Why are evil stepmothers so evil? And other questions about modern day fairy tales.

Hello everyone, so today, we will begin discussing Erin Entrada Kelly’s Land of Forgotten Girls. This is a lovely book. I think this may be one of my favorite literary tropes – the modern day fairy tale, where girls are abandoned, at risk of being set adrift, but then there’s something very spunky and tough about them. They are survivors. Their creativity and imaginations are keys to their survival.

Think Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Terry Gilliam’s Tideland, Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Our girls are alone. We truly fear for them. Those of you who are parents have told me how difficult these films were to watch, or that you could not watch them at all, with these girls so prone, so in danger, so much potential predation around them. We fear for them so much, and it’s because we know that predation. We know exactly what the world does to little girls who are alone. We don’t want to see, we prefer not to see the details of that ugly truth of victimization.

So Erin’s book is doing this too, with our abandoned little Filipino American girls in Louisiana (I think it’s the setting that made me remember Beasts of the Southern Wild). There is so much loss in this book. And as with narratives written for young people, these young people, the details of their social and interior lives are the focal point, and the lens through which we read the story. Not the adults’ interpretations of the young people, but the young people themselves. Their naïveté, purity, and yes, their wisdom.

We want these girls, who are on the cusp of adolescence, to never become jaded by the adult world, its cruelty. But we know it’s their negotiation/navigation of the adult world that is the crux of these stories. It’s like a battle of value systems.

When we say “fairy tales” today, we usually mean delusion, idealism, not being based in the “real world.” But we also know the true roots of the fairy tale to be cautionary, to instill proper social values and to show the consequence for transgression. We know the original, un-Disney-fied versions of the stories do not always end with what we think of as “fairy tale endings,” in which the girl in a hetero-normative patriarchal world becomes a princess (marries her prince) and lives happily ever after. That’s Disney. Real fairy tales can end cruelly, darkly, morbidly.

I don’t know how this book ends yet, but of course I am rooting for our girls, our young Pinay protagonists. I don’t know yet what I want for them – perhaps for Auntie Jove (fairy godmother-like) to be real, to whisk them away on her adventures? Or something more “reality based”?

I will say this much for now: I am interested also in “evil” stepmothers! Why are they “evil”? What made them so? I refer back to Marjorie Evasco’s “The Writer and Her Roots,” in which she explores the archetype of the “bitch,” the woman who sought to bypass patriarchy, who tried to get what she wanted despite patriarchy, or who thought she was resisting patriarchy but succumbed. Perhaps what she fought for was very much still in line with patriarchal ideals. This is why she’s so angry, so embittered. And that would be why the evil stepmother and the witch/crone are often interchangeable, yes? There’s feminism (or even Pinayism) to be explored and discussed here, no?

Anyway, Land of Forgotten Girls in Pinay Lit class tonight! Exciting!


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