Magnificent Maleficent: Family Through Blood and Water
By Mauri Lazaro (@darkdeariemauri) and Teresa Martin (@Teresa__Martin)
Maleficent has a rather nebulous past on Once Upon A Time. She died, fans thought, but then it was revealed in Season Two that a spell “sustains her in whatever form she’s in”. How this leads to her return, all are still waiting to see. Until then, an examination of Maleficant’s past on Once and other versions of the tale on which she is based can shed some light on what will be seen in 4b.
In the traditional versions of “Sleeping Beauty”, the character on which Maleficent is based is a “wise woman,” sometimes fairy, of the realm, and the only one not invited to the christening of a new princess. This was indeed a serious matter. A christening is not merely a ceremony. In the traditional sense, it integrates a person into a world-wide family. There are godparents, who have an oath to be the guide to the child both by example and in action. If the parents die, the godparents become the parents de facto. Also, all present welcome the child as their own, and take oaths along with the parents and godparents. So leaving this fairy out of the ceremony was not just a snub. It was a formal acknowledgement that she is not of the family. . . outside, broken away from all. This grave ostracism spurred her to take revenge by imposing a curse upon the child. She is only temporarily successful because the curse is broken with a Prince’s kiss.
On Once Upon A Time, fans first saw the scorned fairy, known now by the name Disney gave her, Maleficent, in “The Thing You Love Most”. She is introduced as Regina’s “only friend.” It is learned that Regina had traded The Curse with Maleficent in exchange for a sleeping potion. Fans also found out that Sleeping Beauty “got the best” of Maleficent when she was around the same age as Snow White. This established that the Charles Perrault version of the fairy tale is being utilized by Once writers. In his narrative the children of the original Sleeping Beauty feature, including a daughter, Aurora. Maleficent’s story on Once might include a snub as in the original tale, but perhaps one less symbolic and more damaging. When her backstory is told, her origins will likely rhyme with the familiar trope “evil isn’t born, it’s made.”
This would be in stark contrast to the Disney cartoon in which Maleficent has no redeemable qualities. She is held in contempt by not only being left out of the christening, but also how she is spoken to by the other fairies. Her curse and determination to thwart Phillip from awakening Aurora is not given any motivation except that of one who does not want her revenge undone. A hint of motivation, envy, is seen in the manner in which she finally appears as a great dragon, traditionally the great enemy of Good; a demon destined for perdition and determined that all should share its fate.
Most recently there was a new, updated take on the character of Maleficent: Disney’s live action feature Maleficent. In this version, the Queen of Darkness curses baby Aurora as in the animated film, but out of vengeance for a failed romantic relationship with Aurora’s father, King Stefan. Stefan was Maleficent’s childhood friend and their friendship grew into romance, but Stefan was poor and wanted more for himself. So, when the current King, Henry, in an attempt to take over the forest inhabited by fairies, was fatally wounded by Maleficent, the king proclaimed he would name a successor if someone in his court would take vengeance for him. Stefan seized the opportunity and used his relationship with Maleficent to get close to her, taking her wings. This, of course, made Maleficent angry and hurt. Stefan then became king, a husband and then a father spurring Maleficent’s plan for revenge. He had taken her heart, so she was going to take his by cursing his child.
Maleficent starts her curse:
Listen well, all of you. The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all
who meet her. . . But before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her
finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and fall into a sleep like death! A sleep from
which she will never awaken! [The King begs Maleficent to spare his child. She amends
her curse]. The princess can be woken from her death-like sleep, but only by True Love’s
Kiss! This curse will last till the end of time! No power on Earth can change it!
(It would appear that Maleficent has unknowingly set herself up to care for the child by including the pixie’s gift of Aurora being loved by ALL who meet her for this would include her too.)
Baby Aurora is sent into the forest to be cared for by the three pixies. The pixies did not have any experience or clue on how to raise human babies. They left Baby Aurora outside by herself. Then, when she cried out of hunger, they tried to feed her whole carrots freshly pulled from the ground. Baby Aurora cried louder and Maleficent sent her crow Diaval to deliver milk inside of a flower bud for a bottle to feed the baby. She didn’t want Aurora to starve to death before the curse could take place. Through the years, as Aurora grew, Maleficent would unknowingly be the one to look after her. At least she thought it was unknowing. A fifteen year old Aurora confronted Maleficent and told her that she knew who she was. She called Maleficent her fairy god-mother which surprised Maleficent. After that, Maleficent spent time with Aurora. She bonded with the teen and worried about the impending curse. She tried to undo the curse, but her words haunted her: “No power on Earth can change it!” It was soon Aurora’s birthday and she had briefly met Prince Phillip in the woods. When she was taken back to the castle and pricked her finger on the spindle, Maleficent and Diaval hurried to the castle with Prince Phillip meaning for him to kiss Aurora and wake her for she thought True Love’s kiss only meant romantic love. But you can’t fall in love with someone you just met. Maleficent was heartbroken when the curse didn’t break. She stood beside Sleeping Beauty and lamented her action of vengeance and then kissed her on the forehead. Aurora awoke. It was motherly love that broke the curse. The curse probably would have broken with Phillip’s kiss if he and Aurora had had time to develop a real relationship. True Love can be all sorts of love: parental, sisterly, brotherly, friendship, and more.
The message taken away from the movie is that one doesn’t have to be the biological mother to feel motherly love for a child, or be related in anyway to be a family. Also, even if one has wronged somebody greatly, forgiveness can be granted. Aurora thought of Maleficent as her mother and the pixies as her aunts. She did forgive Maleficent for cursing her because she truly regretted it.
This ties into many of the themes seen on Once. A central “love story” is that between a mother and her son. The Pilot started out with Henry seeking his birth mother, and while there has been a great deal devoted to that relationship—made complex because it was between a mother who gave up her rights-- equally so it is Regina’s story, perhaps more so. She did not give birth to Henry, but she became his mother when she adopted him. There are also other family-like bonds with other characters on the show. Hook’s paternal relationship with Baelfire is one example and one can hardly look at Gepetto and Jiminy Cricket without thinking “brother”; or Ruby and not think “aunt.” Dr. Hopper is as a father to Henry, along with many others. Friendship, comradery, and surrogate parent figures feature prominently.
On Once it is still uncertain as to what kind of connection Maleficent has to Sleeping Beauty or Aurora. Whatever it is, there must have been a conflict which led the fairy to seek her vengeful “Happy Ending” by cursing both mother and daughter. This would be very like Regina with Snow and Charming, and hence could explain why Regina and Maleficent became friends, or at least kindred spirts in Once Verse. They would have their perceived happy ending come what may, and not caring one whit for those it may destroy.
This might apply for The Queens and Darkness and Rumple as they are presently in Once. Perhaps they will see the folly of this outlook, as Regina has, and Rumple did before he back-slid so drastically in 4a. We know there will be scenes with the villains’ family members. So perhaps the lines about changing, said so insincerely by Ursula and Cruella in 4x12, were foreshadowing their eventual transformation as they reconcile with their loved ones. If relevant to Rumplestiltskin, the movement forward would be the much anticipated reunion with Henry and Belle. Like Maleficent in the movie, the Higher Ground is always more dramatic and satisfying. This could also provide deeper complexity to the beloved, ever-spinning anti-hero.
Or perhaps not all of the villains will choose the better path and rather travel a road that leads to self-destruction.
As they say on the show, “we shall see.”
Either way, tighten those seat belts! It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but one that has potential to be well worth the journey.
Explore the Arthurian legend surrounding Lancelot, take a trip into the woods to discover the mythology behind Red Riding Hood or learn more about a modern day hero called Snow White. Origins provides unique insights and perspectives from talented writers into the characters we know and love, going far beyond the boundaries of Storybrooke.