Is the ‘mother’ in Hilda Bewildered good or evil?
There are two mothers in Hilda Bewildered. First is the Queen, the mother of Princess Hilda. Then there is the ‘mother’ at the Tropical Hotel — an equally cold character whose motivations are not immediately clear.
Readers are trained by traditional fairytales to regard this mother as evil because of her appearance: Her features are masculine, she dresses in black. Her hooked nose is reminiscent of witches’ noses, as is her grey, unadulterated hair. That she is depicted knitting, in a grandmotherly type pose, is an irony which serves to highlight her un-grandmotherly nature.
When the mother locks Hilda in the ‘closet suite’, this is an obvious trespass upon Hilda’s freedom, but when the police arrive we see that this imprisonment is partly for Hilda’s protection. Is it cruel to lock Hilda up for a few days if the alternative is being locked up for life?
When the mother says, ‘Take this cursed jewel, far, far into the wild. Fling it into the deep,” what is she advising? If the ring is a symbol of beauty, given to some and not others by accident of birth, she is telling her daughter to let go of the beauty ideal. There are two ways to deal with the beauty ideal when you’re far from that: You can reject it outright (as the mother has done) or you can reinterpret beauty itself, taking it for yourself by changing the way you think about the world. This is what Hilda intends to do. She imagines herself as beautiful even though by luck of birth she does not conform to the generally accepted beauty standards. In the image-conscious, celebrity-focussed world of this story, nobody is about to endow Hilda with any worth; she must either reject it altogether or find it from within.
If the reader interprets the mother as the “witch” or “evil-stepmother” analog of traditional fairytales, what does that say about:
- How readers of picturebooks are trained to correlate beauty with goodness in picturebooks and illustrated stories
- How we prejudge characters we meet in real life
- The importance of “beauty privilege”
- The false dichotomy between “good” and “evil” mothers
The mother at the Tropical Hotel as Threshold Guardian
In The Writer’s Journey: Mythic structure for storytellers & screenwriters, Christopher Vogler describes the ‘threshold guardian’.
In stories, Threshold Guardians take on a fantastic array of forms. They may be border guards, sentinels, night watchmen, lookouts, examiners, or anyone whose function is to temporarily block the way of the hero and test her powers. The energy of the Threshold Guardian may not be embodied as a character, but may be found as a prop, architectural feature, animal, or force of nature that blocks and tests the hero. Learning how to deal with Threshold Guradians is one of the major tests of the Hero’s Journey.
Threshold Guardians are not the big, bad enemies but can be likened to a fox at the hole of a bear’s cave, who keeps animals from wandering into the cave while a bear is hibernating, kicking up a fuss if there’s trouble, alerting the bear to danger.
When a hero encounters a Threshold Guardians, she can either power on forward or retreat. The Threshold Guardian tests a hero’s resolve to enter a new world.
Vogler explains that the main function of the Threshold Guardian is to test the hero. Often in stories, the hero ‘gets into the skin’ of the Threshold Guardian, quite literally by, say, dressing up as guards to get past the guards.
Threshold Guardians are not threatening enemies but useful Allies, and ‘early indicators that new power or success is coming. Threshold Guardians who appear to be attacking may in fact be doing the hero a huge favour’.