When I was thinking of what tale to feature today and staring at my bookshelf, I saw Good Bone and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite books. One of the selections in it is “Unpopular Gals,” a look at some of the bad women in fairy tales from their own point of view.
First up is the ugly step-sister, the one who never gets a name. She knows she isn’t pretty, that no matter what she did, she would never be the beautiful one who was always adored. She tells us she loved the prince too, so much that she cut off her foot, or disguised herself, or commit murder. “But all [her] love ever came to was a bad end. Red-hot shoes, barrels studded with nails. That’s what it feels like, unrequited love.”
Next is the witch, who is accused of all sort of things, just because she is old and alone, and maybe ate a child or two. She reminds us that she used to be given sacrifices in exchange for making things grow and ripen, and now people into her garden and steal her veggies. “That was never the rule in the old days. Life was a gift then, not something to be stolen. It was [her] gift. By earth and sea [she] bestowed it, and the people gave [her] thanks.”
Finally we hear from the “evil” step-mother, who lets us know that the widowers they married certainly did know what was going on, just didn’t do anything about it. She points out that it’s thanks to her that the beautiful girls get their happy ending. All they can do is sit around and be pretty and do housework. They would be bound to marry a peasant if she didn’t send them out, get them moving, put them in the way of the gnome who helps them, or the prince. “[She’s] the plot, babe, and don’t ever forget it.”
I like how she reminds us that the “unpopular gals” are real people too. They are the interesting ones, the ones who don’t conform to what society expects. They are the ones who drive the stories.
Atwood reconfigures a few other tales in this collection, in addition to the other short pieces. I may look at a couple as the month goes by.
You can purchase Good Bones and Simple Murders on Amazon.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.