Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Wolves and Witches

We all know the basic set-up of every fairy tale. There's the hero or heroine, and there's The Other. The foe, the malefactor, the dark sinister force driving the tale. Some might call them a villain, but I've already used up my "V" for this challenge, so I prefer to think of them as Wolves and Witches, the two most common categories of fairy tale antagonists. 

Category #1: Wolves
How many times have we seen wolves as the evil force in fairy tales and fables? Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Peter and the Wolf . . . the list goes on and on. So why them? Why this creature? Arguably it finds its basis in the rural setting of most tales, settings in which wolves were a significant threat to the pastoral way of life. Not to mention wolves have long suffered a dark connotation, associated with the phases of the moon and lycanthropy. Wolves can be seen as a representation of a carnal, masculine threat, one which plagues women (like Red Riding Hood), and social structures (as in the Three Little Pigs) alike.

Category #2: Witches
As many wolves appear in fairy tales, witches make an equal showing. The cannibalistic fiend in Hansel and Gretel, the sorceress from Snow White, and the very memorable sea witch who threatens poor unfortunate souls. They often take the place of the "mother" figure, a twisted abomination of the maternal influence. They are the counterparts to the female protagonists, and where the former are depicted as vulnerable and weak, these antagonists show strength and a need for power. Since it would be too great a stretch for both a passive and gentile female to exist on the same page as an assertive woman, their dark power gets represented as a supernatural force rather than inner strength. Witches are the answer to how to create a powerful, female villain. 

I find it interesting that fairy tales tend to "Other-ize" their villains, making them more than ordinary humans. More interesting when you realize that the original tales depicted ordinary women and mothers rather than witchy stepmothers. 

This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme (in case you didn't already guess) is Fairy Tales. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you'd like to check out the other participants, simply click here


  1. The wolf is such an archetype of evil, he has entered into our day to day sayings as the wolf in sheep's clothing and the wolf at the door - I'm wondering if it is the wolf's intelligence and ability to survive that has given it such a presence in our psyche, they hunt in packs, they're relentless on a hunt and they can live close to man, making use of his refuse. And yet, despite his 'evil' archetype. man did eventually work in harmony with the wolf. Interesting duality of wolf vs dog.

    Other-izeing villains makes them feel safer to us, I suppose - it's easier to hate a supernatural witch than a mother willing to sacrifice her own child. Personally, the latter is a lot scarier.
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - A to Z Ghosts
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  2. My sister and I went wolf-tracking in Ely, MN several years ago. Wolves move away from human scent so it is interesting that we see them as such an aggressor in fairy tales. Yesterday I saw the trailer for 'Maleficent '. Seemed pretty scary for Disney.

  3. Considering most wolves shy away from humans, it's odd they would be seen as such predators.

  4. That is the difference between fairy tale villains and other villains--they're over-the-top, aren't they?! But in the original stories, they were much, much scarier than in the watered-down versions we read today.

  5. I love fairytale villains, they're by far the best kind.

  6. I LOVE, mean LOVE the wolf. Whenever we went to a zoo they were the first place I would visit. I always felt bad for the wolf and felt they were mistreated...and they were. Witches were easy to create. better to make someone pure evil then human and have good traits but evil tendencies. It's funny because I always thought, from Hansel and Gretel, to never trust a stranger who is offering candy. I love the lore-always will

  7. This is an excellent analysis of these two things and their symbolic meanings. I completely agree - especially that women are portrayed as either virgins or whores (or in this case, witches). And the sweet virginal one is always the heroine, the "good" girl, while the other's always evil and must be killed. Quite chauvinistic.

  8. "Otherness" in myth and fairy tales is one of my favorite subjects, so I won't get started here except to say we define ourselves as much as by what we are NOT as what we are. We take those qualities and thrust them onto others instead to sharpen the contrast.

  9. I'm currently researching for a book - I'm so glad I found your blog. Nice to meet and follow through atoz

  10. I always thought of fairy tale villains a humans and the story was a lesson to be learned. Interesting.

    Katy Did

    Life's Ride In Between

  11. I get the fright that Wolves bring out in us, it's primal. But old women, not sure I get that.

  12. Wolves are so dangerous and yet so beautiful and enticing. They make perfect bad guys and witches personify all the fears of how a woman can go bad. I suppose you can tell a lot about a society by what it is they fear.
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  13. I would think wolves got their bad rap because they were doing what they did naturally like hunting, probably attacking livestock and people too. They had to survive, right?

    I can't get enough of the witches in the fairy tales. I don't think it could ever get old. Except for the cannibal part. Ewww....