Reimagining Fairy Tale Villains
The House with Chicken Legs was inspired by the Russian fairy tales my grandmother told me when I was young. I especially loved the stories about Baba Yaga: the witch who lived deep in the forest, in a hut on hen’s legs surrounded by a skull and bone fence.
Baba Yaga fascinated me because in some stories she was a terrifying, cannibalistic villain, but in other stories she was a helper who provided advice or magical objects.
She was wild and powerful – and unpredictable! I never knew how she would treat visitors to her hut, although if the hero of a tale came to see Baba Yaga, it was always a turning point in the story.
I always wondered how Baba Yaga could be both cruel and kind, and that wondering grew into a story! I reimagined my own Baba Yaga and gave her a role that explained people’s fear of her, her links with death, and the wise and compassionate side of her nature.
Once I had made sense of Baba Yaga in my mind, I began imagining what it would be like to live with her in her hut on hen’s legs. A picture appeared in my mind of a young girl, Marinka, rebuilding the skull and bone fence after it collapsed in the night, and I immediately knew I wanted to write her story.
As soon as I started writing Marinka, she became incredible real to me. I knew she was lonely, living in a house with chicken legs at the edge of society, and I knew she was struggling to find her place in the world. She most definitely did not want to be the next Yaga but had been told all her life that was her destiny. Once I knew what she wanted, Marinka’s story seemed to write itself – and I must admit everything that happened in the story took me by surprise!
Telling the Villain’s Story
I love writing stories inspired by fairy tales, and I find villains particularly fascinating characters. I always wonder what events in their past led the villain to behave as they do.
There have been some wonderful books and movies in recent years that tell the villain’s side of the story (e.g. the movie Maleficent tells the story of the villain from Sleeping Beauty, and the book and the Broadway show Wicked tells the story of the villain from The Wizard of Oz).
Telling the villain’s story can be a fun way to create new stories from old ones. It often involves imagining motives for villainous behaviour (e.g. in Maleficent, a young King Stefan betrays Maleficent so cruelly the viewer empathises with Maleficent when she seeks revenge).
Try writing your own story about a fairy tale villain. Create a backstory that helps you empathise with the villain and explains their villainous behaviour in the fairy tale.
You can choose any villain you like, but here are few suggestions to get you thinking:
- The Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid
- The Evil Queen from Snow White
- The stepmother, or one of the stepsisters, from Cinderella
- The witch from Hansel and Gretel
- The enchantress from Rapunzel
Don’t be afraid to change or reimagine the fairy tale in other ways. Let your imagination run free!