The Mirror Queen & The Folkloresque cover

The Mirror Queen & The Folkloresque

This piece continues the exploration of the Mirror Queen’s motifs, or recognizable key pieces that we understand to be from particular stories, her characterization and use of the folkloresque from The Brothers Grimm. The folkloresque is the use of folklore to build fictional worlds; drawing upon elements of an existing story (or in this case, stories) to create an alternative tale from an existing idea.

All the other fairy tale motifs mentioned in The Brothers Grimm movie will also be discussed. The ATU, or Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index, is a tool is used by folklorists to trace a tale’s ancestry.

mirror queen

1. Little Red Riding Hood (motifs: little girl, grandmother, red hood, wolf)-ATU 333

Charles Perrault was first to introduce Red Riding Hood into fairy tales. This version in the movie is truer to the original story since by wolf, they meant werewolf. The wolf represents carnal male lust instead of general danger and the Grimms restored the “happy” ending/huntsman intervening. The story is designed to admonish bad behavior and reinforce the female need for a male savior, which is incredibly sexist, as were many of the original tales.

When another little girl is taken, it draws from Red Riding Hood (ATU 333), using the classic setup where Little Red notices that the wolf is dressed as her grandmother.  “Such big eyes you have, and big ears you have.” They repurposed that part of the story for a sequence not related to an existing fairy tale where a girl becomes trapped via spiderwebs. She is swallowed up by the horse to transport her to the Queen for the spell. The wolf from the story (now a werewolf in this story) makes an appearance during the kidnapping sequences.

2. Hansel & Gretel (motifs: leading the children to the witch, the witch, crows gobble up their trail of breadcrumbs, gingerbread house, cannibalism, oven)-ATU 327A

In this version, they are “Hans and Greta”. Hans leaves the breadcrumbs that the crows eat to hide their path while Greta’s shawl floats away in a sort of game-lure. She sees an etching of the beauty spell on a cave wall with bugs surrounding it before the werewolf kidnaps her.

3. Rapunzel (motifs: tower, long hair, prince)-ATU 310

In the queen’s backstory, we see her as the Rapunzel character with her extremely long hair that she combs from a high tower window. She built this tower to avoid getting sick with plague and sings while she combs her hair, thinking herself safe. The queen, however, didn’t know that “plague is carried on the winds”. She eventually died from it and in the story told to a young Anjelica by her father, it’s said that her screams about her rotting flesh are heard if one listens to the wind. She also has imagery from Rapunzel with her crazy-long hair and the tower she built so she wouldn’t get plague like everyone else; her life revolves around that reflection, to the point that she has no name.

4. The Gingerbread Man (motifs: talking confection, chase, mischievous nature)-ATU 2025

The Gingerbread Man figures into the story as an enchantment that literally stole a little girl named Sacha’s features to create itself, using magical mud from a crow who flapped it all over her, which then caused her eyeballs and mouth to literally fall off. The sludge with Sacha’s eyes and mouth then ate the girl, reforming into the cookie shape, also tasting itself: “I taste good!” Sacha then ran away saying, “Can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!” The method of kidnapping is pretty novel and also the stuff of nightmares.

5. Sleeping Beauty (motifs: magical slumber, finger pricking, awakened by kiss a prince, asleep until awoken)-ATU 410.

Sleeping Beauty is a symbol of sexist female passivity since she is completely docile in sleep and needs a male to save her. We also see themes of death and resurrection within the story. In one version of the tale, she was raped by the king while she slept and had twins. The idea of going through childbirth while asleep sounds ideal but being raped and suddenly married to a king because of his actions, without consent, sounds horrifying. The werewolf also pricks young maiden’s fingers via a needle (an updated version of the spindle) to collect their blood for the queen’s spell.

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6. Cinderella’s glass slippers are present on all the girls during their spell-induced slumber (motifs: glass slipper, prince, fairy godmother, magic)-ATU 510A.

Cinderella is one of the most recognizable fairy tales that exists; over 500 versions have been found in Europe alone. It is Charles Perrault’s version of the tale that gives us the motifs we recognize: the glass slipper, the pumpkin stagecoach and mice footmen, and the fairy godmother. The Grimms’ version of the tale relied heavily on nature to help Ashputtle (a variant of Aschenputtel, the German name for Cinderella in the original folk tale).

7. Snow White (“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who is the Fairest of Them All” question, mirror magic, poisoned apple, magical sleep, awoken by prince’s kiss of dead girl, black hair/red lips/white skin)-ATU 710

This is another popular fairy tale that is often referenced in movies and tv through its motifs. In 2012, four Snow White movies were released. The evil queen character subverts her gendered role of passive female, but is reduced to a vain woman having beauty-related squabbles with someone younger. If the spell from this movie had existed for the evil queen in the original story, I bet anything she would have used it. This movie’s queen says the famous misquoted (though still recognized) line: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”

mirror queen

Women in Fairy Tales

In fairy tales, there’s a focus on inequality of the sexes with a special emphasis on women. Usually, the inevitable transition to adulthood also features. Fairy tales were not originally written for children specifically, they were for everyone. The concept of childhood was a later invention since kids were treated as working adults at the time. A major problem with this genre is that goodness is often equated with beauty, while villainy is associated with ugliness or disability.

The Mirror Queen was as ugly as her heart

The Brothers Grimm gives us a beautiful, wretchedly selfish evil queen but truthfully, the Mirror Queen was as ugly as her heart for a huge chunk of the movie. It was only in the last act that she got a taste of her beauty back before it was ripped away from her again (and rightfully so). Often in fairy tales, females are beautiful, passive appendages to men. Angelika is a notable movement away from this motif being the fighter she is, but even she needs to be saved at the end. The Mirror Queen also needs a male to help her get things done in the world, powerful as she is. In the end, it seems to say, men are needed to save us. As if. I view the Mirror Queen’s use of men as a commentary on how easily men are manipulated by beauty.

The Mirror Queen’s existence poses the question: what if all your favorite fairy tales came from the same place with the same evil queen in an enchanted forest? She herself is folkloresque, meaning that she is not real folklore but her story feels enough like folklore to be mistaken as such. Her story incorporates bits and pieces of other tales to create a terrifying new amalgamation.

Conclusion

I love the use of folkloresque in movies. Stories evolve and can be improved upon by our imaginations. That process often happens naturally in folklore with the death of certain details that are then reborn in other tellings, with people accidentally adding new parts of stories. Usually, this is somewhat subconscious on the part of the teller but each time a story is told, it changes slightly because of the teller. The only time the folkloresque becomes dicey for folklore is when people believe the creative parts and ignore the real story.

These fallacies help folklorists study how the public perceives those changes and the process of incorporation into public truth (even if there’s not an ounce of truth). The truth is malleable in story form even though almost all stories are told as true. This is because the teller and hearer believe that truth. The Mirror Queen resonated with me as a child and into my adult life because her tale is a good story. I know as a folklorist she isn’t “true” but I love her all the same even though she’s the villain. Sometimes the villain is more compelling than the hero; besides, the heroes were guys. I personally think women’s stories are more complex and interesting overall.

References

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.” https://www.llewellyn.com/journal/article/480.

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.”  https://qz.com/1336627/lunar-eclipse-2018-the-terrifying-history-of-blood-moons-and-lunar-eclipses.

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

Images – Canva

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