Ancient cultures the world over have all had oral traditions as the roots of their literature, both to educate and entertain. I imagine in the darkness, by a fireside, story-tellers enthralled their fellow tribes people with tales handed down through countless generations and centuries. What determines whether a story gets told or retold through the ages? I suppose it’s a story that illustrates a moral value, a particular quality or a lesson that your society deems important.
When I was growing up in the 60’s my ‘fireside’ was the all-surrounding darkness of the picture theatre, sitting mesmerized, enthralled by the animated tales of Disney movies; Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella and others. I learnt Good was beautiful. Ugly was evil. Good was always good, Evil was always evil and Good always won out in the end. I learnt being a heroine had little to do with courage or power, it had more to do with being lovely, making friends and winning instantly the hearts of powerful others through your beauty and grace. Growing up, these Disney ‘lessons’ haven’t stood the test of time.
So it’s good that they’re being retold, and Maleficent the movie is a case in point. If a story is to be repeated generation after generation, I think it needs to tell some truth, some human law or principle that stays with a child and later gives them an insight into the human condition.
Whether it was intended or not, I found a few truths within Maleficent that are worth passing on. In the old Disney movies, ‘true love’ I used to think was the province of the beautiful and elite. I thought to be loved you needed to be beautiful. After all I saw when Prince Phillip kissed Aurora, his ‘true love’ was based on little more than the fact; she was lovely. Young Stefan and Maleficent seem to play out that old Disney theme in the beginning. Maleficent is beautiful, loving and caring to all the creatures of the Moor. Stefan happens along like Disney Princes before him and by chance discovers her. They become friends, and in time he bestows a kiss on Maleficent representing his ‘true love’. Maleficent the movie turned that definition of true love on its head. Prince Phillip in this story failed, his infatuation wasn’t recognised as love. Instead it was the kiss of Maleficent who had watched over Aurora protected and made sure she survived childhood. Hers was the spell-breaking real kiss of true love. Good lesson to learn.
In our culture, (Maori/New Zealand), we’re taught all things were created to be good in the beginning, the road to evil or great good requires choice. So I liked that Maleficent was both villain and hero. Because evil isn’t inherent in any of us, we’re innocent in the beginning.
As was Maleficent she was innocent, loving and a powerful protector in her youth. But then she was betrayed by her friend; Stefan. Stefan chose to do her evil that he might be King and have all the power that that title gave him. Stefan slipped Maleficent the equivalent of a medieval ruffie, he violated her, blooded her, cut her wings and stripped her of her greatest joy; freedom. In doing so he deeply wounded a large part of who she was. His was an act equivalent to rape. Maleficent turned. Once a strong, powerful protector of the weak, she became instead an overbearing ruler of her domain and suppressed the freedom of many of the creatures in the moor to be their natural selves. The moors became then a dark place. And there’s another truth; it’s the nature of evil, to make its victims in its own image. People who are wounded and take the path of hatred and revenge; tend to do to others the wrongs done to them. Its why evil really blows.
If I had a child I would use Maleficent to illustrate one more truth, you would recognize it, if you’re Maori, Black, American Indian, Aborigine, abused child or been some kind of minority that’s dealt with an oppressor. The oppressor hates those they wrong. They will hate you and seek to paint you as ugly, inherently evil and deserving of anything you the Oppressor may do to them. Thus what is done to the bullied, is ‘good’; a punishment, and not simply wrongful acts done in order to satisfy the Oppressors want for power, status or wealth. Or out of the Oppressor’s fear that the wronged will retaliate or seek justice.
Lastly I like, that at the end, there was a choice for both Stefan and Maleficent. Maleficent could have killed Stefan,both their faces were reflections of the same hatred as they fought on the high tower. She paused and in a moment seem to recognise that.
And in that briefest of moments – she again turned. She put her hatred aside and turned away. However Stefan didn’t, consumed with hate, even though his daughter was now alive, he tried to kill Maleficent and in the end caused his own death.
So for me, this was a far better tale to pass to a new generation. I hope children sit in dark pictures theatres and be enthralled by all it’s movie magic. Because evil isn’t always evil, good isn’t always good. True love is more than just a pretty face, heroines can have power and courage too as into the fortresses of burning iron we saw her and her faithful friend go. We can undo a wrong. We can be villains or heroes, either is in us, and it’s in us to choose.