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“Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen” offers a twisted take on Disney's Snow White

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“Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen” offers a twisted take on Disney's Snow White

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No one mourns the Wicked.
No one cries “They won’t return!”
No one lays a lily on their grave

Ah, but as “Wicked” (i.e. Gregory Maguire’s best-selling book as well as the long-running stage musical) proves, it is actually possible to feel sadness & sympathy for a character that’s been labeled Wicked. Provided – of course – that you’re in the hands of a really skilled storyteller.

Wicked book Cover
Copyright 2007 Harper. All Rights Reserved

So does comic book author Serena Valentino have what it takes to turn one of Disney’s more infamous villains – the Wicked Queen from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – into a character that you can actually care about, have sympathy for? Surprisingly, yes. In her debut as a novelist, Serena knocks one out of the park with “Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen” (Disney Press, August 2009).

Now please don’t assume that this is yet another one of those reimagings of an oft-told tale. Because “Fairest of All” isn’t. This “Tale of the Wicked Queen” is deliberately set in the world of Walt Disney’s first feature-length animated film. In fact, over the course of this 250-page-story, there are several instances when Ms. Valentino has her characters speak the exact dialogue from this 1937 WDP release.

“So how then does Serena make such a wicked character seem sympathetic?,” you ask. By pushing back the start-time of our story a decade or so. When we first meet the Wicked Queen, it’s on her wedding day. And she’s a nervous young bride who wonders if she really has what it takes to lead a kingdom as well as be a good step-mother to 3-year-old Snow White.

Fairest of Them All book cover
Copyright 2009 Disney Press. All Rights Reserved

As Verona, her faithful lady-in-waiting readies her for the ceremony, the new Queen reflects on how she got where she is today. What an unlikely journey this has all been for the poor daughter of an expert craftsman. The artisan who made the finest mirrors in all the kingdom, I might add.

Not feeling worthy of all the compliments that are being heaped at her feet and/or up to all of the challenges & obligations that lie ahead, the new Queen nearly swoons as she makes her way to the altar. But – beyond that – the wedding goes off without a hitch.

And soon the King, Snow White and the new Queen are just one big happy family. With Snow – as she presses her step-mother for just one more story before bed – getting a slightly different take on the tale of another Disney Princess:

Malificent and Aurora from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

“Momma, you tell me a story about dragons, please.”

The Queen looked at her husband nervously. The King shrugged.

Unable to deny her little bird anything, the Queen put aside her inhibitions and compiled: “Once, a very long time ago, a sad, lonely and greatly misperceived woman enchanted a young princess into a deep sleep for her own safety …”

“Why was she sad, Momma?” Snow interrupted.

The Queen thought about it for a moment and said, “I think it was because no one loved her.”

“Why?,” asked the child.

“Because she didn’t love herself. She feared rejection because she was so unlike anyone she’d ever known. She was so full of fear that she sequestered herself away. This sad woman’s only companions were striking blackbirds that soared in the skies around her home, perching in trees and on ledges, gathering information so that she would have news of the outside world. This is how she learned of the princess’s christening. No one understood why the woman was so angry for not being invited to the christening. But you see, my little bird, she knew something that the girl’s parents and fairy god mothers did not.”

Disneland Fantasmic Dragon
Copyright 2009 Disney. All Rights Reserved

“I thought that you were going to tell me a story about dragons, Momma,” Snow interrupted again.

“I am, my dear. For you see this is no ordinary woman, she could turn into a dragon, and when she did, she was a fierce, frightening creature.”

“Really?” Snow’s eyes were closing, heavy with tiredness.

“Indeed, but we are getting ahead of the story …”

This is half the charm of “Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen.” All of the Disney-inspired winks & nods that Ms. Valentino folds into this tale. By that I mean: The touchstones from the movie version of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (i.e. The Magic Mirror. The Heartbox. The Huntsmen. Even that boat in the dungeon that the old crone uses as she’s sneaking away from the castle) are still part of the narrative. But this time around, these touchstones are each introduced in an unusual manner and then take on different meanings over the course of Serena’s story.

Copyright 2009 Disney Press. All Rights Reserved

Given that this hardcover is primarily aimed at readers 9-12, “Fairest of All” really isn’t in the same class as “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.” “A Tale of the Wicked Queen” doesn’t have nearly as much narrative ambition and/or emotional complexity as what Gregory Maquire tried to do with Elphaba. But that said, if you’re a Disneyana fan, there’s still a lot to like about this slightly twisted take on Walt Disney’s Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs.

So why not drop by your local bookstore and see if they can dig-dig-dig-dig-dig-dig-dig you up a copy?

Your thoughts?

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  • Personally, I found the book "Wicked" to be excessively downbeat, cynical and filled with uniformly unlikeable characters. I mean, with a stellar concept like the Wizard of Oz from the WWW's POV, how difficult is it to write a good book?

    If Valentino's take on Sleeping Beauty manages to avoid "Wicked"'s problems it might be worth a look. Certainly incorporating some of the Disney version elements into it is a good indicator.

  • nice im 10 i like it good aight so let me kno

  • I read this when it first came out in 2009 and was dreadfully disappointed.  The book works far too hard to make the Wicked Queen likeable at first and her transition into "wickedness" is sudden and doesn't make any sense.  I love fairy tale retellings, but this one was simply trying to hard and as a result, no one was believable, likeable, or human.

    (FWIW, I thought the book "Wicked" was a political slog, but I loved the stage play)

    For a more fun "villains retelling" of a Disney Movie, check out the "My Side of the Story" picture books Disney put out a few years ago.  They were hysterical.  RE:  In the Snow White one, you see, the Queen simply thought that Snow needed to eat healthier foods; all that pie couldn't be good for her!

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