Thursday, October 20, 2011

Evil Woman! The B-Ladies of Kid-Lit

Kidman as cold, cold Mrs. Coulter
I've been thinking about hideous lady villains in kid-lit lately--maybe because I haven't seen a whole lot of them in recent fiction. So I've been compiling a list of dastardly dames. And wondering if what makes female villains tick is categorically different from their male counterparts. Yeah, there's the usual greed, snobbishness, gratuitous cruelty, and button eyes. But there're also a lot of really cool outfits. My short list is below. Got any additions? Any thoughts about why a fair antagonist makes a particularly deadly foe?

1. Mrs. Coulter: His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman did an awfully good job with the gorgeous ice queen whose mission is to separate helpless children from their beloved daemons, at great physical suffering. All for their own good, of course.

2. Letitia Slighcarp: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
I'm pretty sure that the ghastly governess Slighcarp became a model for my dreaded imaginings whenever my parents left us to go on vacation. I was convinced any babysitter planned to sell all my cool toys and pack me off to an orphanage. (Miss Minchin, bane of the boarding school in The Little Princess, is a sister under the skin.)

3. The Wicked Witch of the West
The North Witch's evil sister is nothing Dorothy can't handle, it turns out (in, oh, about hour three), but any woman made entirely of green slime deserves a shout out.

4. Aunts Sponge and Spiker, James and the Giant Peach
Why can't these ladies leave poor James be? Don't they know a boy can't survive on fish heads alone?
James: I finished all the chores.
Sponge: What a coincidence! We finished all the dinner!

5. Mrs. Tifton in The Penderwicks
Snobby society mavens who pack their offspring off to horrible boarding schools never lose their literary appeal.

6. The Other Mother, in Coraline.
With her creepy Suzy Homemaker schtick and her button eyes, Gaiman's Other Mother taps into every child's deepest, unvoiced fear: that Mommy is really a gigantic, demented arachnid.

Feel free to chime in with your own faves! Here's a wonderful video about how MGM chose Margaret Hamilton to play the Wicked Witch of the West.


  1. There's always the classic stepmother of Cinderella, and Cruella DeVille. On the flip side of that, though, is Morticia Addams. A woman who should, by all means, be a villain, but is instead that lovable, creepy mother we all secretly wish we had.

  2. Ohh... just seeing Mrs. Coulter makes me shiver. That character was brilliantly written. I also loved to hate Dolores Umbridge from the 5th Harry Potter book. Not nearly enough evil female characters!

  3. Another Roald Dahl classic, Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. My kids hated her.

  4. Female baddies always make me mad. Something about that subversion of the maternal instinct that violates the laws of the universe...

  5. Lady Constance from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place is one more-recent villainess I can think of, although she's not all that evil.

  6. Oh, yes to Cruella DeVille. Terrible and most villainous character.

  7. P.S. Add Glen Close's character in that flick with Michael Douglas, Fatal Attraction. She was totally icky.

  8. I always think first of the Snow Queen in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Just read two Penderwicks so have been 'enjoying' Mrs Tifton!

  9. How about Dolores Umbridge as the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts in Harry Potter? She is truly evil because she uses her evilness in a very subtle way. And beneath her false smile, lie a person who will stop at nothing in order to implement order. Imelda Staunton plays wonderfully in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

  10. These are all fabulous! I would add Cruella deVille!

  11. Oh these are just great suggestions. I'd completely forgotten about Dolores Umbridge--her name alone is just too wonderful. I don't know Lady Constance, but I'll have to check her out. And I'll keep my eyes open for more recent representatives.

  12. Did anyone mention Bellatrix LeStrange? Is that her name from Harry Potter?

    Of course, they are prevalent in ancient myth:
    the Medusa, the succubus, the sirens...

    Interesting post and great blog you have!

  13. @Ron: Another great Rowlings name. She really is the master of monikers, isn't she?