RageA review of Serena Valentino’s Poor Unfortunate Soul (Disney Press, 2016).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Poor Unfortunate Soul, the last book in this series by Serena Valentino wasn’t as powerful as the other two tales, and part of that may be because Ursula didn’t have the same sort of sympathetic portrayal that the Evil Queen or the Beast did. Valentino’s Ursula was a creature shaped by understandable rage, but unlike the other villains with greyed morality, Ursula is portrayed as distant, a figure of rage from afar rather than the close-up pain and frustration we feel with the protagonists of the other two books.
Valentino provides a background for Ursula that allows us to understand her anger, frustration, and pain, giving us a glimpse into an undersea world where she was constantly ostracized for her appearance in a realm that could only accept one particular body type. She resisted this bodily narrative, being herself even though she was pushed to the fringes of her society for it. Ursula in Valentino’s narrative is the sister of King Triton, king of the mermaids and Ariel’s father.
Ursula’s rage is justifiable in this narrative since it comes from the pain of years of isolation. It is also the kind of powerful rage that could be transformative, and that could overturn a kingdom that reinforces a strict status quo. Valentino hints that King Triton’s patriarchal control is at the centre of Ursula’s pain and rage, noting that the king imposes beauty standards on the women around him, a male hegemony that positions women as beings to be looked at rather than to wield power. This could have been a powerful feminist tale tale with Ursula challenging the patriarchy and trying to push for an overthrow of a system that disempowers its public, and it seemed to be building toward this at the start, but there is a sudden shift in the narrative toward positioning Ursula as a creature distant from the reader instead of the reader getting the chance to see the world through her eyes. We get pulled out of that dark potential where change is possible and thrust onto the surface while we watch the status quo become re-established.
To discover more about Serena Valentino and Poor Unfortunate Soul, visit http://www.serenavalentino.com/projects/ursula/
A review of Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen (Disney Press, 2009).
By Derek Newman-Stille
Serena Valentino’s Fairest of All is a tale of mirrors and of mirroring behaviour. Valentino provides a backstory for the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, giving this tale of terror a darkly psychological quality by dipping into the mind of the Evil Queen to find out what sort of shadowy past can produce such misery. This tale of mirrors is deeply reflective.
Mirrors have shaped the Queen’s life. She was born to a mirror-maker and was ultimately despised by him because she was the mirror image of her mother who died while birthing her. He is unable to look at her without seeing a reflection of everything he once loved and was ultimately turned to sorrow and horror, so he tells her that she is a hideous monster, someone that no one will ever care about. His abuse ultimately shapes the way she sees herself, building in her a fundamental lack of self confidence and need for external acknowledgement.
Like many people who have experienced abuse, the Queen is haunted by the spectre of her father, a father who appears in her mirror, always seeing his face overlaying hers, illustrating the way his control of her keeps overtaking her individual will.
Valentino reveals that this is not a Queen who is poisoned by vanity, but rather a queen who is poisoned by self-loathing brought on by abuse. She is a Queen who becomes isolated and whose own heart is crushed by the notion of love lost that is not able to be retained. This tale of mirrors is a tale of reflection.
To find out more about the work of Serena Valentino, http://www.serenavalentino.com
A review of Serena Valentino’s The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince (Disney Press, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille
The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince narrates the story of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast before he became the Beast. Serena Valentino narrates the early life of the Prince who would become the Beast, illustrating how his arrogance, his focus on appearance, and his shallowness meant that he was already a beast before he took on the shape of one.
The Prince’s life was one shaped by the desire to look successful and early in his life, he turned away a potential princess who he loved because he believed that she was the daughter of a pig farmer and was therefore too lower class for him to marry. He illustrates the ugliness within him when he criticizes her because of his belief about her upbringing and looks at her with disgust because he had seen her doing peasant labour. His fiancée, Circe, turns out to be a witch and her sisters curse the Beast for his behaviour toward her, ensuring that his handsome appearance will turn to reflect his beastly interior. He begins to experience the slow alteration of his appearance and as he further mistreats women and further degrades those who are not as wealthy as him, his appearance moves further from the ideals of beauty.
The Beast encounters Princess Tulip, a woman who he believes to be unintelligent but beautiful, which he sees as the ideals of femininity. Tulip has spent her life being told that she needs to appear vapid in order to secure a good marriage. Valentino reveals that the Beauty and the Beast tale is one about gendered oppression of women and the patriarchal need to construct women as shallow and without choices over their own lives. However, when the Beast continues to mistreat Tulip, it is the wise women, Circe’s sisters, who punish him for his arrogance and mistreatment of women.
Tulip, herself, wishes she had access to education the same as the males in her life.
Valentino contextualises the Beast’s story, giving more background to the Beast’s behaviour and the reasons behind the Beast’s curse.
To find out more about Serena Valentino’s work at http://www.serenavalentino.com/projects/the-beast-within/