The (Difficult) Rehabilitation of the Fairy-tale Villain

by Pia Masiero and Laura Tosi

This article explores what happens – cognitively speaking – when readers
are confronted with those rewritings of folktales that provide the villain with
a roundness which was not present in the source text. The cases here analyzed
– Donna Jo Napoli’s novels The Magic Circle and Zel and the Disney film
Maleficent – concern one of the staple folktale villains – the witch – once it is
reshaped in fractured folktales. The article argues that the newly characterized
villains activate the readers’ subjective experience not simply due to a
recognition of generic repertoires, but due to the involvement of their broader
experiential background. This involvement takes the form of a deep cognitive
reorganisation that depends on attributing and enacting consciousness and
allows for a more rounded ethical engagement.

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