Female protagonists in fairy tales: Imagine if the witches of Oz got their due

Perhaps we might recast some tales so that the glass slipper is on the other foot

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Despite its name, when you think of the film the Wizard of Oz, the most memorable characters are female.

Dorothy, Glinda the Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West beat weaselly old Oz, the Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion hands down. From the ruby slippers to the green face paint, the girls get the best looks as well as the best lines.

In the newly released prequel, Oz the Great  and Powerful, the female leads, played by Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, outnumber Oz three to one. Three of Hollywood’s top actresses in three meaty roles has to be the draw for this film, right?

Perhaps. In an interview with The Huffington Post, the film’s producer, Joe Roth, explained his two reasons for going to Oz. “I love the Wizard of Oz. But this character is only in the last few minutes of that film and we have no idea who he is,” he told the website. “And the second reason was – during the years that I spent running Walt Disney Studios – I learned about how hard it was to find a fairy tale with a good strong male protagonist. You’ve got your Sleeping Beauties, your Cinderellas and your Alices. But a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. But with the origin story of the Wizard of Oz, here was a fairy tale story with a natural male protagonist.”

When I first read that, it irritated me for two reasons. The first is that I don’t know where he was during Jackanory (well, I do – America), but there isn’t exactly a lack of male-orientated fairy tales. First up is Jack and the Beanstalk, a film version of which, Jack the Giant Slayer, was released the week before Oz in the US. There’s Aladdin, Tom Thumb, the Pied Piper, the cobbler of The Elves and the Shoemaker fame, Pinocchio. Even the Ugly Duckling is a bloke. Then there’s King Arthur – plenty of myth and magic there – and more recently, Tolkien’s clever-clogs takes on elves, wizards and hobbits that have been filmed to death.

The second reason for irritation was that, for centuries, fairy tales were one of the few places there were any strong female protagonists, not counting the Virgin Mary and some of the saints. Talk about Roth putting his tanks on our lawn.

But fairy-tale inaccuracies – and irritability – aside, there’s an argument to be made that Roth is simply championing equality. Perhaps there’s a case for recasting some fairy tales so the glass slipper is on the other foot.

Raphael in the tower, imprisoned by a warlock, whose only joy in life is the brave princess who scales his beard every night. Sleeping Beau, so damn hot that his jealous stepdad tries to poison him. Or maybe he should just let the witches of Oz be the stars rather than the wizard. It worked the first time round, after all.

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