112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Monsters and Mothers: Embracing the Myth of the Evil Stepmother in Snow White

Nicole Ivey, California State University, San Bernardino

The television show Once Upon a Time takes on the fairy tale cannon, its central storyline focusing on the Snow White tale. Through this modern revision, the Evil Queen reclaims her identity as a mother, and thereby reclaims the stepmother figure from her marginalized cultural position.

Proposal: 

In her discussion regarding Grimm’s collection of fairy tales, Linda Dégh noted, “The common knowledge of the tales is so profound, so deeply ingrained, that, even without the story being told in full, a reference or casual hint is enough” for readers to understand various retellings (191). The television show Once Upon a Time takes on the fairy tale cannon, its central story surrounding the revision of Snow White. Once plays with the audience’s expectations and understanding of the Snow White tale by allowing all the characters to go beyond the good-bad binary. In particular the Evil Queen becomes more than the static witch or wicked stepmother trope. Instead of being defined solely in relation to Snow’s goodness, the audience is given reasons to sympathize with the Queen’s situation.

At its core, the Snow White story (and much of Once) is about a complex mother-daughter relationship. Much of what the audience may assume of the Evil Queen’s (known now as Regina) character not only comes from the common knowledge Dégh mentions, but also from our cultural perception about stepmothers: they’re jealous, angry, want the husband’s children to go away, etc. Once plays up these beliefs, but also allows the Evil Queen to reclaim her identity as a mother, and thereby reclaim the stepmother figure from her marginalized cultural position.

This project will trace the various representations of the Evil Queen and the way she has been constructed as a mother through iterations of the Snow White story, particularly focusing on the modern interpretation in Once.

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