Happy October to all! This month I have several guests and neat posts pertaining to Halloween and all things supernatural, magical and scary. Of course, Cedric will be up to his usual mischief on Sexy Saturdays. To kick things off, I have a little something on femme fatales.
Femme fatale is French for "deadly woman". A femme fatale is a mysterious, seductive woman, who uses sexuality and cunning to trap lovers in compromising or dangerous situations. She is both villain and anti-heroine in literature and art. In mythology and folklore she is often ascribed supernatural or demonic powers and called such names as enchantress, seductress, vampire, witch, or demon.
In literature, we see examples of the femme fatale archetype in characters such as Becky Sharp in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Carmilla, Sheridan Le Fanu's titular vampire, Hilde Wangel in The Master builder by Ibsen, Salome by Oscar Wilde and La Belle Dame Sans Merci and Lamia by poet John Keats. Gosh, you even see one Mia Disantini in my own book Cara Mia.
I find it interesting that the word “vampire”, in one of its meanings, describes a woman who exploits and ruins men. Perhaps this is part of what inspired me to write Cara Mia, although I take a somewhat more feminist look at the archetype, portraying my heroine as a woman who was hurt and exploited by men, but becomes empowered and independent of their sway. In much of today’s urban fantasy, particularly in the darker variety, we see a variation of the femme fatale in the “kick-ass” heroine.
The femme fatale was a standby in film noir classics such as The Maltese Falcon, Gilda and The Postman Always Rings Twice. And who can forget Kathleen Turner in the eighties film, Body Heat or Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct? Glenn Close starred in Fatal Attraction, the film that gave us a psychotic stalker of a femme fatale, spawning the term “Bunny Boiler”.
Mythology has its share of femme fatales, I’d like to share of few examples with you today:
Lilith- In Jewish mythology, Adam had a wife prior to Eve, who was not created from his body, but at the same time, independent of him. Lilith was willful and disobedient, my kind of gal. She refused to submit to Adam and to lie underneath him during intercourse. One day, she ups and leaves her bewildered and frustrated husband. Adam calls upon the Almighty to complain about his lack of feminine companionship, and three angels, Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof, come down to earth to search from Lilith. They find her on the shores of the red sea, copulating with demons and giving birth to demonic children. She refuses to return to Adam and warns the angels that she was created to take the lives of newborn children. (Although where these children came from doesn't seem to be explained). The angels persuade her to not kill any infant who wears an amulet inscribed with their angelic likenesses or names.
Up until the 19th century, people used these amulets to protect pregnant women and newborn children.
Lilith is most likely derived from a Babylonian Goddess, but there is some question whether her story may have come out of India, due to the her name being similar to a Sanskrit word for “lotus”, a symbol of the yoni or female genitals.
Sirens were women often portrayed with the bodies of birds and said to have enchanting voices. Depending on the source of the mythology, Greece or the later Roman myths, they would either sit on an island in a meadow or river, or on rocky islands in the sea. There they would sing their seductive songs and lure hapless mariners to their doom. There are differing stories concerning their number, some say two, some three and yet other accounts name up to five. They figure prominently in Homer’s Odyssey.
Lamia is the name of a beautiful Libyan queen, who legend says became a demon that devoured children. She is sometimes shown with a serpentine tail, and is given snake-like qualities in the John Keat’s poem bearing her name.
Later the term lamia came to mean a class of female demons that were succubus or vampire-like. The plural for the term is lamiae. My heroine, Mia, is often called La Mia by her punning Immortyl kinsman Philip.
Wila (sometimes Veela, Vila or Willi) are nymphs or spirits found in trees, clouds, meadows and bodies of water, who can create storms. They are sometimes described as lovely, pale maidens that waylay male travelers by coercing them to dance with them. Sometimes this is a pleasurable experience for the male, but it is often fatal. They can shape-shift, turning into swans, falcons, wolves or snakes, and they are also fierce warriors. In some tales, wila are maidens who died of a broken heart and exact revenge on men. Wila are the willis in the ballet, Giselle, and are also related to the swan maidens in Swan Lake. More recently, they are seen in the Harry Potter series as the Veela. A major character in the series, Fleur Delacour, is part Veela.
It’s certainly interesting to look at these myths from the perspective of female empowerment. There is a common thread in these stories of female sexuality being dangerous, something that must be resisted and controlled. However, the way I look at it, femme fatales are based on fear and misunderstanding of female sexuality.
But femme fatales sure make fun literary characters!
Thanks for joining me today! I’ll be sharing more about femme fatales in later posts.
Contest: Leave a comment and a contact email, and I’ll draw one name to win a free ebook (epub, mobi or PDF) of Annals of the Immortyls. The first of the three tales in the book, feature my heroine, Mia Disantini, in the role of femme fatale in a story called, A Gentleman’s Wager.
Contest ends 10/31/12 at 11 p.m. EST.