Merry meet my fairy souls. Here is a video about the representation of magic in Disney´s Sleeping Beauty or you can just roll down a bit and read all about it. I filmed this straight after New Year so that is why you can see Christmas Tree behind me.
Fairy tale Magic
What it comes to the older classic Disney animations, Sleeping Beauty from 1958 is one of my personal favorites. Style of the animation is gorgeous and as an illustrator, I can only admire the delicate background art created by illustrator Eyvind Earl but my absolute favorite part in the film is the representation of magic.
Disney´s Sleeping Beauty is loosely based on Charles Perrault´s fairytale (which you can read here) that was based on a medieval ballad, which was the first literal version of Sleeping Beauty. Perrault was the first who included the magical elements to the story, like the spell in the spinning wheel and the fairies.
Aurora´s Fairy Godmothers
In the animation, Aurora´s three godmothers are called Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Flora gives the baby princess the gift of beauty, Fauna gives her the gift of song and when Merryweather is about to give her gift, that is when Maleficent appears, so it is left to Merryweather to change Maleficent curse from death to 100 years of sleep.
Three fairies wear different colors and the color code is based on ancient fairylore where fairies are often associated with different colors.
Flora wears red which represents; life, sun, mother goddess and flowers.
Fauna wears green which represents forest, plants, and animals.
Merryweather was blue which represents thoughts, thinking, and ideas.
These three fairies are all connected to different elements. Flora is connected to fire, Fauna is connected to the earth and Merryweather is the fairy of the air.
In Perrault´s fairytale there was originally seven fairies and that was the original plan in the animation but in the end the fairies were cut down to three. Fairies went through many transformations. Flora and Fauna had different names in the beginning. Flora was called Tranquility (fairy of dreams) and Fauna was Fernadell (fairy of the forest). Merryweather´s name was never changed.
These three Disney fairies have some awesome powers and I dare to say it, I think they are so much cooler than Tinker Bell (no offence, J.M Barrie).
Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather have the following magical powers:
Telekinesis - ability to move objects.
Color manipulation - best example of this is Flora´s and Merryweather´s constant fight whether Aurora´s dress should be pink or blue (I prefer the blue dress).
Conjuration - ability to materialise objects from thin air.
Ability to turn invisible.
Talent to manipulate and transform light.
Pyrokinesis - ability to create fire and manipulate it.
Ability to transform objects and change their size.
Ability to fly.
Ability to change appearance, size and looks of themselves.
"Matronae" / "the mothers"
The Wonderful World of Fairylore
Three fairies in Disney´s Sleeping Beauty are three fairy sisters and throughout history, this group of three fairies or three fairy godmothers has appeared in one form or another. We can find them from many cultures and mythologies.
Often the fairy godmothers appear in groups of three or four and these fairies are always guardian spirits.
In Celtic fairylore, three fairies originate from Matres/Matronae who represented the triple goddess and the name originates from Latin matres meaning mother. These three goddesses were worshipped as the protectors of people and the goddesses of faith in the 5th century in Germania, eastern Gaul and northern Italy. In Wales fairies as a tribe, were known as Benedith y Mamau (the mother´s blessing) referring to fairies role as the protectors of mothers and children.
Fairies that are connected to faith (like fairies in Disney´s Sleeping Beauty) often appear in the groups of three. In Norse mythology, the three Norns who are the weavers of destiny, appear in the group of three and so does the Morai, who are the three goddesses of faith in Greek mythology.
In ancient Finland, it was believed that each person had an invisible spirit who guarded them. This spirit was called haltija . Word haltija has many different meanings. It can mean an elf, a fairy or a spirit/nature spirit.
In Arabic folklore before jinnie/jenyah genies were connected to wish making and magic lamps, they were guardian spirits of people and places in nature.
In Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania fairies were known as Laumes and they were the servants of the goddess Laima, who was the goddess of faith and protector of humans. Laumes were the guardians of children and protectors of mothers and pregnant women. It was believed that a fairy was present in each birth and that fairy became the child´s godmother and she protected them throughout their life.
The Fairy Coven, Feminism in Sleeping Beauty
Often people criticise Sleeping Beauty and say that it is not a very empowering film for women. If we think about Aurora I agree that she is not a very active princess but I don´t think that is really that much of a character flaw but it has more to do with the story. We can´t expect that many heroic deeds from her since she spends most of her screen time under the sleeping curse.
the magic in Sleeping Beauty is actually rooted in the group dynamics of the three fairy godmothers which makes the film empowering and quite feminist. These three ladies/sisters team up to raise a child together and in the beginning, they have no idea how to do that especially without magical powers that I assume they have been born with. By doing this these fairies are the heroes of the film. They are the ones who save the kingdom by raising Aurora, protecting her from Maleficent and by helping prince Phillip.
Maleficent The Black Fairy
In the original Sleeping Beauty ballad, the fairies are missing. The story is quite horrifying for modern readers. It includes a prince who rapes an unconscious princess who gives birth to twins while being in a coma. When the prince wants to marry the girl he raped, his wife tries to kill them and the cheated wife is framed as the villain of the story. In Perrault´s version, the prince did not have a revengeful ex-wife but he had a cannibalistic ogre stepmother who wanted to eat couple´s young children.
Obviously, neither one of these scenarios were fitting for a Disney film. The origins of Disney´s Maleficent and Perrault´s Sleeping Beauty is in deeper and older fairy lore. More specifically, in the legend of the black fairy.
As I mentioned earlier it is common in fairy lore that fairies, especially fairies that are connected to plants, flowers and elements are associated with different colors.
Colors of Maleficent are black, purple and poison green.
Black represents a hidden identity and death.
Purple represents high magic, spirituality, and high priestess.
Poison/yellow-ish green represents jealousy and danger.
Fairy of Revenge
Story of the black fairy follows a very old narrative of the fallen one. We can date first "maleficent" stories back to 30 - 40 000 years to the time of shamanism. In the myths of some native American and Finno-Ugric cultures, the world was created by two water birds. In these myths one of the water birds was good and the other bird was an evil/trickster. The world was made of water and these birds dived to the bottom and brought some dirt in their beaks to the surface and started to build the earth. The trickster hid some of the dirt and when the "good" bird found out about this, he forced the trickster to become his servant, so the trickster bird became the ruler of the underworld and receiver of souls. The "good" waterbird is the god judgement and trickster is seen as evil because they don´t want to share their space and/or they refuse to obey the other god. This story trope is as old as story telling itself.
A similar story can be found from the Bible where Lucifer is the fallen angel and is banished from heaven. In Koran, Iblis is the fallen jinnie/genie who is banished by Allah because he refused to bow Adam, the first man.
There are many examples in myths where the "neglected" member in the family/pantheon of deities becomes the ruler of death and the underworld. In ancient Greece after killing their father Kronos, the three brothers, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades divided the world. Zeus who was the oldest became the ruler of the skies, Poseidon who was the second oldest ruled overseas and Poseidon who was the youngest became the ruler of the underworld.
The original fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty does not have straight connections to magic but it does show the cattiness in female relationships. This is something that can also be found in the story of the black fairy. In the folktales about the black fairy she usually starts out like any other fairy but for one reason or another becomes rejected by the other fairies and this chain of actions cause the black fairy to seek revenge to the other fairies. Black fairy is an outcast whose rage turns into an obsession. It is a model example how person becomes twisted and self-adsorbed. Disney´s Maleficent has all the same powers than Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather and eventually, her plot does not work out because she lacks the support of others. Her only true friend is her crow. The ogres that work for her are just minions and can easily turn against her. In the right hands story of the black fairy/Maleficent could reveal many different aspects from human nature.
It seems to be some kind of a Hollywood trend to make fairytale villains seek forgiveness and go through redemption. I have seen this a lot in films and tv in recent years. I did not like the live-action movie Maleficent. I thought Angelina Jolie did a good job playing Maleficent but I did not like the plot. In the live-action, the three fairy godmothers were turned into caricatures and they didn´t really do anything in the movie. Maleficent was not evil. She was "victim of patriarchy" so to speak betrayed by Stefan who she once loved and Maleficent became Aurora´s godmother figure. In the animation, Stefan and the queen are very loving parents and it broke their hearts when they had to give their child away. I did not like the way Stefan was portrayed in the movie Maleficent since he was a great character in the animation. It is also quite rare to see an animated Disney princess who has two loving parents (sadly they often have only one alive). In Maleficent there is a connection to the original ballad where the prince is terrible towards the girl he raped and to his wife but that doesn´t fit with the narrative of the original animation which is based on Perrault´s fairytale and not the ballad. I think the film would have been more interesting if it would have followed the original black fairy trope with its mean girls narrative. In the original animation, it is pretty clear that the fairies and Maleficent go way back but their relationship is not explained.
I am a big fan of ABC´s Once Upon A Time. It is another show where redemption among villains is an extremely common theme. Regina the evil queen starts out as a straight forward villain. Season by season she becomes a better person and by the end of the series, she is crowned again as a good queen. Redemption as a story arc works in once upon a time but there is no denying that Regina, the evil queen of the earlier seasons is more interesting and fun to watch than the good Regina of the later seasons.
Another villain in Once Upon A Time is Rumplestiltskin who also goes through redemption arc. It takes much longer time for Rumple to get his redemption because unlike Regina, Rumple´s support net is much smaller. Once Upon A Time had a very interesting take on the black fairy and to my pleasant surprise, it had its inspiration in the black fairy folk tales where fairies were protectors of children. 80 % of all villains in OUAT had a redemption arcs, Maleficent included.
This is little woosh
The Empowering Villain
What I love about the original Disney´s Maleficent is that she is unapologetically evil. She has very bold moves, unforgettable laughter (for me that is Hannele Lauri who was the Finnish voice of Maleficent and Cruella de Vil lol) and she can turn into this amazing kick-ass dragon. She is very dramatic and among the fairies, my favorite character in the movie. Just look at that.
and the big WOOSHHH!!
You can´t fight me on this. I´ll always pick the animation over any live action ;D
Maleficent embraces her evilness, it is part of her. Seeing the villain as an empowering character does not mean to approve the nasty things that they do or a wish to turn from an outcast person to a psychopath but to admire their strength and attitude. Their wits, talents and cool powers. Villain has certain freedom that the hero of the story does n´t necessarily have. Villain is free to test their limits and they can get away from troubles whereas other characters face the consequences. Villains do face consequences as well but that usually happens in the end of the story. Villains can be more complex and entertaining than the heroes or the good guys of the story. Not to mention viewer can use their imagination to think why the villains behave the way they do.
When most people think Maleficent the first word that comes to their mind is powerful and just that image of Maleficent turning into a dragon or enjoying her revenge can be empowering. Maleficent is quite possibly the most powerful Disney villain ever. What if we turn the premise of Sleeping Beauty upside down and look Maleficent as a character who is proud of the fact that she is an outcast and she does things differently and that is her magical power. Same way as working collectively is the magical power of the fairy godmothers. Magic in Sleeping Beauty is both collective and individual and deeply rooted in the enchanting world of the fairies.
For those of you who want some extra magic to your home I´v added new pillow cases to my store )O( Here are few inspired by Finnish myths and legends.
Artist, illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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