Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sleeping Beauty the Prequel. Maleficent as Allegory in Gender-Control Wars

Saumur Castle, Loire Valley, France

A.  Sleeping Beauty, the Traditions
B.  Sleeping Beauty, the Prequel.  Maleficent.
C. Conclusion

A.  Sleeping Beauty, the Traditions

Sleeping Beauty traditions present female passivity, a princess victimized, set to sleep through no fault of her own -- prophecy or curse imposed -- with hope of awakening not through any merit or effort of her own, but randomly if at all, and through another, the contrived deus ex machina form of the prince. See renditions of the cultural tale at  For the Brothers Grimm version, scrol downl to Brier-Rose. Details of variations often conflict, see

In each story, however,  is an evildoer:  the one who sets the deep sleep of the dependent one in motion. And as the stories progress along a cultural timeline, violent portions, or culturally dissonent characters, are often sanitized, diminished into pap, the better to serve the Powers, my dear. We cannot have role models that lead to autonomy and decisionmaking and action in the underclasses, including females. Is that so? Imagine the Board at Disney, in its fairy tales and also Uncle Remus:  No autonomy shall be modeled for them. Diminish them, damn their eyes (reference to an old oath, see Gutenberg book, Tristram Shandy).  The diminution of otherwise strong characters in an underclass must be put down, particularly in entertainment. 

The symbolism of costume?  Some call Melificent's great horns phallic.  No resemblance.  None.  Instead, try great flying fallopian tubes.

B.  Sleeping Beauty, the Prequel.  Maleficent. 

But, soft!  What light from yonder Disney breaks.  It is Maleficent., the contemporary Disney film about that same Sleeping Beauty, but offering a new perspective, that alters the old Disney trajectory.  Disney here offers a prequel, through which Maleficent, the strong fairy who imposes the curse, is set in context. Spoiler alert.  See plot at FN .  And the girl, the Sleeping Beauty, although still two-dimensionally beautiful and goody-goody, is at least able to take matters in her own hands, forge relationships, go places, make choices. 

Maleficent:  Maleficent the allegory.

As an allegory, Meleficent is a character standing for many concepts beyond this particular story, see  She is not evil, but betrayed, reacting to autonomy literally cut off, angry, hurt, seeking revenge, but even she believed she could undo her own curse. When she could not take back her curse, she took such other steps as were needed to restore Sleeping Beauty's life.  Relationship overcomes revenge, in the magical realm at least. What is woman's experience.  That is not evil.  Who is evil in the tale of Maleficent?  The human men, and their drives to overcome, to power for self.

C.  Patriarchy in the migration of cultural tales.

Dominance-seeking by the men in the tale shapes both Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent.

Upshot: Disney has, for once, allowed old themes, of speculative but sturdy ideas of pre-patriarchal female strength and honor. Here Disney acknowledges overtly in the film that beings are complex, heroes are not all good or all bad.  At least here, the evil ones are the ambitious, the greedy, the seekers of more and more power over others;  the ones fighting for their lives, their autonomy free of the kings, are the magical ones, women, beings, a realm hated by the men.  The King One with his mailed male army;  and the King Two, torn in some ways but without vision:  Birds of a feather.

Why call Maleficent evil, because she imposed a revenge on the imposing male by hitting at what he might love; a revenge that she later tried to ameliorate, but when she could not, still took steps to minimize the fallout.

In the modern context: Why expect Maleficent to forget how she was made to feel, with her wings forcibly cut off. Maya Angelou once wrote, in summary, that people will forget what you say, forget what you do, but they not forget how you made them feel. See

For him, the wings were mere trophies to take from her so he could be king. For her, it was rape of her being.

C.  Conclusion:

Disney's prequel to Sleeping Beauty carries more truth in it than the patriarchal escapades later evolving. Betrayal like rape. For Maleficent, the betrayal by the future king, his intrusion into her essence, his taking her wings, was like a rape.


FN 1  Plot spoiler.

Maleficent is not evil, not originally made with evil tendencies, and showing no capacity for insight, change. Maleficent instead had been victimized.

Maleficent had been betrayed by someone she trusted, forcibly deprived of her autonomy. Her extraordinary powers of self-locomotion (wings!) were literally cut off while she slept, by the perfidy of the young man who dared not, or could not bring himself to, engage her in a fair battle. She literally grew up with him when he came to the wood from the castle. Childhood trusting friends!

The era.  The kingdom of mankind and the realm of magic had long coexisted in peace as to each other:  the men engaging in their wars, the magical creatures going about living.  The fairies and extraordinary creatures, are known to men, but neither seeks to impose upon the other, each leaving the other to its own devices.  The timeline:  medieval, castles, knights, armor, patriarchy, little if any autonomy granted to anyone not a noble male.

Yet, Maleficent's  friendship had been with a boy, not a magical creature with values like hers, and who was now a man. His life and mind in the kingdom of men are governed by his culture of force, to get things from others.

  •  The king himself had seen Meleficent's realm, heard of its powers, and decided that noone would be allowed to surpass him; and he attacked; and lost. Dying, he declared dthat whoever overcame Maleficent would be his successor as king.  So, overcome by greed and ambition, he betrays her as she slept; and indeed, as was his plan, thus met the conditions of the old king and became the old king's successor.  So he could be king, he deprived her of her birthright. 

The ambitious young man, accordingly, he who wanted to be king, waited until she was helpless, and then cut her down to size. Sever the wings.  From then on, she had to rely on another, a shape-changer elf, to augment her remaining considerable powers.  But she could fly no more. She could command, but as a diminished being.

Allegory to patriarchy.