Evil Queens and Wicked Fairies

September 3rd, 2012Posted by Nancy

One of my earliest reading obsessions – and on that has a had an ongoing influence on my writing – is fairy tales. My family had two collections that contained the classic stories, along with some more obscure tales, and while I can’t remember the titles, I can still see the illustrations clearly. I’m still a sucker for an interesting retelling of these stories and “A Terrible Beauty” is my take on Beauty and the Beast.
One of the things that I realized as I got older was that I didn’t really relate to the princesses. Possibly as a result of the pernicious influence of Disney, I perceived all princesses as blonde, blue-eyed, pretty and rather helpless. As it was apparent from an early age that I was never going to be blonde and pretty and when I was young my aspirations ran to starship captain or superheroine rather than princess (more on that later), I ended up with a secret sympathy for the Evil Queens and Wicked Fairies. At least they had power and agency within the stories. They caused things to happen, rather than passively waiting to be woken with a kiss or doled out as a reward to an enterprising third son. The fact that they were very rarely blond and pretty but dark and beautiful may have swayed me. I stood no more chance of being dark and beautiful than I did of being blond and pretty but that was far closer to my idea of beauty. Many years later I realized how much my mother’s looks had influenced that view, especially since I had failed to inherit her black hair and cheekbones.
Of course, the best characters are far more complex than that. Even blonde princesses have hearts and souls and secret shadows, sometimes evil is simply evil and magic, while a fine weapon in fairy tales, is a poor substitute for political equality. The endless retelling of fairy tales by writers, the shifting of sympathies and meanings between Princess and Queen, proves the power both of those archetypes have for so many of us.
A few years ago, I came across a t-shirt with the phrase “Evil Queen” on it. Of course I bought it.

My favorite fairy tale reimaginings:
Red as Blood, Tanith Lee
Beauty, Robin McKinley
The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
Deerskin, Robin McKinley

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2 responses

  • 1 toveen · Oct 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Sometimes it’s simply just more fun to be the villain, too. Who needs silly things like morals and ethics standing in the way when you could be a disgustingly successful jewel thief?

  • 2 Nancy · Oct 11, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    I was usually a jewel thief who was actually stealing back the crown jewels that had been sold by the evil regent so technically, I was the heroine. But I still got to have a cool costume and all those lovely cat burglar devices. All this will be explored in more detail in an upcoming post.

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