Lisbeth Salander or Lyra Belacqua – who's your replacement Wonder Woman?

After a tough year for women, and the end of the UN’s resident demigoddess, we need some inspiring heroines. Here are a few of mine – who would you choose?

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in the 2011 film of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
If only she’d been on Hillary’s team … Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in the 2011 film of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Photograph: c.Col Pics/Everett / Rex Feature
If only she’d been on Hillary’s team … Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in the 2011 film of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Photograph: c.Col Pics/Everett / Rex Feature

Last modified on Wed 21 Aug 2019 08.02 EDT

Ah 2016, you keep throwing those curve balls – especially at women. It was bad enough that Bono was named Glamour magazine’s “woman of the year”, but this week you surpassed yourself, as fictional women were fired and hired for real-life roles.

On Tuesday, Wonder Woman was dropped as UN ambassador for empowering women and girls. No sooner had she swapped her corset and pants for a onesie and Uggs than BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour put Twitter in a spin with a Power List (aka PR campaign) that placed Bridget Jones sixth in a list of the seven most powerful women of the past 70 years.

JK Rowling and Angela Merkel must be wondering what a girl has to do to get noticed round here. Resort to an Alohomora spell? Become a man? Go home, 2016: you’re drunk.

It did, however, make me wonder which fictional characters had exerted power on my own life. Here is my list, who is on yours?

Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

Strange to think that as Bridget banged on about which pants made her look thin, Rowling’s heroine had donned an invisibility cloak to fight alongside the boy wizard. (It was she who first discovered that the Alohomora spell could open doors.) Brave, studious, self-confident and with a fierce sense of social justice, Hermione is the kind of kid I suspect Theresa May would like to be – and that invisibility cloak would come in useful when snubbed by the EU supper club.

Lyra Belacqua in the His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Pullman’s Lyra has the courage and ferocity of an ambush of tigers. And while Bridget Jones has worn as well as a pair of bumsters, Lyra remains as fresh as when she first scrambled across the roofs of Oxford. Combining curiosity, stubbornness and loyalty with impetuousness and a sense of adventure, Lyra is a modern heroine for modern women. And the ability to open up an alternative universe, into which those of us reeling after 2016 can escape, would be welcome before Inauguration Day.

Celie in The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Walker’s heroine may seem an odd choice for a list about power, but she defines what it means. Raped, traded and abused, Celie’s resilience leads her to emotional and spiritual triumph. She opened a window, not only on to the oppression of women and black women in particular, but also on to how the friendship of women is a strength greater than anything a man can throw at you. I finished this book while waiting for a train in Euston station and wept. That moment has resonated throughout the years since.

Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

A feminist avenging angel, you wouldn’t invite the withdrawn and sociopathic Salander to dinner, but you’d sure as hell want her on your side. Her world-class hacking skills would come in handy, too, when dealing with Russian hackers’ attempts to throw an election in favour of a self-confessed sex pest. Larsson said his inspiration for Salander came from wondering about what Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult. Like Pippi, Salandar’s power lies in her refusal to play nice.

Little My in the Moomin series by Tove Jansson

Jansson’s heroine didn’t appear until book four, The Exploits of Moompappa, but when she did her vitality, bloody-mindedness and sheer cheek hit me like a train. Aged six, I wanted to be her, a feeling that hasn’t changed over the years. Little My has shown women how to argue using a combination of arch humour, logic and emotion. She’s Jess Philipps riding down a banister. She is also why I shall spend part of this weekend in her company at the Southbank Centre, at the first major UK exhibition dedicated to the Moomins.

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