his past with his love for Lady X, finds the common ground in their relationship, and draws together the men in his life while challenging the forces of nature to literally give up the family jewels. The process nearly kills him, but now he gains the power to tell Lady X how he truly feels about her. (Eurydice was so named because “Good Speaking” is something that men have to find in the underworld.)
Of course, Thorn’s arc makes sense in light of the understanding that Eloisa James is the pen name of Mary Bly, the daughter of the leader of the Men’s Mythopoetic Movement, Robert Bly. Thorn’s story is the story of every man as laid out in the elder Bly’s inspirational Iron John.
Sadly, Iron John has been misrepresented and misread for a quarter of a century. It is not a challenge to feminism or femininity, but a text for and about men. It’s a self-help manual for the mythically inclined male soul, not a political manifesto.
Writers of romance would do well to study Eloisa Jame’s work in the light of her father’s writings. A new standard for creating potent, viral, and redeemable heroes lies in understanding the Hero’s Journey back to wholeness.