Sunday, April 19, 2015

On "Maleficent"


I've always been intrigued by stories that take the traditional villain, and re-write the tale from his, or her, point of view. In my twenties, I rewrote the part of Homer's Odyssey dealing with the Cyclops, and wrote from the point of view of Polyphemus the landowner dealing with trespassers, cattle (or sheep) rustlers, and murderous home invaders.

In my forties, I discovered the writings of Vivian Vande Valde, and was especially enchanted by her collection of short stories wherein she told the tale of Rumplestiltskin four or five times, each time from the viewpoint of a different character: the King, Rumplestiltskin, the girl's father, and so forth. The Rumpelstiltskin Problem (apologies for the single link). What a fascinating exercise!

I was hopeful that Maleficent would follow in Vivian Vande Valde's vein. (Irresistible alliteration.) I enjoyed the spectacle, but was disappointed on a couple of technicalities.

Who suffers most?
Maleficent does. If you don't want to read any spoilers, stop here.

Who suffers first?
Maleficent.

Who suffers most often?
Maleficent.

Her first love --perhaps we should call him her first pash-- drugs her on their first date, and uses an iron chain to burn off her eagle-like wings, leaving her in crippling physical and emotional agony.

As is common with persons who wrong someone else, King Steffan subsequently treats his victim badly, not inviting Maleficent to his infant daughter's christening.... although he does invite other magical creatures. She is mocked, insulted, threatened. Later, her realm is attacked, many attempts are made to trap and kill her. It is Maleficent who suffers remorse and sheds tears of penitence and heartbreak

Who suffers most in your story?

That most tortured of your characters ought to be your POV character, at least for the scene in question if you are writing Third Person, Limited, Multiple POV.  I forgave Vivian Vande Valde, because there is no way that the Miller (father) could be any kind of hero. The Rumpelstiltskin Problem was an academic exercise.

Unlike many of the harshest critics of "Maleficent",  I don't mind about the departures from Disney "canon", after all, the preamble and colophon inform the delighted audience that the original account was the distorted view of prejudiced witnesses.

Let us tell an old story anew, and we will see how well you know it. Once upon a time, there were two kingdoms that were the worst of neighbors. So vast was the discord between them that it was said only a great hero or a terrible villain might bring them together. In one kingdom lived folk like you and me, with a vain and greedy king to rule over them. They were forever discontent, and envious of the wealth and beauty of their neighbors, For in the other kingdom, the Moors, lived every manner of strange and wonderful creature. And they needed neither king nor queen, but trusted in one another. In a great tree on a great cliff in the Moors lived one such spirit. You might take her for a girl, but she was not just any girl. She was a fairy. And her name was Maleficent.


I do mind that it was Aurora and not Maleficent telling us this. This intrusive editorialisation was not in character with Aurora who seems to be an intellectual lightweight... as most sheltered sixteen-year-olds are. Moreover, given that Aurora in this tale was brought up by idiot pixies in the woods, one wonders whether she would have used the Royal "We".

One word about casting; for me, it was jarring to see Dolores Umbridge (the child torturer of Hogwarts) entrusted with the infant Princess Aurora. Perhaps "Harry Potter" will be to Imelda Staunton what "The Sound of Music" was to Christopher Plummer.

The shapeshifter, Diavel, was the next most interesting character after that of Maleficent, and his scars were intriguing hints that there might have been some thought about the cost of magic (a convention one should respect: there should always be a serious price to be paid for the unfair advantages of sorcery.)

The movie was weak on logic and the quality of dramatic inevitability that a Cambridge professor used to call "thusness".... and,  at least for me, the ending fizzled.  Aurora and her prince appeared to inherit the flowering moorlands, but there was a hint of something interesting for Maleficent.

All things considered, I would recommend seeing "Maleficent". It was strong on spectacle, and therefore enjoyable. Moreover, for those considering a similar experiment --perhaps with a villain from a public domain work-- it might be instructive to also study the reviews. This movie aroused powerful feelings... and make a lot of money!

Good night,
Rowena Cherry




1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the movie, too, although not perfect. I'm a big fan of fairy-tale retellings (e.g., Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters urban fantasies, set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). I also love a good revisionist villain POV story, such as one of my favorite novels ever, THE DRACULA TAPE by Fred Saberhagen. It tells Stoker's story in the Count's voice, revealing him as misunderstood and unfairly labeled a monster.

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