Praise for Wolves and Witches
SEVEN FAIRYTALE WITCHES THAT GOT AWAY WITH IT
It's the most basic maxim of storytelling that the villain has to get his comeuppance at the end. It's not enough to see the hero win; someone's gotta lose. At the very least, you don't want to leave open the possibility that the bad guy will come back and ruin things all over again.
Try telling that to fairy-tale writers. Their stories are brutal reminders that life ain't fair, and sometimes the worst offenders walk away without a scratch.
We kind of love that.
Here are seven fairytale witches who committed heinous crimes and suffered no retribution whatsoever.
RAPUNZEL: MOTHER OF THE YEAR
Once upon a time, there was a witch who kidnapped a baby girl, raised her in isolation, blinded her blueblood babydaddy, then banished her to the desert. Harsh! After the lovers are reunited and healed, you'd think the now-wealthy couple would have mustered an army to go after the woman who just about ruined their lives. Well, if they did, it was in the fanfic that Wilhelm Grimm kept hidden in his mattress, because there's no mention of the witch after she dispatches the two. For all we know, she went on to steal a replacement baby. Thanks for dropping the ball, Rapunzel.
Speaking of dropping the ball...
THE FROG PRINCE: DO ME A SOLID, MAN
What I love about the Grimm brothers' record of The Frog Prince is that the only mention how the prince was cursed is "he had been enchanted by a spiteful fairy." A male one, which becomes interesting in light of the conditions of breaking the spell: "a princess should take him out of the spring, and let him eat from her plate, and sleep upon her bed for three nights." A frat brother, just trying to get his princely bro some royal action? It's a mystery, because does the prince ever hunt down his spiteful assailant, if just to say, "Not cool, dude"? Of course not! He's too busy living happily ever after as the heir of two kingdoms.
SLEEPING BEAUTY: GOOD FAIRY, BAD FAIRY
In Sleeping Beauty (Briar-Rose), a fairy ("who was a bit of a witch") curses a baby to death because she wasn't invited to the christening, because get this--the happy parents did not have enough plates for everybody. I don't know, if I've only got twelve place settings and thirteen magical friends, I would probably also decide not to invite the one who liked to kill babies.
So child-murder is pretty bad. But here's a case where the cure is worse than the disease, because ANOTHER fairy--one of the ones who DID get a gift-bag--turned the curse from "one girl dies young" into "the entire kingdom goes into suspended animation for an entire century." Who's the villain in this piece again?
THE LITTLE MERMAID: PREDATORY LENDER
On one hand, Hans Christian Andersen's sea hag is mostly guilty of giving the Little Mermaid exactly what she wanted. On the other hand, she made sure to do it in the most vicious way possible.
"You want legs?" says the sea hag. "It'll cost you your voice. No, I mean give it to me. And it'll really hurt. And it won't stop hurting! Oh, and you'll turn into sea foam and die if you can't get your prince to marry you. You've got three days. SEA HAG OUT."
For comparison, a vocally able Kate Middleton got Prince William to the altar after a whirlwind romance of...nine years.
DIAMONDS AND TOADS: MASTER OF DISGUISE
We have no idea what this fairy had in mind when she sat herself down in the freezing woods to administer a moral test, but we know how it turned out: the nice girl who gave bread to an old lady ended up with diamonds falling out of her mouth with every word, and the proud girl who wouldn't dip water for a princess ended up spitting out vermin, presumably cussing up a storm at the same time. (That's what we'd be doing.) This isn't rewarding the good and punishing the bad; it's sowing chaos, consequence-free.
I want to look back at the moral test, because that's the most demented part. The fairy decides to test the second girl in the appearance of a princess. Because if you want to know the true measure of a man, watch how he treats rich, pretty, powerful people who could totally draw their own water.
CINDERELLA: POLITICAL CHESSMASTER
Yeah, yeah, the fairy godmother in Charles Perrault's telling of Cinderella is technically playing for the good guys. But this is some epic meddling going on. We assume the king who threw his sons all those balls was expecting to draw out wealthy, well-groomed, educated women of good standing. No less for a prince, right? And instead the prince ends up with an outcast kitchen maid. Don't get us wrong; it seems to have been a great move for the kingdom. But the fairy godmother could have put anyone in that position. Suddenly a few simple acts of kindness look like Machiavellian political maneuvering--with MAGIC.
It's also worth noting that in the Grimms' telling, Cinderella's dead mother sends a flock of birds to peck out the stepsisters' eyes. So there's that.
Not only does Baba Yaga have a name, in contrast with so many other fairy-tale characters (let alone villains), but she has stories named after her. She has an awesome house (it walks on chicken legs!), a sweet ride (a flying mortar!), and she doesn't always win, but she never really loses. You couldn't get a better model of a successful fairy-tale witch.
Oh, and she eats people.
So raise a glass and drink deep the draught of "Screw the rules, I've got magic." Here's to the ones who got away with it!
Review to come...