Maleficent and Female Villains

Princess Aurora: Don’t be afraid
Maleficent: I am not afraid
Princess Aurora: Then come out.
Maleficent: Then you’ll be afraid.

Maleficent trailer

Maleficent.  The big baddie of Sleeping Beauty who’s all style and no substance.  Even in the story of Sleeping Beauty, she is introduced as a bad fairy whose main peeve is not being invited to a christening.  In fact, in the Perrault version, she is allowed in.  She’s just not given a goody bag:

At the banquet back at the palace, the fairies seat themselves with a golden casket containing golden jeweled utensils laid before them. However, a fairy who was overlooked, having been within a certain tower for many years and thought to be either dead or enchanted, enters and is offered a seating, but not a golden casket since only seven were made. The fairies then offer their gifts of beauty, wit, grace, dance, song and music. The bad fairy, angry at being overlooked, places the princess under an enchantment as her gift: the princess will prick her hand on a spindle and die.

The moral of the story seems to be that hostesses should always have at least one extra casket of treats on hand just in case that undesirable guest decides to inconveniently come back from the dead and show up at the party.

As my urban fantasy series is roughly based on Sleeping Beauty, I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out a compelling reason for why this one character would get so annoyed by such a trivial snub. While evil fairies in literature have a long history of doing horrible things as retribution for perceived slights, it doesn’t make for a deep or interesting motivation.

Disney’s upcoming movie Maleficent seeks to change all that.  Like Snow White and the Huntsman, it gives the evil villain more of a back story and a reason for why she’s so darn bad–and in this case, even allows her to take center stage.

The untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman with stunning black wings, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army of humans threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the king of the humans and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and to Maleficent’s true happiness as well (Bing.com search).

I’m really excited about this take on Maleficent, and on giving her a good reason for being evil.  In a recent post, author Erin Latimer praised another recent movie for featuring a strong female lead villain (On Female Villains….) as a step towards featuring strong female characters in general.

In my personal niche of retelling fairy tales, I find I’m often having to get creative bringing depth to stock female characters.  Why does Cinderella put up with her evil stepmother and stepsisters?  Just because she’s an archetype of the virtuous maiden?  Sweet, but hard to relate to.  Why does The Little Mermaid decide to go on land?  Just to chase a prince and for sheer curiosity, because she’s a Youngest Sister (like in Beauty and the Beast and yes, Cinderella)?

Fairy tale villains are often even harder to bring to life–and in general, making villains just plain evil is the easy (and boring) way out.  I’m glad that movies like Maleficent are hoping to tell the other side of the story, not to hold up these dark figures as role models, but to explain some of the reasons behind their darkness.  In this way, I think they improve upon the original idea of a morality tale, because they showcase the true sin nature of man, and show that, but for the grace of God, anyone could head down that path ( “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,Romans 3:23).

Over the next few months, I’m going to be doing a series on villains from speculative fiction, in terms of pop culture, costumes, motivations, and Scripture.

For now, enjoy this juicy info on Maleficent from Once Upon a Blog, and the following trailers:

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3 thoughts on “Maleficent and Female Villains

  1. Great post! I think the reason we need more realistic villains is, a) It gives strong females (good or bad) leading roles on screen, which is so rare, and, b) A fuller fleshed, rounded character gives you a good look at the nature of true evil. Evil doesn’t THINK it’s evil. It doesn’t necessarily start out evil either, it tends to evolve (ie: How Maleficent was betrayed, or how Artemesia from 300 saw her family killed by her own people and later turned traitor because of it).

    1. Agreed! I often think that evil characters “get” to be a lot more deep than good characters, because there’s that fall from grace to witness. It’s a lot more difficult to make the hero three dimensional.

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