Mirror, Mirror

The Evil Queen

The queen stepped before her mirror:

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is fairest of all?

The mirror answered:

You, my queen, are fair; it is true.
But Little Snow-White with the seven dwarfs
Is a thousand times fairer than you.

When the queen heard this, she shook and trembled with anger, “Snow-White will die, if it costs me my life!”

Standing apart from the widely-accepted archetype of the female as life giver, care-taker, and warm nurturer, is the seemingly aberrant character of the Evil Queen. She crops up in folklore and fantasy literature as the arch nemesis of the likes of Snow White and Cinderella (that’s the evil stepmother upgrade.) Her jealousy, her spiteful and bitterly vindictive nature, and her apparently Godless lack of compassion or empathy are legendary. As villains go, the Evil Queen presents a disarming conundrum since she is usually endowed with physical beauty.

..and as we all know, beautiful people are always good. Right?

In our admiration of the beautiful, do we tend to lower the behavioral standards and norms the rest of us have to follow? Conversely, how accurate or fair is the stereotype of the beautiful, but superficial person who is consumed by ego-dictated goals and desires? Perhaps the Evil Queen and Snow White are two halves of the same whole. Maybe their extremes of character are posed in a manner that allows the reader to reflect on the idea that true beauty lies somewhere deep beyond the formation of cheekbones and eyelids and lips. Maybe real beauty is all about someone’s heart and soul.

Proverb. First found in a work by Sir Thomas Overbury’s, 1613:

“All the carnall beauty of my wife, Is but skin deep.”

In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters author John Steptoe describes similarly polarized opposites. Manyara and Nyasha are both dazzlingly beautiful, but one is compassionate and sweet while the other is ambitious, cruel and spiteful. They are both sent to see the king as he prepares to chose a wife who is the most worthy and beautiful young woman in the kingdom. Since Manyara and Nyasha share the same upbringing, parents and life experiences, the differences in their character and personality must be the result of deeper, inborn traits. These traits are exposed as they endure the journey to the palace, and the king chooses the daughter who is beautiful both inside and out.

The story raises the twin questions of the nature of worth, and its relation to beauty. In the story, the King desires ‘The Most Worthy and Beautiful’ daughters in the land. What does it mean to be worthy, and must one be beautiful in order to be worthy? If not, why does the King have this added request for beauty? Would he reject a worthy queen who was not beautiful, or a beautiful queen who was not worthy? Which is better, and what do you think? http://www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org/wiki/Mufaro%27s_Beautiful_Daughters#Questions_for_Philosophical_Discussion

For me, American society’s fascination with external appearance and body consciousness is as destructive a force in our collective psyche as any mass hallucination to ever take hold on a people. The questions of who is beautiful and who gets to decide is a never ending fairy-tale that drives sales in cosmetics, hair care, jewelry, advertising and a dozen other sectors of the economy. The deeper, more fascinating inquiry is in the nature of a personal individual quest: If my spirit shines brightly enough to overshadow any physical flaw or imperfection, how could it matter?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s