I think it’s fair to assert that the trope of the damsel in distress has been falling away in contemporary fantasy for some time, but I’d like to shine a light on one who helped break that literary mold even in the 1970s: Lúthien Tinúviel. This famous Elfmaiden, who stars in the iconic love story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, didn’t need to be rescued like a video game princess. She broke out of bondage, rescued her own questing boyfriend, and personally took on the big boss at the end of all levels. It’s like… imagine if in the original game, you play as Zelda, and you get to bust her out of Ganon’s prison, find all the Triforce pieces with Link, then fight your way through Death Mountain together.
Let’s be clear. There are innumerable wonderful heroines in the genre, and the list grows every day. I am merely positing that Lúthien, conceptually, is one of the best. This badass heroine rises up from the fairy tale beauty and Eldar privilege of her birthright to get her hands dirty and solve problems like a big girl. She and her mortal betrothed, Beren, are equals even when others around them—immortal and ostensibly wise beings—choose not to see it. They are a two-person army of determination and doom. (To be fair, they do have the help of a magical dog/fifth wheel in their adventures—more on him later.) They are true to one another in the face of every opposition: Lúthien’s own dad, various grudge-bearing Elves, a legion of vile monsters, and a constant barrage of dire prophecies.