Monday, February 25, 2013

Where Are All the Evil Princesses?

Being mostly an indoors kid, I saw a good number of princesses get rescued. Books, movies and video games feature a lot of captive princesses, to the point that you’d think princesses would stop wearing those tiaras and pointy tassel hats, just as a safety precaution. The royal damsel in distress is such a popular trope that by now it seems like it should have become popular to subvert it: Hero sets out to rescue princess but finds that she’s actually not the embodiment of goodness he thought she was. It seems like such an obvious twist to have the princess turn out to be the big bad, hiding malice and ambition beneath a ball gown and courtly manners, but when I actually tried to think of examples, I couldn’t come up a single one. In fact, I struggled to think of more than a few “bad” princesses in all of popular culture.

It seems weird, this scarcity of devious princesses, given how many stories have evil kings and queens or even scheming, power-hungry princes — just off the top of my head, Loki in Thor, Humperdink in Princess Bride, Viserys in Game of Thrones. But the notion of the pure-hearted maiden is such a fundamental one, I’m thinking, that it generally precludes evil twists on the character, even despite historical accounts of princesses who weren’t above getting blood on their hands. (In particular, China’s Princess Pingyang could give many warlords a lesson or two in raising a ruckus.) So even if I’ve never seen the Pretty, Pretty Princess character so subverted that she turns out to be the big bad, some pop cultural princesses or princess-like characters have come close. Here’s what I have.
  • Medea is the daughter of the king of Colchis, but she’s rarely referred to as a princess. She is one, technically, and she’s an icon of vengeance. Not only does she betray her family to help Jason get the golden fleece, even dismembering her younger brother to prevent her father from tailing her, but she also goes to town on Jason once their relationship goes all kinds of sour. In fact, she burns Jason’s new wife to death, kills Jason’s kids and peaces out on a dragon-drawn chariot. No, really. But she does all this in reaction to Jason’s cruelty, not, say, evil for the sake of evil.
  • In King Lear, the older daughters, Regan and Goneril, are pretty heinous, and their scheming ends up annihilating the entire family, and they stand in contrast to the youngest sister, Princess Cordelia. (I can forgive Goneril because what else do you do with your life when you have name that sounds like a venereal disease?)
  • Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon, a king, and she goads her brother to kill their mother, Clytemnestra, but she only does this because ol’ mom killed dad. So if anyone’s the big bad, it’s Clytemnestra. Electra is the Christina to Clytemnestra’s Joan Crawford, and if anyone wants to co-write a Joan Crawford-inspired retelling of the Oresteia — a good idea, now that I think about it — I’m all for it. Then again, having your legacy be the Electra complex seems ignominy enough.
  • But then again, there’s Elektra King. The Sophie Marceau character in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough fits the storyline I’m thinking of pretty closely, but she’s not a princess, even if her name is Elektra King — which, you know, subtle — and she’s the heiress to an oil empire. In the end, Bond discovers that Elektra has contracted a nasty case of Stockholm syndrome and become the lover and co-conspirator of the film’s big bad.
  • It was pointed out to me that the king’s daughter from “The Lady or the Tiger?” might work, depending on how you interpret the story’s ending. She allegedly inherited her father’s “semi-barbaric” qualities, and when she motions for her lover to pick one door over the other, there’s a fifty percent chance that she’s sending the guy to the hungry tiger and instant death. She loses him either way, you see, because should he pick the door hiding the lady, he has to marry her on the spot, so there is also a fifty percent chance that she is acting in a very un-Disney-like manner.
  • In the movie Return to Oz, the big bad is Princess Mombi, but it was pointed out to me that she’s not actually a princess; she’s an impostor. And the books don’t call her a princess. Instead, she is just a witch. Why not get technical about it?
  • In the DC Universe, one of the central Teen Titans, Starfire, inherits the title of princess of the planet Tamaran over her older sister, Blackfire, on account of the latter being lame and unpleasant. Blackfire holds a grudge, over throws the Tamaranean royal family, enslaves Starfire for a period and eventually becomes a major antagonist for the Titans.
  • There’s the obscure Capcom character Princess Devilotte de DeathSatan IX, who is to evil what drag queens are to feminine sexuality. She actually might be an exaggerated reaction to relative lack of characters like her, and that’s about as literary as anyone has ever gotten about someone with the name Princess Devilotte de DeathSatan IX.
  • The Batman villain Talia al Ghul sort of works, if you consider her pops to be a sort of king. It’s a stretch.
And that’s all I got. I’m sure I’ve overlooked some, but I think the takeaway is that princesses generally fall into the sunny, bright-eyed, singing-in-the-forest category. In fact, there’s not even an “evil princess” page on TV Tropes, and there’s a TV Tropes page for everything. Blame Disney if you want, but do tell me if you can think of any more.

In closing, please gaze upon this 1868 Frederick Sandys painting of Medea.

If that expression doesn’t read as “Do not fuck with me because I have ISSUES,” then I don’t know what does. Moo hoo ha, indeed.

EDIT: Bonus Mombi. Worst bonus, I know, but still.


No comments:

Post a Comment