Thursday, May 27, 2010

Second Star Series, Part 4 - Peter's Heroism

You know you are a literature major when you see an essay on a syllabus and get excited because it is your favorite “lit crit” essay — as I did when I saw “On Fairy Stories” on the syllabus.
As much as I would like to discuss “On Fairy Stories,” however, class discussion got me thinking about something entirely different. I cannot deny that something was really bothering me, and I believe here to be the best place to let it out.
Even before we read Peter and Wendy, class has often raised the question of Peter’s heroism. His conceit, selfishness, and lack of attention to consequences have many people claiming he is thoroughly unheroic. The problem with this understanding, though, is that it claims heroism is based on personality rather than choices or actions. Additionally, this understanding does not help us to understand the significance or impact of heroism, which is particularly important to literary discussion.
I will check myself, however, and note that hero studies in mythology have long been a preoccupation of mine. I have long believed that understanding a Joseph Campbell-like hero pattern is much more productive to literary understanding than labeling various personality traits as heroic. As such, I am biased.
According to a Campbell understanding of heroism, The hero and his or her path is defined by actions and choices rather than by personality traits, as the dictionary would have it. The simplest definition Joseph Campbell could describe in The Hero with a Thousand Faces was this: “a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life enhancing return” (Campbell 35). The other 390 pages of the book emphasize the importance of self discovery, the nature of dichotomies, and the influence of actions for personal gain versus societal gain -- among much, much more. Essentially, a hero is called to adventure, crosses the threshold to a sequence of trials through which a revelation is gained, and returns to society with new power.
Peter repeats this cycle over and over, as he goes back and forth between our reality and Neverland. An argument against his heroism would be that his forgetfulness prevents him from learning and making a difference in society. However, he unconsciously makes an incredible impact around him, which fulfills his heroic role by changing the world around him. 
Anyhow, I blew that steam out, and needed it. I would like to see us distinguish these notions in class more, as discussion would be more productive.

Second Star Series, Part 3 - Mary Martin's Peter Pan



I grew up with musical theatre, and I have long loved it. However, I did not love this musical. Though Mary Martin is a lovely singer, this production is not Barrie. Normally, I am very forgiving of dramatic license, as artists who do not take full ownership of their adaptations frequently fail in their endeavor. However, this production claims to be Barrie and fails dismally.
Two main problems are responsible for this production’s failure: unbelievability and poorly-written songs. The actors’ over-the-top performances make no attempt at believability, which is antithetical to one of the play’s themes: belief. Additionally, few of the songs added to Barrie’s script develop story or character. Rather, they are gratuitous songs placed for the sake of filling time, which is sloppy musical theatre.
Barrie’s script and stories written about Peter Pan pulse with belief, and this production makes absolutely no attempt at believability As noted in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, flight depends on believing: “the moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it. The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply that they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings” (Barrie 16). Looking at the play’s script, belief is life-giving:
Her light is growing faint, and if it goes out, that means she is dead! Her voice is so low I can scarcely tell what she is saying. She says — she says she thinks she could get well again if children believed in fairies! . . . Do you believe in fairies? Say quick if you believe! If you believe, clap your hands (Barrie 137).
Viewed in light of theatre as a medium, this passage is particularly illuminating. Plays come to life when they are believable. This production simply is not. The actors’ performances are incredibly contrived, unnatural, and overdramatic. They make no attempt at believability, and the performance is farcical, which is antithetical to the Peter’s and Neverland’s essence. 
Aside from incongruity with the play, the contrivance is incredibly condescending. The obvious play-acting chosen over real attempt at capturing character seems to be aimed at pleasing the child audience. However, such tactics give very little credit to children’s intelligence and taste. I took the liberty of reading ahead to C. S. Lewis “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” and he notes that writing material simply because one believes kids will like it is a sure formula for disaster:
The lady in my first example, and the married man in my second, both conceived writing for children as a special department of 'giving the public what it wants*. Children are, of course, a special public and you find out what they want and give them that, however little you like it yourself (Lewis 1).
Lewis notes especially the “however little you like it yourself,” portion. He notes that a good children’s story is enjoyed across age barriers: “I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last” (Lewis 2). This production of Peter Pan, by Lewis’ terms, is bad.
My second grievance against this production concerns the songs. As the late lyricist Howard Ashman, famous for Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid, was famous for noting: songs in musical theatre always develop the story. Gratuitous songs placed for the sake of time are a waste and take away from the production. Numbers like “Cleverness,” “I’m Flying,” and the Indian numbers do nothing for developing story or character, and are thus an entire waste of time. “Never Never Land” in particular stands out because it clearly was placed to show off Mary Martin’s soprano rather than contribute anything to developing Neverland itself. That we kept fast-forwarding through the songs during class is particularly illuminating of the waste of time that they are.
My sentiments do not rise from prejudice against musical theatre, as I do not have any. They arise because this production is terrible.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Second Star Series, Part 2 - Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens


This was not my first adventure with Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Traversing the story once again, I came across many familiar landmarks: Peter’s flight from his room forgetting he is no longer a bird, his exile on the island after losing faith in flying, building the thrushes’ nest, the nightgown sail, the fairy house, Maimie’s adventure, and of course Peter’s barring from his mother and replacement by a sibling. New sticky notes and highlights added to and refined the old, and I mapped many new ideas on the pages. One landmark stood out among the others, however, as I had paid it little attention before. It likely grew during the time passed between readings just so I would not ignore it again. How could I have done before when it stands out so much from the rest of the story’s landscape? The landmark I refer to is the scene where Maimie, Tony, and their mother bestow Maimie’s dream goat to Peter.
Her mother knew a way, and next day, accompanied by Tony (who was really quite a nice boy, though of course he could not compare), they went to the Gardens, and Maimie stood alone within a fairy ring, and then her mother, who was a rather gifted lady, said —
‘My daughter, tell me, if you can,
What you have got for Peter Pan?’
To which Maimie replied —
‘I have a goat for him to ride,
Observe me cast it far and wide.’
She then flung her arms about as if she were sowing seed, and turned round three times.
Next Tony said —

‘If P. doth find it waiting here,
Wilt ne’er again make me to fear?’
And Maimie answered —
‘By dark or light I fondly swear
Never to see goats anywhere’
This section stands out from the rest of the narrative because magic is presented so ritualistically, where it is more natural in the rest of the story. Fairies do not have to perform a ritual to disguise themselves as fairies, they simply transform. Fairy weddings distinctly lack the ritual of human weddings, as they simply leap into the each others’ arms. As Barrie recounts: “Brownie held out her arms to the Duke and he flung himself into the, the Queen leapt into the arms of the Lord Chamberlain, and the ladies of the court leapt into the arms of her gentlemen, for it is etiquette to follow her example in everything. Thus in a single moment about fifty marriages took place, for if you leap into each other’s arms it is a fairy wedding. Of course a clergyman has to be present” (Barrie 52). When the fairies return Peter’s ability for flight, they simply tickle his shoulders.
Why, then, must a ritual be performed in the aforementioned scene?
I have examined this landmark. I noted its rhyming couplets primarily composed of iambic hexameter. I charted Maimie’s ritual three turns and arm waves within the fairy ring. I mapped the conversational nature of the couplets. Upon mapping this feature, an idea bubbled out of my head: conversation.
Barrie has clearly landscaped Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens with a mix of magical and mundane. They sit upon and blend into one another throughout the story, just a fairies sit in along the walk disguised as flowers. Such a hidden nature, though, separates the magical and the mundane: they coexist but do not interact. Animating Maimie’s dream goat into physical being, though, requires interaction between the magical and the mundane, and it appears ritual provides a catalyst for that interaction. 
Scrutinizing the scene, one may identify elements of both the mundane and the magical churning in the ritual. Note that Maimie steps into a fairy ring, thus entering the magical or fairy realm. They use poetic language, a characteristically human (mundane) form of communication (seeing as fairies are so lighthearted and against rules, I believe it safe to assume that they are uninterested in the disciplines of prosody). Their conversation thus becomes a conversation between fairy and human. Maimie’s sowing gestures connect them further, as flowers are part of both fairy and human realms. Using that element while turning three times, a number symbolic of transformation, solidifies the new bond.
Of course this landmark may change entirely next time I traverse Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. However, that is how it appears to me now, and I will make what I will of it while it is here.

Second Star Series, Part 1 - Sleeping Beauty

Though class is focused on Peter Pan, introduction via Sleeping Beauty got some thoughts churning. Forgive my idée fixe: watching a Disney animated feature always gets my thoughts churning. Class discussion only furthered this impulse
To be honest, these thoughts bubbled some time ago. I have long been curious about and fascinated by Maleficent’s and Princess Aurora’s connection. However, I have not had the opportunity to flesh them out in a formal setting.

Maleficent and Aurora are a unique hero/villain pair in the Disney canon, as no other duo is so clearly connected aesthetically. Notice their angled faces, high cheekbones, distinctly arched eyebrows, upturning eyes, red lips. Though not apparent in these screenshots I took, their body construction is also similar, as both are tall, slender, and willowy. 
Further, they exhibit similar body language, as both demonstrate upright carriage and grace characteristic of classical ballet. Scholar Elizabeth Bell identifies balletic movement as the pinnacle of youthful feminine beauty and “princessisity” in her article “Somatexts in the Disney Shop.” 
"The markers of class, however, are covertly embodied in the metaphors of classical dance. Royal lineage and bearing are personified in the erect, ceremonial carriage of ballet and manifested not only in the dance sequences, but in the heroines’ graceful solitude and poised interaction with others. Classical dance carriage and royal bearing are interchangeable in Disney animation” (Bell 111).
Both are undeniably beautiful — though today’s society would likely encourage Maleficent to get some sun.
Maleficent’s and Aurora’s similarity’s significance would be dismissed by some for two reasons: they share the same supervising animator and the film’s overall design aesthetic was somewhat constraining for the animators. Marc Davis was then Disney’s go-to female lead animator, having famously supervised Tinkerbell, Cinderella, and Cruella DeVill as well. By no means, however, was Davis a one-note artist, having designed many characters for Bambi, supervised Brer Rabbit in Song of the South, and designed the audio-animatronic pirates for Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Davis’ characters display such a vast range of design that attributing their similarity to sharing him as a supervisor would be rather spurious. Davis clearly had the ability to construct diverse characters. Some may counter, however, that Sleeping Beauty’s medieval design aesthetic limited Davis’ choices when designing the Maleficent and Aurora. There is some merit to this argument, as Davis and his contemporaries all expressed frustration with the strict, sweeping graphic design chosen for the film. Background painter Eyvind Earle was selected to design the film’s overall design. Drawing inspiration from the famous unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters, Earle chose an angular flavor to style the film like a medieval tapestry. Such a style had not been seen in previous Disney features, as Walt had long favored a more rounded, fleshy, living aesthetic. As such, Davis and the other animators were working with a style they were not used to and was also very strict. If a character’s design deviated at all from the angular style, the film’s look would not have a cohesive whole — which Walt would have deemed highly unacceptable. Viewing the range of character construction exhibited in the film, however, reveals that the constraints did not hinder the artists. Though Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are very similar, being squat, round, and dressed the same, they are highly individual designs. Each has a different body shape, facial construction, and coloring.


Though likely unconscious, Maleficent’s and Aurora’s similar design did not occur randomly. They are two sides of the same beauty: maidenhood. As a young woman, Aurora clearly stands on the threshold of sexual maturity, preparing to move on to motherhood and cronehood. Maleficent is obviously older, as she appears in the same form when Aurora is a baby. What she has done, however, is refuse to move on to motherhood and cronehood. Thus, she preserves feminine power for herself rather than bestowing it on others, as the good fairies have done and Aurora will supposedly do. Such a construction condemns this life path as evil and unnatural.
There is so much more to be said. If a picture is worth a thousand words, and one second of film requires 24 drawings, then it is quite clear that I have barely scratched the surface with these musings. However, I shall let them lie here for now and likely tackle them more in depth at another time. I believe I have rambled on a little too long for a quick response paper as it is. Needless to say, though, these thoughts needed to come out. Prepare similar musings when we screen Peter Pan.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Traversing a Landscape for New Femininity: Olga Broumas’ Little Red Ridinghood and Grimms’ Little Red Cap

Fairy tales are major contributers to cultural memory. Their various incarnations flesh out archetypes, transmit values, and provide morals across generations. Few people have not heard, read, or seen some version of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Little Red Ridinghood. Though their incredible ubiquity may tempt us to label them “timeless tales,” that would not be an accurate statement. Fairy tales themselves are constantly changing, as is their nature. While certain characters and basic plot structure have remained in tact, the real substance of the stories change with every new incarnation. At least that is how they started out. Fairy tales began with oral storytellers who shaped narratives according to their audience. In his essay entitled, “Breaking the Disney Spell,” renowned fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes recounts, “The tales came directly from common experiences and beliefs. Told in person, directly, face-to-face, they were altered as the beliefs and behaviors of the members of a particular group changed” (Zipes 22). The stories’ essences, their lessons and values, changed with every telling. This malleability made them inclusive to all, as storytellers could shape their material to fit their audience. Additionally, the fact that the stories were listened to rather than read from a page made them a communal experience. With the invention of the printing press and increased literacy, the fairy tale experience changed completely. Spoken folk tales became literary tales preserved on paper. In their written format, they became private experiences rather than communal, and they froze to static stories rather than malleable narratives. Literary tales also encouraged classism, as Zipes recounts, “. . . the genre of the literary fairy tale was institutionalized as an aesthetic and social means through which questions and issues of civilité, proper behavior and demeanor in all types of situations, were mapped out as narrative strategies for literary socialization” (Zipes 23). In printing, the tales lost what they originally were. However, printing was not a total curse, as it allowed for the tales’ preservation. The attitudes surround preservation, though, are another matter. So much focus may be put into preserving the “original,” that any attempt to rework them is often considered a violation. Zipes comments on this issue when he says:
There has always been a danger that the written word, in contrast to the spoken word, will fix a structure, image, metaphor, plot, and value as sacrosanct. For instance, for some people the Grimms’ fairy tales are holy, or fairy tales are considered holy and not to be touched. How did this notion emanate? To a certain extent it was engendered by the Grimm’s and other folklorists who believed that the fairy tales arose from the spirit of the fold. Yet, worship of the fairy tale as holy scripture is a petrification of the fairy tale that is connected to the establishment of correct speech, values, and power more than anything else (Zipes 26).
In other words, preserving the words on the page is not the same thing as preserving the fairy tales themselves. There is no such thing as an “original version” of a fairy tale. There is an original intent to telling them: addressing everyone rather than the few. By tackling fairy tales in her poems, Olga Broumas fosters this very attitude.

Broumas’ fairy tale poems spotlight particular, often ignored, meanings from the literary tales, changes those meanings entirely, or sometimes both. She takes up the mantle of the oral narrator by tailoring the narratives depending on the story she wishes to tell or the audience she wishes to address. In that way she is very true to the fairy tales’ original malleable nature. Also, adopting this practice breathes new, more contemporary, meanings into the static texts. As Zipes noted, the literary tales’ sacrosanctity has made the values they engender static along with the tales themselves. They have become antiquated. Broumas translates them to contemporary audiences. She also addresses audiences that the tales ignored. Speaking specifically of Little Red Ridinghood, Broumas spotlights the exclusivity of traditional notions regarding femininity.

Womanhood has traditionally been depicted in three stages: maid, mother, crone. Broumas’ Little Red Ridinghood takes that depiction and places it under a critical microscope. Using the Grimms’ literary tale, Little Red Cap, as a framing device, Broumas illuminates some complications with this depiction and with the scare tactics of the tale itself: womanhood, as it is traditionally understood, is ultimately male-centric rather than female-centric. The speaker begs for an understanding of womanhood that can accommodate women like herself, women who involve themselves with women rather than men. In order to fully inhabit femininity, a woman must live all three stages maid, mother, and crone. Without a man, though, a woman never passes the maiden stage. After all, becoming a mother is not a one-person game. Further, that male involvement must result in a child.  Broumas spotlights this oft forgotten figure involved in this depiction, and asks readers to consider their effect. They play an important role, as they fuel the cycle of womanhood, but this role essentially denigrates them to a product rather than an individual or a part of the life-cycle. By focusing much of the poem on birth, Broumas ponders babyhood and birth circumstance itself as a defining factor for femininity. Focus on birth is especially illuminating because Little Red Cap goes through the birth cycle during the course of her tale. Her depiction illuminates that the three-part femininity is inextricably linked to male sexuality, as it begins with sexual awakening rather than childhood. She asks us to consider how childhood and birth factor in. For the speaker, being delivered by a midwife rather than a doctor is a defining factor for her character. Little Red Cap experiences birth from a man and is delivered by a man, and is thus born a product for men. The speaker, on the other hand, is not tied to men in this way because she is guided to life by a woman, rather than pulled to life by a man. Though this frees her of being tied to male sexuality, it leaves her lost when it comes to understanding herself as a woman. She seeks an understanding that can she can fit into, for, according to traditional understanding, she is not fully a woman and can never be.

Broumas astutely points out that the traditional understanding of womanhood is defined more by men and children than women themselves. If a woman is to traverse the maid, mother, crone landscape, she requires a male guide and a child reward, else she is stuck in the maiden phase for her entire life. Being stuck in this place, she can never fully inhabit what it truly means to be a woman. Male involvement shall be discussed later. Attention, for now, is focused on the child. Broumas notes that the product of the maid, mother, crone trinity is often ignored. According to this prescription for femininity, giving birth to a child is a requisite part of being a woman. However, the significance the child holds is never elucidated. It is more a product than an affecting being. Interestingly, Broumas’ poem appears to be in the same line with that thinking. The child’s effect is only elucidated in one short section, 
. . . I have no daughter 
to trace that road, back to your lap with my laden 
basket of love . . .
Viewed in the light of this line, the child exists to connect the generations. When a maiden transitions to mother, her mother may transition to crone. As such, the child is the propellent. However, it is not given much more status or effect. Frankly, it arguably has more effect in absence than presence. While it is certainly important, it has a very ambiguous significance when it is present. After all, childhood is not even considered part of the woman’s depiction. It begins with maid, the time when a virginal woman becomes prepared for sexuality. The time leading up to that, though, and its significance is ignored. Broumas notes the flaw in this understanding by focusing on birth circumstance and how it may mould life circumstance. Birth by a woman symbolically ties the baby to one path, and birth by a man symbolically ties the baby to another. Significance of these ties will be elucidated later. Attention, for now, must be directed in Broumas’ questions about this stage in life. She proposes that birth and childhood play more of a role in determining a woman’s self-definition than it is generally portrayed. After all, by focusing the beginning of womanhood with sexual awakening, women are indelibly tied to sex -- and not much else. 

Broumas’s poem implies that men’s involvement in birth symbolically ties womanhood’s connection to male sexuality. She borrows this idea directly from the Grimms’ tale, as Little Red Cap is delivered by a huntsman from the male wolf. Little Red Cap thus goes through two births: one from a woman that determines she is a woman, and one from a man that determines her relationship with them. Though more obvious sexual content was expurgated by the Grimms in their documentation of the oral tradition, the sexual overtones implicit in this scenario remain: Little Red Cap is reborn for male “consumption.” Broumas emphasizes this point by embodying both the wolf and huntsman in the notably semen-colored doctor:

evading 
the white-clad doctor and his fancy claims:   microscope,
stethoscope, scalpel, all
the better to see with, to hear,
and to eat . . .

These lines are a clear reference to the wolf’s famous, “the better to...” lines. In giving the doctor the wolf persona, it implies that the male doctor has a kind of ownership over the baby, a desire to eventually “consume” it.  Interestingly, Broumas omits one of these lines from her poem:

“‘Oh, Grandmother, what big hands you have!’
‘The better to grab you with” (Grimm 95).

Broumas’ white-clad doctor uses forceps rather than hands to deliver the baby. When actually delivering the baby, the doctor is much more like the huntsman: very hands off. The huntsman essentially performs a c-section on the wolf:

He [the huntsman] took aim with his gun, and then it occurred to him that the wolf could have eaten the grandmother and that she could still be saved. So he did not shoot but took some scissors and started cutting open the sleeping wolf’s belly. After he made a couple of cuts, he saw the little red cap shining forth, and after he made a few more cuts, the girl jumped out and exclaimed, “Oh, how frightened I was! It was so dark in the wolf’s body” (Grimm 95).

Note that the huntsman simply cuts, and Little Red Cap emerges on her own, so he does not have to be hands-on in the way the midwife is. Additionally, his silent assault on the wolf is incredibly forceful. Broumas’ use of the forceps carries similar forceful implications as the huntsman’s c-section.

. . . High forceps
might, in that one instant, have accomplished
what you and that good woman failed
in all these years to do:   cramp
me between the temple, hobble
my baby feet.

Broumas implies that the forceful forceps, though being very hands off, symbolically marks the baby for men. Notice that she says the forceps do what the midwife’s hands can not: hobble her feet. The word “hobble” has a couple definitions. The first means “to walk in an awkward way, typically because of pain from an injury” or “to cause a person or animal to limp.” The second definition is more telling to this poem: “tie or strap together the legs of a horse or other animal to prevent it from straying.” Initially, this use of “hobble” seems to affirm keeping the speaker on the proverbial path away from men. However, considering the consuming and owning characteristics of the doctor, it would be more accurate to say that he would have hobbled her to men. This is very in keeping with the spirit of the Grimms’ tale. The real message of the story is more about controlling the circumstances of male “consumption” rather than never straying from the path, as Broumas’ speaker does. A story point often ignored is what follows from Little Red Cap’s male birth: she knows how to deal with “wolves” after this and is able to outsmart one during another trip to grandmother’s house. This implies that straying from the path is necessary at some point in order to “become a woman” -- stray from the path with the right man under the right circumstances. In ending the story this way, Little Red Cap’s story is less about “protecting her shroud” and more about “mastering the wolf.” One must stray off the path at least once to do this.

The speakers birth at the hands of a midwife, rather than the forceps of a doctor, frees her from being branded as an object for male sexuality. She has a more say in her own making, as she comes out of her mother naturally guided by hands rather than pulled by instruments. Note that the speaker first recounts her emergence, rather than the midwife’s guidance:

. . . I slipped out like an arrow, but not before

the midwife
plunged to her wrist and guided
my baffled head to its first mark. . . .

Broumas’ choice of structure here puts more emphasis on the speaker’s autonomy rather than the midwife’s guidance. The speaker is self-determined in this manner of birth, and she would not be by a man’s delivery. Further, the woman’s hands free her from the mark of men, as there would be no indents from the forceps left on her. She is free to define herself for herself and as a woman rather than as a man’s possession.   The speaker recounts that she lives this path and never submits herself to men. This is evident when she says:

 . . . I kept

to the road, kept
the hood secret, kept what it sheathed more
secret still.    I opened
it only at night, and with other women
who might be walking the same road to their own
grandma’s house, each with her basket of gifts, her small hood
safe in the same part.

Broumas’ language implies that the hood is the speaker’s hymen and it is never broken by a man. The only people she exposes herself to are other women who also refuse to learn the lesson of Little Red Cap, who refuse to stray from the path and learn to tame the wolves. In this way, the speaker is completely autonomous to herself. The problem, though, is that she cannot inhabit womanhood in a way that the rest of society understands. As she is, she is incomplete.

I grow old, old

The speaker simply grows old, not into a crone, a wise woman, or a grandmother. She is simply old, and nothing more
.
without you, Mother, landscape
of my heart.

Though it sounds like the speaker tells of being apart from her mother, it speaks to a different mother. It speaks to the mother she never became. She has gone without that stage in life. The life’s landscape she was “supposed” to traverse has been broken, as illustrated by the enjambment between “landscape” and “of my heart.” She reiterates these lines near the poem’s end, but adds another element to her loss:

. . . I’m growing
old, old
without you.     Mother, landscape
of my heart, architect of my body . . .

She continues the same lines, but she adds, “architect of my body.” Not only did her mother build her body, but her body was built to be a mother. In being herself, she neglects a fundamental part of her being. She seeks to find a way to live this role and more definitely define her womanhood. This is especially apparent when she asks:

. . . what other gesture
can I conceive


to make with it
that would reach you . . .

She pleads for another way to understand herself and reach her womanhood in a more visceral way. In her plea, she tells us that women need a way to understand themselves based on themselves rather than others.

When Olga Broumas’ poem Little Red Ridinghood and the Brothers’ Grimm literary tale Little Red Cap are read together, they show that society lacks an understanding of womanhood than enables women to define themselves independently of others. Little Red Cap sets up the traditional progression from maid, to mother, to crone. The tale specifically deals with maidenhood’s definition: sexual awakening. Though often understood as a precautionary tale against men, close reading of Little Red Cap reveals that it calls for women to learn how to “tame” selected men rather than ward all of them off. Little Red Cap’s birth from the wolf by the huntsman’s delivery marks her for men. Broumas hones in on this story point and fleshes its symbolism out as well as the implications carried in that symbolism. Her vivid depiction of a male-doctor’s delivery by pulling the baby out with forceps ties the babies to male sexuality. Note that the doctor has qualities of the wolf, Little Red Cap’s depiction of male sexuality, and has characteristics of the huntsman, who delivers Little Red Cap in a very hands-off manner. This is starkly contrasted with the speaker’s actual birth. She is guided to life by the midwife’s hands, and she is able to emerge on her own accord rather than by force. In coming to life this way, she is not marked by men and nor hobbled to them. She has an autonomy and freedom from men. While this is certainly a gift, her involvement with women rather than men has kept her from ever fully inhabiting her womanhood in a way that society understands. In never having a child, she cannot progress through the cycle nor can she live out the function her body was built for. In being herself, she is less of a woman by traditional prescription. She yearns for a way to define her femininity, but she lacks a formula to do so. Hence, Broumas asks us to find one for her.

Works Cited
Broumas, Olga. “Little Red Ridinghood,” In Beginning with O. 67-68. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. “Little Red Cap.” In The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Trans. Jack Zipes. 93-96. New York: Bantam Books, 2003.
Zipes, Jack. “Breaking the Disney Spell.” In From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender, and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Print.

Wondering In Wonderland

“Little kids make the best philosophers. They always ask, ‘why.’”
I remember doing this a lot when I was kid. I also remember my parents saying, “because I said so,” a good deal of the time. My old philosophy teacher made a good observation, though. It’s one that Lewis Carroll, and in turn Walt Disney, seemed to have made themselves: kids’ curiosity make them masters of reflection.

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, aside from recounting a little girl’s journey in a whimsical world, provides a rich philosophical enquiry. It ponders the bounds of logic, the power of language, the temperament of time, and the emptiness of etiquette among many other things. Alice, as a bright but bored young student, is the perfect adventurer for Wonderland. Her sharp reason makes her well-equipped to deal with the law of the land: logic.

Now, Wonderland has the bad reputation of being nonsensical. In actuality, the people of wonderland despise nonsense. One may witness an instance of logic’s governance when Alice shuts the Queen of Hearts up -- which the Disney movie shows is an impressive feat:

The Queen turned crimson with fury, and, after glaring at her for a moment like a wild beast, began screaming “Off with her head! Off with --”
“Nonsense!” said Alice, very loudly and decidedly, and the Queen was silent. (Carroll 93)
Wonderland is literally a place where people may wonder -- frankly, they have to. Dilemmas frequently arise in Wonderland since its citizens are rather odd. However, these dilemmas must still be solved. For example: how do you behead a disembodied head?
The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had never to do such a thing before, and he wasn’t going to begin at his time of life.
The King’s argument was that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense. (Carrol 99)
In my opinion, the executioner should just chop the head in two: he may not actually behead his victim but he will still get the job done. But that’s beside the point. And I like the Cheshire cat, so I would rather that his head were not cut in two.

Now, how does the master-mutilator of original stories, Walt Disney, handle this sophisticated material? Frankly, he’s not so bad with this one. Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is uncharacteristically faithful to Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. True, he truncates the story by a lot. There is no Duchess, no Mock-turtle, no Grifon. It goes without saying, though, that he could not include all these scenes and make the film a reasonable length. What scenes he uses from the books are incredibly faithful to their counterparts in the novels, often replicating snippets of dialogue almost verbatim. Note the scene when Alice meets the Cheshire Cat. Here is part of the novel’s version:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t care much where --” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Then consider the movie’s dialogue:
Alice: Oh no no no... thank you, but- but I just wanted to ask you which way  I ought to go.
Cheshire Cat: Well, that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as I c...
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go!
In this way, he is able to retain the whimsical essence of Carrol’s narrative voice. The Disney artists, however, were able to take ownership of the material and build upon it through use of visual cues.
Alice in Wonderland uses the animation medium well, compensating for the lack of narrator through clever visual keys. Since animation shows a story rather than tells it, there are certain elements that are lost from the novel. In the case of Alice, asides from the narrator and visual puns on language structure are some of the most significant losses. Showing a story, though, has elements of its own to offer. One of the most prevalent is color. This is emphasized when the White Rabbit’s watch is destroyed. As the watch begins to combust, the colors on the screen intensify and flash as the camera angles rapidly cut all over the table. Once the Mad Hatter smashes the watch, though, the screen is sapped of all color, intensifying the watch’s destruction and thus making the scene more powerful. The artists made further use of the medium in the scene where Alice meets the hookah-smoking caterpillar. Viewers’ attention is drawn to language when the caterpillar exhales the letters he pronounces. The scene is marked by the usual riddles and inquiry:

Caterpillar: a e i o u... Who are you?
Alice: I- I- I hardly know, sir! I changed so many times since this morning, you see...
Caterpillar: I do not see. Explain yourself.
Alice: Why, I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir, because I’m not myself, you know...
Caterpillar: I do not know.
Alice: Well, I can’t put it anymore clearly for it isn’t clear to me!
Caterpillar: You? Who are you?
Alice: Well, don’t you think you ought to tell me- cough-cough, cough-cough, who you are first?
Caterpillar: Why?
Alice: Oh dear. Everything is so confusing.
Caterpillar: It is not.
Alice: Well, it is to me.
Caterpillar: Why?
Smoke letters play on language in a manner similar to Carroll’s. Drawing audience attention to such play highlights the philosophical themes inherent in the story. It’s simply up to them to play along.

At the same time, though, Disney’s undying desire for his audiences to sympathize with his characters takes away from the film’s enquiry. By adding Alice’s desire to go home and despairing culture shock, the contemplative value is diminished. Her sadness is distracting, and it colors the riddles and inquiries as bullying. Though Alice is just as sharp as she is in the book, she seems to be a victim of inquiry rather than an inquirer. Though it adds a greater emotional arc and energizes the plot, it diminishes one of the key themes of Alice’s adventure.
In the end, however, Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland takes a story that is very much outside Disney’s comfort zone and owns it. Though many ideas may be wrung from the Disney studio’s other films, no other engages in philosophical enquiry so directly. Instead of relying on the usual battle against external factors, Alice must engage with internal conundrums. Disney is able to translate this well, though, by retaining much of Carroll’s dialogue and enhancing it with visual queues. The problem is not in being true to the material in content, but in spirit, as Disney injects emotional factors that distract from it. In that way, we may wonder if Disney is telling us to avoid such wonderment. Or else we might lose our heads.

Is he doing us a favor? Or asking us not to think so much?

Joining That World: A Mermaid’s Joining According to Hans Christian Andersen and Disney

Art and commercialism are major competitors in film. Film is inextricably linked to industry, and many argue that the art form suffers for it. Popular cynicism claims that movies are based more on what the people want than for art itself; major studios like Disney are the worst culprits. They tell people simply what they want to hear, everything is happy, and they distort stories. Arguably, Disney faces a greater challenge because most of their films are adaptations of well known literary tales. Many fail to grasp, though, that film and the written word are two very different mediums for story. In the traditional narrative structure of film, the audience watches the story unfold as though a fly on the wall. Written word allows the audience to hear inside the characters’ minds and have important details directly articulated to them. In other words: writing tells, film shows. As such, an adapted film has to transmit a story that was meant to be told rather than shown. To complicate matters further, an adapted film is subjected to extra scrutiny for remaining true to its source -- regardless of how old or outdated its message is. It must achieve the perfect balance between tradition and innovation. Walt Disney Animation’s 1989 feature, The Little Mermaid, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same title achieves this balance. The mermaid’s journey is preserved, but its message is translated into a modern worldview. The mermaid in both Andersen’s and Disney’s versions of the story goes through an incredible journey. Both mermaids seek the love of a prince. In their pursuit, they both go to the sea witch for their ticket to the human world: splitting their fishtails into human legs. From there, they are able to join the human world and seek out the prince. However, their respective stories carry subtle yet substantial nuances. Andersen’s mermaid goes through a journey of penance, a fairly archaic value, whereas Disney’s mermaid journeys to find her true voice, a very contemporary ideal. Upon examining the filmmakers’ own journey to create the film, one can see how this shift occurred.
Andersen’s mermaid yearns to gain an immortal soul, which is only available through incredible sacrifice. Her first journey to the human world at age 15 is a rite of passage to adulthood, introducing her to an opportunity to achieve her goal: the love of a prince. As her grandmother tells her:

Only if a man should fall so much in love with you that you were dearer to him than his mother and father; and he cared so much for you that all his thoughts were of his love for you; and he let a priest take his right hand and put it in yours while he promised to be eternally true to you, then his soul would flow into your body and you would be able to partake of human happiness. He can give you a soul and keep his own (Andersen 66).

She pays the witch for passage to the human world by cutting out her tongue, effectively making her mute. After causing the mermaid incredible pain by splitting her fins into legs, the witch’s spell continually maims her by causing stabbing pains in her feet that draw blood.  Considering that her ultimate reward is an immortal soul, the mermaid’s handicaps indicate punishment for sin. She is guilty for wishing to use the prince for her own gain. Continuing on the theme of punishment, her chance for an immortal soul is taken away when the prince marries another woman.  He can no longer bestow a soul upon her, so the mermaid is doomed to die upon the coming sunrise. Upon facing the ultimate test - taking the prince’s life in exchange for return to her life as a mermaid - she triumphs by choosing her own death over murdering the prince. In reward, she is given another opportunity to achieve an immortal by serving for 300 years as a daughter of the air. This path is pure because it does not require the mermaid to use another being to achieve her ends. Her path is one of reward through penance and redemption. How, though, does a contemporary young audience relate to this message? The filmmakers had to address this while still at the same time remaining true to the story’s legacy -- the old paradox of tradition versus innovation.

Ironically, the filmmakers were facing a similar conflict in the filmmaking process itself. The Little Mermaid was made during one of the most unstable points in the history of the Walt Disney Studios, which had a distinctive impact the story the filmmakers told. “The 1980s were a time of transition at the Disney studio. A lot of the veteran animators and artists who had built the company and the studio’s reputation were retiring, some passed away . . . Disney animation was at risk. There was some talk of or thought of shutting down that department. Unthinkable -- and yet it was something that was being considered” recounts film historian Leonard Maltin (Treasures Untold).  The animation department was displaced from its famous studio in Burbank where Pinnochio had become a real boy and Cinderella had found her prince, and shipped away to a warehouse in Glendale. Further, there was an administrative change in 1984. Frank Wells and Michael Eisner came to Disney from Paramount, men who were masters of their craft. However, their craft was live action, not animation. The mediums’ different processes were highlighted when Jeffrey Katzenberg, a hire that Eisner had brought with him from Paramount, asked to re-edit their latest feature, The Black Cauldron. He was told that animated features do not get edited. That was not how Walt did it.  “I kept hearing this refrain over and over and over [what would have Walt done?] I said, ‘you know, we’re not Walt; we’re us. We have to find our own way,” reminisces Katzenberg (Treasures Untold). The crew was in a new place with new management; they had to focus on their own self-actualization just as Ariel has to in the film. As Glen Keane, supervising animator of Ariel, remembers, “It felt like ‘Okay, the writing is on the wall. We’ve got to prove ourselves’”(Treasures Untold).
 The result was the most successful animated feature since Walt Disney’s death in 1966. 

The new generation’s masterpiece is colored with the theme of self-realization. Disney’s mermaid, Ariel, longs for the human world and a life with her prince, but she is only able to achieve it by being true to herself. In contrast to Andersen’s mermaid, Ariel is forbidden from the human world by law rather than granted access through rite of passage. However, it is the place where she feels she truly belongs. Her reach toward the surface is a reach toward her true self. Like Andersen’s mermaid, her key to the human world lies within the prince, as exemplified in the song “Part of Your World - Reprise”:

What would I give to live where you are?
What would I pay to stay here beside you?
What would I do to see you smiling at me?
Where would we walk?
Where would we run?
If we could stay all day in the sun, just you and me,
And I could be
Part of your world.
I don’t know when.
I don’t know how.
But I know something’s starting right now.
Watch and you’ll see.
Someday I’ll be
Part of your world.

When Ariel goes to the sea witch, Ursula, she is maimed similarly to Andersen’s mermaid. Not only is Ariel’s fishtail painfully split into legs, but Ursula intentionally thwarts her by magically removing her voice, her only identifying characteristic to Prince Eric, and imprisoning it in a shell. Upon taking Ariel’s true self, Ursula teaches Ariel the performance that will supposedly win Eric. As Laura Sells writes in her essay “Where Do the Mermaids Stand?”, “Ursula uses a camp drag queen performance to teach Ariel to use makeup, to ‘never underestimate the importance of body language,’ to use the artifices and trappings of gendered behavior. Ariel learns gender, not as a natural category, but as a performed construct” (Sells 183).
 The performance works. After endlessly playing the song of his mysterious dream girl on his flute, Eric eventually throws the flute into the sea and smiles up at Ariel, clearly intending to choose her over his fantasy. Ursula uses Ariel’s voice, however, to bewitch Eric. Ariel has compromised herself to the point that her own true self is being used against her. Upon realizing this, Ariel fights back despite the weakness she has imposed on herself. This point is illustrated when she struggles to swim out to the wedding boat despite having lost her ability to swim. Finally, Ursula’s bewitched seashell breaks and Ariel’s voice and mermaid form is restored. Only in her true form is she able to defeat Ursula and help her father, King Triton, understand that her place is in the human world. In the end, she is able to join Eric in the human world. Unlike when she first joined Eric under Ursula’s spell, however, she is able to live in harmony with her life in the sea rather than cut off from it. She triumphs in full rather than in part -- just like the filmmakers.

When continuing a legacy, there is always a lingering question: “What would have Walt done?”. History provides a n answer. Writer/director John Musker recalls some notes the crew found in the Disney archives several months after story and character development on the film had been solidified. Apparently Walt Disney himself had attempted to adapt Andersen’s story in the 1940s. Among the transcripts of story meetings, there was a message from Walt about how to develop the film. As Musker recounts, “In the 1941 version, [concept artist] Kay Nielsen and the story guys at the time were really trying to stay closer to the Andersen story. Walt’s big note was like ‘we don’t need to do Andersen literally, we just need to adapt it to make it work for our medium’” (Treasures Untold). Among the story notes were plot changes such as the mermaid’s intimate scene with the prince after his rescue and the enchanting characteristic of her voice, changes that Musker and his writing partner, Ron Clements, had already included in their script. “So it was as if Walt was looking over our shoulders as we were developing this, because a lot of the things we were thinking apparently he was thinking too” (Treasures Untold).
 The filmmakers achieved their goal. They made an animated feature of their own that lived up to the legacies of both Hans Christian Andersen and  Walt Disney. On a finer note, they were able to frame Andersen’s story in a context that was more relatable for modern audiences. Rather than focusing on redemption and penance, they focused on self-actualization -- which had been the key to making the film in the first place.
 
Sources

Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Little Mermaid” In Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, 57-76. Translated by Erik Christian Haugaard. New York: Anchor Books, 1983.
The Little Mermaid. DVD. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. 1989; Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2007.
The Little Mermaid. Audio Commentary. DVD. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. 1989; Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2007.
Sells, Laura. “Where Do the Mermaids Stand?” In From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender, and Culture, edited by Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas, and Laura Sells, 175-192. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Treasures Untold: The Making of “The Little Mermaid.” Featured on The Little Mermaid Platinum Edition DVD. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. 1989; Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 2007.

Lost Relationship: The Dialogue of "Peter and Wendy" and "Peter Pan in Scarlet"

      Peter Pan has transformed from J.M. Barrie’s character to an archetypal literary figure.  Since appearing in the play that bears his name, he has appeared in a subsequent run of films, plays, songs, art pieces, and books. In Jungian terms: he resides in the collective subconscious of humanity. Geraldine McCaughrean’s novel, Peter Pan in Scarlet, stands out because it is an approved sequel to Barrie’s original, Peter and Wendy. Famed author of The Kite Rider, McCaughrean was chosen from a pool of more than 200 applicants by J.M. Barrie’s estate, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. In the words of Peter Pan project director Christine De Poortere, she was selected “because she kept Barrie’s integrity and captures his voice” (Smith).
 While preserving the integrity and capturing the voice of another author is no small feat, McCaughrean faced the incredible challenge of updating Peter’s story for contemporary readers while keeping his archetypal, timeless nature intact. As such, viewing Peter Pan in Scarlet as a continuation of Barrie’s series, raises new themes and issues beyond keeping true to Peter and Wendy. While staying true to De Poortere’s praise for preserving Barrie’s distinctive narrative style, Peter Pan in Scarlet provides more than simply a continuation of Peter and Wendy’s plot; it offers a dialogue.  The new perspectives and themes that MaCaughrean chooses to introduce serve as both hermeneutical accounts and dialectical antitheses to those presented by Barrie. Distinctive among these is the relationship of the Lost Boys to their abandoned mothers, and by extension the mother/child relationship. Peter and Wendy provides a scathing narrative from the child’s perspective, but Peter Pan in Scarlet introduces the mother’s perspective. In exploring this neglected facet of Barrie’s story, McCaughrean fleshes out the entire issue, thus providing readers a more complete perspective. The books work together rather than in competition. This relationship is starkly different from the one created by Barrie, as the Lost Boys and their mothers are in direct conflict.

Barrie’s depiction of the Lost Boys’ condition in Peter and Wendy is illustrated from their perspective, while the mother’s is essentially ignored. Though Barrie makes an account of Mrs. Darling’s experience, he emphasizes that she is the exception to the rule because she waits so long for her children and adopts the Lost Boys. Despite her break from the pattern, Barrie is still very scathing towards her as he writes, “You see, the woman had no proper spirit. I had meant to say extraordinarily nice things about her; but I despise her, and not one of them I will say now. . . For all the use we are to her we might go back to the ship. However, as we are here we may as well stay and look on. That is all we are, lookers-on. Nobody really wants us” (Barrie 208).
 Note that the reader’s role as looker-on is similar to the Lost Boys’: the reader has no use of and is no use to mothers. The Lost Boys are boys who fall out of their perambulators with their nannies. If they are unclaimed in seven days they are sent to the Neverland. Once their mothers close their windows, they are forgotten and barred from home. Though the process is initiated by the boys falling out of their perambulators, final responsibility for the Lost Boys’ lot in life lies with the mothers. They are the ones who neglect to claim their children, and their decision to close the window seals the children’s fate. The damage inflicted by this decision is most apparent in Peter’s story. Based on his story, a mother can only disappoint. Not only does she forget him, she replaces him:

. . . so alarming was his agitation; and with a fine candour he told them what he had hitherto concealed.
“Long ago,” he said, “I thought like you that my mother would always keep the window open for me; so I stayed away for moons and moons and moons, and then flew back; but the window was barred, for mother had forgotten all about me, and there was another little boy sleeping in my bed” (Barrie 167).
Clearly, the relationship between the boys and their mothers is quite one-sided and harsh. Mothers cannot win: either they look after their children and doom them to adulthood, or they lose their children and exile them to Neverland. Viewed in this light, it is understandable that McCaughrean chooses to explore the mothers’ side of the story.

Peter Pan in Scarlet provides an antithesis to the thesis of Peter and Wendy, for it explores a mother’s experience in losing a child to Neverland. McCaughrean’s main device for doing so is a stop on the League of Pan’s quest: the Maze of Regrets, the place where mothers search for their Lost Children. The Explorers first encounter this place under faulty assumptions, but this misinformation serves as introduction to the truth. According to the circus-master, Ravello, this place is the Maze of Witches: a place where, “nursery maids sacked, turned out-of-doors, mad with hatred and seeking revenge on the children of Neverland” (McCaughrean 289). Though Ravello’s account is inaccurate, it introduces the idea to the Lost Boys -- and to the reader -- that the family does not truly forget them. If their absence was inconsequential and they could simply be replaced, as Barrie asserts in Peter and Wendy, then there would be no consequences. If the opposite were true, no parents would be angry enough to turn out their nursemaids. Smee recounts the true nature of the place and its residents when the League of Pan reunites with him in the Home Under the Ground:

“. . . That there’s the Maze of Regrets! Nursery maids? Codswallop! No hired servant would set sail over stormy seas in an open perambulator - not out of hate, not out of anything! Nah! Those ladies are the Heartbroken! There’s none other would make a voyage like that. They do what they have to. Instinct, see. Can’t help themselves. They’d do anything, Mothers would.(McCaughrean 289)
The Lost Boys are happily reunited with their biological mothers, but they do not forget Mrs. Darling. Unlike Barrie, McCaughrean praises her for breaking the pattern as she writes, “Mrs. Darling would always be the real one [mother], beause she had taken them in when they were Lost Boys, and had raised them and let them lick the mixing bowls and shampoo the dog and wear warpaint in bed and ride upstairs on buses” (McCaughrean 297). Mrs. Darling is credited with finding someone believed forever lost. In Peter Pan in Scarlet the mother’s mistakes are addressed, but they are not condemned for it as they are in Peter and Wendy.

Viewed in this light, Peter Pan in Scarlet and Peter and Wendy work in a dialectic fashion to explore the relationship between Lost Boys and their mothers. Peter and Wendy provides commentary -- and condemnation -- from the point of view of the Lost Boys. Barrie does this by placing most the responsibility for a child becoming lost on the mother, offering Peter’s tragedy of being forgotten and replaced as the model that all Lost Children follow. Their departure has no consequence and only the child suffers for it. Even in his portrayal of Mrs. Darling, a woman who does suffer in her children’s absence, he discards her. She is useless to the reader and her children, and the children have no use for her either. Peter Pan in Scarlet exposes the Lost Boys and readers to the bigger picture -- that the mothers suffer along with the children. It does so first by introducing the consequences of their absence: firing the nursemaids. Then it widens the scope of the situation by introducing the Heartbroken mothers. Further, McCaughrean praises Mrs. Darling for being able to find the Lost Boys first. Together, Peter and Wendy and Peter Pan in Scarlet explore a complex relationship that everyone encounters in some fashion, whether as child or as parent or as both. It is a universal experience. As such, the books are timeless together.


Sources

Barrie, J.M. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
McCaughrean, Geraldine. Peter Pan in Scarlet. New York: Schuster and Schuster, 2006.
Smith, Dinita. “What’s Peter Pan Up to Now? All Will Soon Be Revealed.” New York Times. August 28, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/28/books/28pan.html? pagewanted=1&_r=1.

Feminine Evil: Punishment or Choice?

Everyone has heard of the wicked witch. She is old and ugly and mean. She is an evil thing who wants to obliterate the forces of good. She will lure children with her gingerbread house and then cook them once they are fat enough. She will takes dogs away and euthanize them. She will imprison pretty girls with long hair in towers. No one likes wicked witches. However, that does not stop them from being fascinating. Though the very simple stereotype of the “wicked witch” with a green face and a pointy hat exists, female villains are much more complex. Women have had a very dualistic role in myth and literature, being viewed as the embodiment of both virtue and vice. Such notions can be identified in Western language, as Jack Tressider discusses in his book The Complete Dictionary of Symbols, “women personify the majority of the vices and virtues because these terms are grammatically feminine in Latin” (Tressider 522). As such, a female villain is not simply autonomous to her character, she is an extension of the vices of womanhood.  As gender roles and notions of evil evolve, however, ways in which these vices are manifested evolve with them. The White Witch, Jadis, from C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew and the Witch of Waste from Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle display competing notions of the nature of evil. Though upon the surface they are very similar, being beautiful women who retain their youth through magic, they operate in very different ways. Jadis displays a calculated and deliberate wielding of evil, whereas the Witch of Waste is essentially possessed by it. In the end they explore different paths: how a person comes to wield evil, and how evil comes to wield a person. Due to the fact that they both explore the connection between choice and evil, though, they are still connected. They explore different facets of the same concept.

Typical of women in literature, Jadis and the Witch of Waste embody both virtue and vice. Since they are villains, however, their virtue only applies to the surface, and vice is inherent to the basic essence of their beings. Their virtue only resides in their looks, as both women are beautiful. C.S. Lewis introduces Jadis as such:

The last figure of all was the most interesting -- a woman even more richly dressed than the others, very tall (but every figure in that room was taller than the people of our world), with a look of such fierceness and pride that it took your breath away. Yet she was beautiful too. Years afterward when he was an old man, Digory said he had never in all his life known a woman so beautiful (Lewis 53).
In a similar fashion, Diana Wynne Jones introduces the Witch of Waste as such:

The shop bell clanged and the grandest customer she had ever seen sailed in, with a sable wrap drooping from her elbows and diamonds winking all over her dense black dress. Sophie’s eyes went to the lady’s wide hat first -- real ostrich plume dyed to reflect the pinks and greens and blues winding in the diamonds and yet still look black. This was a wealthy hat. The lady’s face was carefully beautiful. The chestnut-brown hair made her seem young, but . . . (Wynne-Jones 25).
Note that while both characters are beautiful, there is a sinister undercurrent in the authors’ descriptions. Lewis’ use of the sentence “Yet she was beautiful too,” implies an ugliness in Jadis’ fierceness and pride noted earlier. Wynne-Jones foreshadows the Witch of Waste’s ominous spirit by describing her face as “carefully beautiful,” implying artifice and dishonesty in her character. As each book progresses, the witches’ evil natures are revealed. However, each woman’s relationship to evil is very different.

The Witch of Waste is evil’s instrument rather than its wielder. Having given up her heart to a fire demon in exchange for increased power, her relationship with evil weakens her rather than empowers her. When Sophie encounters her later in the book, her appearance is distinctly fire-like, indicating the fire demon’s increased control over her: “Her face was different. Her hair, instead of being orderly chestnut curls, was a rippling mass of red, hanging almost to her waist, and she was dressed in floating flutters of auburn and pale yellow”(Wynne-Jones 193).
 The note that her face was no longer “carefully beautiful,” implies that lack of command over her appearance that she had previously. At the end of the book, it is revealed that she has been essentially possessed by a fire demon she made the deal with. As Howl says, “No, you wont find her heart here. Her fire demon will have got that. I think it’s had the upper hand of her for a long time now. Sad, really” (Wynne-Jones 315).
 Her path of evil is not a calculated choice, rather a punishment for temptation and exploitation of her power. As Howl’s teacher Mrs. Pentstemmon reflects, “It seems as if those of high ability cannot resist some extra, dangerous stroke of cleverness, which results in a fatal flaw and begins a slow decline to evil” (Wynne-Jones 180).
 Her talent and thirst for power made her vulnerable. The fire of evil, like a parasite, invades her and feeds off of her, eventually coming to dominate. She is essentially a puppet. The implications of this characterization are significant. Evil is a consequence rather than a choice, starkly different from C.S. Lewis’ world.

Jadis wields evil; it does not control her. Her path down evil is a deliberate choice. Everything she does is calculated, her use of the Deplorable Word in Charn is an example of this. She educated herself in the magic of the Deplorable Word, waited until her defeat was guaranteed, and then unleashed the magic to assume victory. Being the only person alive in the world, she enchanted herself to sleep so that she may be awakened when another person entered Charn. From there, she would reassert her power over the world. At no point did she lose control. There is a slight shift, however, when she enters Narnia because she still has to pay for her choices like the Witch of Waste. Ironically, her knowledge empowers her, but her lack of wisdom weakens her. Due to Jadis’ thorough understanding of evil, she understands its opposite as well: good. Such awareness is illustrated when she first hears Aslan’s song, “she understood the music better than any of them. Her mouth was shut, her lips were pressed together, and her fists were clenched. Ever since the song began she felt that this world was filled with a magic different than hers and stronger. She hated it” (Lewis 109). Though she understands good, she only understands them as opposites rather than poles on a continuum. Evidence of this is her exploitation of the apples of youth. The apples have a very liminal power, for in granting eternal youth they bestow a great gift and incur an incredible curse. When she encounters the apple’s liminal power, she is able to identify them for what they are but not grasp the consequences of their power. She does not understand that losing mortality is equivalent to losing one’s humanity. Though eternal youth is a strength, it imposes significant vulnerability -- perhaps because it incurs a responsibility that many cannot handle. Only when it is too late does she understand what the power of the apples are, as Aslan recounts, “that is why all the rest are now a horror to her. That is what happens to those who pluck and eat fruits at the wrong time and in the wrong way. The fruit is good, but they loathe it ever after” (Lewis 190).
 As an illustration of her curse, her skin blanches to the pale pallor that she is eventually known for. As the White Witch, she represents death, the very force she was trying to overcome. Discussing the symbolism of the color white, Tressider writes, “The pallor of a corpse and the whiteness of bones doubtless account for the fact that deities of the dead, ghosts, vampires and other grim spirits are white or white-faced” (Tressider 517).  She does not let this consume her, though, as the fire demon does the Witch of Waste. Eventually, she comes dominate Narnia and spread her curse across the land with perpetual winter. She adapts and remains calculated. No matter what the consequences of her actions, she is in control.

Viewed in this light, Jadis of The Magician’s Nephew and the Witch of Waste of Howl’s Moving Castle are cut from the same cloth, but they explore the relationship to evil differently. As females, they are imbued with the traditional characterization of embodying both vice and virtue. Their status as villains, however, cast their virtue as surface detail and their vice as the true nature of their beings. They are both beautiful, but their baleful natures underscore their introductions. Despite their similarities, they each have a very different relationship to evil. The Witch of Waste is essentially a puppet for evil, whereas Jadis is the puppet-master of evil. The Witch of Waste falls through the temptations of incredible cleverness and power, and in her thirst for power loses it. Jadis, on the other hand, is more calculating. Though ignorance weakens her, she still manages to find a way to adapt to it and continue asserting power. Her characterization carries a very different message from that of the Witch of Waste. The Witch of Waste’s story implies that people are victims of evil. Jadis’, however, that people have power over evil. Though Jadis exploits it for evil means, her power over it illustrates that people can also overcome it. In the end, though, the Witch of Waste and Jadis can be united because they review different aspects of the same axiom.

Sources



Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew. New York: HarperCollins, 1955.
Tressider, Jack. The Complete Dictionary of Symbols. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.
Wynne-Jones, Diana. Howl’s Moving Castle. New York: HarperCollins, 1986.