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Damsel In Distress / Literature

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Distressed Damsels in literature.


  • Played straight in numerous medieval tales from all over Europe, with Lyonesse, Guinevere and Iseult as model examples. In the Chivalric Romance, it was particularly noted as an element of the Matter of Britain, which was the supreme matter dealing with love.

  • In Patricia A. McKillip's The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Saro is trapped in a spell, rendered The Speechless, and ends up a Scullery Maid in Cinderella Circumstances.
  • In the second Bourne novel, the people manipulating Bourne have kidnapped his wife to force him to do their bidding. Only she's not Suzie Homemaker, she's a high level government official in her own right, accustomed to traveling the world and fighting communism with the power of economics on behalf of the Canadian government. She sows confusion among the enemy, then walks out the front door into the night.
  • Christine becomes one in Bride of the Rat God after she wears an Artifact of Death that is used as a prop in one of her films.
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  • The cover to A Brother's Price features a man carrying a limp woman. Said cover is misleading; that scene does happen, when Odelia passes out in a stream after being beaten by attackers and Jerin fishes her out, but the women of that universe, Odelia included, are anything but neutral, and that is really the only case in the book where a woman needs to be rescued. Unless you count the fact that Jerin helps Cira escape by picking the locks of her handcuffs. She is only in trouble because she tried to rescue him, so it is not a straight example of distressed damsel.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs. To be just, he has a lot of Distressed Dude as well, and the damsels have high spirits, courage, and willingness to do what is in their powers, but:
    • Jane in Tarzan.
    • Meriem in Son of Tarzan.
    • Dejah Thoris in several John Carter of Mars books, most notably from the beginning of the second to the end of the third.
    • An anonymous group of women in The Gods of Mars, thrown to animals, inspires a Gladiator Revolt.
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    • Thuvia in Warlord Of Mars and Thuvia Maid of Mars
    • Tara in Chessmen of Mars
    • Valla Dia in The Master Mind of Mars
    • Virginia Maxon in The Monster Men
    • Dian in At the Earth's Core
    • Emma von der Tann in The Mad King meets Barney Custer when he sees that her horse ran away with her.
    • Both Sanoma Tora and Tavia in A Fighting Man of Mars. Sanoma loses her spirit entirely, which is evidence enough that she is not, after all the Love Interest.
  • Conan the Barbarian. Very often:
  • The Crimson Shadow: Subverted. Luthien goes off to rescue Siobhan from slavery, only to learn she's quite capable of caring for herself, sneaking out of her master's house regularly.
  • Therese in Dance Of The Butterfly.Twice. Even invoked by her as she resists, though the inevitability of it is nailed home to her. She then averts it by not calling for help the second time, though she is rescued, anyway.
    Therese: Stop turning me into the fucking damsel in distress.
  • Deltora Quest has Jasmine who is aside from later books is quite a subversion, in her introduction she saved Lief and Barda twice in the first book and slayed giant snake Reeah in the third book. But in latter part of the first series Jasmine gets her fair share of "Damsel moments" either when fighting Ols or when the Grey Guards come knocking. Hell the first book of the second series was a Rescue Arc for Jasmine since the Shadow Lord had tricked her into traveling to the Shadow Lands with Shadow Lord knowing Lief would drop everything to chase after her. Jasmine also becomes a helpless when she is put in water and when they traveling in a underground ocean this a issue with Lief having to dive in after her when she swept away, the justification is the biggest amount of water Jasmine ever came across was a small stream in Forest Of Silence so there was no she was gonna be Olympic swimmer.
    • Az-zure the Dread Gnome-lady, is a subversion and then played straight as Adin is captured by her and men and is about to robbed and executed when a green beast attacks Az-Zure and Adin saves her by putting arrow through it's eye. Az-Zure is shocked and grateful he would save her after nearly killing him and is internally grateful promising to come when Adin gathers his army together.
  • Discworld: Although Terry Pratchett insisted he was unable to write characters like this, Ginger in Moving Pictures spends her short-lived Holy Wood film career playing the role of one Distressed Damsel after another.
    • He's clearly forgotten Violet Botell in Hogfather. Susan does lampshade it by berating her in her mind for her intentionally helpless behaviour.
  • In the Dragonlance series, Laurana becomes this after being captured by her Arch-Enemy Kitiara and having her love interest Tanis Half-Elven try to rescue her. Played with in that Laurana no longer trusts Tanis as he has been Dating Catwoman, refuses his help and ends up breaking free on her own. Though she does end up needing Tanis's help to complete her escape.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, Paige is captured by Mary's Landing and Turk must come to her rescue. Also Eraphie did not flee of her own will but was captured by Hardin; Mikhail comes to her rescue as soon as that becomes clear.
  • Dimity Plumleigh-Teinmort in The Finishing School Series often ends in this role due to being Afraid of Blood and Fainting tendencies. Despite being in training to become a spy.
  • In The Flying Boy, Amy Simpson was kidnapped by Dr. Paigne as bait for Jeremy Floeter.
  • Esther Friesner loves to avert and parody this trope.
    • In her "Majyk" trilogy, we first have Mysti in Majyk by Accident whose only source of distress is her Welfin relatives and who bullies Kendar into marrying her so she can leave the "jolly greensward ho" and stop skipping around like an idiot and her only REAL distress is when the curse hits her after Kendar refuses to follow through with a promise he made during the wedding vows.
    • In the second book, Majyk by Hook or Crook, we have not only Mysti who has become the swashbuckler with a secret identity, A Blade for Justice (and prefers to be referred to by his/her full name), but we also have Anisella, who wears nothing but chain mail, has a black belt in helo kiti and a green barette in po kipsi, and crumples like a McDonalds napkin when even barely brushed by wool... or any other fabric.
    • The third book in the trilogy, Majyk by Design, gives us a male example in Prince Boffin who has been turned into a toad but also gives us great parody in Kendar's aunts (mercenary swordswomen)and his soon-to-be sister-in-law Dulcetta who, although she is generally the TYPE of girl who would fall into this category, actually kidnapped the man whom everyone thought kidnapped her and hatched a scheme with him to write romance novels. When the main characters find her she is heard screaming for help with the help of a metric ton of Purple Prose and while she is recounting to them the story of what happened runs off to write when the characters paraphrase her cries as "Help me". She thought it was perfect. It also comes to pass that her mother, who raised her to be a docile, dependent woman, was a barbarian swordswoman herself and only gave it up because she preferred regular bathing.
  • In Frostflower and Thorn Frostflower ends up needing rescue after being hung up for execution, though without fatal injury since the farmer-priest Maldron still hoped she would recant and be his Sex Slave.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Hermione Granger, (despite JK being a feminist and making intelligent and strong female characters in her series) still has been rescued/cured/protected in every book except the sixth book where everybody was mostly safe till the end. The justification is Hermione while she aces almost every subject has trouble with "Defense Against The Dark Arts" which the more battle hungry Harry and Ron are more adept at. Hermione still is best Witch of her year and is more than capable by the end of series so setting aside encounters with Trolls she's done well.
    • Ginny Weasley in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, although no one realizes it until near the end. And she did attempt to save herself by throwing the diary away first, stealing it back only because she was afraid of being outed.
    • Invoked during the second task of the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Each of the contestants had to swim to the bottom of the lake and retrieve the thing they valued the most which the Mer-people allegedly took from them. This turned out to be the person closest to them. These 'captives' were actually asked by the organizers of the Tournament to volunteer for this role.
    • "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" has Hermione being tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange and Fenrir Greyback. When Harry and Ron try to save her Bellatrix takes her hostage, however Dobby's intervention saves them.
  • In House of Leaves, Pelafina writes in her letters that she is this character, and that her son has to save her from being locked up in the mental institution.
  • Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Her mere presence is the catalyst for all the action in the book. Victor Hugo kind of rips into this trope by having Esmeralda pine for her knight in shining armor, who eventually does nothing to save her from execution. Had Esmeralda been a little more proactive about her own fate, maybe things would have worked out better for her.
  • The Hunger Games: Annie Cresta. She's captured and held prisoner by the Capitol at the end of Catching Fire, but she is rescued in Mockingjay.
  • Jam: All the survivors get in distress at some point but Angela and Deirdre are genuine examples of this trope, with Travis is being legitimately upset when he fails to save them at certain points in the book.
  • Journey to Chaos book 1, A Mage's Power: Princess Kasile is kidnapped during a joust, but this does not (immediately) provoke a Rescue Arc. The main characters are mercenaries, and their leader insists that this event doesn't concern them unless they are hired to rescue her. Eric decides to go on his own time, along with his fellow mercenary, Culmus, who is also the princess' secret boyfriend.
  • Judge Dee's cases often include at least one of these young ladies; ranging from vagabond thieves, to reluctant prostitutes to innocent young ladies of gentle birth. However they are seldom quite helpless or useless.
  • Jez is kidnapped at the beginning of the second Kingdom Keepers book, setting the plot in motion.
  • Mediochre Q Smith: Parodied in The Good The Bad And The Mediochre, where dragons are noted to have a tendency to kidnap virgin princesses. Just because.
  • In Teresa Frohock's Miserere: An Autumn Tale, Lindsey is in Hell. Lucian realizes he must open a Gate, which has been forbidden to him, to rescue her.
  • Mogworld Meryl has this spades despite being a zombie, she regularly gets captured over the course of the book, it's seems Meryl has always been like this even her death was apparently due to some sort of virgin sacrifice, she even has trouble climbing saying always worry about the boys looking up her skirt back in her village. Jim usually has reluctantly pull her out of trouble, as she one who can patch his zombie body together when he inevitably gets wrecked, though in the last part of the book he realises he does care for Meryl. But then it's too late as she is deleted from the game, before not talking to Jim and apologizing for being such pain to him, it's her second death that pushes Jim to stop Barry and Simon the "creator" after the game is reset one of the rewards for Jim was reality where he is the hero that saves Meryl from some ritual priests but he refused the life for a more simplistic one with Meryl.
  • In L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle, Valancy foolishly goes to a dance where drunken men start to harrass her. Barney Snaith arrives in time. The main character in Anne of Green Gables is saved by her future husband from a catastrophe resulting from her attempt at impersonating Elaine the Lily of Astolat from Tennyson's poem. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In The Moomins, Snork Maiden, and being so pathetic has made her the least popular character.
    • She often does it on purpose, since she fancies herself as a romantic heroine. She can be quite undistressed when she wants to.
  • Andre Norton:
    • In Ice Crown, Roane stumbles on the place where kidnappers bring Princess Ludorica.
    • In Storm Over Warlock, Shann leaps to the aid of a Wyvern when she loses control of the forktail.
    • In Ordeal in Otherwhere, Charis poses as this, driven mad by the contact with the Wyverns, to infiltrate the Company men.
  • Defied way back in 1495 in Matteo Boiardo's epic Orlando innamorato. Princess Angelica of Cathay (China) is distressed by the Muslim Tartars at the city of Albracca. Riding to her rescue are the French, the Indians, and several other Muslim armies including King Sacripante of Circassia. She thinks all this isn't good enough and escapes to find the missing Christian champion Orlando before returning to be rescued.
  • In The Perils of Enhancegirl, this happens to virtually every female character constantly. As the title may indicate, that's rather an intended aspect of the series.
  • Wendy Darling, Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily (who is an interesting case, as she is also Pretty Princess Powerhouse) to Peter Pan.
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth, Milo's quest rapidly turns into one to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air. Once Milo reached them, there was a huge group of very PO'd monsters racing towards them, so running was the only option any of them had.
  • Buttercup in The Princess Bride spends almost the entire story waiting for her true love to come save her. She's in this mess because she gave herself up to save him — and he did promise he'd always come for her. Of course, The Princess Bride is an Affectionate Parody of swashbuckling adventure stories.
  • In Rogue Star, Molly Zaldiver ends up captured by the newly-born rogue star which has absorbed her lover, Cliff Hawk, and somehow ended up with feelings for her it doesn't quite understand. Andy Quamodian, who is also in love with her, spends a large part of the book trying find a way to rescue her from a creature of such unimaginable power.
  • Septimus Heap: Averted most of the time by Jenna Heap, as she usually manages to get safe by herself. Her being the Princess of the Castle makes her a target for kidnapping a few times.
  • Diana Mayo, heroine of The Sheik. She's kidnapped by a rival Sheik, forcing the titular character to rescue her, during which he realizes he's fallen in love with her.
  • The Silmarillion:
    • Played straight with both Turin's loves in "The Children of Hurin", Finduilas, killed by the orcs, and Niënor Níniel (when Glaurung wipes her memories). Sadly things end badly for her, as she only realizes who she is after Turin has impregnated her, at which she kills herself.
    • Zigzagged by Lúthien: when imprisoned by her father, she frees herself. Although she is then captured a second time and needs some help to escape, she then proceeds to almost single-handedly free her lover Beren (and a number of other prisoners) from Sauron — yes, that Sauron. Later in Angband Morgoth possibly intends to rape her, but she sends him to sleep. When the forces of Angband come after her and Beren, they are saved by eagles.
    • Idril, during the Fall of Gondolin, as her treacherous cousin Maeglin, who is in love with her despite first-cousin marriages being illegal among Elves, tries to take her (it is implied he intends to basically rape her) and murder her son Earendil. However Idril's husband Tuor throws Maeglin off the walls of Gondolin.
    • Celebrían, the wife of Elrond, is captured and possibly raped by the orcs. She was rescued by her sons, but left Middle-Earth.
    • Played with by Eowyn in "The Lord of the Rings". She shows herself to be very capable, disguising herself as a man and avenging her uncle's death by defeating the Witch-King of Angmar, one of the main villains of the Legendarium. However his breath leaves her dying, and it takes Aragorn to heal her.
  • Played with a few times in A Song of Ice and Fire.
    • The war to save Lyanna Stark was won, but Lyanna died in the process so victory was hollow for the people who wanted to save her. There's hints that the "Damsel" was far less in distress than people who started the war thought.
    • Sansa Stark never got rescued by her family and was eventually forced to flee with an amoral man who then groomed and molested her.
    • Lady Hornwood was already dead by the time her would-be rescuers arrived.
  • Lampshaded in Soon I Will Be Invincible, where it is noted the Corefire has the requisite "reporter girlfriend who always needed rescuing."
  • Parodied in Spells, Swords, & Stealth with Gabrielle, daughter of the mayor of Maplebark. She has been kidnapped by goblins repeatedly, causing the mayor to send adventurers to her rescue. Turns out, that's exactly what the goblins want as they use this to set up ambushes and rob the adventurers blind. This happens so often that Gabrielle is considered a regular guest and honorary member of the goblin clan. Eric, her childhood friend and the town guard who regularly fails to stop her being kidnapped despite his best efforts, is dismayed to learn of the whole arrangement.
  • In The Time Bender, Princess Adoreanne is mysteriously kidnapped, and both O'Leary and Count Alain vow to rescue her—but Alain is convinced that O'Leary is the kidnapper.
  • In the first book of the Time Scout series, Margo ends up in a 16th century Portuguese prison. In the third, Birgitta is saved by Skeeter from a beating. In the fourth, Birgitta is saved from gang rape and murder. In the third and fourth, Ianira is in the hands of Jack the Ripper.
  • In Tinker, Tinker realizes why this is more common than Distressed Dude: there is no elegant way for a grown woman to lug about an injured man.
  • Twilight: Bella Swan is ineffectual against a group of rapists and Edward must swoop in to save her. Prior to this, Edward had to save her from a careening truck. Later in the book, she is ineffectual against a vampire, and Edward and his family must swoop in to save her. Subsequent books have the same formula, right down to warring factions — werewolves and vampires — putting aside their differences to save Bella. Bella herself is absolutely useless in a fight until she herself gets cool powers.
    • Like Sookie Stackhouse Bella is actually the only human with enough bad luck to attract both werewolves and vampires (and various deadly situations) that are impossible to kill or harm unless by other supernatural creatures. One of the reasons of her insistence to become a vampire (aside from spending eternity with her beloved Edward) is to avert this trope. Like she says in the first book: "I can't always be Lois Lane. I want to be Superman, too."
    • In the movie at least, Bella attempts to fight back against the rapists and maces the vampire before running for it. While neither is winning a battle, it's at least some form of self-preservation.
    • Let's just say that it's realistic insofar as, a lot of the time, Bella could not realistically be expected to fight off vampires and so on. Everyone else's willingness to sacrifice themselves for her, on the other hand . . .
  • Abby Badica when captured by Strigoi in Vampire Academy. She is a cute, helpless, royal Moroi who breaks down in the face of danger. Every one of her rescuers is tempted to leave the battle and comfort it.
  • Villains by Necessity: Zig-zagged. Finwick believes that Kaylana is being manipulated and misguided by the villains, possibly being held against her will, and resolves to rescue her. By sending a Dragon to abduct her and hold her hostage, requiring the villains to storm the Dragon's keep and save the damsel from the heroes.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Averted in Komarr. Ekaterin Vorsoisson destroys the villains' secret weapon.
  • Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve from the earlier books of The Wheel of Time. They have a strange ability to get shielded, tied up and locked away only to be rescued by someone, though they did manage to get themselves away from the Seanchan in Book 2. Plus the time they actually berated Mat for saving them. They do get called on that later on by Birgitte however, who tore each of them a verbal new one and forced them to apologize. They'd also broken themselves out of there when Mat showed up.
  • In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, the Bloodtide tells the White Scars and Raven Guard that Malya is being subjected to being made a new Bloodtide, and begs them to rescue her.
  • Wilkie Collins' Victorian novel The Woman in White (1860) features the character Laura Glyde (nee Fairlie), who is the embodiment of this trope. She's got the emotional strength of a Kleenex.
    • The interesting part is that Marian Halcombe, her half sister, is an amazingly strong character for a Victorian novel, almost an Extraordinarily Empowered Girl by the standards of the time. While Laura is the epitome of blushing Victorian beauty and fragility, Marian is described as "ugly", even having a slight mustache on her upper lip. Maybe this is a case of an Ugly Tomboy and Girly Girl.
  • In Poul Anderson's "A World Called Maanerek", Sonna is captured with Torrek. While Torrek is turned back to Wanen by removing his new memories and restoring his old ones, the ship decides to use Sonna as a "tension release" by lobomotizing her and letting the men rape her. Wanen, his memories not so gone as they thought, rescues her before his own escape.
  • Amy Goodenough in the Young Bond novel Blood Fever, who is kidnapped by pirates for ransom. She ends being taken from them by the novel's Big Bad, who plans to make her his wife.


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