More Modern Fairy Tales: The Mirror Queen cover

More Modern Fairy Tales: The Mirror Queen

The Mirror Queen is a fictional, folkloresque rendering of many fairy tales but her carefully-constructed lore makes her feel real.

Back when I was about eleven; I fell in the love with the concept of the Mirror Queen from The Brothers Grimm (2005) movie. The character of the 500 year old Thuringian queen was clearly an amalgamation of other evil villainesses from fairy tales, but it was her method of magic that fascinated me: the mirror. In folklore and the occult, mirrors are said to be portals and the movie’s vain queen uses this tool to manipulate others together with ritualized magic in her quest to live forever. In part one of this supernatural odyssey, we explore the Mirror Queen’s deeper, darker rituals and symbolic layers that are woven into the The Brothers Grimm storyline.

The Brothers Grimm Movie Synopsis

The Brothers Grimm is a fictionalized adventure of Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm who were real people that collected fairy tales from German folklore to publish. In the movie, the brothers are portrayed as charlatans who collect money from townsfolk that are terrified of figures from their local folklore. The Grimms put on quite a show that includes props, actors and makeup then “get rid of” the supernatural problem and collect their payment. Will Grimm, played by Matt Damon, is satisfied with this life of debauchery while Jacob, played by the late Heath Ledger, wants the stories to be real.

The timeline is set during the French occupation of Germany, with a general capturing the Grimms and demanding they “solve” the mystery of the missing children of Marbaden. The Grimms travel to this small village and discover that the surrounding forest is truly enchanted and that an actual magical mystery is unfolding there. A Thuringian queen that ruled several centuries ago was said to live in the tower in the middle of the forest but contracted Bubonic plague and was thought to have died, despite her locking herself away in a very tall tower, far away “from the horrors below”.

It is revealed that the Mirror Queen has been kidnapping young women in the village because her spell needs the blood of twelve maidens to help her regain eternal beauty. She also employs the unwilling help of a local huntress’ father, a werewolf who falls under her love spell. A huntress from the village, Angelika, is a fierce warrior who knows the forest, becoming a powerful ally for Will and Jacob before being kidnapped herself for the spell. Will and Jacob successfully fight the Mirror Queen, break the spell and save the young women (including Angelika) from certain death.

The Mirror Queen’s History

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The beginning of the Mirror Queen’s story reveals that she was a Thuringian queen in the semi-distant past, famed for her beauty throughout Europe; she only truly cared about admiring her beautiful reflection in the mirror. On her wedding day to the Christian king (whoever he is—neither are named), the Bubonic plague arrived. The king died first while his queen built a high tower to escape the plague but since it is “carried on the winds”, she became sick anyway. The legend (told through Angelika’s memory of her father’s retelling) ends with her flesh rotting away into her presumed death. She didn’t actually die because she had stolen the forest people’s spell for eternal life, but she couldn’t get her hands on the one for youth.

The Wolf Man scours the land for this prized spell to restore her beauty; it is his role as “her prince” that rescues her from her own decrepit flesh. She promises to marry the prince who saves her saying, “soon we shall be one”.

The Mirror Queens Magic

The Mirror Queen’s magic is glamour magic through the mirror, using the image of her past beauty to manipulate men while she lies white-haired, shriveled, and near-dead across the room. When the mirror is broken, her magic is corrupted and though she does not die, the illusion of her magic is also shattered along with the spell she had anyone under. The mirror is also connected to the tower’s strength as a building; it cracks and tumbles down when her mirror breaks. This reminds me of the old nursery rhyme, except when the queen’s bough breaks, the cradle (her tower) falls; it all comes down – tower, mirror and all. The Mirror Queen also has telekinetic powers to move objects and even people across the room.

We see a darkness to her image from the one we’re presented in the mirror versus real life. Her crown possesses more antlers than gold (less soft edges) and her magic drags Will’s body to her instead of him getting up and walking to her as it shows in the mirror. Her dress as queen in real life also exposes the glamour magic she uses to entice men to be her slaves (her cleavage is covered up by more traditional garb). “Truth,” as she says, “is much more terrible than fiction.”

Spells Abound

From her spell book in her chambers, we see that she is a practicing witch, much like the Evil Queen in Snow White. We also see allusions to The Princess and the Pea with her many, many mattresses. Her main color is red: we see a red dress, red jewels on her crown which could symbolize blood spilled, passion, beauty, or “red as a rose” like in Snow White. Also associated with the queen are the crows in the forest who do her bidding. In folklore, they are associated with witches as familiars. The crow flies away at the end with a shard of the mirror showing her eye, alluding to her coming back one day. As long as the mirror exists, so does she.

The Blood Moon Ritual

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The spell being performed by the Mirror Queen is one for eternal youth that was kept hidden by the forest people, probably because they felt it was dangerous or they had no loyalty to the queen. The nearby village of Marbaden supplies the stolen girls for her to steal their youth/beauty. The spell itself has both Christian iconography and Norse mixed in, as if a product of folklore itself. Odin’s crows in Norse mythology were Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory, which could symbolize the price of magical knowledge. During the Blood Moon is when the ritual is meant to work, which is associated with witches, their power and the beginning of end times.

The number 12 is chosen for how many girls are needed in a circle of coffins could possibly symbol the 12 months or even a clock. The fact that those coffins existed at the time the tower was built means the queen was planning this the entire time, though the centuries forgot her presence. Blood is then pricked from the twelve young women’s fingers for the queen to drink; as the moon becomes full again, she regains her youth and the magic is sealed with a kiss from her prince.

The mirror is connected to her body and once it is destroyed, so is she. Angelika’s father leaps from the tower, taking the biggest piece of the mirror (and so the queen) with him. Blood being used in ritual magic is generally a very powerful thing in movies and TV, but it’s merely a finger prick instead of a potential bloodbath. The Queen needs their bodies alive to siphon the beauty she craves.

Fairy Tale Motifs

The Brothers Grimm movie creates an overarching fairy tale that suggests all fairy tales stem from the same story. These stories draw from motifs or the small, identifiable pieces of stories that audiences remember and identify with that particular story (eg: the glass slipper in Cinderella). Such motifs are littered throughout the movie. The Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) Fairy Tale Index is a system used by folklorists to organize fairy tales originally designed by Antti Aarne, which was later revised by Stith Thompson and even later, by Hans-Jörg Uther. The ATU was designed to trace common ancestry in variants and root out similarities between tales as well as adding entirely new fairy tales that have emerged. It is still growing and changing much like the natural process of folklore.

Part 2 of this series will focus on the Mirror Queen’s motifs and characterization and other motifs from fairy tales.


Antti Aarne, Stith Thompson, and Hans-Jörg Uther. The Aarne-Thomson, Uther Tale Type Index. 1910.

The Brothers Grimm, dir. Terry Gilliam. 2005.

Gaiman, Neil. 2017. Norse Mythology.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 2003. “Familiars: Your Magical Partners.”

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. 2009. The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology.

Hallett, Martin, and Barbara Karasek, eds. 2018. Folk and Fairy Tales-Fifth Edition.

Jaye, Victoria. 2022. Podcast episode: Demon Folklorist, Paranormal Buzz Radio, “Reincarnations of Snow White”.

Livni, Ephrat. 2018. “The Terrifying History of Lunar Eclipses.”

Tolbert, Jeffrey A., and Michael Foster. 2015. The Folkloresque: Reframing Folklore in a Popular Culture World.

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