It was never about the girl or her grandmother or even the woods; all that was incidental. It was always about the wolf and the hunter. They are brothers, after all, twin apex predators caught in the same orbit. Only one may rule the forest at a time and so the dance continues as the sun and moon revolve endlessly overhead. On another day it might have been the hunter who caught Little Red unawares and the wolf who came to the rescue just to rob his enemy of a nice meal. After all, are they really so different? When you’re walking along the forest path and hear the snapping of a twig, can you tell what manner of monster follows you from the shadows? And does it even matter once you’re sitting in its stomach?
I am no princess
but I spend each night in a strange land watching you dance
and wake each morning exhausted.
This is no fairy tale
but I would prick my finger on a thousand spinning needles
to lose myself in your curse.
We will have no happy ending
but at the very least we will be together
at the end.
I used to wonder, late at night when I wandered between streetlights and shadows on a chilly, quiet campus, what it would be like to sing with you. Listening to the songs that conjured your spirit, if not your presence, I wondered which part you would take; would your voice be higher than mine, light and lilting, or would it reach even deeper notes than I could? I’d sit on cold stone steps and imagine you huddled against me, us sharing scant body warmth as we watched our voices drift away in ghostly breaths of melody. You were for so many years a siren calling to me from third-hand sources, and I the lost sailor traveling sightless in the hopes of finding you at the end of my journey. What I did not know I heard in this music was my willingness to break upon the rocks, should that be my only way to glimpse you. The lyrics did not speak this immutable truth; the notes did not spell it on their staves; yet I absorbed it nonetheless. Thus when you did finally find me, I came to you as the sailor longing to wreck, as the tower maiden eager to jump, as the innocent girl who wanted never to find her way home from Wonderland. And you? You remained as I had imagined you: the siren calling, calling, calling in the dark for the only one who could hear her voice. Now I know exactly what our voices sound like blended together, and all the words in the world can’t describe such beauty.
Sometimes it feels like I am under a spell, as if when I was sixteen I unknowingly pricked my finger and fell into a slumber from which there can be no waking. Like Sleeping Beauty, I feel trapped within an inert body at the center of a kingdom of ice and thorns. I wonder if the cold has crept into my heart or if the thorns have wrapped themselves around my ribs. I wonder what I did to deserve a curse even true love cannot break. I rage and sorrow and strive against my prison, but the vines and ice grow thick around me and I remain as motionless, as unfeeling, as stone.
I wonder if, even years later, long after she had woken and all the kingdom was freed from its terrible spell, Sleeping Beauty still felt the thorns creeping back. I wonder if forever after True Love’s Kiss she saw the thorns twitching at the corners of her vision and heard them scraping against the window glass at night. Maybe she slept as little as possible, so sure was she that the vines would come creeping back if she let her guard down for even a breath. Maybe she went slowly mad, and the prince eventually grew weary of his touch being mistaken for the brush of a needle-sharp thorn. Maybe when it came down to a choice between the crazy princess or the roses in the royal gardens, he chose the option that disappointed him least.
What if Beauty stopped loving the Beast when he became human again? What if what she was really drawn to was the mystery, the anger, the subtle yet constant threat of violence? What if she fell for the Beast because he had the body of a beast and not because he had the heart of a human? There’s nothing interesting or dangerous about living with a prince. Once the magic’s gone and he’s back to normal, just a regular guy who buys her flowers and uses proper table manners, all the risk and risque romance would be gone. Would there be any point in her sticking around after that? Not everyone wants a prince, after all; some people seek out the cursed beasts of the world on purpose. What if Beauty was one of those and her love vanished along with the Beast’s claws and teeth and unpredictable temper? She probably didn’t even mean for it to happen that way. She probably fully intended to save the Beast with her love, lift the curse, and have them both live happily ever after. Maybe it was only after the Beast was returned to his harmless, civilized form that she realized she had fallen in love with the construct, not the man beneath it. You can’t really blame her, in that case. The heart wants what it wants. Still… how crushing would it be to finally regain your humanity, only to learn the person you love doesn’t want to know the real you?
When I first imagined her, only ever out of the corner of my eye, she was nothing like you. She was pale and fragile, like someone made out of glass and rose petals. I don’t know why I saw her like this, so demure and ethereal, when I felt no pull to that model of femininity. I suppose my subconscious had absorbed too many of society’s fairytale princesses with their skin white as snow and their lips red as blood. And that was fine for a time, to imagine her clothed in spider’s-silk and dew when she was something I never dared touch or hold. And how could I? I would have shattered her delicate form.
Sometimes I laugh, remembering her as I watch you. You could not be more her opposite, though you and she are one in the same. No fairytale princess, you; you are my warrior goddess, scarred and calloused, tattooed and pierced, muscled and curved. You’re not snow white or blood red, you’re black, brown, amber, bronze. No one could lock you away in a tower or fell you with one bite of a poisoned apple. You’d cut off your hair and use it as a rope; you’d trick the evil queen and defeat the huntsman; you’d befriend the wolf and run with him through the woods. You’re like nothing I ever imagined, like no one I dared hope for. My knight. My warrior. My goddess.
No one ever asks why the wicked queen craves a young girl’s heart or why the evil fairy would curse a baby. No one wonders what makes a man take up piracy or plot his brother’s death. The reasons don’t seem important, I guess. Certainly no one’s ever asked me mine. People like simple villains; villains they don’t have to question or understand beyond the surface of stereotypical evil. Vanity, greed, jealousy, pride, they think these things just spring from our hearts fully formed. Do they think we were never children? Do they think we never had friends, families, dreams? I’m not asking for pity – I couldn’t give a fuck about pity. The lack of logic is just irritating, that’s all. If you’re going to hear a story, don’t you want to be told the whole thing? Contrary to popular belief, we villains didn’t wake up one morning and decide to dedicate our lives to terror for no reason. No, the story starts way before the hero comes in; once upon a time really begins back with what drives someone to become the antagonist. And let me tell you, that story is much more interesting than the hero’s.