“Analyse the gender dynamics of two novels from the reading list, focusing in particular on powerful malevolent female villains.”
For centuries, fairy-tales have formed the backdrop of our childhoods, sowing the seeds from which our imaginations blossomed. While many believe that within fairy-tales “there is always the happy ending” (Newell 6), several 20th century fairy-tales would argue otherwise. The primary aim of this essay is to comparatively analyse the gender dynamics of two examples of said fairy-tales, Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Within the paper, attention will be paid to the presence of powerful malevolent female villains in each text.
Within the gender dynamics of both novels, one must not overlook the prevalence of the malevolent female villain – Stardust’s Madam Semele and Grand High Witch in The Witches. The Grand High Witch of Dahl’s beloved tale is the primary force of evil in the text and is the medium through which Dahl communicates female gender dynamics of a rather misogynistic nature.
From the offset of the text, there is a clear differentiation made between the Grand High Witch with and without her mask: from the feminine description of “very pretty” (59) to the contrasting “putrid and decayed” (60). This image of a woman being unmasked conveys the dynamic of an underlying distrust for women, simultaneously touching on the misconception of women using makeup as a societal disguise. On a deeper level for both texts, the gender dynamics associated with the malevolent female villain belittle women in power, “The book… hates one set of women, [and] loves another” (Mullally 2016), in which a successful woman in a position of authority is not meant to be liked by the audience. Therefore, the most horrifying aspect of the villain in The Witches, is not their power and malevolence, but rather that they are female! Bird argues that the Grand High Witch, as a metaphor for successful
women in society, is essentially associated with the “fall of humanity” (120). Similarly, the gender dynamics of Stardust centre around complying with the characteristics of the female villain, forming a link between female gender dynamics and the superficial nature of women formed by society.
Madame Semele, one of the Lilim witch-sisters, exemplifies the traditional female villain within the fairy-tale narrative. Her vanity and narcissistic tendencies communicate the gender dynamics of the female as nothing more than a physical object. In fact, Madame’s Semele’s obsession to remain youthful mirrors society’s distaste of aging, and the pressure that is forced on female beauty. Like the Grand High Witch, Stardust’s malevolent female villain embodies the theme of deceit: “I am… a harmless old biddy who’s never done anything to no one” (Gaiman 92). What is most interesting about Madam Semele, is that she alone comes closer to capturing Yvaine than the sons of the Lord of Stormhold did. The gender dynamics of Stardust’s fem...