Heroic Deeds and Moral Dilemmas: Reading About Women Before and After Xena

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Title: Heroic Deeds and Moral Dilemmas: Reading About Women Before and After Xena
Creator: Christine Pattee
Date(s): January 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: Xena: Warrior Princess
External Links: Heroic Deeds and Moral Dilemmas: Reading About Women Before and After Xena, Archived version; part 2; part 3; part 4
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Heroic Deeds and Moral Dilemmas: Reading About Women Before and After Xena is an essay by Christine Pattee.

It was posted to Whoosh! #40 in 2000.

The essay's topic is the history of lesbian literature, and where Xena: Warrior Princess fits into the topic. Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Checklist" is one topic mentioned. [1]


  • Xena Fan Fiction
  • What's So Special About a TV Show?
  • Men, Women and Xena: No Stereotypes
  • Introduction to Xena on the Internet
  • Historical Fiction: Exciting Morality Tales
  • Early Lesbian Literature: Few And Far Between
  • Personal Favorites
  • 1900-1955: A Trickle of Mainstream Hardcovers
  • 1955-1969: A Stream of Mostly Paperbacks
  • 1969 to The Present: A Flood in the Closet - Lesbian Presses
  • Quirky Bestsellers and Current Popular Fiction
  • The Passion Factor
  • Xena-Inspired, Internet-Based, Fan-Written Fiction
  • A Different Kind Of Author and A Different Way of Writing
  • Next on the Bestseller List
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Biography


Xena: Warrior Princess, a four- year-old TV show, has generated an enormous amount of fan- written fiction on the Internet. Rewriting TV relationships to suit the author's own interests is not a new phenomenon. It started with Star Trek. But just as the characters and story line of Xena: Warrior Princess are different from any previous TV show, so the Internet- circulated fiction is also significantly different from previous writings about women. Pulse-pounding action, heart- stopping love scenes, and two women together are the unique combination that set post-Xena fiction apart from anything written before, and make it a matter of time before Xena-inspired books break into main stream bestsellerdom.

Only recently have women starred as dramatic leads in their own shows. Although heroines are somewhat more common in literature, these are mostly interior dramas, with an occasional action-oriented woman in a detective novel. These female protagonists are inevitably alone, coupled with a man, or seeking a male partner. Since Xena and her companion Gabrielle came on the scene, there has been a fundamental change in writing about women. For the first time, we see two powerful women whose primary relationship is with each other, in a dramatic setting that gives the characters wide scope for action.

These observations are based on my lifelong fascination with reading about heroic deeds, moral dilemmas, and strong women. What follows is an idiosyncratic tour through the reading paths of one middle-aged woman now enamored of Xena fan fiction. As a long time "bookaholic", there have been three times in my life when I could not get enough of a certain type of reading. In the fifties and sixties, it was historical fiction: Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Horatio Hornblower, and everything Mary Renault ever wrote about ancient Greece. Then came the seventies and early eighties, when Women's Liberation ushered in a whole new kind of writing, and I went on an obsessive search to find all the books listed in The Lesbian in Literature. Now, in the late nineties, I have had my bibliophilic socks knocked off once again by all the Xena stories that I have discovered on the Net.

Xena-Inspired, Internet-Based, Fan-Written Fiction:

Hundreds of bards have written thousands of Xena-inspired stories and put them out on the World Wide Web. It is impossible to get an accurate tally, but site 'hit' counters indicate there could be millions of readers. The first stories were posted to the Internet chat and news groups that proliferated as Xena: Warrior Princess caught the imagination of the viewing public. Now many authors have their own web sites, and there are numerous archive sites categorized by type of story: general: Xena and Gabrielle are close friends; alt: Xena and Gabrielle are lovers; and erotica: both straight and gay, from PG to SM. It is unbelievable how many variations there can be on two people becoming lovers for the first time. There should be no concern about the death of the written word, given the volumes that are pouring out of cyberspace.

Initially all the stories had Xena and Gabrielle in the setting of the TV show, ancient Greece. However, a new sub-genre, the 'uber Xena', was born when an episode, THE XENA SCROLLS (34/209), placed Mel Pappas (Xena's descendant) and Dr. Janice Covington (Gabrielle's) in modern Macedonia searching for the Xena Scrolls. Besides giving more scope for plot and character development, these stories with looser ties to the TV original have a better chance of getting into hard cover print. Every story on the Net has a disclaimer in front of it stating that the characters belong to Renaissance Pictures and no copyright infringement is intended. Internet publication is truly a labor of love, as authors obviously can not sell their stories.

Missy Good is the best known Xena fan fiction author on the Net, with legions of devoted fans, including me [Note 07]. She is also the first author to have a 'hard copy' novel printed, by Justice House Publishing, which was established specifically to publish Xena-inspired fiction [Note 08]. Tropical Storm (1999), set in a Miami, Florida computer corporation, is an 'uber-Xena' that pairs a brilliant, ruthless executive vice president with an idealistic young systems manager. Good is extraordinarily prolific, with at least a dozen novel-length Xena/Gabrielle stories completed, plus others in progress that are e-mailed to eager fans chapter by chapter. As much as I enjoy reading her though, I do not anticipate she will be the first to break through into the mainstream. Her stories are fast- paced and well-written, but there is not enough edge, not enough dark side, to her characters.

Original-setting-Xena's are still being written, but the novel-length 'Ubers' have the most variety and generate the most discussion. The Gaslight series, by Nene Adams, has the uber-Xena as a wealthy Victorian spinster detective in Sherlock Holmes' London, with the uber-Gabrielle as her redeemed-streetwalker companion. Two novels soon to be published by Justice House Publishing, Surfacing by Paul Seeley and Lucifer Rising by Sharon Bowers, make the uber- Xena a somewhat redeemed drug lord, and the uber- Gabrielle a journalist or similar bard- like profession.

My personal preference for breakthrough success is Jules Mills' as-yet-unfinished Nanoverse novel, with the uber-Xena as an ex- prisoner with a murder conviction who is also a brilliant nano-physicist, and the uber-Gabrielle as a medical doctor. Of the stories I have read, Mills takes the characters farthest from their TV origins, has the most fully developed, complex plot, and gives the darkest edge to the story. However, it is very unlikely that any story issued chapter by chapter on the Net would be picked up by a mainstream publisher. Charles Dickens may have managed to turn magazine installments into successful novels, but most episodically written stories lack continuity and cohesive plot structure.


  1. "Many years ago, I met Ms. Bradley at an author reception, where I brought her my prized Checklist in its original mimeographed form. She signed it, but not as enthusiastically as I proffered it, because "That was part of my past". I also took the opportunity to ask her about Warrior Woman (1985), in which a female gladiator chops up numerous adversaries without any meaningful relationships to redeem the carnage. I asked her why she had written such an ugly story, and she replied, in effect, that women could be just as violent and awful as men, and that she wanted her writings to portray this honestly."