‘Brave,’ ‘Hunger Games’ And The History Of Lady Archers

As Princess Merida joins the big-screen leagues of Katniss Everdeen, we look at the sport's storied past, in Hobnobbing.

A fiery bow-and-arrow-wielding heroine not named Katniss Everdeen? Color us intrigued!

This weekend, Pixar will take aim at the box-office bull’s-eye with its first foray into the fairy-tale princess pic. “Brave” follows a young Scottish royal named Merida, who bucks her parents’ wishes, insisting on paving her own path — with bow firmly in hand.

Of course, the animated flick is only the latest this year to feature an adept bow-woman (or bowman). There was Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in “The Avengers,” William (Sam Claflin) in “Snow White and the Huntsman” and, our obvious favorite, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in “The Hunger Games.” Unsurprisingly, this slew of big-screen portrayals has helped revive interest in the ancient sport, with more and more amateur archers sizing up their targets.

But let’s be clear about one thing: Bow-besotted babes are nothing new. Lady archers have been around practically since the dawn of time. Follow me down their storied path:

Like most grand ideas, the concept of a woman and her bow has roots in Greek mythology. “Amazon” may be a compliment for a leggy lady nowadays, but maybe it shouldn’t be, considering the ancient archers were often depicted with their left breast cut off to make wielding their weaponry simpler. The Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis, was also frequently pictured holding a bow and arrow (sans missing mammary glands).

Throughout the Middle Ages, archery served dual purposes: fending off enemies and hunting prey for sustenance. But by the Elizabethan era, it had become a posh pastime, with proper ladies learning the sport — along with dancing and riding — as part of their studies. (P.E. was soooo much cooler back then.) In fact, Queen Elizabeth I herself (daughter of Henry VIII) is said to have been a skilled archer.

A few hundred years later, the sport made its Olympics debut in 1900, with women taking up arms at the 1904 games. The event took a hiatus from the Games between 1920 and 1972, reappearing at the Munich Olympics. And while plenty of Hollywood heavyweights have learned the skill for a movie, one took it upon herself to learn for the sport of it. Actress Geena Davis made it all the way to the semifinal rounds of the Olympic trials in 1999, hoping to compete in the 2000 games in Sydney. The games and a gold medal were not in Davis’ future, but she already has one gilded goody (namely, an Oscar) to console herself.

And speaking of actresses and archery, the last few decades have offered up a bumper crop of bow roles, from Gwyneth Paltrow in “Emma” to Saoirse Ronan in “Hannah.” And, of course, Lawrence in “The Hunger Games.”

All we have so say is, may the odds be ever in your favor, lady archers!

Is Katniss your favorite fictional archer? Do you plan to see “Brave” this weekend? Sound off in the comments below and tweet me @amymwilk with your thoughts and suggestions for future columns!

Earlier “Hunger Games” columns:
» “Catching Fire” In IMAX: Time To Embrace The Big, Big Screen?
» “Hunger Games”: Five Things We Learned At Movie Awards
» How “Catching Fire” Could Set Taylor Kitsch’s Career Ablaze
» “Hunger Games” At The Movie Awards: Dos And Don’ts
» “Catching Fire” Countdown: What to Watch While You Wait

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

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