Island Resistance

Island Resistance

Island Resistance

A Review of Melissa de la Cruz’ “The Isle of the Lost” (Disney Enterprises Inc, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Although The Isle of the Lost is part of Walt Disney Studios’ Descendants franchise, there are elements of the book that allow for a counter-hegemonic readings. De La Cruz highlights the potential dangers of a kingdom that pushes its particular brand of “good” on everyone and exiles anyone who is against the norm to an island prison.

The Descendants franchise focusses on the children of the Disney villains, particularly emphasizing characters Mal (daughter of Maleficent), Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen), Jay (son of Jafar), and Carlos (son of Cruella De Vil). In the franchise, the Beast from Beauty and the Beast has united all of the different Disney movie kingdoms into one united community and all of them have exiled their villains to an island called The Isle of the Lost, where not only are the villains imprisoned, but also their children. The Descendants film portrayed Ben, the son of Beauty and the Beast deciding that he wanted to allow Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos to come to the exclusive prep school for all of the royalty of the Disney films. They are separated from all of the other children on the island who are left there still and they are taken to Auradon Prep where they eventually decide to become good.

Melissa de la Cruz’ The Isle of the Lost is a prequel to the Descendants film portraying the lives of the characters on the Isle of the Lost before Ben brings them to Auradon. The novel features Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos trying to live up to their parents’ expectations, always feeling like failures in the eyes of their parents for not being able to live up to the evil destinies their parents want for them. The novel centralizes ideas of isolation in families, illustrating characters who feel so trapped in their destinies that they can’t connect with others. Even Ben is unable to escape from his destiny to be king, which has trapped him in a narrative that makes him believe that he needs to be exactly like his father, the Beast.

While Mal, Evie, Jay, and Carlos question their narrative of evil, they also critique the actions of the “good” community of Auradon, pointing out the issues with the control enforced from this mainland community. Auradon forces the residents of the island to watch propaganda as their only TV channel, constantly being bombarded with images of how good things are in Auradon and how terrible it is not to have the privileges of Auradon. The island only receives the garbage from Auradon to survive off of, living on the remains and waste of the mainland. This narrative allows for an Island Studies reading, portraying an island as a place dependent upon a mainland while also locked into a constant pattern of similitude. The mainland also exerts its power over the island as a dependent, pushing their narrative onto island culture. But the island also exerts its counter narrative, resisting mainland control and making its own narrative.

The island narrative is paralleled with the narrative of youth. Youth, like the Island of the Lost are portrayed as resisting the control of a larger power structure (in this case, their parents and ideas of destiny). The island is also codified as loneliness and the youth are portrayed as relating to each other through a shared loneliness, an isolation that comes from the notion that islands are lonely places. Characters and the island both resist hegemonic power imposed from without, resisting not just exertion of power, but also resisting the writing of a narrative over their own destiny.

Readers are given a glimpse into the power structures of the mainland when given flashes of Ben trying to rule and perpetuating the union-busting of his father (upon the former sidekick figures). Readers are able to see that “good” is controlled by a central authority that puts certain people with certain pasts into positions of power. Magic is strongly discouraged in Auradon, meaning that they have had to shift a lot of cultural expectations and their lifestyles.

The Isle of the Lost is a narrative of change and resistance, a counter-hegemonic voice for Disney’s far to easy binary of good/evil.

To discover more about Melissa de la Cruz, visit .

To find out more about The Isle of the Lost, visit


Prophetic Stories or Spells of Destiny?

Prophetic Stories or Spells of Destiny?

A review of Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy by Serena Valentino (Disney Press, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille


With Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy, Serena Valentino once again adds moral complexity to a Disney villain, providing a backstory that allows the reader to see how her choices were made. Mistress of All Evil examines one of my favourite Disney villains, Maleficent, the villain from Sleeping Beauty. Rather than turning Maleficent into a hero as the film Maleficent did, Valentino makes her a villain with a complicated morality and provides more context for why Maleficent feels justified in her actions.


Valentino’s Maleficent is a character whose life has been shaped by loneliness, isolation, and rejection… and along with all of that, a fuse that, once lit, causes her to lose control. Although this Maleficent was born in the fairy realm, she was born from a tree covered in ravens and rather than having wings, she was born with horns. She was rejected by the fairy community and teased for her difference. Even the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella and the three “good fairies” from Sleeping Beauty have sought to reject and isolate her from the rest of fairy kind. Maleficent buries herself in books and accepts her isolation until she discovers Nanny, a figure that has appeared in all of the other Valentino Disney books. Nanny gives Maleficent a sense of belonging and a sense of family, but like most things in Maleficent’s life, this sense of comfort is short lasting and she loses her connection to Nanny for many years as Nanny loses her memory and Maleficent thinks she is dead.


Valentino constructs a meta narrative about storytelling, linking tales to ideas of fate and toying with the idea that Maleficent’s story has already been written. Snow White discovers a fairy tale book that already has Maleficent and Aurora’s tale written down and characters start to wonder whether the book is a prophetic book or whether it is a spell, locking characters into a narrative that was written to control them.


Like most of Valentino’s book, every character thinks that they are doing the right thing, believing that they are making things better for others and protecting others from terrible truths, but, of course, secrets and lies are dangerous in fairy tales and they always have consequences.


Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy, although written for young adults, is a complex exploration of fairy tales and ideas of tradition, challenging ideas of the simple Disney narrative and the easy morality of fairy tales for children and providing an engagement with ideas of “best intentions” to explore how even people who think that they are doing the right thing can end up harming others.


To discover more about Serena Valentino, visit


To find out more about Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy, visit



A review of Jen Calonita’s “Flunked” (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2015)

By Derek Newman-Stille

What would we do with fairy tales if they didn’t have villains? Fairy Tale villains are so delightfully exciting and they inject that needed bit of challenge and excitement into a tale. They have so much potential for complexity and depth. Jen Calonita’s “Flunked” is a tale that brings together fairy tale villains from narratives like Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Red Ridinghood, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel in a tale of redemption and relapse into villainy.

When Cinderella’s evil stepmother Flora recognized that she was living in a society that rejected her for her villainous path, she sought to redeem herself in the eyes of her fellow citizens by creating a school devoted to the reformation of villains and those who show signs of wandering toward villainous paths. She created the Fairy Tale Reform School, devoted to turning villains into heroes and giving them the skills that would allow them to be successful. Employing the Evil Queen from Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf from Red Ridinghood, and the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, this school is a rogues gallery of fairy tale villains and it makes for an interesting, if terrifying, experience.

Gilly has had to become a thief in order to keep her family fed since Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother started wholesale manufacturing the glass slippers that Gilly’s father invented and the boot-maker became poor, barely able to keep his family fed and their boot home safe and cozy. But, when Gilly gets caught stealing to provide for her family her parents and the police in their fairy tale community send her to Fairy Tale Reform School to find out how to be a hero and what she finds there are mysteries, friendship, her own desire to make the world a better place… and a lot of near-death experiences.

Even though Calonita’s “Flunked” is a fun and playful story, it is also filled with social questions and critiques. Calonita raises questions about poverty and social inequality, illustrating what Gilly has to do in order to keep her family fed and raising questions about the morality of theft. She creates a connection to figures like Robin Hood by portraying Gilly stealing from the wealthy to provide for her family.

Calonita uses the figure of the princess and the almost-worship they receive in order to ask questions about celebrity culture and ponder why so many people envy the wealthy and popular even when their policies may hurt those who are impoverished. Yet Calonita also questions social stigma and abjection, exploring the way that those who have been judged to be villainous have to constantly strive to escape from the stigma attached to them. The creation of the Fairy Tale Reform School is as much about finding a safe space for former villains as it is about creating a space where people can acquire new skills and find the hero within them. With a Sea Witch who keeps forgetting everything she is doing and a spell to erase memory, the theme of erasing the past is a key one in “Flunked”, pointing to the way that one’s history continues to haunt one. Calonita asks questions about the boundary between hero and villain and challenges the easy morality of most fairy tales by complicating her characters.

Gilly is uniquely suited to solving the world’s issues because she recognizes that villains have unique skills that others don’t and that sometimes a villain has to do what a hero isn’t capable of doing.

To find out more about “Flunked”, and discover more about Jen Calonita, visit

Psychological Reflection

Psychological Reflection
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,