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From Pawn to Player: Rethinking Sansa XXI

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The Maiden Fair and the Wicked Stepmother:

Relationship Dynamics between Sansa and Cersei

For many readers, the rivalry between a young beautiful maiden and an older woman is as familiar as the tale of Snow White and her stepmother. What isn’t as known is that in the earlier version of this tale the Evil Queen was Snow White’s own biological mother. Neither is it so widespread that the archetypal Wicked Stepmother figure in Western culture, the goddess Venus, wasn’t the heroine’s substitute mother but her mother-in-law.

That goes to show that the Wicked Stepmother archetype isn’t necessarily restricted to a literal stepmother but, instead, is a position that can be filled in by a mother, a stepmother, an in-law, an elder sister, an aunt, the father’s girlfriend, etc.; practically any significant female in the lives of the younger character. And in Sansa’s storyline no one fulfils this role better than Queen Cersei, as the present essay aspires to demonstrate.


Whimsical Goddesses and Naïve Princesses: Mythological and Literary Origins of the Archetype

When attempting to trace the origins of a Western tale, it’s frequent to discover that all roads lead to Greece. In this case, the archetypal Wicked Stepmother can be found in the story of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. The myth of Eros and Psyche as told by Lucius Apuleius has the unique distinction of being the first and only Hero Journey type of epic with a female protagonist as well as being the ancestor of two of the most popular fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast and Snow White, as it contains three main storylines: the love story of the god Eros and the mortal maiden Psyche, the trials of Psyche, and the one-sided rivalry between Aphrodite and said maiden, of whose beauty she was jealous.

Since Apuleius’ tale has been sufficiently analysed here before, in the present the focus will be on Aphrodite herself in an effort to gain a better understanding of her character and motivations. Who was she and what did she do? Like the great majority, if not all, of the Hellene myths, there are several versions of the same legendary events, oftentimes blatantly contradictory even when supposedly authored by the same storyteller, so the prospect of picking up one single source might look daunting; therefore to lay out a coherent summary of the story of this goddess many sources have been consulted, mainly Hesiod, Homer, Smyrnaeus, Apollodorus, Ovid and Apuleius.

She was born in the sea foam that gathered around the mutilated genitals of the heaven god Uranus in poet Hesiod’s version, which is the most repeated one; hence her name Aphrodite and also why she’s called Aphrogeneia (Foamborn), and she’s described as so beautiful and sweet from her very birth that she was given a place amongst the twelve top gods, the Olympians, and anointed as goddess of love, beauty and pleasure as soon as she appeared before them, wandering from her place of birth towards Olympus as grass and red roses grew beneath her feet. For a long time, she was the most beautiful immortal maiden, occupying herself with “the whisperings of maidens and smiles and deceits with sweet delight, and love and graciousness.” She was golden-haired, with creamy white skin, and a shapely body, and was either depicted naked or wearing dresses of thin fabric made of woven gold, precious stones and jewels that minor goddesses sew, embroidered and made for her; and her five main attributes were symbolised by a dove, an apple, an scallop shell, a red rose and a mirror, some of the same elements that are also present in the tale of Snow White.

But she didn’t stay a maidenly figure for long, as her very beauty attracted the covetous gaze of all the male gods, single and married alike. One day, she was offered by Zeus as a prize to whoever was daring enough to rescue his wife Hera, trapped in a golden throne fabricated by the resentful smith-god Hephaistos as revenge for being cast as a baby from the sky to the ocean to die, because she was ashamed of having a deformed child. Aphrodite, oblivious to the plans of Zeus to use her as a trophy, had fallen in love with her brother Ares, and upon learning of this scheme by the father of the gods, accepted to be the wife of whoever freed Hera, because the first amongst the aspiring heroes was her beloved Ares, and she felt confident that if someone would achieve such a feat it would be him. After all, nobody could be better suited for this grand rescue than the über-powerful golden boy of the Olympus that happened to be the god of war, right?

Unfortunately, no. The plan of the immortal lovebirds backfired as horribly as the plan concocted by the Lannister twins to be together; and like Jaime found himself trapped in the Kingsguard and Cersei found herself married to a man she despised, Ares found himself defeated in Hephaistos’ forge and unable to fight back because of the flaming metal the smith-god rained on him. In the end, the winner was wine, because the wily god Dionysus managed to get Hephaistos stone-drunk and whilst in that state counselled him to ask for Aphrodite’s hand in exchange for Hera’s freedom once they got to Olympus, which he heeded. So the Mother Goddess was freed, and poor Aphrodite was grudgingly married to the limping divine smith.

That’s more or less when her behaviour described in the ancient sources as “wanton” began. In spite of this marriage, she continued her affair with Ares and not exactly in secret, whilst continuing to ignore her marital duties. The sources don’t agree on whether she did bed her husband or not, because in one version she never shared Hephaistos’ bed, but in another she slept with him to convince him to forge a magical armour for Aeneas during the Trojan War. What all the sources do tell, however, is that none of her children was fathered by him: her first child, a baby girl named Harmonia, was by Ares and was born whilst she was still married to Hephaistos, which eventually caused her husband to repudiate her, turning her into the first Olympian divorcée. The repudiation was an extremely humiliating incident for both her and Ares because of a stratagem by Hephaistos to have their adulterous affair exposed before the eyes of the gods: whilst she and Ares were in the goddess’ marital bed, the chains craftily hidden by Hephaistos sprung from the bed and caught the naked lovers, immobilising them. Then, when the crippled god returned, he displayed them in public like that, naked and chained to the bed.

“Come, Father Zeus; come, all you blessed immortals with him; see what has happened here - no matter for laughter nor yet forbearance. Aphrodite had Zeus for father; because I am lame she never ceased to do me outrage and give her love to destructive Ares, since he is handsome and sound-footed and I am a cripple from my birth; yet for that my two parents are to blame, no one else at all, and I wish they had never begotten me. You will see the pair of lovers now as they lie embracing in my bed; the sight of them makes me sick at heart. Yet I doubt their desire to rest there longer, fond as they are. They will soon unwish their posture there; but my cunning chains shall hold them both fast till her father Zeus has given me back all the betrothal gifts I bestowed on him for his wanton daughter; beauty she has, but no sense of shame.”

But Hephaistos is wrong here: his wife didn’t reject him because he was lame but because she didn’t want to be married to him in the first place, and because she loved Ares. Anyhow, the outraged husband didn’t agree to release them until one of the Big Three (Poseidon) proposed that the lovers be separated and destined to different locations, and Hephaistos agreed only when Poseidon himself vouched for Ares’ good behaviour. No one vouched for Aphrodite’s, though.

Perhaps because of the three goddesses associated with the Mother figure in Hellene mythology, Hera, Demeter and Aphrodite, the latter was certainly the most conflictive and rebellious, and the one that flaunted her sexuality, what the sources call “having no shame.” For a start, she wasn’t faithful to Ares either; she had other lovers, gods and mortals, one of which was killed in a hunt by Ares disguised as a boar in a fit of Lancel, Osmund Kettleblack and Moon Boy syndrome, and she conceived numerous children by most of them. Her other children by Ares, who eventually became her second husband, were the only legitimate godly offspring she had, and her favourite was her eldest son, Eros. But the propensity of such a prominent goddess to take lovers was frowned upon by the other gods, and because of that and also so she wouldn’t brag that she could make all the gods fall in love with a long list of mortal women through her son, Zeus decided to “teach her a lesson,” even if affairs outside marriage were a common sport amongst the immortals, to judge by what’s in the ancient sources, and in spite of the fact that Aphrodite never made use of violent methods to bed a mortal she fancied. Anyhow, Zeus punished her by making her lust after the mortal prince Anchises, by whom she conceived the hero Aeneas, so she would know the pain of having a child that would age and die.

Being the goddess of beauty, she was very vain and mindful of her position as the most beautiful amongst mortals and immortals, severely punishing anyone that scorned or neglected her cult in favour of some other, and would never suffer rivalry in love either, so despite her own infidelities, she also resorted to taking revenge on at least one of Ares’ mistresses. Her concern for staying unrivalled in terms of appearance precedes the most famous story in which she is involved, that of Psyche, and led her to have a hand in starting a famous war. It was the incident of the golden apple tossed at a banquet by the embittered goddess of strife for not being invited, which had the inscription To the fairest and was supposed to be for the most beautiful. Hera, Athena and Aphrodite each claimed it for themselves, and after a dispute they decided that the matter should be settled by the handsomest man alive, Paris of Troy. Each goddess offered him a reward for the apple: Hera’s was kingship of all men (power), Athena’s to make him invincible in the conduction of armies and war (wisdom), and Aphrodite’s the heart of the most beautiful woman on Earth (love). One can guess whose bribe the Trojan took; after all, love is pretty much the worthiest thing there is, right?

Except that Aphrodite didn’t act in good faith and was in fact fairly unscrupulous in her quest to be awarded the title of most beautiful: the woman was Helen of Sparta, married, with a daughter, and by all accounts enjoying a stable marriage. Paris himself was married at the time Aphrodite made that offer that would bring blood and destruction according to legend. The rest of the story is known: Paris abducted Helen, whom the goddess made to fall in love with him, and the lengthy Trojan War began, in which Aphrodite sided with the losers. And offering sexual favours in exchange for something wasn’t a one-time occurrence either, for she was known to have used sex as manipulation method or as payment at least thrice besides: when she slept with Poseidon “in gratitude” for his intercession before Hephaistos to release her and Ares from the bed, when she seduced Ares into coming to the Trojans’ side instead of supporting the Greeks as he’d solemnly sworn to do, and when she seduced her hated first husband in exchange for an armour for Aeneas. At least two of these occasions were cases of needlessly prostituting herself, because the reason Poseidon interceded for their release wasn’t because he expected anything from her but because Ares was needed; furthermore, Hephaistos would in the end make the best armour for Achilles and not Aeneas as Aphrodite had wished him to, since he owed his survival to goddess Thetis, mother of Achilles, who together with one of her sisters rescued him from drowning in the ocean as a baby, raised him and apprenticed him to smithing. And no matter how much her bringing Ares to their side may have helped the Trojans, in the long run they were defeated, and it earned Ares the wrath of his sister Athena, who during the war beat him into the dust—and not exactly metaphorically—for turning his cloak.

By the time we meet her in The Golden Ass, she’d been absorbed into the Latin pantheon and bore the name Venus. The Romans had turned her into one of the divine ancestors of their people, as they claimed to descend from her son Aeneas, and it wouldn’t do for the industrious, stiff-backed and warlike republic and future empire to have such a capricious, cheerful, flirtatious, sexually uninhibited, easy-going and vain beauty that was too generous with her love as their Mother Goddess, so they modified her personality. She was transformed into a more matronly figure than she ever was in the Greek pantheon, a Mother figure whose attributes and responsibilities would’ve caused hilarity amongst her early worshippers: pure love, moral and sexual decency, domestic bliss, procreation, fertility, protection against vice and protection of prostitutes. In an effort to make their godly ancestress as exemplary as possible, they also wrote out the promiscuity for which she was famous in Greece, and attributed to her only two sons, one immortal (Eros/Cupid) and the other mortal (Aeneas), by two fathers that were also a god (Ares/Mars) and a man (Anchises) respectively, whereas the Greek sources explicitly state that she had numerous children and at least eleven different lovers. Hence why in the story of Cupid and Psyche none of her other children appear save for Cupid/Eros, giving the impression that he’s her only son.

A satirical version of this Venus, the embodiment of military success and civic peace and symbol of an empire, represents the oldest Wicked Stepmother in this type of narrative that has survived in written form to this day. In Apuleius’ story of Cupid and Psyche, the goddess introduces herself in the tale as a nourishing Mother, but quickly contradicts her own assertion with the behaviour that follows, which is far from nourishing and rather cruel.

What stands out in the tale, from Venus’ standpoint, is the sadism she displays in her conflict with Psyche, which takes the form of psychological and physical violence. Revealing the same character flaws she had in the older mythography, Venus falls prey to feelings of envy and jealousy over the mere existence of a mortal maiden whom men consider even more beautiful than her, which should’ve been interpreted as a metaphor, in the same sense we now use the expression “beautiful as an angel,” since gods were supposed not to be visible to humans, but which Venus took as a grave offence also because her cult was suffering as a result of men preferring to go pay their compliments to the girl instead. This maiden doesn’t even know she is so beautiful at first, neither is she particularly impressed by the worshipful praise she receives; yet nonetheless the goddess decided to punish her by way of ordering her son Cupid to deprive her of the love that she craves, causing her “to fall in love with the most miserable creature living, the most poor, the most crooked, and the most vile, that there may be none found in all the world of like wretchedness.” So, what she wants is to have the girl suffer psychologically, to see her be tied to a monster that won’t treat her well nor make her happy; she wants to condemn her to a life of utter domestic and personal misery for the crime of being fairer, a beauty she doesn’t want nor appreciates, because all she wants is to be loved and a family of her own, like her sisters do, but believes that she is unlovable because no one dares to take her for a wife. Then when the pregnant Psyche starts her long journey in search for her husband and as a last resort goes to beg Venus for help, the goddess orders she be whipped and beaten bloody by her servants, who also insult her calling her a “wicked harlot;” and when seeing Psyche all bloodied, she abuses her verbally by accusing her of getting pregnant by “playing the whore,” tells her the marriage to Eros was always invalid, refuses to acknowledge she’s the grandmother of the unborn child, and says that she will be lucky if she lives long enough to give birth to “her bastard.” The four tasks Venus imposed on her as additional punishments are also designed to have Psyche killed, very painfully.

All in all, the goddess makes the Evil Queen from Snow White look kind in comparison. But we have to take into account that in this tale the prejudices of the age are at play; both the Greeks and the Romans had unflattering opinions on the stepmother which, in the words of classicist Patricia A. Watson, were “an encapsulation of the negative traits assigned to females in general by a misogynistic tradition which flourished in Greece and Rome.” Both societies shared an overwhelmingly negative perception of the personality and morals of the stepmother, ascribing to her ill intentions towards the stepchildren that revolved around inheritance and affections. But as Watson highlights, there’s a cultural difference between both which could explain Venus’ distinct behaviour: like Aphrodite is laughter-loving and her demeanour tends to be overall good if fickle, the Hellene literary tradition does allow room for a kind and loving stepmother; but just like Venus is more rigid, the Latin literary tradition features a harsh stepmother.

In part, it’s possible that this reflected certain social factors that impacted on the relationship between the children of a man and his new wife that weren’t so pronounced in Greece: the law of primogeniture gave more motivation to a Roman stepmother to mistreat and get rid of a stepchild to favour her own child, whereas a Greek stepmother’s own child had as much chance of inheriting as her stepchild because firstborn didn’t automatically mean heir, at least in Athens; and although divorce was fairly easy in both Rome and Greece, in the latter a woman had the option to challenge the spouse’s unilateral decision to divorce her through an appeal by her male relatives, and in some city-states such as Sparta they had the legal right to divorce, whereas in Rome divorce was a privilege of males and didn’t require as much as a letter of repudiation by the husband until emperor Caesar Augustus gave women the legal right to divorce on their own initiative as well; and whilst a Greek mother could keep her children with herself upon divorce if they didn’t go to the ex-spouse, the children of a Roman belonged to the father and only he could raise them as the mother had no rights over them, not even visitation rights, so the children had no choice but to live with the father and his new wife. Moreover, Roman law complicated things for a stepmother and a stepson that wanted to have a love relationship and marry, because it was forbidden as it was considered incest, whilst in Greece it was permissible for a widowed stepmother to marry a stepson.

Therefore, the evil and murderous stepmother is characteristically Roman; there are more poisonings, physical and verbal abuse, mutilation, murders, attempts at seduction and disinheriting of a stepchild in Roman literature. The theme was so common that they coined the expressions venefica noverca (“poisoner stepmother,” as venefica is a sorceress that prepares potions and comes from veneficus, poisonous) and saeva noverca (“cruel stepmother,” though saeva literally means savage) to name this archetype, which eventually resulted in the term making its way into everyday speech as synonym for something cruel and harsh: if a citizen wanted to speak of his birthplace, he referred to Rome as the “motherland” or “mother country” and a foreign place would be a “stepmother country;” if an army engineer wanted to make the general understand that a place wasn’t good for the legions to set up camp, he’d tell the site was noverca, the hands that had committed an heinous crime were novercales manus, “stepmother’s hands,” and there’s even a case in which noverca is used as synonym for murderess, and so on. In sum, and to quote Professor Watson, in Roman literature the stepmother “encapsulates those qualities thought to be essentially feminine: emotional instability, lack of self-restraint, jealousy and treacherousness.”

Such negative characterisation was absorbed and perpetuated by later fairy tales, and would find its best expression in the large fairy tale collection by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century, out of which a minimum of thirteen tales have a stepmother as the villain, and which introduced Little Snow White into the world, the tale that made famous she who is the wicked stepmother par excellence, the Queen.

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Such a Grimm Tale

Whilst it’s unanimously accepted by scholars that the plotline that is characteristic of this tale existed in oral form long before it was written down by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, and that it also existed in written form during the Renaissance, centuries before them, it’s theirs which can be considered the standard version, not only because of the thorough work of scholarship by the Brothers Grimm, who examined many variations of the tale from different places and incorporated elements of some of them to create theirs, but also because of the popularity brought about by Disney with his ground-breaking animated film, which in spite of several changes is essentially the same one narrated by them.

The story begins one snowy day in the middle of winter, with a queen sewing by the window:

And whilst she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and three drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself, “Would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window-frame.”

A little while later, the queen dies giving birth to a child whose characteristic appearance is a porcelain-like skin, rosy cheeks and black hair. One year after, the widowed king remarries, and his new queen is a woman extremely beautiful, but also extremely haughty, incapable of withstanding another woman rivalling her in beauty. She possesses a magic mirror which she is fond of asking the following question, as a way of reassuring herself:

“Looking-glass, looking-glass on the wall,

Who in this land is the fairest of all?”

The looking-glass answered:

“Thou, O Queen, art the fairest of all!”

This is ritualistically repeated every day, and the answer remains always the same, until the princess reaches her seventh birthday, and the mirror, that couldn’t lie if he tried, changes his mantra and announces the dire news to the Queen: she’s no longer the most beautiful, she’s been surpassed by her stepdaughter.

Then the Queen was shocked, and turned yellow and green with envy. From that hour, whenever she looked at Snow White, her heart heaved in her breast, she hated the girl so much.

And envy and pride grew higher and higher in her heart like a weed, so that she had no peace day or night. She called a huntsman, and said, “Take the child away into the forest; I will no longer have her in my sight. Kill her, and bring me back her heart as a token.”

The huntsman follows the Queen’s order, but he hesitates to murder the little girl when she weeps and begs him to allow her to escape into the wood to never come back again. Moved, and believing that the wild beasts would soon devour her anyway, he lets her go and then hunts a boar, whose heart he takes to the Queen, assuring her that it is the girl’s. She has the heart cooked and eats it.

Meanwhile, the terrified little Snow White ran and ran through the forest until she finds a cottage where every piece of furniture and every object is small and arranged in sets of seven. The hungry girl eats a bit of each plate, drinks of each cup and then goes to sleep in the comfiest little bed, where she is found by the dwarfs on their return. On hearing her predicament, they agree that she should stay on one condition:

“If you will take care of our house, cook, make the beds, wash, sew, and knit, and if you will keep everything neat and clean, you can stay with us and you shall want for nothing.” “Yes,” said Snow White, “with all my heart,” and she stayed with them. She kept the house in order for them; in the mornings they went to the mountains and looked for copper and gold, in the evenings they came back, and then their supper had to be ready. The girl was alone the whole day, so the good dwarfs warned her and said, “Beware of your step-mother, she will soon know that you are here; be sure to let no one come in.”

Sure enough, the Queen finds out she’s survived through the tell-tale mirror. Thenceforward, she schemes how to have her veritably killed, and makes three technically successful attempts on Snow White’s life that would result in her falling into a death-like coma.

First attempt:

[…] she painted her face, and dressed herself like an old peddler-woman, and no one could have known her. In this disguise she went over the seven mountains to the seven dwarfs, and knocked at the door and cried, “Pretty things to sell, very cheap, very cheap.” Little Snow White looked out of the window and called out, “Good day, my good woman, what have you to sell?” “Good things, pretty things,” she answered; “stay-laces of all colours,” and she pulled out one which was braided from yellow, red, and blue silk. “I may let the worthy old woman in,” thought Snow White, and she unbolted the door and bought the pretty laces. “Child,” said the old woman, “what a fright you look; come, I will lace you properly for once.” Snow White had no suspicion, but stood before her, and let herself be laced with the new laces. But the old woman laced so quickly and so tightly that Snow White lost her breath and fell down as if dead. “Now I am the most beautiful," said the Queen to herself, and ran away.

However, the dwarfs found her lying on the floor, and noticing the too tight laces, cut them, and she regained consciousness as a result. She was then warned not to let anyone in next time.

Second attempt:

[…] by the help of witchcraft, which she understood, she made a poisonous comb. Then she disguised herself and took the shape of another old woman. So she went over the seven mountains to the seven dwarfs, knocked at the door, and cried, “Good things to sell, cheap, cheap!” Little Snow White looked out and said, “Go away; I cannot let anyone come in.” “I suppose you can look,” said the old woman, and pulled the poisonous comb out and held it up. It pleased the girl so well that she let herself be beguiled, and opened the door. When they had made a bargain the old woman said, “Now I will comb you properly for once.” Poor little Snow White had no suspicion, and let the old woman do as she pleased, but hardly had she put the comb in her hair than the poison in it took effect, and the girl fell down senseless. “You paragon of beauty,” said the wicked woman, “you are done for now,” and she went away.

The dwarfs again saved her by simply removing the comb from her hair. Upon hearing of it, the Queen was even more determined to make a third and final attempt to get rid of the girl even if she lost her own life, so she made a pretty poisoned white apple with a red cheek, disguised herself as a peasant and went to offer it to her stepdaughter, who this time not only refused to let her in but also take anything from her.

“No,” said Snow White, “I dare not take anything.”

“Are you afraid of poison?” said the old woman; “look, I will cut the apple in two pieces; you eat the red cheek, and I will eat the white.” The apple was so cunningly made that only the red cheek was poisoned. Snow White longed for the fine apple, and when she saw that the woman ate part of it she could resist no longer, and stretched out her hand and took the poisonous half. But hardly had she a bit of it in her mouth than she fell down dead. Then the Queen looked at her with a dreadful look, and laughed aloud and said, “White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony-wood! this time the dwarfs cannot wake you up again.”

This time, the mirror assured the Queen that she was in fact the most beautiful once more. As per usual, he’s not lying: coming back home, the dwarfs found that “she breathed no longer and was dead,” and no matter what methods they tried, she stayed dead. Then they mourned her three days, built a glass coffin for her:

Then they put the coffin out upon the mountain, and one of them always stayed by it and watched it. And birds came too, and wept for Snow-white; first an owl, then a raven, and last a dove.

And now Snow White lay a long, long time in the coffin, and she did not change, but looked as if she were asleep […].

Then the king’s son appears in the dwarfs’ wood, sees the coffin and offers gold for it; he’s denied, but after insisting that he fancies the girl therein, he convinces the dwarfs to hand the coffin over to him. Unbeknownst to both him and them, Snow White is soon to come back to the world of the living, but unlike what Walt Disney would have you believe, it’s not a kiss from the prince what reanimates her. No, the thing that reanimates her is an unintentional, down-to-earth and unromantic Heimlich manoeuvre:

And now the King's son had it carried away by his servants on their shoulders. And it happened that they stumbled over a tree-stump, and with the shock the poisonous piece of apple which Snow-white had bitten off came out of her throat. And before long she opened her eyes, lifted up the lid of the coffin, sat up, and was once more alive. “Oh, heavens, where am I?” she cried.

The prince asks her to go with him and become his wife, which she accepts. Soon the wedding takes place, and the Queen is invited. Before she attend, though, she poses her routine question to the mirror that, much to her surprise, reveals that she’s again been supplanted in the beauty podium:

“Oh, Queen, of all here the fairest art thou,

But the young Queen is fairer by far as I trow.”

The old queen is chagrined, and initially thinks she shouldn’t go; but the negative feelings keep gnawing at her, so to have a little peace of mind, she decides in the end that she should meet this younger queen in person:

And when she went in, she knew Snow White; and she stood still with rage and fear, and could not stir. But iron slippers had already been put upon the fire, and they were brought in with tongs, and set before her. Then she was forced to put on the red-hot shoes, and dance until she dropped down dead.

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White as Snow, Red as Blood, Yellow as Lannister Gold: The Queen vs. Maiden Conflict

Throughout the narrative there’s a notable repetition of the “as white as snow, as red as blood, as black as ebony-wood” line, and there’s a reason for this that goes beyond a basic literary technique to heighten the lyrical flow of the prose. This line is very relevant as it subtly both discloses and emphasises on what the real theme of this tale is: these colours are a representation of the three essential feminine archetypes intrinsic to the three phases of a woman’s life: white is the Maiden because the colour typically symbolises purity and innocence, red is the Mother because of the blood of menstruation and childbirth, and black is the Crone because it’s the waning phase in which wisdom is attained after a long life. In consequence, this symbolism heralds the main plotline of the tale: the clash between two of these aspects and the outcome for both protagonists, which we’ll call the Evil Queen vs. the Maiden conflict, a confrontation between a still immature yet slowly blooming little girl who’ll be a fully mature woman by the end of the story, and a motherly figure unable to deal with the disappearance of a beauty that, to her, is the source of her power and who’ll end up self-destructing because of this failure. The latter role was played by the biological mother of Snow White in the first version the Grimm duo published; but in the later version they released and that is the one we have now, the Evil Mother was replaced by the Evil Stepmother, a modification that Terri Windling attributes to “the desire for the Mother to flourish as a symbol of the eternal feminine, the motherland, and the family itself as the highest social desideratum.” This change also means that the behaviour and personality of the older feminine figure wouldn’t fit in just the Mother archetype but also in that of a fourth: the Queen archetype, the ruler and figure of power and authority.

Such collision isn’t between the archetypes of the Maiden and the Mother/Queen proper but rather between the Shadow of each, the dark, corrupt and maladaptive side of these archetypes that need to be “vanquished,” i.e. reincorporated or assimilated into an individual’s personality, thereby contributing to a more mature, more ample, stronger and adaptive one. Applying the neo-Jungian theory on archetypes to this storyline, the Shadow of this Maiden is to be “the dutiful daughter, her self-worth linked to pleasing others in order to receive their approval. She has not developed a strong sense of self;” the Shadow of this Mother is that “she has the power to abuse and abandon. She can control, criticize and reject,” and the Shadow of this Queen is that she “abuses her power and directs her knowledge and status for negative purposes, clinging to all she has achieved, becoming consumed with acquiring more and more power.”

This theme is easily identifiable in the arcs of two characters in Martin’s books; like in the fairy tale, the colours of the field in the House sigils of the ASOIAF counterparts are the same: in the Stark coat of arms it’s white, identifying Sansa as our Maiden figure, and in the Lannister coat of arms it’s crimson red, revealing Cersei as the Evil Queen motherly figure. And also like in the tale, it’s an one-sided conflict started by Cersei alone without Sansa’s conscious participation, as it starts when she is still a child that hasn’t even flowered (Snow White is seven and Sansa is eleven when their respective Queens target them), but is already poised to replace her as future Queen (Snow White was her father’s heir presumptive, and Sansa was Joffrey’s betrothed). The difference is that Cersei, unlike the Queen, isn’t consciously making a rival of her Maiden but instead directs her suspicions and ill-will towards Margaery Tyrell. This distracts her from the true objective as well as keeps danger away from Sansa, who’d elsewise have suffered even more, this time at the hands of her mother-in-law besides her betrothed’s. But to get a proper grasp of the reasoning behind this, let’s step in Cersei’s shoes and see both girls as she does:

Sansa is twelve, too young, too naïve and foolish, not to mention tractable, her father is dead, her family scattered and soon to perish, her brother won’t rescue her or negotiate her release, she is a prisoner, has no friends and no resources, Joffrey hates her and abuses her physically and verbally. She’s alone and powerless. What could this small girl do to the Queen Regent? Nothing.

Margaery is sixteen, a woman grown by Westerosi customs, and not naïve though she can pretend to be an ingénue, she’s mentored by the cunning and sharp-tongued Queen of Thorns, she has two brothers who can be counted as fine swordsmen, one of them a Kingsguard, her father is a powerful lord who’s in the Council and has thousands and thousands of soldiers under his banners, including the feared Lord Tarly, one of the best army commanders, she has her House’s resources at her disposal, she has her ambitious family and friends at court, Joffrey didn’t have time to lift a finger for or against her and Tommen adores her. She has means and support. What could this girl do to the Queen Regent? Anything.

It does therefore make perfect sense from Cersei’s perspective to suspect that the Tyrell girl instead of the Stark girl is her Maiden. However, both the Queen and Cersei act under the impression that their Maiden is going to be actively the cause of their downfall, and consequently go to extremes of cruelty to preempt such an outcome by having the Maiden murdered or legally executed, which blinds them to the real menace and renders them incapable of foreseeing that the consequences of this unhinged desire to get rid of the rival are what in the end cast them down, and not the Maidens themselves; neither Psyche nor Snow White nor Sansa deliberately strove to replace Venus, the Queen or Cersei, none of them ended up occupying the same rank/position as the older women anyway, even in the cases where they did end up in a high position, and once there none of them directly caused harm to the Queens as payback for their sufferings.

This analysis doesn’t aim to find identical thematic parallels to this fairy tale throughout the entire storylines of Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister, but examine how the archetypal Evil Queen/Stepmother vs. Maiden conflict that makes it stand out comes into play in their relationship over a delimitated timespan, from AGOT to late ASOS, when the Maiden is a captive at the mercy of the Queen and her family. For this purpose, it can prove enlightening to examine the dynamics of their relationship through the narrative pattern to be found in classical myth and fairy tales that depict this type of confrontation, nominally referred to as six principles of maidenhood, which describes the evolution of this conflict from beginning to peak and resolution, and is focused on identifying the Maiden through her actions, her sufferings at the hands of the Queen, and the consequences for her personal development.

Principle I: The Maiden is Persecuted

As a rule, the Maiden figure is always envied for reasons over which she has no control and that can be material—birth and possessions—or immaterial, which can manifest inwardly as an innately virtuous personality or outwardly as physical beauty. Generally she has both, and that attracts the Queenly opponent’s attention and her desire to crush her regardless of the real threat the Maiden poses, so persecution ensues because of the power imbalance between both women that allows the Evil Queen figure to attempt to harm the younger rival.

The usual method of persecution is for the older woman to order the younger’s death, but as the Venus-Psyche story as well as other Stepmother Tales show, the alternative is to cause her a grave humiliation or psychological pain. Cersei’s method of “persecution” falls in the latter category, as she is directly responsible for the death of Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, when she asked for her pelt instead of the guilty direwolf that had been chased away:

Robert started to walk away, but the queen was not done. “And what of the direwolf?” she called after him. “What of the beast that savaged your son?”

The king stopped, turned back, frowned. “I’d forgotten about the damned wolf.”

Ned could see Arya tense in Jory’s arms. Jory spoke up quickly. “We found no trace of the direwolf, Your Grace.”

Robert did not look unhappy. “No? So be it.”

The queen raised her voice. “A hundred golden dragons to the man who brings me its skin!”

“A costly pelt,” Robert grumbled. “I want no part of this, woman. You can damn well buy your furs with Lannister gold.”

The queen regarded him coolly. “I had not thought you so niggardly. The king I’d thought to wed would have laid a wolfskin across my bed before the sun went down.”

Robert’s face darkened with anger. “That would be a fine trick, without a wolf.”

“We have a wolf,” Cersei Lannister said. Her voice was very quiet, but her green eyes shone with triumph.

It took them all a moment to comprehend her words, but when they did, the king shrugged irritably. “As you will. Have Ser Ilyn see to it.”

Which caused Sansa to break down in court and a long-lasting emotional hurt, as she’ll miss her direwolf a number of times for the rest of the books:

Her eyes were frightened as they went to her father. “He doesn’t mean Lady, does he?” She saw the truth on his face. “No,” she said. “No, not Lady, Lady didn’t bite anybody, she’s good . . . ”

“Lady wasn’t there,” Arya shouted angrily. “You leave her alone!”

“Stop them,” Sansa pleaded, “don’t let them do it, please, please, it wasn’t Lady, it was Nymeria, Arya did it, you can’t, it wasn’t Lady, don’t let them hurt Lady, I’ll make her be good, I promise, I promise . . . ” She started to cry.

The twist is that, unlike in the typical plotline where the Maiden is the intended target, Sansa is a vicarious target. Nevertheless, in her eagerness to gain the upper hand over Robert, Cersei doesn’t seem to have stopped to consider that she was harming the girl who at the moment was still going to become the next Queen, and therefore would outrank her, which didn’t come to pass. That, and Sansa’s lack of vindictiveness have benefitted Cersei in the sense that she didn’t pay for the wrong deed.

But if we pay attention to the narratives studied above, we’ll note that even if in none of those stories the Maiden ever avenges herself, she does not lack in allies that eventually are the ones that pay the debt in her name. According to classical myth, unprovoked hurt of an innocent bystander, especially if perversity was the final outcome, was forbidden by the gods as it was considered hubris, defined as “an action that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser,” as classicist Douglas L. Cairns states, for back then it was not reduced to merely a synonym for haughtiness, arrogance and pride as the term is mostly understood in modernity. Cersei’s responsibility in this incident was her hubris strictly in relation to Sansa, therefore can be considered the start of her persecution of her Maiden.

Often, a curse is uttered in such stories that sets in motion the events leading to nemesis and tisis, which in this case would be Robert’s:

“Damn you, Cersei,” he said with loathing.

Following the Hubris-Atē-Nemesis-Tisis cycle, committing hubris meant that retribution in the victim’s stead would be decreed by the gods (nemesis) and would be carried out on the guilty party by means of a steep downfall (tisis) after a long string of other crimes and follies (atē). Ironically, this retribution would fall on Cersei as a result of an attempt to have her supposed Maiden incarcerated and executed by the Faith.

During her nemesis, as she walks shorn, naked and with her feet bare, it’s the hubris against her real Maiden which is present in her mind: Sansa is one of only eight people whose memories haunt Cersei, and intriguingly she also sees the dead direwolf with her:

The queen began to see familiar faces. A bald man with bushy side-whiskers frowned down from a window with her father’s frown, and for an instant looked so much like Lord Tywin that she stumbled. A young girl sat beneath a fountain, drenched in spray, and stared at her with Melara Hetherspoon’s accusing eyes. She saw Ned Stark, and beside him little Sansa with her auburn hair and a shaggy grey dog that might have been her wolf. Every child squirming through the crowd became her brother Tyrion, jeering at her as he had jeered when Joffrey died. And there was Joff as well, her son, her firstborn, her beautiful bright boy with his golden curls and his sweet smile, he had such lovely lips, he …

Principle II: The Maiden is Robbed

The next phase in this conflict is that the Queen deprives the young girl of what is hers by rights, her inheritance, her place in the world and in the family of origin, neutralising her natural protector figure—her father—either by isolating him from her, turning him against her, or killing him, so she’s left defenceless. This can come after the initial persecutory action, even as a direct consequence of such action, and often it’s at this time when the Queenly figure makes the first attempt to murder the girl. It’s also the stage at which the Maiden has to charm the Huntsman into pardoning her life, literally or metaphorically, and into doing a good deed in her favour that goes against the Evil Queen’s interests.

In our ASOIAF example, the equivalent would be the moment Sansa is made a prisoner by Cersei, right after she’d gone to her to ask the queen to bid Lord Eddard to stay in King’s Landing.

There were guards outside her door, Lannister men-at-arms in crimson cloaks and lion-crested helms. Sansa made herself smile at them pleasantly and bid them a good morning as she passed. It was the first time she had been allowed outside the chamber since Ser Arys Oakheart had led her there two mornings past. “To keep you safe, my sweet one,” Queen Cersei had told her. “Joffrey would never forgive me if anything happened to his precious.”

Dishonesty is the method Cersei uses to rob Sansa of her status, as she’s here feeding her the lie that it’s for her protection that she should be escorted to a room that will be her prison, as dishonesty is also how in the tales the Stepmother drives the girl out of her presence and into servitude or death. And although it’s Oakheart the one escorting her, which gives an indication that it’ll be the Kingsguard as a whole who shall represent Cersei’s “woodsman,” it’s the Hound and Jaime who shall be the two Huntsman figures with regard to Sansa; not only because both had been doing the dirty work at the queen’s behest for long before but also because they both are the closest and most loyal to her, and because they both turned to the Maiden’s side in this struggle.

Disney made a change in the story of Snow White that has proved negative, as it stresses on the passive role of the Maiden in a way that isn’t present in the original tale, and which undermines her agency and negates her active role in saving herself, making the Huntsman the active protagonist: she is resigned to her fate, doesn’t suspect nor protests, and it’s him who decides to spare her life out of the goodness of his heart, since she’s just too beautiful to be killed, so he tells her to run away. In their tale, however, the Brothers Grimm made the Maiden, still a prepubescent child and not a young woman like in the animated film, active by truly saving herself when she begs the Huntsman for her life with tears in her eyes and proposes to him an alternative to killing her:

“Ah, dear huntsman, leave me my life! I will run away into the wild forest, and never come home again.”

And he accepts her alternate solution, covering for her by bringing a beast’s heart to the Queen. Similarly, Sansa had an active role in winning the good will of Queen Cersei’s fierce Hound through her reaction to his backstory, going from a frightened and crying child to offering to him what she had: her understanding and her sympathy. Thenceforward, the end result would be that her first Huntsman would go behind his Queen’s back to protect her whenever he could up to the moment of his desertion. As for her second Hunstman, Sansa didn’t directly influence Jaime’s decision to defy his Queen’s explicit royal order to kill her—“Cersei means to see that the girl is found and killed, wherever she has gone to ground.”—because they were apart and couldn’t interact, but she had an indirect role as she was the reason Catelyn released him.

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Principle III: The Maiden Fails to Understand

It’s a rite of passage for the Maidenhood archetype in all tales since time immemorial that the Maiden must make errors of judgment that put her in danger; sometimes only one grievous error, other times a string of repeated errors that make her appear shallow-brained. The purpose of the existence of such missteps isn’t to accentuate the foolishness of the young heroine, as in the Classical mindset from where this archetype originated it was no shame to make a mistake, or even to repeat it, for they considered that: a. Erring is innate, therefore likely to recur, more so when the heroine is young. The younger the heroine, the more errors she makes; b. Mistakes were even necessary for character building, as Maidenhood was a period of inexperience in which three factors—lack of knowledge, poor discernment due to immaturity, and carelessness—are to be overcome. Therefore it was shameful not to overcome the hard consequences of said errors, not committing them per se.

The number could vary, but the Maiden usually “failed to understand” three times in these narratives, possibly because of the mentioned three factors that led her to such predicaments, as happens with Snow White. That’s the number of times for Sansa in relation to Cersei as well. The first “failure,” going to Cersei so she could stay in King’s Landing instead of being sent back to Winterfell, involved the factor of ignorance: she intended to go to the King, but as she was afraid of him she decided to go to the Queen instead, not knowing that she and her father were already in collision course and the fighting would start immediately after.

The second “failure” involves manipulation on the part of the Queen, taking advantage of the yet not fully-fledged discerning abilities of the young. Like her fairy tale counterpart, Cersei dangles “pretty things” in front of her Maiden’s eyes: the love of Joffrey, knowing well that the infatuation with her son is still strong.

“Sweet Sansa,” Queen Cersei said, laying a soft hand on her wrist. “Such a beautiful child. I do hope you know how much Joffrey and I love you.”

“You do?” Sansa said, breathless. Littlefinger was forgotten. Her prince loved her. Nothing else mattered.

The queen smiled. “I think of you almost as my own daughter. And I know the love you bear for Joffrey.” She gave a weary shake of her head. “I am afraid we have some grave news about your lord father. You must be brave, child.”

Her quiet words gave Sansa a chill. “What is it?”

“Your father is a traitor, dear,” Lord Varys said.

. . . then she plays on Sansa’s fears:

“No,” Sansa blurted. “He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t!”

The queen picked up a letter. The paper was torn and stiff with dried blood, but the broken seal was her father’s, the direwolf stamped in pale wax. “We found this on the captain of your household guard, Sansa. It is a letter to my late husband’s brother Stannis, inviting him to take the crown.”

“Please, Your Grace, there’s been a mistake.” Sudden panic made her dizzy and faint. “Please, send for my father, he’ll tell you, he would never write such a letter, the king was his friend.”

“Robert thought so,” said the queen. “This betrayal would have broken his heart. The gods are kind, that he did not live to see it.” She sighed. “Sansa, sweetling, you must see what a dreadful position this has left us in. You are innocent of any wrong, we all know that, and yet you are the daughter of a traitor. How can I allow you to marry my son?”

. . . so she may be willing to do anything to dispel the fear:

“But I love him,” Sansa wailed, confused and frightened. What did they mean to do to her? What had they done to her father? It was not supposed to happen this way. She had to wed Joffrey, they were betrothed, he was promised to her, she had even dreamed about it. It wasn’t fair to take him away from her on account of whatever her father might have done.

And right before she asks for what she wants, praises her for coming to her:

“How well I know that, child,” Cersei said, her voice so kind and sweet. “Why else should you have come to me and told me of your father’s plan to send you away from us, if not for love?”

“It was for love,” Sansa said in a rush. “Father wouldn’t even give me leave to say farewell.” She was the good girl, the obedient girl, but she had felt as wicked as Arya that morning, sneaking away from Septa Mordane, defying her lord father. She had never done anything so willful before, and she would never have done it then if she hadn’t loved Joffrey as much as she did. “He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight, even though it was Joff I wanted. I told him, but he wouldn’t listen.” The king had been her last hope. The king could command Father to let her stay in King’s Landing and marry Prince Joffrey, Sansa knew he could, but the king had always frightened her. He was loud and rough-voiced and drunk as often as not, and he would probably have just sent her back to Lord Eddard, if they even let her see him. So she went to the queen instead, and poured out her heart, and Cersei had listened and thanked her sweetly...

It’s interesting that it’s only Cersei who places the blame on Sansa thrice: here, later in ACOK during a conversation with the Imp, and in AFFC; and isn’t telling the whole truth in either. Here, she’s spoon-feeding Sansa that what she’d done was good as it was done for love; it was, but not for the reasons she is leading Sansa to believe, and later she doesn’t reveal to her brother that Eddard had already told her about his plans. Through this deft back-and-forth with the child, she finally achieves the desired end, that Sansa should write a letter to her family asking them to bend the knee.

But it wasn’t as immediate, or as easy. Three times her Maiden hesitated and three times Cersei had to dangle the “pretty things” and threaten to take them away:

“[...] Perhaps there is hope for you and Joffrey still...

“What do you want me to do?”

“You must write your lady mother, and your brother, the eldest . . . what is his name?”

“Robb,” Sansa said.

“The word of your lord father’s treason will no doubt reach them soon. Better that it should come from you. You must tell them how Lord Eddard betrayed his king.”

Sansa wanted Joffrey desperately, but she did not think she had the courage to do as the queen was asking. “But he never . . . I don’t . . . Your Grace, I wouldn’t know what to say...”

“If they do that... why, then we shall know that there is no taint in your blood, and when you come into the flower of your womanhood, you shall wed the king in the Great Sept of Baelor, before the eyes of gods and men.”

... wed the king... The words made her breath come faster, yet still Sansa hesitated. “Perhaps... if I might see my father, talk to him about...”

“Treason?” Lord Varys hinted.

You disappoint me, Sansa,” the queen said, with eyes gone hard as stones. “We’ve told you of your father’s crimes. If you are truly as loyal as you say, why should you want to see him?”

“I... I only meant...” Sansa felt her eyes grow wet. “He’s not... please, he hasn’t been... hurt, or... or...

“Lord Eddard has not been harmed,” the queen said.

Then came the third “failure to understand” in ASOS, when the Maiden is being measured for a new and luxurious dress, and the seamstress comments that it comes from Cersei:

“[…] You will be very beautiful. The queen herself has commanded it.”

“Which queen?” Margaery was not yet Joff’s queen, but she had been Renly’s. Or did she mean the Queen of Thorns? Or...

“The Queen Regent, to be sure.”

“Queen Cersei?”

“None other. She has honored me with her custom for many a year.” The old woman laid her string along the inside of Sansa’s leg. “Her Grace said to me that you are a woman now, and should not dress like a little girl. Hold out your arm.”

The hesitancy of the seamstress and the details she reveals, that Sansa will have a whole new wardrobe—“smallclothes and hose as well, kirtles and mantles and cloaks, and all else befitting a... a lovely young lady of noble birth”—and that many people are working on this—“I have six seamstresses and twelve apprentice girls, and we have set all our other work aside for this.”—are enough hints that there something rotten beneath this present. And though Sansa does rightly suspect the queen’s motives, she doesn’t reach the right conclusion:

But why? Sansa wondered when she was alone. It made her uneasy. I’ll wager this gown is Margaery’s doing somehow, or her grandmother’s.

By attributing this gift to the kindness of the Tyrell ladies, even though she has valid reasons for thinking so given how well they’ve been treating her thus far, Sansa didn’t entertain any suspicions that this was a poisoned apple from her Queen, delivered to her by the betrayal of her naïve trust in Dontos. So she was caught unawares by Cersei when the gown is brought, and she is made to wear it to her own forced wedding by the gloating Regent:

“The gods have been kind to you, Sansa. You are a lovely girl. It seems almost obscene to squander such sweet innocence on that gargoyle.”

“What gargoyle?” Sansa did not understand. Did she mean Willas? How could she know? No one knew, but her and Margaery and the Queen of Thorns... oh, and Dontos, but he didn’t count.

Cersei Lannister ignored the question. “The cloak,” she commanded, and the women brought it out: a long cloak of white velvet heavy with pearls. A fierce direwolf was embroidered upon it in silver thread. Sansa looked at it with sudden dread. “Your father’s colors,” said Cersei, as they fastened it about her neck with a slender silver chain.

A maiden’s cloak. Sansa’s hand went to her throat. She would have torn the thing away if she had dared.

“You’re prettier with your mouth closed, Sansa,” Cersei told her. “Come along now, the septon is waiting. And the wedding guests as well.”

“No,” Sansa blurted. “No.”

“Yes. You are a ward of the crown. The king stands in your father’s place, since your brother is an attainted traitor. That means he has every right to dispose of your hand. You are to marry my brother Tyrion.”

Continuing with the explanation at the beginning, these “failures” are above all supposed to underscore how dangerous the Maiden’s trust and naïveté can be for her when her opponent, independently of whether she’s aware of her as such or not, is another woman in a position of power willing to use any means of the unethical sort to advance her own agenda, because a Queen figure will gladly sacrifice her Maiden with no remorse. For though the Maiden is an innocent victim, she also unwittingly enables the abuse at the hands of the Queen due to her trust and her desire for the “pretty things” on offer to entrap her further. Therefore, the challenge for the Maiden is to overcome this crippling innocence, to integrate the most negative aspects of the archetype whilst retaining the useful aspects; as a broad example: to let go of her people-pleasing perfect girl mindset whilst retaining the ability to charm people. In sum, “the Maiden has to die, and thereby transform and become a woman,” as one Jungian expert put it.

Principle IV: The Maiden is Raped

From our point of view, perhaps the most controversial hallmark of the Maiden literary archetype is that she had to be subjected to either rape or sexual humiliation at some point in the narrative. The order in the list of phases, as any of the others, isn’t stable, because it can be between the two to fourth places, like in our example. This is one aspect that requires a closer look at the context to understand what exactly this consists of.

This hallmark is present mostly in the Classical archetype, e.g. Greco-Roman, rather than in fairy tales, as depictions of rape of beautiful maidens abound in their literature and are even practised by gods themselves, which can be shocking until we discover that they didn’t understand “rape” in the same sense we do now, as intercourse without the other’s consent. It was a broader concept for them, and wasn’t reduced to forced sexual relations like in modern definitions, and they had more words against just one of ours. The action alluded to in this phase was known as raptus (the Latin root of the modern “rape,” hubris is the Greek equivalent of this term), which is semantically broader and referred to abduction of a maiden for reasons that ranged from bad to good and in-between, like the desire to marry without the family’s approval, to name one frequent cause; it was a misconduct that could be punished depending on circumstances, but the disciplinary measures were mostly left up to the criterion of the pater familias and not the authorities, unless it was raptus ad stuprum, abduction with the goal of having forced sex, which was a crime recognised by the law. Additionally, when it came to divine “rapes” of mortal maidens, there’s usually no depiction of any sexual act but rather only the pursuit of the beautiful maiden described in terms that paint it as a seduction process, and some scholars contend that the word is used rather as a metaphor.

Raptus and hubris had also the meaning of “a violent act,” any act that involved the use of force to dominate the other, especially in Greece, where this was essentially an act of dominance and forceful show of power on a weaker counterpart to humiliate and degrade, and thus does tie in with the prior definition of hubris in Principle 1. Whilst there’s no specific word for rape in ancient Greek (it was punished as hubris, and atimia, dishonour), the Latin language did have stuprum and vis, which are words to describe non-consensual intercourse and assault, and like now, they were sexual crimes punishable by the state officials, with harsher penalties in the case of maiden victims.

All of this means that, in mainstream Classical narratives the fourth principle doesn’t automatically translate to rape in the modern sense, as the word used isn’t stuprum but raptus and hubris, which encompassed everything from abduction to sexual humiliation, from verbal to physical abuse, from assault to beatings and torture.

In her confrontation with the Queen, a Maiden is not subjected to unwanted intercourse, as the stories of Psyche and Snow White show, though it could happen in some cases mentioned below. Not in fairy tales, though, because when this became “literature for children,” it was thought that it would be inappropriate to have the prince charming commit such a horrible deed or have the heroine/princess suffer that fate. Hence why earlier versions of tales like Sleeping Beauty which had this plotline were changed in later versions; and a third reason is that the majority of tales with Stepmother vs. Stepchild and Queen vs. Maiden plotlines have two females as protagonists, so sexual abuse is replaced with physical and psychological abuse.

Yet this remained in both the Classical narrative and a few obscure tales for two scenarios that were exceptions to the rule: when the conflict is with a male stepchild or a male version of the Maidenly role, in which case the Stepmother/Queen would try seduction and intercourse with him; and when the Queen figure has a son or a hitman whom she allows or encourages to sexually humiliate the Maiden, like Venus did. The latter is Cersei’s modus operandi with regard to her Maidens: she is an enabler of the beatings and sexualised punishment her son Joffrey inflicts on Sansa and actively participates in her forced marriage, and, finally, attempts to have Margaery punished for what is essentially a sexual crime in her society.

Let’s focus on Joffrey: there’s an argument to be made that the mistreatment of Sansa is Cersei’s responsibility as well. As he’s a minor, king or no, so under her tutelage as both his mother and Queen Regent, it is Cersei’s duty to moderate his behaviour and contradict his orders when they’re inappropriate or harmful, which she doesn’t. She ignores the budding sexual sadist that her son is, and later she’ll reveal that she herself has streaks of that sadism her father also had, which makes it three generations of Lannisters that used sexual humiliation as punishment for Sansa. Joffrey started it, with threats like this one, in AGOT Sansa VI:

“I’ll get you with child as soon as you’re able,” Joffrey said as he escorted her across the practice yard. “If the first one is stupid, I’ll chop off your head and find a smarter wife. When do you think you’ll be able to have children?”

Then he continued with the order to have her stripped:

“No, it isn’t,” the king replied. “Boros, make her naked.”

Boros shoved a meaty hand down the front of Sansa’s bodice and gave a hard yank. The silk came tearing away, baring her to the waist. Sansa covered her breasts with her hands. She could hear sniggers, far off and cruel. “Beat her bloody,” Joffrey said, “we’ll see how her brother fancies—”

The second is Cersei herself, who is complicit by omission and by commission. For the former: she prefers to justify her son’s misdeeds, even when they go against the interests of House Lannister. She considers him “stubborn and unpredictable,” “willful,” and “difficult,” but these are things she tells to explain away his misbehaviour. Instead of exerting her authority over her son, she gives excuses like this one she gave Tyrion on Joffrey’s behalf for having Sansa disrobed and beaten in public:

“My son is too young to care about such things.”

“You think so?” asked Tyrion. “He’s thirteen, Cersei. The same age at which I married.”

“You shamed us all with that sorry episode. Joffrey is made of finer stuff.”

“So fine that he had Ser Boros rip off Sansa’s gown.”

“He was angry with the girl.”

“He was angry with that cook’s boy who spilled the soup last night as well, but he didn’t strip him naked.”

“This was not a matter of some spilled soup—”

No, it was a matter of some pretty teats.

And she does that again when Sansa has her menarche:

“He’s never been able to forget that day on the Trident when you saw her shame him, so he shames you in turn. You’re stronger than you seem, though. I expect you’ll survive a bit of humiliation. I did. You may never love the king, but you’ll love his children.”

By humiliation she means whatever Joffrey does to her, and that includes future marital rape, like she did. It’s true that Cersei mightn’t have known about some details, such as Joffrey’s threats to rape Sansa even after she’d been married to his uncle, as they weren’t uttered within her earshot, but she’s not entirely unaware of what’s going on either, as it’s apparent by her quoted words that she knows why her son is mistreating her, and doesn’t demonstrate any intention to try and curb his outbursts, but instead puts the burden on her Maiden’s shoulders to bear it all with grace.

As for her complicity by commission, we’ve to touch again her role in Sansa’s forced marriage in the previous phase. What stands out is that Cersei herself had been told by her father days before that she’d have to marry against her will too, and had begged him not to force her to marry “the old squid or the crippled dog boy”:

“I am Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, not a brood mare! The Queen Regent!”

“You are my daughter, and will do as I command.”

She stood. “I will not sit here and listen to this—”

“You will if you wish to have any voice in the choice of your next husband,” Lord Tywin said calmly.

When she hesitated, then sat, Tyrion knew she was lost, despite her loud declaration of, “I will not marry again!”

“You will marry and you will breed. Every child you birth makes Stannis more a liar.” Their father’s eyes seemed to pin her to her chair.

Yet despite this, she doesn’t feel any sympathy for Sansa. Instead, she focuses not once but twice on Tyrion, on what a waste it’ll be to give her loathed brother such a lovely bride, and on how loathsome he is, attributing her horrified reaction to reluctance because he’s a dwarf, and not the fact that this is practically the Lannister version of the poisoned apple that will kill the Maiden, have her forever tied to her enemy, be raped by him and bear children by him and likely lose her own life in time. Cersei simply doesn’t deduce that Sansa’s objection to this marriage is in essence the same she herself blurted out when Tywin told her to marry: lack of agency, the refusal to allow her to have a man of her choice, be reduced to just a brood mare . . .

And when she threatens Sansa to have her dragged kicking and wailing to the sept, she gives the Kingsguard permission to handle her roughly as long as they don’t ruin the gown, implying that it’s more important:

“I understand your reluctance. Cry if you must. In your place, I would likely rip my hair out. He’s a loathsome little imp, no doubt of it, but marry him you shall.”

“You can’t make me.”

“Of course we can. You may come along quietly and say your vows as befits a lady, or you may struggle and scream and make a spectacle for the stableboys to titter over, but you will end up wedded and bedded all the same.” The queen opened the door. Ser Meryn Trant and Ser Osmund Kettleblack were waiting without, in the white scale armor of the Kingsguard. “Escort Lady Sansa to the sept,” she told them. “Carry her if you must, but try not to tear the gown, it was very costly.”

“Women were always the cruellest where other women were concerned,” observed the queen during her own walk of shame, seemingly not noticing the irony of such an observation looking at herself: Cersei is an adulteress that had The Ned imprisoned to hide her adultery, but then tried to have a potentially innocent queen convicted of adultery by sending her man for the task; she birthed bastards herself, but had the bastards of her husband killed and the innocent mother who likely couldn’t refuse the king sold into slavery; she had dreams of marrying Rhaegar, but couldn’t stand the idea of Jaime with another girl and she probably killed her, she resents Robert for shouting Lyanna’s name on their bedding, yet that same morning she’d had sex with Jaime, she was raped by her husband and yet she had a hand in what would have been the marital rape of Sansa and also wished rape on other women; she was a beaten wife, yet she looked the other way when her son became an abuser of women (and the reason Joffrey gives for not hitting Sansa himself is “Mother says” he shouldn’t); she aborted the child of the king she abhorred, but told Sansa she’d love the children of the king she abhors, she didn’t arrive a maiden at her marriage ceremony, yet considers Taena a whore when she confesses that neither did she . . . And these are only her actions involving sexuality.

This lack of empathy with women going through the same ordeals she has gone is arguably the major distinctive characteristic of the corrupt Queen archetype, and although from the purely narrative angle it makes the Queen a villainous figure hard to sympathise with, its purpose is to underscore the consequences of a bad or failed integration into the self of the Shadow aspects of the Queen archetype, like the previous principle is a warning to the Maiden with regard to her own Shadow, and the Lannister lioness exemplifies this malfunction perfectly. She’s internalised a “Tywin with teats” image of herself which extends to the employment of sexualised punishment on innocents, and it makes her walk of shame, terrible as it was, acquire a certain sense of symmetrical proportion from the point of view of the Classical narrative as part of the nemesis.

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Principle V: The Maiden Rages

After so much emotional and physical suffering at the hands of the Queen and her acolytes, the Maiden undergoes the fifth phase, which is to rage. Such an occurrence takes place only after she’s been “awakened” (by herself or by whoever plays the role of “prince”) and the Queen is recognised as a dangerous figure, thus allowing the Maiden to express her rage and later her grief, which are necessary steps towards shedding her own shadowy aspects. This rage can manifest itself through an eruption of anger, a fit of rebelliousness, defiance and rejection of anything that comes from the source—the Queen—depending on the particularities of the plot and the personality of the Maiden.

Sansa’s “rage” towards Cersei is a process that starts silently in her thoughts in ACOK Sansa I, and is expressed through her mistrust of the Lannisters as a whole, even the seemingly “kindest” of them, which is rooted in her hurt at her mistreatment by the king and his mother:

Sansa watched him walk off, his body swaying heavily from side to side with every step, like something from a grotesquerie. He speaks more gently than Joffrey, she thought, but the queen spoke to me gently too. He’s still a Lannister, her brother and Joff’s uncle, and no friend. Once she had loved Prince Joffrey with all her heart, and admired and trusted his mother, the queen. They had repaid that love and trust with her father’s head. Sansa would never make that mistake again.

A mistrust that extends to the chambermaids around her because she guesses, correctly, that she’s being spied on Cersei’s orders. In ACOK Sansa V, we get the first glimpse of feelings of anger, and not just hurt, towards Cersei expressed through her refusal to even listen to prayers for the king’s safety. Though she singles out Joffrey, these feelings can be extended to Cersei, as she derives her present power from her son’s supposed claim to the throne:

But when the septon climbed on high and called upon the gods to protect and defend their true and noble king, Sansa got to her feet. The aisles were jammed with people. She had to shoulder through while the septon called upon the Smith to lend strength to Joffrey’s sword and shield, the Warrior to give him courage, the Father to defend him in his need. Let his sword break and his shield shatter, Sansa thought coldly as she shoved out through the doors, let his courage fail him and every man desert him.

Later, these thoughts are transferred to her behaviour, impelling her to reject the advice she receives from her Queen upon her flowering:

“[…] Do you want to be loved, Sansa?”

“Everyone wants to be loved.”

“I see flowering hasn’t made you any brighter,” said Cersei. “Sansa, permit me to share a bit of womanly wisdom with you on this very special day. Love is poison. A sweet poison, yes, but it will kill you all the same.”

For Cersei her advice is reasonable, but it’s the same advice fed her son and which drives much of his misbehaviour—“Mother says it’s better to be feared than loved”—as well as hers, and it comes from the Lannister patriarch, Tywin, making it another point in common for the three generations of lions directly responsible for Sansa’s misery, and also casts doubt on Cersei’s competence as a ruler long before the debacle of AFFC; even before the upcoming show of uncaring incompetence at the Queen’s Ballroom, for “to be loved” goes far past just romantic relationships or people-pleasing, as it involves family relations of all types, friendships, and subject-ruler relationships, areas in which the Lannister queen has failed completely because of her skewed philosophy.

We don’t get Sansa’s reaction to that advice, as the chapter ends abruptly, but we have her reaction to the second time Cersei gave her a variation of the same advice, where in her thoughts we hear echoes of what she surely learnt from observing Lord Eddard Stark rule in Winterfell: a fair ruler will be respected if not loved, an unfair ruler will be hated.

“Another lesson you should learn, if you hope to sit beside my son. Be gentle on a night like this and you’ll have treasons popping up all about you like mushrooms after a hard rain. The only way to keep your people loyal is to make certain they fear you more than they do the enemy.”

“I will remember, Your Grace,” said Sansa, though she had always heard that love was a surer route to the people’s loyalty than fear. If I am ever a queen, I’ll make them love me.

And right after that, she goes on to fulfil Cersei’s role when the queen tosses aside her own advice on protecting and comforting the women subjects, drunkenly abandoning the Ballroom.

Sansa is finally able to voice her rage instead of just thinking of it and subtly acting on it when Olenna and Margaery Tyrell invite her to sup with them. The question the Queen of Thorns posed to her was specific and clear: how was Joffrey like? And Sansa replied including his mother in the same category of “monster” as him:

“A monster,” she whispered, so tremulously she could scarcely hear her own voice. “Joffrey is a monster. He lied about the butcher’s boy and made Father kill my wolf. When I displease him, he has the Kingsguard beat me. He’s evil and cruel, my lady, it’s so. And the queen as well.

Her first frontal defiance of Cersei occurs during her forced wedding, which the queen overcame by threatening Sansa with the Kingsguard. Even so, she kept a measure of defiance by not kneeling to be cloaked by the queen’s younger brother. Curiously, it was Cersei the first one to laugh at Sansa’s small act of rebellion—and not Joffrey as one would’ve expected—on account of the humiliation of her hated brother:

The dwarf tugged at her a third time. Stubbornly she pressed her lips together and pretended not to notice. Someone behind them tittered. The queen, she thought, but it didn’t matter. They were all laughing by then, Joffrey the loudest. “Dontos, down on your hands and knees,” the king commanded. “My uncle needs a boost to climb his bride.”

And so it was that her lord husband cloaked her in the colors of House Lannister whilst standing on the back of a fool.

The Maiden’s tears are thus overlooked by the Queen in favour of displaying the same glee at the dwarf’s embarrassment as he had done at her dismay at another unwanted marriage. Unsurprisingly, what follows is a forthright formulation of Sansa’s indignant antipathy towards her during the wedding feast:

Sansa sat with her hands in her lap, watching how the queen moved and laughed and tossed her blonde curls. She charms them all, she thought dully. How I hate her.

Her next and last verbalisation of her fury whilst she’s still a captive would come at the banquet for Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery, when she hears one of the singers praising the Queen Mother for her courage during the Battle of Blackwater:

His words made Tyrion feel absurdly grateful, and helped to mollify him as Galyeon sang endless verses about the valor of the boy king and his mother, the golden queen.

“She never did that,” Sansa blurted out suddenly.

“Never believe anything you hear in a song, my lady.” Tyrion summoned a serving man to refill their wine cups.

The singer was likely lauding the queen’s demeanour at the Ballroom, which Sansa knows first-hand had been appalling, so she voices her disgust at such a barefaced falsehood.

Principle VI: The Maiden Grieves

The principle alludes to the completion of transition from girlhood to the next phase for the Maiden through closure, and to the death of the Queen as a result of her own destructive behaviour and destructive emotions.

This is the death-like “hibernation stage” for the Maiden, the period in which Psyche descends to the Underworld to complete the last step of the Hero Journey, and the stage in which Snow White is kept in a “glass coffin” prior to her awakening as a full-grown queen distinct to her perverse role model. Such a state of “not quite death” marks symbolically the death of the Maiden in the story, and indicates her innocence and naïveté are no more and the Shadow is gone, disintegrated. As the Grieving Maiden has arrived to this point after a long string of losses, this process is essentially about mourning each loss—or at least the most emotionally significant one—to incorporate the loss(es) into the girl’s new reality.

As her story is still open-ended and the road ahead looks long, we can’t know for sure how the grieving process will progress for Sansa, how closure will be attained and whether it will be face-to-face with Cersei or away from her. From what we have up to AFFC, we’ve only witnessed the beginning of this process, as the closest to an outward “grieving” moment for Sansa comes right before the snow castle she built at the Eyrie, announced by this line:

She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams.

Which can be interpreted as mourning the loss of Winterfell, that also encapsulates the loss of everything else. Such mourning has characteristics typical of most abuse victims, as the Maiden archetype is, and at the root of this “grieving the loss of innocence” are three themes: trust, security and self-respect. Because la reine Cersei et compagnie, e.g. her Lannister abusers, have lied to the Maiden, she is mistrustful and wary, because the abusers have killed the Maiden’s loved ones, human and non-human alike, had her beaten, robbed her of her home and used her as they pleased, she yearns for safety and returning home, and because the abusers have told the Maiden that she was worthless (calling her “stupid” all the time, mocking her), her sense of self-worth has suffered and she believes nobody will love her but for a claim. Sansa’s grieving seems to be channelled towards hopes of a home, a family of her own and be loved and desired for herself, which are more than just childish dreams to go back to the happy golden days of yore. They are about reclaiming all that she held dear and which was taken away by Cersei.

But the Queen is still in power however diminished, and Sansa is still not over her fear of her, as this passage from AFFC Alayne I demonstrates:

Petyr laughed. “Perhaps I shall. Or better still, to our sweet Cersei. Though I should not speak harshly of her, she is sending me some splendid tapestries. Isn’t that kind of her?”

The mention of the queen’s name made her stiffen. “She’s not kind. She scares me. If she should learn where I am—”

“—I might have to remove her from the game sooner than I’d planned. Provided she does not remove herself first.” Petyr teased her with a little smile. “In the game of thrones, even the humblest pieces can have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you’ve planned for them. Mark that well, Alayne. It’s a lesson that Cersei Lannister still has yet to learn […].”

Therefore, closure won’t be attained and the process won’t be complete until Sansa is out of the “glass cage” she is in at present and until Cersei’s demise, or at the very least her final and crushing downfall. In “Chapter 3: Vanity. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall” of his book The Witch Must Die: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales, psychologist Sheldon Cashdan posits that the “defeat of the witch” is the third and last of the three key thresholds in this type of narrative, and has this to say about why the death of the Queen is necessary for the Maiden:

The story could easily end here, Snow White is resurrected, and the prince to his utter delight is blessed with a live princess. But there is one detail that needs to be resolved. The wicked queen is still alive. Her continued existence means not only that Snow White’s life remains in jeopardy, but that the princess is apt to be plagued by vain temptations for the rest of her days. Unless the evil woman is eliminated once and for all, Snow White will never be free.

Similarly, the main reasons why Sansa can’t escape Littlefinger so easily are her marriage to an attainted Lannister and the royal death sentence pending over her head, which thus act like the bit of poisoned apple that keeps her in the glass cage, on display to be sold and bartered for alliances or gold and tempted with political marriages. The fall of House Lannister through the fall of Cersei would be to her advantage.

Whilst in the majority of these narratives the conflict is resolved once the Maiden enters into womanhood, an event sealed by her marriage for love, and the Queen dies as a direct result of her final confrontation with her opponent, there’s a seventh aspect generally not included in the list of principles, which was added by psychiatrist Carl G. Jung: for him, the process is not complete until the Maiden takes the place of the Mother. In other words, the endgame of Maidenhood isn’t Queenship but Motherhood, which fits in best with Sansa’s own desires. At this stage, we can only speculate, but the build-up and the mother imagery around the Stark girl indicates that this is a possibility for her.

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The theme of motherhood in Sansa's story has often been considered in the PtP threads as one of the key issues necessary to understanding the trajectory of her arc, relationships with others, and to ultimately unlock her potential as a player. Sansa occupies most of the story as a maiden, but we believe that it is in the interrogation of the mother archetype that Martin has invested the real conflict and struggles toward self-determination that she experiences. With a critical examination of this as our purpose, the project will comprise of three essays, written by Milady of York, Ragnorak and myself, which all explore different, but complementary topics on the theme. In the final analysis, we hope to dispel the established notion of the mother as passive and to present mothering as a practice which can be empowering and effect change.

So... Marion Zimmer Bradley? I wonder whether Martin read her books. Tyrion and Kevin are quite similar, at least in their attitudes toward women. Anyway, it's nice to be here. I hope you guys don't mind my intrusion, and I certainly hope to keep writing here. I have checked out some earlier essays and you guys have made some really fascinating analysis. If they're all like that, I've got a lot of reading to do.

EDIT: Holy...! A lot of reading indeed xD.

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Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall, Who is the Bitterest of All?: The Mind of a Queen

Both the Greco-Roman myth and the fairy tale give the Queen a voice instead of just descriptions, making her as much a protagonist of the story as the Maiden is—and in the latter, she’s even a more important character than Snow White—which gives us a much appreciated window into the workings of her mind, and possibilitates finding the answers to questions such as what sort of woman is the Queen, what makes her so callous and wicked, why does she spend so much time looking at her reflection on a mirror, and why is she obsessed with the Maiden?

It’s frequent for the Queen’s motivations to be explained rather simplistically, as befits a children’s story: she is an evil witch who is just jealous of an innocent girl’s beauty—because she’s evil—and it’s this envy that drives her to murder so she can reign unchallenged as the most beautiful ever—because she’s evil . . . But this was never meant to be only a tale for young people and, as it always happens with archetypical plotlines, there’s a deeper theme hidden under a symbol, awaiting to be unearthed once we identify said symbol and unravel its meaning, which is far from simplistic. “As white as snow, as red as blood . . .” introduces us to the true theme of the story, so likewise it’s another oft repeated line that reveals what lies beneath the Queen’s skin:

“Looking-glass, looking-glass on the wall,

Who in this land is the fairest of all?”

The looking-glass answered:

“Thou, O Queen, art the fairest of all!”

A mirror is also present in the mythological proto-narrative, as it was so firmly associated with the figure of Aphrodite that she didn’t go anywhere without a servant carrying her mirror made of polished copper and gold in front of her at all times. See this passage from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass:

Bands of Tritons sported here and there on the waters, one softly blowing on his echoing shell, another fending off with silk parasol the heat of the hostile sun, a third holding a mirror before his mistress’s face, while others, yoked in pairs to her chariot, swam below.

The mirror is the key to understanding the mind of a Queen. Mirrors are objects that are usually linked to beauty and vanity, to narcissism, so does this mean that vanity influences the Queen’s actions? Are pure and unaltered narcissistic feelings what make her so obsessed with her beauty? Not quite. Whilst envy and jealousy and vanity are strong emotions she experiences, they aren’t the source of her behaviour, they are the symptoms that disclose a graver issue. They originate from the Queen’s desire to maintain her status and the power that comes with it.

A power she can’t have by merits because she is a woman, a power she derives from her beauty because her beauty made her a queen.

Psychologist Nancy van der Berg-Cook has an intriguing interpretation of the mirror as a representation of the patriarchal structures that disallow a female to come into power through the same means as a male would: by rightful inheritance in accordance with the laws of primogeniture, by merit or by conquest. Which leave a maiden noblewoman with unsatisfactory ways of attaining power: marriage to a powerful man, regency for underage offspring and the lack of male competitors in the bloodline. Van der Berg-Cook asserts that the idea of the looking-glass as a symbol of the restrictive masculine status quo can be found ever since the first depiction of the Evil Queen speaking to her magic mirror by artist Walter Crane for the 1882 illustrated edition of Snow White , in which the reflection of the Queen’s face is framed by dragons holding torches, which the specialist calls a representation of the “masculine spirit of the mirror,” that is also present in all the later drawings in one form or another.

A similar opinion is held by Ian Robinson, who’s convinced that, apart from symbolising the absent patriarchal figure on which all women’s existences are dependent, the mirror in Snow White also stands for the male gaze which objectifies women. That’s evident in the three most widely known oil paintings of Aphrodite which share the title Venus with her mirror by the great masters Titian, Rubens, and Velázquez, in all of which we see her son, who is the masculine personification of love, holding a mirror reflecting the face of the goddess, and in which the implicit symbolism is in the winged figure of Cupid who, contrary to the ancient texts, is carrying her mirror, doesn’t have his bow and arrows, and whose arms are tied delicately with a red ribbon in Velázquez’s version, thus indicating that love is prisoner of beauty, i.e. that the former is a conditio sine qua non for women to be valued. Out of this trio, Titian’s painting is the one most symbolic of the commodification of feminine beauty through men’s eyes because, as art historian Rona Goffen said, “it is about vision, about being seen, about reality and its reflection, and about the exaltation of beauty that is embodied in the goddess and knowable through sight.”

But perhaps nothing can surpass the symbolical significance of the most famous rendition of the Queen’s talking mirror, the one from the Disney animated film, which embodies “a sort of fiery masculine spirit, that looks frightening, if not downright cruel,” as van der Berg-Cook describes it. This evidently masculine face was given one peculiarity by the Disney artists: it doesn’t have eyes; the eye sockets are empty. As eyes in this scenario represent a gateway into the soul, which would be reflected on the mirror, their absence would indicate a faulty inner vision and self-knowledge, a shaky self that relies on external validators. In other words, that the Queen “relies on this masculine authority to tell her if she is beautiful or not.” And as this authority is extremely negative and judgmental, it “functions to make her feel good about herself only so long as she satisfies the strict requirements of beauty that she holds for herself,” concludes the cited analyst. Thus, complements Cristina Santos, as the Queen’s compulsive looking into the mirror is an action that seeks “affirmation of her self-worth and currency in the marketplace of male desire,” the moment she no longer hears it is devastating.

Note the reaction of Aphrodite on learning that the beauty of Psyche has endangered her worship . . .

Shaking her ambrosial locks with indignation, she exclaimed, “Am I then to be eclipsed in my honours by a mortal girl? In vain then did that royal shepherd, Paris, whose judgment was approved by Jupiter himself, give me the palm of beauty over my illustrious rivals, Pallas and Juno. But she shall not so quietly usurp my honours. I will give her cause to repent of so unlawful a beauty.”

. . . and the reaction of the Queen when her mirror sings a new tune:

Then the Queen was shocked, and turned yellow and green with envy. From that hour, whenever she looked at Snow White, her heart heaved in her breast, she hated the girl so much.

The Latin phrase used to describe Aphrodite’s emotions is stronger than the weak English translation of “indignant;” it literally means “vehemently inflamed and impatient with feelings of rage,” as per my own translation. And in some English-language editions of the fairy tale, the High German verb—erschrack, shocked—that the Brothers Grimm used to describe the Queen’s reaction is translated as “terrified.” Why are they so fearful of such little girls? Because of their insecurity, not from any true immediate danger to their status. A Queen figure doesn’t fear to be “surpassed in beauty” because of beauty itself, the narcissistic pleasure of being beautiful and admired, but because of what losing it means for her: she will no longer be able to hold a tight grip on the honours in the form of a high position that the male-dominated establishment has bestowed on her. In his book Fairy Tales and After, professor and literary critic Roger Sale explains it succinctly:

There is, for instance, no suggestion that the queen's absorption in her beauty ever gives her pleasure, or that the desire for power through sexual attractiveness is itself a sexual feeling. What is stressed is the anger and fear that attend the queen’s realization that as she and Snow White both get older, she must lose. That is why the major feeling invoked is not jealousy but envy: to make beauty that important is to reduce the world to one in which only two people count.

Upon this realisation, the Queen takes ruthless measures that are essentially self-preservation moves seen in the context of societies where women have limited opportunity to fully develop their potential, be it intellectual, artistic or athletic, and which equate physical attractiveness with feminine self-worth. Aphrodite, for example, was enthroned as Olympian goddess in the testosterone-filled Olympus due to her beauty alone, and it wouldn’t do for the title of fairest to go to Hera or Athena, or Psyche for that matter, all of whom had more power or more attributes, instead of the goddess of beauty. Athena, for one, was the goddess of wisdom, and apart from extremely beautiful, she was erudite, smart, the patron or arts, philosophy and politics, a superb fighter able to defeat warrior-gods in single combat, she wasn’t sold and bought in the marriage market, nor knew child-bearing and the heartbreak of illicit love, and on top of all the Greek cultural powerhouse, Athens, was named after her; she had much more than Aphrodite, whose only assets were her loveliness and her sexuality. Hence why she’d be so willing to start a decade-long conflagration and persecute an innocent girl to keep the wreath of most beautiful.

Similarly, regardless of which the Queen’s social background was before, she isn’t queen by birthright. Queenship and her place in the castle and the kingdom came to her through marriage to a widowed monarch looking for a pretty and fertile wife to replace his deceased consort. But the very fact that she was able to catch such a golden bachelor thanks solely to her appearance (and her sexuality, it’s implied), conjoined with her social environment that discourages feminine empowerment, have convinced her that there’s no end for female beauty and sexuality other than perversity, that is, using it to achieve the coveted position and to manipulate others, and that she is disposable as soon as her beauty fades and she is no longer beautiful to appeal to men’s desire. Although in the fairy tale it isn’t stated as flatly but rather subtly conveyed through metaphors, this fear is accurately voiced in the film Snow White and the Huntsman in bitter words by Queen Ravenna:

"Men use women. They ruin us, and when they are finished with us they toss us to the dogs like scraps."

. . . that echo the no less bitter words of Queen Cersei:

“I was to be sold to some stranger like a horse, to be ridden whenever my new owner liked, beaten whenever he liked, and cast aside in for a younger filly.”

So, Terri Windling says, when the powerful male gaze drifts from her to another woman, younger and more desirable, all there is for the old queen is “witchcraft [...], potions, poisons, and self–protection.”

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The misfortune of a Queen is that instead of directing that rage towards the true source, she channels her bitterness towards a Maiden that is as much a victim of the establishment as she is. As Windling theorises, the Maiden is herself a mirror, “a reversed mirror of the queen, reflecting all she is not. Each day she becomes more lovely, more good—as the queen becomes the opposite,” yet she’s just another feminine figure chiselled to fit smoothly within the tiny confines of the shrine set up for women: beautiful, dutiful, virginal, naïve, sweet and unquestioning.

All the male figures present in her storyline are representations of this idealisation and objectification: first the paternal figure/mirror who pronounced her the new ideal female and then didn’t lift a finger to succour her in her plight, of which he is the instigator. Then the Huntsman, who tried to help her only because she pleaded with him prettily, but didn’t do enough, and let her run into the wood fully aware that she was ill-equipped to survive there. Then the dwarfs that made her enter into a domestic labour agreement in exchange for protection, food and shelter, which she honoured, but even knowing she was a too trusting little child they left her alone in the house without taking some protective measures or teaching her to take care of herself in ways more practical than through indulgent admonitions—hence they represent the failure of a social order which encourages males to fancy themselves as caretakers, protectors and mentors for females when they just confine them to the home—and who in the end put her in a glass coffin for display as an object to be desired.

Although it’s not as ubiquitous as the looking-glass and only appears towards the ending of the tale, this object exists for the same purpose as the other: just as the Queen is forever tied to her magical mirror, the Maiden is tied to her glass coffin. Lying lifeless and defenceless therein, she loses her individuality, the Prince and the dwarfs don’t call her by her name or refer to her as a person, a “she,” and instead speak of the coffin, an “it,” as if she had ceased to matter as a human being and had become an object. It’s only after her individuality is recognised that the prince’s permitted to take her with him:

“Let me have the coffin, I will give you whatever you want for it." But the dwarfs answered, "We will not part with it for all the gold in the world.” Then he said, “Let me have it as a gift, for I cannot live without seeing Snow White. I will honour and prize her as my dearest possession.” As he spoke in this way the good dwarfs took pity upon him, and gave him the coffin.

Here is where the hitherto parallel journeys of the Queen and the Maiden differ and both head towards opposite destinations. The Maiden, cast out of her home and her past, away from her family and her kingdom, has grown out of childhood during the “long, long time” spent in the glass coffin, and is given the choice to forge a new life for herself as a grown woman when the prince gives her the chance to elect or reject him once she breaks out of it. Jung believed that had her choice been different, like staying in the cosy house in the forest for example, it would indicate a regression to being the naïve girl that was content with her lot and that was “empty and merely glitters, a welcome vessel for masculine projection.”

At the conclusion of the Queen’s path, on the other hand, defeat or execution awaits her. Whether she dies or not, she gets to witness how that which she fought to prevent from happening comes true before her eyes. And ofttimes her end comes as a result of one last and fatal error born out of that arrogance causing her to see herself secure in having the greatest power and having the upper hand; in the fairy tale, it was spying on a supposed new rival (that is really the same) more than likely to find how to attempt at obliterating the Young Queen, just as she had destroyed the pre-pubescent princess that had been her stepdaughter. That cost the woman her life.

In the narrative itself, it’s not specified who gave the order to have the Queen wear hot iron shoes and dance to her death, but we can guess it was the prince that’s now a King, an archetype that integrates the abilities and characteristics of the other male archetypes, who decreed that punishment. It’s to be noted that the hot iron shoes on her feet are far from random but have a raison d’être: feet are the means we have to move around and get us wherever we wish to go, and are associated with sexuality since Biblical times when the word for this body part was also a sexual euphemism; an allusion to the Queen’s modus operandi. On this, in “Chapter 5: The Fairest of Them All, Queenship and Beauty” of her book Fairy Tale Queens: Representations of Early Modern Queenship, Jo Eldridge Carney wrote the following:

The fairy tale’s system of punishment is horrific but apt: a woman so actively consumed with seeking affirmation from others and with violently undoing her rival is forced to enact her own physical destruction as a public spectacle.

This is ingeniously represented in GRRM’s writing of the manner in which Cersei plotted to destroy Margaery, the Little Queen: she sends her man Osney Kettleblack, the tall, dark-haired, hawk-nosed sworn shield of King Tommen, who has scars on one side of his face, to seduce the wife of her son . . . Familiar? Unbeknownst to the Queen Regent, this tragicomedy she arranged inversely mirrors her true Maiden: her “dog” Sandor Clegane, the tall, dark-haired, hawk-nosed sworn shield of King Joffrey, who has scars on one side of his face, was figuratively seduced by the betrothed of her son.

But where Cersei’s actions built upon the “weapon between the legs” caused her imprisonment and her social shame, Sansa’s actions based on “make them love you” saved her life. That brings into focus another hidden theme of the tale: the nature of the replacement of the Queen by the Maiden is in essence that she has to succeed where the former failed. The Maiden has to continue her journey better equipped this time if and when she has integrated the lessons from the Queen’s enmity and the glass coffin to break free.

And the Queen? In “Chapter 6: Cracking the Magic Mirror, Representations of Snow White” of his book The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy Tale Films, tale expert Jack Zipes explains why there’s only doom and no “redemption” for female arch-villains like the Queen and Cersei:

Despite its seemingly happy end, this tale is tragic: the beautiful queen has a major flaw in her character that leads to her downfall, namely her vanity. [Compared to Snow White] She was more real and complex as a woman, more erotic, and driven to desperate acts by her magic mirror. In fact, the tale should have been given the title “Cracking the Magic Mirror,” for the mirror has a powerful hold on the queen and to a certain extent, on Snow White. The queen’s actions are determined by the mirror’s representations of herself as exemplifying beauty and evil, or associating evil and vanity with beauty, and these mirror representations are taken as the truth by the queen. Had she perhaps doubted and cracked the mirror, cracked the meaning of the mirror, she might still be alive today.

Instead, continues Professor Zipes, the Queen will either dance to her death, die by accident, be banished, or disappear, and:

Meanwhile, the magic mirror, the instigator of the queen’s evil actions and the cause of her demise, continues to live in most cases without punishment and to reflect the standards of beauty throughout the world.

Therefore, the way out of this poisonous dynamic was to disregard the mirror, to crack the mirror and shatter it to pieces, through refusing to internalise his deceitful words that “reflect nothing more than the machinations of the apparatus.” The tragedy of the ASOIAF equivalent of the Queen is that she not only has never taken a hammer and smashed her own mirror either, but what’s worse, she’s well past being pliant like the tale’s Queen and actively mimics the mirror.

Cersei of House Lannister doesn’t have a magical mirror, she has Tywin. Her lord father was the biggest influence for her as well as for her little brother to a greater extent than for her twin, who had the fortune of living out of the Casterly Rock sphere during part of his formative years and of meeting other distinct male role models, such as Arthur Dayne, who provided a valuable counterbalance to the Lannister patriarch’s negative one. The motherless girl, however, was always under her sire’s tight control and in absence of a maternal role model, or any other positive role model for compare and contrast purposes, formed an emotional bond that she’d be unable to sever even after he was dead, building her notions of how an ideal Lannister (and by extension an ideal self) and an ideal ruler should be on his twisted philosophy.

It can be argued that the promise of a happy life in the enviable position of Rhaegar’s queen was the first step towards absorbing her mirror’s worldview at the age of six or seven. Considering that seven was the age in which both boys and girls in feudal societies begin their formal education and training to fulfil their respective gender roles, it also would’ve been about that same time that she noticed the gender divide through her games with Jaime, in which they exchanged their clothing and pretended to be the other, and it wasn’t lost on her that even her idolised father treated her differently when he mistook her for her brother. Through the twins’ flashbacks, we see that little Cersei knew she was the eldest lion cub and had the ambition, the vitality, and the character to be trained as heir to the Westerlands, and as such expected to be treated accordingly; but all that education for “glory and power” went to her younger twin, and she was left with sewing needles and a promise of “birth and moonblood” on a royal bed:

When she was just a little girl, her father had promised her that she would marry Rhaegar. She could not have been more than six or seven. “Never speak of it, child,” he had told her, smiling his secret smile that only Cersei ever saw. “Not until His Grace agrees to the betrothal. It must remain our secret for now.”

And she trusted her mirror wholeheartedly. Father knew best and he’d get a great future king as husband for his beautiful little girl, and for that promise, she willingly kept the secret from her closest companion, spent years daydreaming about the dragon prince, and visited that eastern maegi whose words would possess her mind even years later. In the ancient Hellene and Roman myths and narratives, prophesy is a conditioned warning from gods to mortals, to let them know that their folly, present or upcoming, would be their undoing, so they’d recognise that something wasn’t right and change it for the better; and it’s only if and when the mortals ignored the warning or tried to forestall the fulfilment of its contents in a manner that offended the gods that they decreed the nemesis of the infringer; and then, exclusively then, the prophesy became an inevitable fate they won’t escape.

Applying this take to Cersei’s case, Maggy the Frog’s prophesy can be also interpreted as conditioned warning in the classical sense. In reply to her questions, the maegi is telling her that her father will not fulfil his promise of a royal husband, which was never meant to be for Cersei’s happiness anyway, as she believed. She’s a pawn in her father’s game to advance the interests of House Lannister, and he won’t bother to make sure that whoever marries his daughter will at least be a good man and treat her kindly. What matters is that the man has a crown so there’ll be a Lannister queen and a child with Lannister blood on the throne; and that her father’s and her own ambitions and the amoral methods employed to keep that ill-gotten power will have dire consequences that could be prevented.

Instead, ten-year-old Cersei mimics her father and threatens to solve any problem through the violent murder of the rival (“If she tries I will have my brother kill her.”), insults the fortune-teller, and chooses to listen only to her mirror because “her father had promised it, and Tywin Lannister’s word was gold.” And then likely she herself set things in motion through the death of her friend Melara Hetherspoon, who had an infatuation with Jaime and of whom she thinks resentfully:

Melara had turned out to be a greedy little schemer with ideas above her station.

Which contrasts with Sansa’s thoughts on Jeyne Poole’s infatuation with a man of higher station:

Of course, Jeyne had been in love with Lord Beric ever since she had first glimpsed him in the lists. Sansa thought she was being silly; Jeyne was only a steward’s daughter, after all, and no matter how much she mooned after him, Lord Beric would never look at someone so far beneath him, even if she hadn’t been half his age.

It would have been unkind to say so, however, so Sansa took a sip of milk and changed the subject.

Like her Maiden, this Queen had dreams of romance, of being a powerful and loved queen of Westeros and mother to silver-haired princes as her father had promised her. But unlike Sansa, she never tried to dissociate herself from her mirror’s words even after her dreams were crushed and the mirror again promised someone better for her spouse:

Father found no better man. Instead he gave me Robert, and Maggy’s curse bloomed like some poisonous flower.

It’s as a result of the degradation that this marriage meant to her that she becomes deeply bitter, manipulative, dishonest and hard . . . but still doesn’t fault her mirror, still doesn’t crack it, even though her own words to Sansa and her inner monologue reveal that being sold off like property to a man like Robert affected her deeply, and despite the fact that amongst the first things she feels relieved about upon Tywin’s death is that “there will be no more talk of forcing her to wed again.” Having for a looking-glass a misogynistic father that utilised rape and sexual humiliation as punishment and “educational method” for a son is terrible enough, but to strive to emulate him and surpass him as she does for the entirety of AFFC demonstrates her incapacity for self-reflection, for analysing people and situations accurately, and is emblematic of how deeply she has internalised the mirror’s representations, to the point that she treats women like the mirror treats them in an effort to suck out the mirror’s masculine power for herself.

That Queen Cersei’s bitterness is directed not only at the status quo but at her own gender and at herself, for sharing the gender of the victims, is the greatest twist GRRM has made to differentiate her from the archetypal Queen, rendering her more monstrous yet also more complex than her counterparts of myth and tale, as both Aphrodite and the Queen are comfortable with their femininity, happy with being women, and they never express any wish whatsoever to be like men; they fight even if dishonourably for a place for themselves in a male world as females unhappy with the impositions on their gender, but that nevertheless have to please the mirror to get on top and stay there. Cersei, on the other hand, goes far beyond: she doesn’t want to please the mirror, she wants to be the mirror.

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Am just posting so i don't need to search to find the thread. Have decided to finally take th eplunge into the BIG threads. am loving PT so far, really excellent stuff.

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Welcome to the thread Gwydden and TWE. There's a lot of material you can easily access in the Resources OP, and Milady of York will be updating it soon with content from this iteration. Don't hesitate to join in the discussion :)

Excellent! A nice cup of coffee and a comfortable seat is in order, as the contribution that kickstarts this new mini-project is coming in a series of long, long posts. . .

Just thought you should know I'm on my fifth cup :P Excellent work as usual, and a great start to the motherhood project.

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It’s as a result of the degradation that this marriage meant to her that she becomes deeply bitter, manipulative, dishonest and hard . . . but still doesn’t fault her mirror, still doesn’t crack it, even though her own words to Sansa and her inner monologue reveal that being sold off like property to a man like Robert affected her deeply, and despite the fact that amongst the first things she feels relieved about upon Tywin’s death is that “there will be no more talk of forcing her to wed again.” Having for a looking-glass a misogynistic father that utilised rape and sexual humiliation as punishment and “educational method” for a son is terrible enough, but to strive to emulate him and surpass him as she does for the entirety of AFFC demonstrates her incapacity for self-reflection, for analysing people and situations accurately, and is emblematic of how deeply she has internalised the mirror’s representations, to the point that she treats women like the mirror treats them in an effort to suck out the mirror’s masculine power for herself.

That Queen Cersei’s bitterness is directed not only at the status quo but at her own gender and at herself, for sharing the gender of the victims, is the greatest twist GRRM has made to differentiate her from the archetypal Queen, rendering her more monstrous yet also more complex than her counterparts of myth and tale, as both Aphrodite and the Queen are comfortable with their femininity, happy with being women, and they never express any wish whatsoever to be like men; they fight even if dishonourably for a place for themselves in a male world as females unhappy with the impositions on their gender, but that nevertheless have to please the mirror to get on top and stay there. Cersei, on the other hand, goes far beyond: she doesn’t want to please the mirror, she wants to be the mirror.

I'm in awe, Milday. This is absolutely amazing! When I initially read your series of posts, I wanted to raise the possibility of Jaime as Cersei's mirror since she selects him as a lover so she can gaze back at her own herself and he makes her feel beautiful and desirable. However, I was ignorant to the fact that the mirror symbolized patriarchal oppression and misogyny (which clearly excludes Jaime), therefore never would have considered Tywin the metaphorical mirror. Not only have you peeled back more layers of Sansa's arc, but you presented probably the best analysis of Cersei I have ever read. Bravo!

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Maybe you're not seeing it because it doesn't jive with your preconceived ideas about Sansa? At this point, she is little aware of just how unstable her aunt really is, and she doesn't know that Lysa saw LF kissing her in the garden. She still has hopes that Lysa can be swayed into sending her away from the Eyrie, and the fact that she's intimidated by the prospect of this meeting and stating her case does not diminish the magnitude of her resolve after the snow castle scene.

What do you mean she has to make do? These are important life experiences for Sansa, and more so because they have taken place in less than ideal circumstances, where the fact that she survived them speaks to her strength of character and willpower. This is about attesting to experiences which have made her stronger and which are symbolically appreciated as significant milestones for female development. ... What "flowered and wed" represents to Sansa does not equate to the unequal and cruel situation she endured during captivity under Lannister power. You see it as a testament of victimhood, but for Sansa it's one of womanhood and identity.

Do you think being the heir to Winterfell stings her emotionally too? Because by your reasoning, the fact that her claim is subject to exploitation would undermine her using it along with being flowered and wed. And yet, we see that despite how people may abuse her claim, it is still a valid point in favour of challenging her aunt's attempts to diminish her relevance and make her feel grateful for the betrothal. Winterfell is also a ruin, and Ned and Cat are dead, but later on she will think in opposition to Littlefinger:

I am not your daughter... I am Sansa Stark, Lord Eddard’s daughter and Lady Catelyn’s, the blood of Winterfell.

No, I do not think her being heir to Winterfell stings her in the same way, but to say she is the blood of Winterfell is a point of pride with her and always was (even in captivity).

To say she is its heir may very well sting her, because after all her being heir is the result of her brothers being dead. Still, I do not think it is qualitatively the same in any case.

She is flowered, and she is wed - it took place whether she wanted it to go the way it did or or not. For good and for ill, that milestone has passed forever.

You are presenting one interpretation, but consider - if you are willing to consider anything spoken by one you say has "preconceived notions" - that perhaps Sansa's resolve does not diminish the magnitude of her being intimidated by her aunt. I think by that point she has already come to understand her aunt is haughty, indifferent to her feelings, and a bit unstable (just how unstable she learns soon after, but I think she senses it coming already).

"Flowered and wed" is a thin rationale, compared to the simple and more powerful argument that she simply does not want to marry Sweetrobin, and that she is of Tully blood and should not be forced into a loveless marriage by her own kin, least of all by Lysa. Of course, this is the truth of it, but Sansa suspects Lysa is not the sort to take such a statement very well. The power imbalance between Sansa and Lysa is huge, given that she's a fugitive about to be called on the carpet by the Lady of the Vale. Testament of victimhood? No, but let's not make a celebratory parade float out of it either.

Back in her bedchamber, Sansa took off her cloak and her wet boots and sat beside the fire. She had no doubt that she would be made to answer for Lord Robert’s fit. Perhaps Lady Lysa will send me away. Her aunt was quick to banish anyone who displeased her, and nothing displeased her quite so much as people she suspected of mistreating her son.

Sansa would have welcomed banishment.

Give Sansa credit where it's due: she has learned long before this what it means to provoke someone who has power over you. And she understands already that she has, so she looks to get some silver lining out of it. Given that a direct appeal to truth will not likely work, the reinforcing appeal based her own maturity ("flowered and wed") is a much-needed contingency. Sansa hoped for a scenario along the lines of: Lysa would hear that she had done what she had done re: Sweetrobin, perhaps consider that she was already too "tainted" for the precious little lord (aunt Lysa's view, not her own), and then Sansa would be sent away as a punishment - a punishment that for Sansa was actually a welcome escape. She would use her courtesy armour, feign contrition and stoic unhappiness that she has to be sent away, and then be free of Lysa's ambitions and Littlefinger's advances. It's quite clever, though obviously Lysa's unpredictable jealous rage wrecked any such scenario.

(But enough on this - I see the next big post is at hand.)

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Well done, Milady. That’s a LOT of work. Thank you for your dedication!

I find your essay really convincing and I like the Cersei-Evil Queen and the Sansa-Snow White associations. It’s interesting that we can identify these figures (Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and Evil Queen) in Sansa’s storyline since Sansa herself enjoys tales. There’s so much metafiction and intertextuality in Sansa’s chapters.

Not much to add except that… I’m finally back :)

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< snip >

Whew ! That is quite a lot of text, but I really liked it.

The Snow White parallels, particularly the progression of dark-haired stepmother who dies ---> stepmother ---> dark-haired maiden had me considering an old bit of info: that GRRM had not originally intended two female Stark children, but one. Sansa was the later addition, in consideration of the fact that the Stark family had too little conflict, and he felt the need to create a Stark not like the others. Sansa's story seems the more Snow White-like, though when you mentioned the maiden's commonalities with her own predecessor, I could not help but think of Sansa and Lyanna. (After all, Lyanna's presence haunts Cersei with regard to both Rhaegar and Robert; it is cited by many as the root of her antipathy towards all the Starks.)

Looking back at the Sansa female influences list, I did not see Lyanna as one of those which was written about. I suppose it's because the Lyanna story seems to touch on Arya's and not Sansa's within the text; anything written examined there would be speculative only. Still - it might be worth a look.

Another thing I found interesting was the Mirror.

Cersei laments that women can be most cruel to each other (the irony of which you already pointed out).

One could say that the Mirror also carries the aspect of females' conflicts with each other, and how it is a tool or weapon that works both for and against them. A mirror is used to enhance their beauty and thus increase their power. However, it is also the means by which they are shown their own imperfections and thus their self-doubt manifests as "fear of weaknesses" by which other women may attack them. A magic mirror is even more so - flattering the user when the power of beauty waxes, and doomsaying when it wanes.

Women are no strangers to competing for power - beauty's power to enthrall men and assert dominance over other women certainly is an element in ASOIAF, and in Cersei's case, quite important in terms of how she regards her own attractiveness and why it is important. Those with power are often afraid of losing it, and Cersei's thoughts spell this out - animosity against Melara, Lyanna, Sansa, and Margaery, each in turn.

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Well done Milady! I really enjoyed these essays and you have done an excellent job of explaining the motivations and thought process of the "evil queen" type of character. As a girl looking at the Snow White story, of course I never understood the depth behind the Evil Queen's actions. She doesn't even have her own name and was just the cartoon like, one dimensional, evil character that the good character had to defeat. But you have identified something which I can now see as an adult to be a quite understandable fear, that of losing one's legitimacy and power, whose source comes from the patriarchal gaze that gives it those qualities in the first place, for once that is displaced then her own agency becomes quite diminished. I very much liked the explanation of the shadows that the maiden and the queen represent too.

This brings me to a comment that Brashcandy made in response to my Jane Eyre essay about Mrs. Reed, whom I described as being like Cersei:

You identified Mrs. Reed as being similar to Cersei Lannister, and this comparison is quite apt. Both women are responsible for confining the heroines to their "red rooms" - the bedchamber of Mrs. Reed's deceased husband, and the Red Keep built by the rulers of the former Targaryen dynasty. The chambers are therefore not only symbolic of patriarchal power, but of how patriarchy continually perpetuates its dominance, with Cersei and Mrs. Reed in the roles of gatekeepers and jailors.

Jane's Aunt, Sarah Reed, cannot "break the mirror" as you described, even on her deathbed, and give Jane the motherly affection Jane longs for. Aunt Reed has also perpetuated the patriarchal constraints of their society in two ways. First, she does this by indulging her son John, who upon his father's death essentially becomes the patriarch in the sense that he is the one who inherits the family wealth and name and their status in their society depends on his maintenance of that position (which he of course abuses causing the dowfall of his family and his own mother's death). Though John may have been the direct cause of their downfall, it was his mother's indulgence that indirectly led to it. The second is that she does the exact opposite with Jane, not only denying Jane of the motherly affection Jane longs for to her dying breath, (therefore not truly embracing the mother role) but in her bigger crime of trying to deny Jane of her inheritance from her Uncle when she informs him that Jane has died. It becomes a great source of concern for Jane that she cannot bring some means of wealth, and therefore independence, to her union with Mr. Rochester, as I will lay out in the next part of my Jane Eyre essay about the month leading up to and including the wedding day.

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Jane Eyre continued:

Part II, c. The month leading up to and including the wedding day.

Some things occur during the month leading up to Jane's and Rochester's wedding that make Jane uneasy. For instance, Rochester says that in a month she will be Jane Rochester and Jane pales upon hearing her new name as it sounds strange. Rochester also begins to try and change how Jane will dress and wants to give her jewels and fancy clothes and also he says she is beautiful and he wants the world to acknowledge her beauty too. This all makes Jane extremely uncomfortable. She thinks he is trying to delude himself or her. [deceit/lying theme again]. She does not want this:

. . . “I will attire my Jane in satin and lace, and she shall have roses in her hair; and I will cover the head I love best with a priceless veil.”

“And then you won't know me, sir; and I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin's jacket, -a jay in borrowed plumes. I would as soon see you, Mr. Rochester, tricked out in stage-trappings, as myself clad in a court-lady's robe; and I don't call you handsome, sir, though I love you most dearly: far too dearly to flatter you. Don't flatter me.”

[i see two parallels here with Sansa and Arya. First it reminds me of Arya again, in how she doesn't like fancy dresses and does not want to be treated like some fancy highborn lady. But it also reminds me of an inversion of Sandor and Sansa when he spouts how she should spare him her sers and her flattery. Also, there's the mummer symbolism that is present in Sansa's storyline, especially when she marries Tyrion. I believe it was Mahaut who said in her Bluebeard essay that one of the issues with Bluebeard is that he tries to change his wife and this is one of the perils of their marriage. The same thing is happening here. Jane is saying that having her dress in such a manner and trying to pass her off as beautiful to everyone is a mummer's farce, a form of self- deceit, and she does not want this. Unfortunately, Rochester totally ignores this and buys her a very costly veil to wear with her wedding dress, which is not a good way to start off a marriage.]

Also, Jane feels uncomfortable about Rochester giving her fancy things and expensive clothes and jewelry because it is like being a kept woman which is what Rochester did with Adele's mother Celine. She tells him that she will not become his “English Celine Varens”. This leads Jane to feeling very oppressed by the fact that she has little money so must be very dependent on Rochester. She then remembers about her Uncle John in Madeira. She determines to write to him immediately to tell him that she is getting married and to whom, “if I had but a prospect of one day bringing Mr. Rochester an accession of fortune, I could better endure to be kept by him now.

Other ominous undertones in the month leading up to the wedding day include that once Mrs. Fairfax is made aware that Rochester truly intends to marry Jane she still is skeptical and warns Jane that men such as he are not accustomed to marrying their governesses and that Jane should keep Mr. Rochester at a distance which irritates Jane. Tying into this, Rochester wants Jane to stop acting as Adele's governess and to start having dinner with him and Jane resists these changes too. For the time being until they are married officially, she wants things to remain as they are, with her continuing to act as a governess and not joining Rochester for the evening until after dinner tea time as usual. Rochester reluctantly agrees because he is certain that once they are married he will get his way.

Then, two nights before the wedding, Jane has a nightmare where Thornfield Hall seems to be all in ruins and abandoned and Rochester is riding away from her. She wakes up with a start and finds a strange woman in her room. It is not any of the servants, Mrs. Fairfax, nor even Grace Poole. She has thick, long, black hair and is wearing a white gown which gives her the look of some sort of apparition. Jane sees her take the fancy veil from her closet and put it over head and look in the mirror and Jane can now see her face clearly. Jane thinks it is a ghastly face, with bloodshot red eyes and it reminds her of the description of a Vampire. The mysterious woman then takes the veil from her head and rips it in two, throws it on the floor and stomps on it. When she peers at Jane's face, Jane loses consciousness from fright for only the second time in her life (the first being when she was in the red room at Gateshead Hall and thought she saw the ghost of her Uncle).

Rochester tries to tell Jane that this vision was merely a product of her feverish imagination, much like Jane's strange dream about Thornfield. Jane tells him that she is sure it actually happened because when she looked around her room that morning she saw the veil laying on her floor and it had actually been ripped in two. This makes Mr. Rochester start and shudder but then he tells her that what she saw was half vision and half real. He explains that she really did see a woman in her room and that woman was Grace Poole, only because of Jane's feverish nightmare, when she woke up and saw the woman in her room she must have changed Grace Poole in her mind into this goblin appearance. Then he anticipates Jane's next question as to why he would keep Grace Poole at Thornfield if she seems such a menace and he tells her that he will explain this to her when the have been married a year and a day but not now. Jane is not completely satisfied by this explanation but wanting to please him, and feeling relieved by his presence, she let's him think that she is satisfied.

The day of their wedding arrives. Jane gets dressed and uses a plain, simple veil that she had brought with her in place of the fancy one that was destroyed. When she looks at herself in the mirror after being fully dressed she thinks it is so unlike her usual self that it is almost a stranger looking back at her. Rochester is anxious to get going to the Church and calls for Jane to come down. He takes her hand in an iron grasp and moves with such a hurried stride towards the church that Jane has trouble keeping up with him. They stop just before entering the church for Jane to catch her breath and she sees two strangers walking among the headstones and move to go into the church by a side door. Jane and Rochester enter and they begin the ceremony. Of course the clergyman gets to that fateful line about if either of them knows of an impediment why they might not be joined in matrimony to confess it now. He pauses as is the custom after asking such question and is just about to continue when they hear a voice say that the marriage cannot go on as there is an impediment. Rochester tries to order the clergyman to proceed but the clergyman says he can't without looking into the claim. The man who said there is an impediment was one of the two strangers Jane had spotted as they entered the church. This man says then says that Mr. Rochester was married previously and has a wife now living. This man further explains that his name is Briggs and he is a solicitor and he has a statement from Richard Mason that swears that fifteen years earlier Edward Fairfax Rochester had married Mason's sister, Bertha Antoinetta Mason in Spanish Town, Jamaica. As proof that Bertha is still living now, Richard Mason himself steps forward (he was the other stranger) and though intimidated by Rochester's presence manages to say that his sister is still living at Thornfield and he saw her there three months ago.

Rochester finally accepts that his secret is out and that there will be no wedding. He admits that he was married to Bertha Mason and that she lives now at Thornfield, but before they judge him for attempting to be a bigamist he tells them how he was tricked into marrying Bertha and that she is mad and comes from a mad family, but he only found this out after he married her and he has been trapped in this unhappy situation for years. Then he has them all go and see for themselves this woman, who is really Mrs. Poole's patient, whom he was tricked into marrying. “You shall see what sort of a being I was cheated into espousing, and judge whether or not I had a right to break the compact, and seek sympathy with something at least human.” Rochester also tells the men that Jane knew nothing of this and thought all was fair and proper. They all go to the third floor of Thornfield to the room with the big bed on which Mr. Mason had been lying wounded a few months earlier and Rochester moves aside a tapestry to uncover the hidden door to another room which they all enter. There they see Grace Poole and another creature, grovelling on all fours and growling like a wild animal, but then it stands up and Jane can see that it is the woman with the wild, black hair and purple, bloated features that was in her room the other night. The woman lunges at Mr. Rochester, grasping his throat and biting into his cheek. After a struggle in which Rochester refuses to strike her, he and Grace Poole get her under control and tie her up.

After the other men leave, Jane goes to her room and spends the remaining hours of the day there looking at her love, examining her feelings and wondering what she should do now. She realizes that she must leave Thornfield but even so struggles with whether she in fact has the will to do it. Realizing that she has not had anything to eat or drink that whole day and feeling weak and dizzy with the events of the morning, she goes to leave her room to get something to eat and this scene happens:

[i undrew the bolt and passed out. I stumbled over an obstacle: my head was still dizzy, my sight was dim, and my limbs were feeble. I could not soon recover myself. I fell but not on the ground: an out-stretched arm caught me; I looked up -I was supported by Mr. Rochester, who sat in a chair across my chamber threshold.

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Another similarity is that Grace Poole was a stand in for Rochester's true wife, as Jane was convinced that the person causing all the disturbances around the house was Grace when in fact it was Bertha, just as Jeyne Poole is a stand in wife for Arya Stark. Ok, that last bit is stretching it I know but I thought it was worth a mention.

Another way to consider it is that most critics have identified Bertha as Jane's double (Grace Poole is the stand in as you said), the spectre who unleashes all the fury and frustration that still resides in Jane against patriarchal dominance, becoming manifest the closer she gets to marrying Rochester, and the fundamental inequality of that relationship, despite the love they have for each other. With respect to Jeyne Poole, even though she's sent North to impersonate Arya, she's really Sansa's double, entrapped in a violent marriage to Ramsay Bolton and expected to be a pliant and good wife to him, as Sansa was envisioned for Tyrion (and others). All these women have to find the courage or "madness" to escape their captors and achieve their independence/liberty.

Have you read Wide Sargasso Sea, btw? It's a post-colonial novel that "writes back" to Jane Eyre, telling the story of Antoinette and her life growing up in the West Indies, meeting Rochester and how their relationship develops. It really deepens one's understanding and sympathy for Bertha.

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Milady of York, many thanks for a wonderful set of essays.

How do you think Margaery Tyrell ties into these legends? Unlike the Maiden, she's no innocent, given her likely involvement in poisoning Joffrey, and framing Sansa.

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Many thanks to you ladies for the comments, and to you as well, SeanF.

In Part II, where I elaborate on the Queen vs. Maiden conflict, I’ve also addressed the question of Margaery and how she fits into this archetypical confrontation, which isn’t playing out exactly as in the archetype because of two major twists introduced by GRRM that have to do with Cersei’s peculiar psychological workings.

Because the Lannister queen isn’t good at assessing people and situations correctly, she’s ended up confronting two Maiden figures: Sansa is her real Maiden and her interactions with her have thus far followed the archetypal pattern remarkably faithfully, but Cersei is oblivious to this fact because she’s stuck in the “until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all you hold dear” part of Maggy the Frog’s prophesy, which she’s obviously interpreted as another younger queen taking her place and robbing her of everything she’s fought and killed for; and true to her narrow and very literal interpretation of the maegi’s words, she’s come up with a mindset similar to her Tyrion is my valonqar conviction that has led her to discard the thought of Sansa as her Maiden and focus on Margaery instead. There’s a logical explanation for this rationale—logical for Cersei, that is—which I’ve also addressed, and that revolves round the issue of power and resources each girl possesses: Sansa from the moment she met the queen was naïve and easily manipulated by Cersei, and later she was just a prisoner without friends, without resources and support, so she couldn’t do anything to unsettle the queen, and in her view she had stayed just as clueless; therefore Cersei doesn’t know she’s her Maiden because she underestimates her.

But Margaery, on the other hand, has resources and allies, and an ambitious family that is slowly snatching larger and larger power quotas from the Lannisters’ hands, and this is a girl that can manipulate her sons and turn them to her side, particularly sweet Tommen, thus shoving his mother off the role of puppeteer to the boy-king, essentially what Cersei fears, and thus she ascribes to her the role of Maiden who will be Queen and displace her eventually, not in a smooth transition from one queen to another but rather stripping the old queen of everything first. She’s not correct in that Margaery is her Maiden, though, because the little rose doesn’t fit into the archetype in any of its interpretations, the mythical or the tale versions, personality-wise or with regard to the relationship dynamics they have. Theirs is rather a queen vs. queen conflict instead of a queen vs. maiden one like Sansa/Cersei, and there’s the matter that whilst the former type is always unilateral (the queen targets an innocent maiden), the former isn’t necessarily so, as the opponent may or mayn’t be innocent when she is targeted, and in the case of Margaery, whilst we can speculate that she was complicit in Joffrey’s murder and so not innocent, an argument can be made that she was innocent of the charges Cersei brought in to have her arrested in her quest to obliterate the menace of the Younger Queen, managing to bring herself down in the process.

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It seems you really did your HW, Milady of York; an excellent job. As to Sandor as the Huntsman:

I should have . . . ripped her heart out before leaving her for that dwarf.

The Huntsman was charged with ripping out Snow White's heart, and after he let her go she bumped into the seven dwarves. After Sandor leaves Sansa, she is married to Tyrion, a dwarf.

Cersei's relationships and loyalties are usually bought with gold, promises or sex. While Sansa can build healthy relationships based on trust and genuine care.

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