Stepping on Stepmothers

One archetype that shows up a lot in fairy tales is that of the evil stepmother. Actually, some of them were apparently added in when the stories were already quite old. According to The Annotated Brothers Grimm, the Grimms’ earliest written version of “Hansel and Gretel” had both biological parents trying to get rid of the children. Later on, they changed the mother to a stepmother, and made the father more reluctant. I guess it’s supposed to be easier for readers in early nineteenth century Germany to see a stepmother than a natural mother as wicked. The general impression in classic tales is that stepparents typically resent their stepchildren, be it Cinderella’s stepmother who favors her own daughters and forces the heroine into a life of servitude, or Snow White’s insanely jealous stepmother who will stop at nothing to kill the girl.

Speaking of which, in the Grimms’ version, Snow White is only seven when the magic mirror starts saying she’s more fair than the queen. Hey, Queenie, did your mirror inform you that it was a sex offender? Anyway, it seems disturbingly common even today for people to be EXPECTED to favor their biological children over adopted kids or stepchildren. Why, I couldn’t really say, but then I guess I’m unusual because I don’t have the urge to reproduce. It’s a natural desire, but I’ve never understood it. I suppose the moral is that, if you have kids, you shouldn’t marry anyone who resents them. Not if they still live with you, anyway. A lot of people still don’t seem to realize this, despite the fact that they MUST have heard these stories. Widowers and divorcees of the world, read your Grimm!

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5 Responses to Stepping on Stepmothers

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles (which has humor I think you would enjoy) mentions the Men’s Auxiliary of the “Right Honorable Wicked Stepmother’s Traveling, Drinking, and Debating Society”. Unfortunately, the uncle of the Crown Prince is trying to be the “best” Wicked Uncle he can, but it’s the Crown Prince who’s more sadistic and untrustworthy. The matter gets resolved, and the King’s brother/Crown Prince’s uncle ends up earning his membership as a proper Wicked Uncle–though still not truly wicked, just strict and “unfair” in the Crown Prince’s opinion. :)

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