Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Fairest of All" Book

Published by Disney Editions, Serena Valentino's hardcover Fairest of All hit the stores last year, August 18, 2009. The author is known for her work on the comic book series GloomCookie and Nightmares and Fairy Tales.

The idea behind Valentino's book is an intriguing one--the telling of the Snow White tale from the Evil Queen's perspective. Where did this monarch come from? How is it that she's so wicked? An alluring concept for the curious intellect, but wait, on second thought, do I really want to know?

The story takes us into the life and mind of the Queen before she became a queen. The daughter of a verbally abusive father, she suffers the dysfunction of a low self-esteem. We learn of her home life, how she met the King (Snow White's father), and her loving relationship with the little princess--then only 3 or 4 years of age at the time of the royal couple's wedding. While the writing is generally aimed at a young adult audience, darker segments may not be suitable for the more sensitive teen.
Valentino tosses a few unexpected twists our way, e.g. the identity of the face in the Magic Mirror. Overall though, I found myself most interested when the story paralleled the time period of the actual film rather than before. Also, I couldn't help feeling a little dispirited by the domesticity of the main character's issues. She was living more in an everyday reality of neuroses rather than in a world of fairytales. OK, she was being manipulated by conniving witch sisters and a talking mirror, but still it seemed as if all the Wicked Queen really needed was a good therapist. Where's the fun in that?

Title Page.

So the question still begs, "Do I really want to know her past?" Do we want a human side to one of Disney's most perfect villains--one rivaled only by the likes of such evilness as Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent or The Little Mermaid's Ursula?

A couple of top-notch Villains (desktop wallpapers).

The problem is not [entirely] the fault of the author, Serena Valentino. The issue is deeper. Mythological tales are all about the inner workings of the human psyche; the characters within the stories represent the different aspects of our own selves. Evil is evil because it needs to be in order to satisfy the archetypal symbolism that it represents. Once you start looking to domesticate it, that is, to place ordinary explanations on the reasons for its existence, the bubble begins to burst.
A perfect example of this is in the Star Wars saga. George Lucas was an inspired individual when he wrote and created the original trilogy. Throughout the first three films, the mystery and mystique are kept intact for the quintessential villain, Darth Vader. Yes, we have revelations and even redemption at the end, but the archetype is not spoiled. Vader was an agent of the dark side and fulfilled his mythic role perfectly. However, the prequel films set the character in everyday situations with ordinary human emotions. This may satisfy our curiosity about his early years, but the power of the archetype is diminished (and the overall story suffers).

Darth Vader addresses Princess Leia, Star Wars: Episode IV, 1977.
Image copyright Lucas Films, Ltd.

Of course, for those not interested in the archetypal symbolism, you may find that Fairest of All will indeed satisfy your curiosity about the Queen's early life. After all, the mythic world is not for everyone. It's a quick read and probably available at your local library. If not, it can be gotten dirt cheap through any number of online book dealers.

Sample Page.

Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN-10: 1423106296
ISBN-13: 978-1423106296


  1. "The problem is not the fault of the author, Serena Valentino."
    Ehhhh... Well, the problem with your specific question was not, but I found the writing off-putting in its tediousness and repetition. I gave up on the book after only a few chapters because I found the writing weak.

    That aside, your point, "Evil is evil because it needs to be in order to satisfy the archetypal symbolism that it represents," is excellent. Unfortunately, it seems to be too often forgotten when these villain backstories get written. What's truly odd is that "evil" still is presented, just a new villain is created to establish the old villain as a sympathetic character who "understandably" turns evil. Do we then look into the new villain's past for an explanation? How far back down the villain line should we go?

    I do enjoy some stories that "explain" the villain.* In fact, I would love to see more stories in which a protagonist becomes an antagonist. Too often in ongoing series like (sticking with Disney) the show Gargoyles and the Aladdin movie sequels, established villains become hero allies and new villains must be introduced. Having further side-shifting, in which one or more of the heroes opts for the villain route instead, would be intriguing.

    But a villain really sheds a lot of her scare factor when we think of her, "If only I'd been there to give her a box of tissues and a hug."

    * White As Snow by Tanith Lee explores the same story as Fairest of All in a remarkable fashion. White As Snow is not a book for the kiddies or those wanting the Disney Snow White, though.

  2. Sheryl--

    I admit that I had trouble finishing the book as well but persevered for the sake of this review.

    "A box of tissues and a hug." Love it! :) Thanks for your insightful comments.

  3. I love this posting!I could not agree more. I have not read this book, or any other books trying to explain how a protagonist becomes an antagonist. It is not interisting for me. The villains are not meant to put human emotions and "real life explanations" on. I really can´t say it any better then you do in this posting.


  4. Thank you for the nice comments Eirin.

    "The villains are not meant to put human emotions and 'real life explanations' on." I agree.