Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Holes - Louis Sachar

I've just re-read Loius Sachar's Holes as a consequence of watching the movie the weekend before last. Having enjoyed both the book and the movie, I've been pondering the role of the two "wicked women" in the story: Kissing Kate Barlow, the schoolteacher-turned-outlaw; and the descendant of her "enemy", Ms Walker, who is the Warden of Camp Green Lake. It occurs to me that there aren't very many ordinary wicked women in children's literature. Of course, there are the wicked witches or wicked fairies of the Fairy Tales, but I can think of very few ordinary women who are wicked - there's Bellatrix Lestrange and Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books, but most women are domestic. Would the Warden of Camp Green Lake be more or less scary if she was a man instead ? You probably would not get the issue of rattlesnake-venom based nail polish, if the Warden was a man; for me one of the most unnerving scenes in the book and the film is when the Warden strikes "Mr. Sir", poisoning him with the rattlesnake venom nail polish.

I get the feeling that Kate Barlow, even as an outlaw, wasn't really wicked so much as desperate, although she killed quite a few men when robbing them of their worldly goods. She fell in love with Sam the onion seller, and because he was black, he was killed for kissing a white woman. I get the impression that Kate was half-crazy with love and grief when she turned outlaw, and that she turned outlaw largely because the Sheriff of Green Lake wouldn't help her when the townspeople set fire to the school.

The Warden, Ms Walker, is the descendant of Charles "Trout" Walker, the man who wanted to marry Kate Barlow and was turned down. The Walkers apparently handed their grudge against Kate Barlow on to their descendants, much as Stanley's family curse was handed on to the descendants of Elya Yelnats, the "no-good-dirt-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather", the man who forgot to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain. It could be argued that Ms Walker is not really wicked either, just resentful and frustrated, but I'm not convinced. Someone who takes pleasure in wearing nail polish laced with rattlesnake venom, and who destroys Zero's files after he runs away from the Camp, so that no one will know he was there, is definitely in the "wicked women" category.

So how many other Wicked Women, who aren't Witches or Fairies, are there in children's literature ? I'd be interested to know.

21 comments:

Krista said...

I've been lurking for a bit and thought it was time I commented.

The first thought that came to my mind is of Miss Scratchard in Jane Eyre, but I then remembered that you were looking for wicked women from children's books. Alas, but the only other woman who came to mind was Aunt Tribulation in Joan Aiken's Nighbirds on Nantucket.

Michele said...

Actually I don't see why we shouldn't go with Jane Eyre - plenty of teens have to read it for their English exams here in the UK. And whilst we're on the subject of JE - how wicked is Aunt Reed, would you say ?

As for "Aunt Tribulation", it is of course, worth pointing out that the woman who gave Dido and Pen so much trouble wasn't Pen's real aunt ! But I'd agree with you on her inclusion in the list of wicked women. I read Nightbirds on Nantucket only a few weeks ago, but I'd forgotten the false Aunt Trib.

(Thanks for delurking !)

Little Willow said...

Hi there! Have you read Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn? I don't want to give anything away, but there's a wicked stepmother...

Hallie said...

Joan Aiken has lots of Wicked Women (though matched by plenty of
Malevolent Men) - wait till you get to The Stolen Lake! Dahl could contribute a few, maybe? (Don't like him so don't read him.) And - oh, senior moment - there's a possible in the Bartimeus books, isn't there?

I agree about Aunt Reed, who's cruel and unjust, but maybe not wicked
in the way you're thinking. There are probably a fair few relatives
like her (or less extreme) in children's lit.

It's an interesting question...

Heather said...

Miss Minchin in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Mrs. Coulter said...

Oooh oooh ooooh!

Mrs. Coulter! Even though she gets redeemed in the end.

Michele said...

Thanks for the suggestions so far !

"Mrs Coulter", I wondered whether you would suggest your namesake or whether you thought her redemption saved her - clearly not !

Little Willow, I've not read the book (nor even heard of it before).

Hallie, I hadn't really thought too much about how I was defining "wicked women", except not the usual wicked witches or fairies of such tales as "Sleeping Beauty"...

Heather, I should have remembered Miss Minchin ! I'm ashamed of myself !

Camille said...

I would like to include the cruel, mean, odious, vile grandmother from Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm. What a nasty piece of work, she is!

Hallie said...

Well, as you're not discounting all supernatural wicked women - Laurel in Fire and Hemlock might be included. And - odd, I've just realised that Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence has two wicked women who seem lovely, one in Over Sea, Under Stone and one in Silver on the Tree. I won't give their names until I'm sure you've read the books, as their wickedness is such a surprise.

Although thinking about Laurel again, in another way she's acting within her own rules, like Death of a Ghost's Sulis, and not really wicked at all.

Hallie said...

I suspect candidates will come to me at odd intervals for some time now! I just thought of one perfect wicked woman - in Eva Ibbotson's The Star of Kazan. This is one of Ibbotson's non-fantastic children's books, and when I read it I was struck by how it seemed to have things (impostors and other terrible villains, dreadful boarding schools, etc.) which are usually only in old children's books (like The Little Princess, for example) or modern children's fantasy. She pulls it off very well in The Star of Kazan, I think.

Michele said...

Thanks Camille amd Hallie.

I have to say Hallie, that I don't agree with you over Laurel - I think she's a vile woman !

I've read the Susan Cooper books - but I'm scraping the barrel on the names ! I know one of the women you mention must be the wife of John (?), the man who is then made to forget about his wife - but who is the other woman ??

Interestingly, I didn't consider Sulis (in Death of a Ghost to be wicked - but then she is a goddess !!

Don't forget everyone, this is the Spoiler Zone so naming names or giving details is acceptable...

Hallie said...

Don't get me wrong about Laurel - I think she's vile too! I only meant that as she's the Queen of Faerie, thinking about it one way she's hard to hold to the normal rules of human behaviour, as is Sulis. Though I once had an interesting argument with someone who had a kind of sneaky liking for Laurel but hated the Lady in The Perilous Gard, because she thought Laurel had reason to be superior (being the Queen), while the Lady didn't. I didn't (and still don't) agree at all.

You're right, I was thinking of Blodwen (John Rowland's wife - names thanks to my copy of Four British Fantasists rather than my memory!), and the other one is Mrs Palk, the sort of house-keeper/cook, whose niceness is of a very cozy, grandmotherly sort (apparently).

Michele said...

Hallie, you're really getting into this, aren't you ? (I'm not complaining though !)

I see what you mean about Laurel...

At least I remembered John's first name, even if I couldn't remember his surname or his wife's... And I don't remember Mrs Palk at all ! (Time for a re-read, perhaps ?)

Mrs. Coulter said...

Yes, she does get redeemed in the end, and I think that her redemption is very meaningful (that salvation is available to even the worst through an act of selfless love).

However, up to the point of her redemption, man is she ever EVIL. Wow. So, yes, I think she counts as wicked.

Michele said...

I quite agree with you about Mrs Coulter - her behaviour is appalling and I hated her for a long time whilst reading the "His Dark Materials" trilogy for the first time.

OK, I'm going to take everyone's suggestions and post a list in a new Blog message, and see what other suggestions I get. Thanks for all your contributions.

Michele said...

I'm currently reading Lloyd Alexander's "The Chronicles of Prydain", so I can now add Achren to the list; and I remembered Charles Butler's "Mrs Mumm" in The Fetch of Mardy Watt too !

Jen Robinson said...

I would have to go with Miss Trunchbull from Matilda. She was quite evil! Miss Minchin, too. There's something about school headmistresses, I guess. I'm apparently not very creative today, because I can't think of anyone else not already mentioned.

Debbie G said...

This is fun! May I join? I suggest Deerskin's mother (Deerskin, Robin McKinley), Aunt Maria (DWJ), and Gwendolyn Chant (DWJ)... so far :)

Michele said...

Thanks Debbie, I don't know any of these characters.

Jen, I'd forgotten Mrs Trunchbull - though how I could have forgotten her, I can't imagine.

Krista said...

I'm finally back with one more. :-)

Esme Squalor from Lemony Snicket!

And I do think that Aunt Reed in Jane Eyre would qualify as "wicked," in her own little way.

Michele said...

Thanks for coming back again Krista - and for the new suggestion.