For the longest time, Disney had this reputation of sanitizing fairy tales for a family-friendly audience. Now that Disney has evolved into an eldritch abomination of a mega-corporation, however, there’s a movie within the umbrella that takes fairy tales back to their horror-themed roots: Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness.
Spoilers for Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness.
Each of the main characters in this movie fall under a fairy tale archetype. While the movie is categorized as horror, fairy tales and horror have a long history of going together. The original Brothers Grimm fairy tales usually had some sort of body horror along with lots of dark atmospheric settings.
America Chavez: The Princess In Distress
Yes, my dear readers, America Chavez is secretly a Disney Princess. And like a lot of Disney Princesses, she starts out as a damsel in distress. This precocious young girl is in way over her head with powers she doesn’t understand along with demons chasing after her. However, America learns that she needs to tap into her self-confidence and trust in her ability to hone her powers. Once she does so, she ends up saving the day. I really hope that I see more of America Chavez in future MCU installments.
Wong: The Noble Knight
Wong is the Sorcerer Supreme and while he plays a supporting role in this movie, his archetype is that of the Noble Knight. He is stalwart, courageous, and loyal to his friends. He stands up to the villain and keeps Doctor Strange in check.
Wong seriously needs his own movie or series on Disney Plus.
Christine Palmer: The Helper-Maiden
In Saint George and the Dragon as well as the myths of Jason and Medea (and Theseus and Ariadne), the helper-maiden is a woman who helps the hero. Christine Palmer is essentially Doctor Strange’s anchor, reminding him of what he needs to do. Much like Wong, Christine constantly questions Strange and does her best to protect America Chavez.
Wanda Maximoff: The Evil Witch/Queen
Every fairy tale has one. And I’m not gonna lie: Wanda being the villain of this movie hurt, especially after Wandavision. Corrupted by the Darkhold and driven by a grief that she hasn’t been able to process, Wanda grasps at dark powers, all for the desire to have some sense of control over her life.
What separates Wanda from every other Evil Witch and Evil Queen is that her motivations are ones that any grieving mother and widow can understand. And eventually, she learns her lesson, realizing that she turned into a monster that frightens her own children.
(I also do not think that Wanda is dead, even with her collapsing the Darkhold tower around her. She is way too powerful to go down that easily.)
Doctor Stephen Strange: The Clever Trickster
Doctor Strange’s archetype is one that’s found more often in mythologies and folklore than fairy tales. The Clever Trickster takes the form of the cunning fox or the sly crow, the gods Hermes and Odin, and Loki, heroes like Odysseus, Jason, and Theseus.
Doctor Strange’s lesson in this movie is humility. Every other Strange in every other universe was arrogant, prone to corruption, and always took charge at the expense of what everyone else needed. Strange knows better than anyone that actions have consequences and by the end, he takes a good step in humility by bowing to Wong, the Sorcerer Supreme and his most trusted friend.
One other way that Doctor Strange learns humility is that he is humble enough to let Christine Palmer be happy. Even though he loves Christine, he won’t hold her or any other version of her hostage. Their love was never meant to be and Strange has accepted that.
I’ll end this blog post with a quote from GK Chesterton, who knew a thing or two about fairy tales:
Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.
Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.
And that is why fairy tales and horror go hand in hand.