Today’s exclusive excerpt from “Beyond the Fae Veil” highlights fairytale-style evil stepmothers. As an aside, I don’t actually know any evil stepmothers. All the bonus moms I know personally are loving adults who have treated their kids the best way they know how. As a parent myself, I recognize that none of us are perfect. We will make mistakes that will impact our children.
Why are fairytale-style evil stepmothers so common in stories?
From “Cinderella” and “Snow White” to Kaikeyi in the Ramayana and Hera in Greek mythology, stepmothers are a common villain trope. Let’s not forget the unofficial evil stepmothers, either, like Petunia Dursley or Jane Eyre’s Mrs. Reed.
As a fun counterpoint, Jane Austen provides an inversion of the trope in “Sense and Sensibility,” where her stepson and his wife turn Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters out of their house after her husband’s passing.
I read an interesting article that pointed out how it was easier to blame a stepmother for the plight of the children than to point fingers at an ineffective or unloving father.
In doing other research for my writing, I did find that the counterpart to the Hero’s Journey, the Heroine’s Journey, often demands that the heroine rejects the feminine influence at the beginning of her journey. One way to do this is to create such an awful mother figure that the heroine flees.
This brings me to the stepmothers in my own stories.
Lady Effande in “Dark Empire” rescues and adopts a young boy. While she loves her biological daughter, Del, I personally think she might relate better to her stepson. Miran is also set to inherit his adoptive parents’ estates, assuming that his sister’s marriage proceeds as planned.
But, like so many writers before me, I needed a readymade starter villain for “Beyond the Fae Veil.”
Where better to look than for fairytale-style evil stepmothers? While Reva’s mother isn’t the biggest baddie of the story, she’s bad enough to make Reva an immediately sympathetic character.
Saturday Snippet from “Beyond the Fae Veil”
Reva laced up the dark cape and pulled its hood over her freshly braided hair. The garment no longer fell below her hips, and tufts of fur had fallen out, leaving bare patches in the lining. The now-indeterminate color of the coarse wool hid most stains but it also shone with age. Father would never have let her wear something so old and ill-fitting, but he wasn’t here anymore to make sure she had what she needed. Reva bit her tongue to focus on something other than the lump in her throat. She shivered slightly at the thought of going out in the cold with so little protection from the wind, but an impatient cough from the doorway reminded her that dawdling wouldn’t gain her any favors.
“You remember how to get to Mother Ema’s cottage?” the older woman asked, giving the wrapped package in her hands a small shake to indicate Reva needed to take it. At least she was dressed for the brisk late autumn weather, with a fashionable over-kirtle in dark blue with cream swirls offering another wool layer over the burgundy kirtle that flattered her complexion. Reva only wore a single layer of wool under her cape, a brownish kirtle that made her skin look sickly even before the fabric was turned twice.
“Yes, Mother,” Reva agreed. Growing up, she’d spent as much time at Mother Ema’s as she could get away with, and Marya knew it. Though why she needed to deliver this mysterious package on such a miserable evening was anyone’s guess, but arguing with Marya would avail her nothing.
“Get moving, then, girl. You won’t be back before moonlight at this rate.” Her stepmother didn’t seem particularly bothered by that fact.
Reva’s stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten anything since midday. Marya frowned, the motion etching deep lines in her brow. “I suppose you want your supper, too, though you haven’t earned it.”
I’ve only been scrubbing floors and dishes all afternoon, after a morning spent checking the pastures, Reva thought grimly. The morning air had been cold too, and Reva wondered why anyone thought “Summer’s End” was an appropriate name for such a chilly day.
Marya rolled her faded blue eyes, but she strode to the kitchen and set the package on the table. Tipping the pot, she poured its contents and scraped the last of the gruel into a small bowl. She moved it to the table next to the package. “Drink up and be quick about it.”
Meaning don’t sit down, Reva knew. Cupping the steaming bowl in her hands to heat her fingers, Reva lifted it to her mouth to take a sip. The combination of herbs nearly convinced Reva to ignore her hunger, but if she didn’t eat this, she wouldn’t get anything else until breakfast. She quickly swallowed the foul flavors under her stepmother’s watchful eye. To her great surprise, Marya snatched the empty bowl from her, pressed the package into her hands, and shoved her out the door.
Excerpt from “Beyond the Fae Veil” copyrighted by Preeti C. Sharma, 2020.
See what unfolds for Reva in my next Saturday Snippet! Check out the rest of my posts for the #SeptemberAuthorWIPChallenge on Instagram!
What are your thoughts about fairytale-style evil stepmothers? Do you like reading about them?