Murder, Murder On The Wall

Murder, Murder On The Wall

Murder, Murder On The Wall

A review of Murder She Wrote Season 5, episode 21: Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

By Derek Newman-Stille

I have often thought that creating a murder mystery story around Snow White would be an exciting and engaging idea. However, fairy tales are engaged in constant revisioning and reimagining and I found out that my vision had already been realized, though with more realism and less fairy tale content… and it had been realized in the strangest of places – on Murder She Wrote. For those of you unfamiliar with Murder She Wrote, it ran from 1984 until 1996 and featured widowed mystery writer Jessica Fletcher who travelled from place to place solving murders. The show engaged in a lot of meta activities, engaging in cross-overs with other shows, proposing solutions for murder mysteries filmed in the 40s, and, as I discovered, even playing with fairy tale narratives.

The two-part episode Mirror, Mirror On The Wall is a fairy tale adaptation, but brought into the world of Jessica Fletcher and the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove. Like the fairy tale Snow White, the story features attempted murder, and, of course, a poisoned apple. It is also a story that features jealousy. However, rather than engaging in the ageism of Snow White, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall features two women of roughly the same age. It does still engage in jealousy, but is instead about one writer, Eudora McVeigh, who used to be a best-selling mystery author who is now experiencing writer’s block and her jealousy of Jessica Fletcher’s rising success in the genre. By featuring two ageing women, Mirror, Mirror On The Wall intentionally disrupts the idea of older women being threatened by and afraid of younger women, instead placing the interest of the episode on the competitive world of creative writing and one woman’s fear of another’s success.

Although Murder She Wrote has anti-feminist elements, often directly criticizing feminists, it, perhaps unintentionally, brings attention to the problem of women who don’t engage in ideas of sisterhood and instead seek to oppress each other. Rather than directing her anger at a system that only favours one female mystery writer at a time, Eudora begins the episode by wanting revenge on Jessica, seeing her success as inherently threatening to her own instead of seeking revenge on her publisher who is setting her aside in favour of Jessica. She ignores the men who are oppressing her and instead turns her anger toward another female writer, not seeing the potential for a united front by both of them sharing resources and challenge the patriarchal system and male publisher who is seeking to pit them against each other.

Fascinatingly, Eudora keeps referring to Cabot Cove as a little fairy tale town, pointing out the town’s perceived simplicity and wholesomeness… however, as we who read fairy tales know, there is a dark side to fairy tales, and not only does this fairy tale end in violence and murder (like so many), in this episode, the Sheriff (who moved from New York for a nice, simple life), points out one of the key issues of the show – for a small, quiet little town… there are the highest number of murders per capita. The show features about 24 episodes per year, many of them set in Cabot Cove, and lasted for 12 seasons… and there is at least one murder per episode in addition to multiple attempted murders. Cabot Cove’s quaint, dreamy, fairy tale setting is constantly being undone by murder in order to keep the show progressing.

Ultimately, like most Murder She Wrote episodes, the fairy tale storyline is secondary to the main focus on the show – murder. Ultimately, it is a story that engages with human psychology, clues, criminal slip ups, and the all-important confession.

Advertisements

Hungry

Hungry
A review of Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” in By Blood We Live, edited by John Joseph Adams (Night Shade Books, 2009)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Skin as pale as snow, lips as red as blood… what could Snow White be other than a Vampire? Neil Gaiman explores the Snow White tale as vampire fiction in “Snow, Glass, Apples”, imagining the princess as a figure of living death and the “Evil Queen” as a witch trying to protect her people from a monster. 

This Queen, like the one in the canonical Snow White tale, uses a mirror. However, her mirror is not a vessel of vanity used to compare herself to other beauties. Instead, it is a vessel of prophesy, telling her of her future with the king and this young girl. Like the canonical tale, this one is also a tale of aging, but rather than the queen fearing her own aging and envying the youth of the princess, this Queen fears what the eternal youth of the princess represents because there are unnatural things in the world that don’t age. A vampire tale is a perfect adaptation for the Snow White exploration of age.

The Queen interacts with her own story, telling us that people told tales of her being given the heart of an animal, when in fact she was given Snow White’s vampiric heart and she tells readers that she did not eat the heart as some tales suggest. “Lies and half truths fall like snow”. She is an active agent in telling readers her own story, one that allows her to be the hero instead of the villain. 

Snow White is left without her heart in the forest, but that heart is not stabbed through as in traditional vampire stories and the princess rises from the grave, from her sleep curse.

The queen discovers that Snow White has been hunting the forest folk when she looks into her scrying glass. She realizes she needs to use her knowledge of witchcraft to cope with the girl and adds her blood to apples, again playing with the theme of blood and the crimson of apples.

Gaiman creates a tale of reversals, with a vampire-hunting queen, a necropheliac prince, and a Snow White shaped by hunger. He probes the boundaries between life and death evoked by the original tale and infuses it with blood.