Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Category: Lists

Fantastic Fictional Trans Women

In honor of Pride weekend, let’s talk about some awesome queer literature!

Specifically, I wanted to highlight a few works that have positive depictions of transgender characters, as the “T” is often neglected in “LGBT” publicity. In particular, trans women tend to get the short straw in the real world and in media, so today I’ll focus on some works with positive portrayals of trans women.

2000px-Transgender_Pride_flag.svg

Transgender Pride!

Positive depictions of trans women in media are unfortunately in short supply. Biologist, author, and activist Julia Serano describes the two stereotypes that trans women are often thrust into in film and media (the terms are hers):

The “deceptive” transsexual: a sex object until the moment when *gasp* she is revealed as trans, which in works that feature this stereotype usually means horror and revulsion because she’s “really a man.” Examples Serano notes: Dil in The Crying Game; Lois Einhorn/Ray Finkel in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

The “pathetic” transsexual: a character who could never be a sex object because she appears masculine or doesn’t “pass” as female. (Note: real trans folks do not “pass” as their actual sex. They may have spent years passing as the sex they were assigned at birth, though.) Examples from Serano: Roberta Muldoon in The World According to Garp; Bunny Breckenridge in Ed Wood; Bernadette in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Julia Serrano says,

While characters based on both models are presented as having a vested interest in achieving an ultrafeminine appearance, they differ in their abilities to pull it off. Because the “deceivers” successfully pass as women, they generally act as unexpected plot twists, or play the role of sexual predators who fool innocent straight guys into falling for other “men.”

[…]

The intense contradiction between the “pathetic” character’s gender identity and her physical appearance is often played for laughs.

-from Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, by Julia Serano (Seal Press, 2007)

Here are a few works that have a fantastic, non-trope-y trans women characters (and are not completely depressing stories of constant persecution and death, either):

Print Comics

Doom Patrol

panels from Doom Patrol; Kate talks about becoming CoagulaIn Rachel Pollack‘s run writing the weirdo DC alt-superhero team Doom Patrol, she introduced the character Kate Godwin, a.k.a. Coagula, a trans woman with the power to dissolve matter. Pollack’s writing is strongly influenced by classic and the occult–Kate’s powers are related to alchemy, and there is a storyline that references Tiresias, Oedipus’ adviser who became female for seven years. Kate is an unapologetic badass who has some great conversations with her fellow teammates, including a particularly salient conversation about what gender is with a male-identified robot. Tragically, Pollack’s run on Doom Patrol has not been collected into trades, but issues are decently easy to find. Check out a thorough run-down of the series over at The Toast.

Trees

Trees04-insert.1Written by Warren Ellis, Trees is a strange dystopian tale of earth after the most underwhelming alien invasion ever. All over the world, giant alien structures called “Trees” have landed, and stretch from the ground to the atmosphere. They seem to do nothing, except occasionally emit toxic waste. Nobody knows what they are. The storyline of Trees follows many groups and characters, covering both very personal stories and grand political machinations. One storyline in particular is about a Tree in China and the a liberal city/huge art colony of Shu that’s accreted around it. A newcomer to town, Chenglei, a young man who befriends Zhen, a transgender woman and artist who lives in the colony. Zhen is an interesting, three-dimensional character whose friendship and possibly romance with Chenglei is endearing to follow. Trees is ongoing; it’s got a dozen or so issues out and one trade paperback.

 

Webcomics

Questionable Content

Claire and Marten holding handsQuestionable Content is a long-running webcomic written and drawn by Jeph Jacques. The characters in the comic are quite diverse, in particular with a wide range of sexualities represented. There is an asexual character, several gay and lesbian and bi characters, and Claire, a trans woman who is currently dating Marten, the (cisgendered) protagonist of the strip. Claire is a library intern trying to figure out her adult life, a common quest of the characters in the strip. Her relationship with Marten is pretty darn adorable. Here’s Jeph Jacques talking about Questionable Content and Claire.

Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls

manic pixie nightmare girls comic strip

Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls by Jessica Udischas is a slice-of-life comic strip that tackles moments of transmisogyny, cissexism, and struggle experienced by the protagonist, Jesska Nightmare, and her friends. While the strips are, by and large, about the often depressing reflections of the realities of being trans, they are nonetheless injected with wry humor and wit. Trans women and anyone who’s ever worked as a barista will find this strip particularly cathartic.

Film

Unlike the film examples listed up top, the trans characters in these examples are played by actual trans women actresses. Gosh.

Sense8

Nomi Marks and Amanita

Sense8 is a Netflix original show written by J. Michael Strazynski (Babylon 5) and the Wachowskis (The Matrix). The show traces eight people who have become psychically linked despite living all over the world. It’s the same kind of “high-concept” science fiction as Trees, and although the plot moves slowly and it doesn’t explain a lot, it’s right up my alley. For one, I appreciate it because the eight people who are getting de facto superpowers exist all over the world and not Mostly America. (coughHeroescough) For two, I appreciate the character Nomi (played by Jamie Clayton), a trans woman and ex-hacker living in San Fransisco with her girlfriend (played by Freema Agyeman). There are some pretty hair-raising scenes involving her being trapped in a hospital, but she is not stuck being a damsel in distress by any means. Two words: psychic hacking.

Boy Meets Girl

Boy-Meets-Girl-2014

So I’m not usually one for romantic comedies, but this is a pretty darn adorable romantic comedy, suggested to me by Alyson over at Persephone MagazineBoy Meets Girl is the tale of Rikky (Michelle Hendley), aspiring fashion designer and young trans woman living in the South. Rikky becomes friends with the new girl in town, or rather, the girl who’s back from prep school and lives with her rich family and Skypes with her military fiance. As they begin to strike up a romance, Rikky’s best friend from childhood, Robby (Michael Welch) becomes increasingly nervous for her sake… I won’t spoil the film for you, but suffice it to say that it’s got just the right amount of classic romance ingredients and doesn’t fall into cliche nor into cheesiness. Boy Meets Girl is also available on Netflix.

Bonus! Fiction!

I have not been reading a ton of fiction these days, but I thought this short story was worth mentioning.

“The Truth of Names” by James Wyatt

This is a short story in the Magic: The Gathering universe. You don’t need to know anything about the universe to read the story, which is about a warrior named Alesha undergoing a trial of combat, kicking ass, and taking names. Well, name. Her name: Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. Check it out!

Three American Folk Heroes

I have an ongoing fascination with folk heroes in America: the real people who have been elevated into weird demigod status through song, story, and legend.

Because June is African American Music Appreciation Month, I decided to choose three folk heroes and their songs as sung by African American musicians.

John Henry

John Henry illustrated on a stamp, carrying a hammerJohn Henry, the “Steel-Drivin’ Man,” has many variations of his ballad. The consensus is that he was based on a real person who lived in the late 1800s, although which person is the subject of some debate. He was born a slave but was a free man during the time of the ballad. That being said, he may have been a convict leased to work on the railroad, which was de facto slavery. Pretty sure Disney glossed over that in their version. Anyway, in the main version of the tale, he races a steam drill to make a tunnel through a mountain, and wins but dies tragically from exhaustion. There are, frankly, more versions that I can process, but that’s the one that gets the most press.

In an art exhibition titled “Other Heroes: African American Comic Book Creators, Characters, and Archetypes,” John Henry is cited as being an early appearance of the “black Superman” archetype. “He is an icon for both battles of humanity versus nature and humanity versus machine,” notes curator John Jennings.

Here’s a version of the ballad by blues singer Furry Lewis.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8A4MjjAMr9s

Here’s a version by Mississippi John Hurt:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vphs2YYBSr0

Stagger Lee

a.k.a. Stagolee, a.k.a. Stack-O-Lee

Stagger Lee, wearing his hat, in menacing lightingIf John Henry is an archetypal hero, Stagger Lee is archetypal antihero. Stagger Lee is based on a real historical person named Lee Shelton, who murdered a man named Billy Lyons in 1895; both are now immortalized in a murder ballad. The details of the murder vary pretty wildly from version to version of the ballad, but the basics are that Billy and Stagger Lee were sort of friends, and had a dispute over gambling/women/Billy messed with Stagger Lee’s hat. You don’t mess with the hat. In any case, Stagger Lee shot Billy, and has since become an archetype for the rebellious black antihero.

I had not heard of Stagger Lee until I heard about the Dallas Theater Center’s production of Stagger Lee, a musical written by Will Power that stars Stagger Lee and other folk heroes (such as Frankie and Johnnie). Here’s a lengthy and amazing discussion of Stagger Lee and archetype by Will Power on NPR.

Here’s an upbeat version of the ballad by Lloyd Price that hit number one on the Billboard 100 in 1959:

Robert Johnson

stamp featuring Robert Johnson and his guitarRobert Leroy Johnson is a historical person that is well-documented as compared to the other two. He was born in 1911 and died at the age of 27. He was apparently an okay harmonica player and a mediocre guitarist, but suddenly improved his guitar skills mightily and went on to have a strong career as a musician, pioneering the Delta blues style. His death remains mysterious. He is one of two musicians (the other being Tommy Johnson, no relation, who shows up in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who allegedly got their musical talents from selling their soul to the Devil at a crossroads in exchange. The Devil, in these tales, is usually described as a large black man; between that and the crossroads factor, the figure is perhaps more reminiscent of the Yoruban trickster Elegba (and his various incarnations) than anything overtly Christian.

Johnson never sang explicitly about selling his soul to anyone, but here’s a song about him going to the crossroads:

***

Got a favorite folk hero, or favorite version of these songs? Post ’em in the comments.

Moving Beyond The Canon

Or No, I’m Not Saying We Should Stop Reading Moby Dick.

panels from Jeff Smith's Bone; Thorn falls asleep when Bone reads Moby Dick

It really is okay to like Moby Dick.
(from Jeff Smith’s canonical comic, Bone)

In literary circles, one often finds the concept of the literary canon floating around. It’s a set of books, which have never been defined officially to the best of my knowledge, that are, like, The Books That Shaped Western Civilization. They’re the type of books that Real Deal Writers Should Have Read Already. (*cough*) And while there are some titles that frequently show up, from classical to modern, it’s not a really set text. Even Wikipedia isn’t sure what’s in the Western Canon, and merely offers a list of links to other people’s lists.

One of the most frequent critiques of any of these lists, though, is that they are overbearingly filled with dead white European guys. In fact, the 60-volume “Great Books of The Western World” set published in the US by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1952 contains works by four women: Jane Austen, George Elliot, Willa Cather, and Virginia Woolf. There are no writers of color represented. The product was also sort of an albatross around Encyclopedia Britannica’s neck in that it sold poorly and later got criticism for not only being a Dead White Euro Guy bible, but also it was apparently quite hard to actually read because of the formatting…in essence, it was more of a 60-volume status symbol than anything else.

Spines of the Great Books series

BOW BEFORE THE PHALLI OF HISTORY
photo: Wikimedia Commons

Let’s talk a bit about the etymology of “canon” with help of our old friend the Oxford English Dictionary (which you can log into with your library card number, hooray). “Canon” originally meant a law or decree laid down by the Roman Catholic Church’s ecclesiastical council. Later it morphed from meaning just church law to specifically which books of the Bible were officially okay to worship… As the OED says, “The collection or list of books of the Bible accepted by the Christian Church as genuine and inspired. Also transf., any set of sacred books; also, those writings of a secular author accepted as authentic.”

To me, this begs the rather large question of what “genuine” and “authentic” mean in this context; furthermore, “genuine” and “genius” share a word root: gignere (to beget) gives us gen- as in genital, generate, genuine, genius. Thus, I find myself spiraling back around to the notion of “genius” as a thing that writers may or may not have. And going back to the OED, “genius” was originally one of the types of Roman ancestor-ghosts, basically a tutelary or attendant spirit. There were also genii loci, or spirits of place. Djinni are related to genii. Overall: a genius was an external thing that might influence you or live within your spirit. This meaning was still used in Europe for centuries thereafter, but came to imply more of a spirit within a person–shoulder angels and shoulder demons, for example. At some point, perhaps the 1600s, genius began to be used as “Natural ability or capacity; quality of mind; attributes which suit a person for his or her peculiar work.” (definition 7b, OED)

So I propose that perhaps we are only geniuses because of our family of influence–our canon. Not The Canon, but a canon for each person, wherein they converse with their literary tribe. That’s not to say that one should not be reading Moby Dick, but rather than one should read canonical works that pertain to one’s own work and literary quest, keeping in mind that barriers to publication reflect social barriers in general. There are voices that are easier and harder to come by, and it’s worth reading a little of everything.

For example, if I were to shortlist *my* fiction and poetry canon (because comics, nonfiction, and film are a whole different ball game and I don’t have all day), it would go something like this:

  • Plato, The Symposium
  • Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
  • The I Ching
  • Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
  • Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
  • Collected poems of Jelaluddin Rumi
  • Pu Songling, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio
  • Pretty much the entire Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library (full disclosure: I have only read the Grimms, Andersen, Italo Calvino’s Italian Tales, Aranasev’s Russian Tales, Japanese Tales, Indian Tales, and Latin American Tales from this specific series)
  • Thomas More, Utopia
  • John Milton, Paradise Lost
  • William Shakespeare: The Tempest, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, MacBeth, King Lear
  • Christina Rosetti, “Goblin Market”
  • Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
  • Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
  • William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
  • G.K. Chesterton, Alarums and Discursions
  • H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
  • Lynd Ward, God’s Man
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin, We
  • Nella Larsen, Passing
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
  • The poetry of Gregory Corso
  • Ursula LeGuin, Earthsea series
  • Howard Schwartz, Lilith’s Cave
  • The Arabian Nights, trans. Haddawy
  • The poetry of Anne Sexton
  • Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved
  • Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • A. S. Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye
  • Tamora Pierce, Tortall series
  • Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, There Once Was a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby
  • Kate Berenheimer (ed), My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me
  • Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox; The Icarus Girl
  • The collected works of Terry Pratchett
  • Patricia Lockwood, Motherland, Fatherland, Homelandsexuals

 

I could go on. This feels incomplete and I’m sure I’ve forgotten many important things. I realize I need to read more fiction by black writers. And I didn’t really get into the poetry I like, either. Or go very far in depth with all the sci-fi and fantasy and dystopian stuff. I realize I do have a lot of dead white euro guys on there. While that’s not wrong, I’m working to fill in the gaps in the rest of my canon, which is an ever-changing creature, much like my own work.

What’s in your canon?
Tell us in the comments, friend.

Body Horror Care Bears, and Other Childhood Fears

Childhood fears, a subject which I have written about before, continue to fascinate me. Today I want to talk about film and childhood fear. There’s the obvious “I ended up seeing Nightmare on Elm Street when I was six” type of scare, but what fascinates me is the film and television that was actually intended for children that ended up scaring the pants off of us.

Care Bears doing the Care Bear Stare

Killing you all with the power of love and friendship…

I did my best to go back and watch things that scared me as a child, and see how they strike me as an adult.

I should tell you about my television habits as a child, for perspective. We had no cable. We lived in the mountains. Usually we had about four channels. As a child, I mostly watched Nova and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Other than that, I saw a decent amount of Reading Rainbow, little bit of Sesame Street, and a show about drawing called Secret City, and a Canadian kids’ show called The Polka Dot Door, and some of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. That is literally all the TV I watched.

Point is, I didn’t watch cartoons in the 80s. However, when I went over to friends’ houses, sometimes cartoons were on. And so I saw occasional cartoons, enough to develop a loathing for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the grounds that nuclear radiation was wrong and they should have been natural turtles who got taken care of instead of being released into the sewers. This tells you a lot about my personality as a kid. I love the Ninja Turtles now. Anyway, this one time I was at a friend’s house and we saw an episode of Care Bears.

It was god-damn horrifying.

The thing about cartoons in general is that they’ve got a lot of unrealistic and sudden body transformations that warp the shape of characters’ bodies. And that bothered the heck out of me as a child. Sudden warping, bulging, or flattening was disturbing to me. And in the episode I’m thinking of, one of the Care Bears gets its head stuck in a tuba or something, and when it finally frees itself, its head is stuck in the shape of the inside of the tuba. That image has stuck with me to this day. I couldn’t track down the clip, though, unfortunately; if you find it, please let me know. So instead I present something thematically similar. I was talking about this with my partner, and he said that as a kid what scared him was this steamroller scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?:

On the topic of body transformation, a cartoon video that we did have around when I was a little kid was Raggedy Ann & Andy’s Musical Adventure. I liked Raggedy Ann, in part because we shared a name. This movie was weird. I recall enjoying it, but at the same time having weird nightmares about the following scene:

So as an adult, I realize that one of the reasons why this scene is horrifying is that the creature, Greedy, is eternally eating itself in a Dante-level torture scenario. (“EAT YOUR FEELINGS FOREVER, NEVER BE SATISFIED.”) This is a weird film; you can see it all on Youtube if you’re so inclined. Not only does this movie have disturbing scenes like this one, but narrative-wise it’s all over the place. There are themes that are introduced only to never be resolved. Some scenes were clearly there ’cause some animation team had an idea, so they threw in a song. Also, a lot of the toys are creepy. Seriously.

The number-one childhood fear I picked up from film, though, is a fear of internal parasites. Sure, Spaceballs helped with this, but it originated right here, in the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Contagion”:

As an adult, I am shocked by how gross this is compared to most of the rest of the TNG series. There’s a lot more goo and ribcage than usual. This feels like an experimental episode on the part of the producers, both in terms of the special effects and the tone. It’s one of the few times Picard shows no mercy at all, and just looks grossed out.

 

What film weirded you out as a kid? What scared you?

Top Five Villains Disney Couldn’t Deal With

Okay, kids. Here there are, the fabulously wicked five:

 

5. The father from “Donkeyskin”

The heroine from "Donkeyskin," since I couldn't find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

The heroine from “Donkeyskin,” since I couldn’t find a good pic of the father. art by stuntkid

Who he is:

There is a recurring character type in Grimm’s and a number of other fairy tale canons: the incestuous father. He’s usually a king who has one daughter and whose wife has died. He comes to the bizarro-world-logical conclusion that he must remarry someone as beautiful as his dead wife. Of course, no one in the kingdom is so beautiful, except his teenage daughter, because genetics. He tries to marry his daughter, who actually-logically freaks right out and runs away. She often goes and hides somewhere in the skin or fur of an animal. I’m sure the Jungians and/or Freudians will tell you why.

About the tale(s):

The incestuous father theme shows up in Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin” (which Robin McKinley retold in her fantastic YA novel Deerskin), the Grimm’s “All Fur” (winner in the 1889 Fairy Tale That Sounds Like A Porno Competition), and the Italian tale, “Wooden Maria.” More directly, in Scotland the tale is called “The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter”; in India, it’s called “The Princess Whose Father Wanted to Marry Her.” Like I say, it’s a theme.

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Somehow, even though kids deal with abuse and incest, it’s such a taboo in our society that We Dare Not Speak Its Name. Also, cute songs about running away from your incestuous father would be a little weird. Disney dads are always the good guys; in the latter-day Disney films dads are usually the ones their daughters are trying to protect. There are never truly evil biological parents in Disney.

 

4. The stepmother from “The Juniper Tree”

juniper-treeWho she is:

Widow. Remarried. Child murderess who cooked her dead stepson. Met with horrible end. Standard Grimm fare.

About the tale:

A widower, who has a son, remarries a widow with a daughter of her own. His new wife becomes insanely angry about/jealous of the son, and so beheads him with the heavy lid of an apple chest, like you do. Then she hides the body by cooking it. Her daughter finds the bones and buries them under the juniper tree in the yard. Meanwhile, a little adorable bird is flying around town singing “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me, my sister Marlene, she made sure to see my cones were all gathered together, bound nicely in silk, as neat as can be, and laid beneath the juniper tree. Tweet, tweet! What a lovely bird I am!” (Zipes translation) Apparently, no one in the village is weirded out, nor investigates the alleged crimes. Instead, they give the bird gifts: a pair of shoes for Marlene, a gold chain for Dad, and a millstone for Stepma. In the end, Stepma is crushed to death and the son mysteriously regenerates. The final line, which I find to be the most chilling part of the tale, is: “They went into the house, sat down at the table, and ate.” COME ON, Grimms. After a cannibalism tale, happy family dinner?

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Disney’s perfectly fine with murderous step-parents from Snow White onwards. This tale even has the requisite adorable singing bird. However, the cannibalism kicks this tale right out of the running.  Apparently incestuous cannibalism is an issue Disney doesn’t want to touch. Who knew?

 

3. Bluebeard

Bluebeard, bein' a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Bluebeard, bein’ a wall-eyed creeper. Art by Gustav Dore.

Who he is:

Just a guy with a blue beard who marries girls, plays mind games with them, and then kills them and stores their corpses in his murder closet. NBD.

About the tale:

A girl ends up marrying Bluebeard, usually with pressure from her family because he’s loaded. When she goes to his house, he is indeed loaded, and shows off all his wealth. Then he tells her he’s leaving on a trip and gives her the keys to the house. He tells her she can use any one except the little golden one on the end. She is, of course, tempted, and after checking out all his bling, uses the forbidden key. She finds, of course, a closet with the bodies of all his former wives. When Bluebeard comes home, he finds out that she used the key (usually through supernatural bloodstain or other marks) and tries to kill her. She begs to go “pray” upstairs (read: shout of the window for help from her family), and her brothers rush in and kill Bluebeard. And then she joins a nunnery and/or becomes a hermit. Okay, maybe not that last bit, but seriously. I wouldn’t take my family’s advice on marriage ever again after that. Other tales of this type include the English tale “Mr. Fox,” and the Grimm tale “Fitcher’s Bird,” and to an extent the Scottish ballad “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight.”

Why Disney wouldn’t want him:

Disney’s all right with lying and/or evil potential love interests. Gaston is a buffoon who turns evil/murderous, Frolo sort of has a Catholic guilt yen for Esmerelda, and Kocoum seems ordinarily jealous of John Smith.  But all of these men are sort of normal people who have a bad time of it; none of them are outright evil and duplicitous from the start. (Well, maybe Frolo. But I like to imagine that he could have had a nice retirement illuminating manuscripts or something.) More than anything, though, the murder closet is the issue. It’s just a little too gorey for Disney.

 

2. Lilith

Art by John Collier.

Art by John Collier.

Who she is:

Lilith has two sides to her story. On the one hand, she’s a Jewish demoness whose main gig is temptation and corruption. On the other hand, Lilith is a powerful feminine figure and Adam’s first wife, who was made from clay instead of rib, and was thus equal to Adam. Adam couldn’t handle her, so she was banished and God tried again, this time with patriarchy! Lilith went out beyond Eden and had lots and lots of demon babies. In popular culture, Lilith has been used as an icon of feminism, as in Lilith’s Fair. Talk to an Orthodox Jew, on the other hand, and likely they will not see her in the same light.

About the tale(s):

In Jewish folklore, Lilith either shows up as a surprise naked lady in the basement to seduce otherwise reasonable Jewish husbands, or else she lingers behind mirrors waiting to jump out into vain folks’ lives and mess with them. A great resource for Lilith tales is the book Lilith’s Cave collected by Howard Schwartz.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

I mean, realistically, it’s because a sexualized villainess with some fairly direct religious connotations. As a rule, Disney strays the hell away from anything religious. Noteable exceptions include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where we get a religious zealot villain, and Hercules, which if the Greek Gods were still in power, would have resulted in some lightning bolts up in heeere. But a seductress/demon/mother is just too much for Disney.

 

1. Baba Yaga

Art by _iphigen

Art by _iphigen

Who she is:

Baba Yaga is a withered old witch who lives in the woods of many Russian tales. She lives in a house on chicken legs lit by flaming skull torches. Oh yes. She’s totally metal. She has a cat, a dog, and a stove, in which she cooks the flesh of curious children. She especially enjoys enslaving and then eating little girls. She spends her days flying around the country in a mortar, using a pestle as a rudder.

About the tale(s):

Baba Yaga appears in a lot of different tales, but perhaps her most famous tale (at least on this side of the Atlantic) is “Vasilisa the Wise.” In this story, a little girl, Vasilisa, is in a Cinderella-esque situation of no natural parents and some jerkish stepsisters. They’re a little more direct than Cinderella’s stepsisters, though, in that they send her into to forest on a mission to get light from Baba Yaga. Luckily for Vasilisa, she has a little doll that her late mother gave her. She takes care of it, and in return it tells her all the strategic tips she needs to know about surviving a stay with Baba Yaga. Vasilisa is just the right amount of polite and industrious (completing impossible tasks with the help of her doll), and returns with one of the flaming skulls. If I were one of her sisters, I’d pretty much leave her alone forever, ‘cause anyone who can talk Baba Yaga out of a flaming skull is not to be messed with.

Why Disney wouldn’t want her:

Other than the fact that she’s actually terrifying, I have no idea. I mean, perhaps the fact that she literally eats children might have to be toned down. But come on, eating children happens in a lot of fairy tales. Baba Yaga’s character design is so strong, I’m shocked that she hasn’t been animated more in the states. I think the closest we’ve seen comes from Japan, actually, in the form of Yubaba from Spirited Away. Come on, American animation. Let’s see a Baba Yaga cartoon with a metal soundtrack. Is that too much to ask?

***

So I went and quested for Baba Yaga animation. This cartoon comes the closest to my metal hopes and dreams, although it has none of the badass defeat-Baba-Yaga-by-her-own-rules business of the tale, and devolves into violence quickly…which *is* very American I suppose:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHNiG8ffQ4A

And this is just adorable:

 

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