Because, evil, duh

I re-watched the movie Hanna last night, and was thinking about Marissa Viegler. About how she shares traits with Ravenna from Snow White and the Huntsman, and Cersi from A Game of Thrones. (The tv show. I haven’t read the books.) Viper, aka Madame Hydra, is another of this ilk. As is Mrs. Coulter from His Mortal Instruments.

These women are all enmeshed in schemes of power that are not entirely of their own creation, but which they are determined to win at any cost. They are also all variations of a poisonous mother, wounding or killing or twisting the next generation. They are the evil witch, the wicked step-mother.

In the fairy tales of my youth, the evil witch needed no reason to be evil. She did what she did because, Evil, duh.

But … but modern understandings of evil, particularly the sort handed from one generation to the next, are more complex. So characters who rain abuse on others carry a backstory by implication. We all know the way it works, culturally — abusers were likely themselves abused. A narrative doesn’t need to state why a witch is trying to kill her step-daughter. The dominant cultural narrative helpfully lets us know that she was probably threatened or harmed by her mother, years ago.

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