Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nicholas Stuart Gray’s witch: Mother Gothel

The witch Mother Gothel appears in Nicholas Stuart Gray’s story The Stone Cage, which is a re-telling of the Rapunzel fairy tale. Rapunzel is a maiden with very long hair who is kept prisoner by a witch at the top of a tall stone tower.

The book is currently unobtainable: all I could find was the dramatized version of The Stone Cage, which is better than nothing. This play has also been performed under the name The Wrong Side of the Moon.

Mother Gothel as depicted in The Stone Cage is based on a real person - Nicholas Stuart Gray’s mother.

Mother Gothel is introduced
“She is a witch, in the worst meaning of the word. A creature of malice, egotism and cruelty. She is so interested in herself, that she has little time to spare for anyone else’s feelings or well-being. She considers the world against her, and beneath her. She is absolutely alone, and does not even realise that she minds the fact…Once, long ago, she was beautiful. Now, she would be avoided by anyone with sense…”

More about Mother Gothel – in her own words

“Obey me, crawl to me, cringe, and love me!”

“I do not forgive anything – ever.”

“I have little or no sense of humour. It’s quite fatal to true wickedness.”
This reminds me of something Richard Hannay says in John Buchan’s The Three Hostages “I saw it as farce… and at the coming of humour the spell died”. 

“It’s best to catch ‘em young…Before their minds open. When they know nothing, except what you choose to tell them. See nothing but what you care to show. When right and wrong are words to juggle with, and black and white is interchangeable...”

This too is familiar: Dominick Medina, the villain of The Three Hostages, wipes the memories of his young captives and fills their minds with his own creations. The mention of black and white reminds me of another of Hannay’s comments: “I felt that I was looking on at an attempt, which the devil is believed to specialise in, to make evil good and good evil...”

“I foreswore humanity…when I took up sorcery.”

“A true witch must give her heart and soul to witchcraft. If she parts with them elsewhere she is useless! I have been careful not to feel too much affection for any-”

“You must fear me! You must! Sorcery can only thrive on fear…”

“I will have vengeance. I’ll show you!...All of you, just wait!”

Tricking and trapping
Mother Gothel has no friends: everyone in her close circle is a prisoner. She sets traps: she leaves corn and milk out in her garden, and when a raven and a cat come and steal the food she enslaves them. She accuses them of trespassing and thieving; they ask her who put the food out; she retorts that if they had been honest, they would not have been snared. This is not a bad point, but she is no more honest than they are.

Her servant Tomlyn the cat helps her to trick someone in a similar way when his mistress has deliberately made her cottage visible in order to trap someone. Tomlyn encourages a woodcutter to help himself to the green rampion leaves in Mother Gothel’s garden, assuring him that the witch will not mind, then when the man starts to cut the leaves Tomlyn calls him a thief and a trespasser and calls his mistress out from her cottage. She tricks the man into promising to hand over his new-born baby daughter: she makes him think that she is giving him the rampion in exchange for a new-born puppy. Just as she takes advantage of the dishonesty of the ‘catastrophic cat’ and the ‘ravenous raven’, she takes advantage of the woodcutter’s honesty.

Mother Gothel’s treatment of her captives
Mother Gothel plays the bait and switch game very well: once ensnared there is no more milk for Tomlyn nor corn for Marshall. She gives them horrible food to eat. She sets them to watch each other. She has trapped them because she wants slaves to work for her and run her errands.

She takes the baby Rapunzel from her parents because she intends to “Train her. Teach her my craft. Teach her to be the greatest and wickedest witch in all the world.” Her caring for people is conditional: she says that she will be kind to Rapunzel if the girl is good…good at being bad.

She is unscrupulous: she tells Rapunzel that she adopted her because her cruel parents abandoned her. She is cowardly: she intends Rapunzel to perform on her behalf the strong black magic she is too afraid to undertake herself. She is unfair: she adds insult to injury by making Marshall and Tomlyn grow to human size then criticises them for being so big and threatens to punish them if they grow any more.

She prefers to be called ‘Madam’ by Tomlyn and Marshall, but sometimes refers to herself as ‘Mum’. She insists on being called ‘Mother’ by Rapunzel. She sometimes uses loving words towards her servants, but her actions speak for themselves: they show her real character and intentions.  Mother Gothel adds insult to injury when she treats Marshall and Tomlyn very badly but forces them to say that they love her. This reminds me of Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest.

Mother Gothel assumes that no one will try to escape, trick or defy her or do anything behind her back: Marshall is too great a coward; Tomlyn, who resembles his mistress in many ways, too deeply in love with the sorcery he learns from her, and Rapunzel apparently too stupid. In any case, she believes that her magic is too strong to let them get free. She has no idea that her attempts to turn Rapunzel into a witch are being sabotaged by an underground resistance movement: she has let Tomlyn in on some magic so that he can assist her, and with Marshall’s assistance he uses it to foil her schemes.

Mother Gothel is vindictive: she banishes Rapunzel to the far side of the moon as a punishment for having a secret meeting with a prince called Robert. Envy might also be involved here, as could disappointment because the plans Mother Gothel made for Rapunzel and the future she designed on her behalf have come to nothing: the girl is unable to perform even simple spells, so she is unlikely ever to become “the greatest, and loveliest, of all the queens of witches.”

Mother Gothel sends Rapunzel to die, choking from lack of air, after raising her hopes by asking her whether she would like to leave the tower and assuring her that of course she will be permitted to go. 

The far side of the moon
In the witch’s words, the far side of the moon is “…an empty desert of cracked rocks, and dust, and bitter cold…darkness and silence…a waterless waste of vanished seas. Where no rain falls and no wind blows. A desolate world, and very far away. No voice will speak to you again. No living thing will touch your hand-”

This sounds like the bleak inner landscape of some real life witches. It is also a good metaphor for the state of mind of some of their victims, people banished to and trapped within this desolate world for refusing to obey their commands or disappointing them in some way.

To Mother Gothel, the moon, with no air, no water and bitter cold is a fitting place for a cold-hearted girl and two treacherous slaves.

How Mother Gothel sees herself and events
She seems unable to connect cause and effect; she does not understand that she is living with the consequences of her past actions; she does not take responsibility for anything; she behaves as if she were the injured party:

“I’ve been too kind. They all take advantage…I did hope for a little affection there. I’ve been a real mother to her and still she treats me like a stranger…weeping at me, cowering from me! What’s the matter with them all? I’m loveable – and clever - and witty...”

Seeing herself as the victim of her exploited captives makes Mother Gothel very vindictive.  She gloats over the thought that no one can live for more than two seconds on the moon.

She is delusional about her appearance: she tries to convince herself that she is still very beautiful: “Whoever sees me will love me.”
She commissions a portrait of herself and makes the painter do it over and over again until it is flattering enough.

More about witchcraft and magic
Tomln says “Witchery weighs on humans, like lead.”

Battypan the troll says “It’s always the same with magic. The price is secret, till it’s too late to back out.”

Tomlyn says to Rapunzel “Think of life with two witches! All quarrelling, and sneaking – and you getting more like her every day – spitefuller, uglier and lonelier –“

When Rapunzel asks Tomlyn whether all magic is wicked and how Mother Gothel could be so cruel, he replies that it is not wicked if handled right, but it must come naturally. Mother Gothel wanted power, not magic for its own sake. She just wanted to use it to push people around.

Warped and distorted personalities
Unfortunately, people like Mother Gothel exist in real life and they do a lot of damage to their families.

Marshall and Tomlyn behave like children from a dysfunctional family, children who live in fear of their mother, children with no examples of good behaviour to copy. They fawn on and flatter their mistress. They live in an environment where cruelty and sadism, lying, deceit and spite flourish. Living in fear and deprivation brings out their worst qualities.

Each tries to pass the blame to and take credit from the other. They insult and threaten each other, just as Mother Gothel insults and threatens them. They inform or threaten to inform on each other: they ‘tell tales’ and report misbehaviour to ‘Mum’, currying favour for a kind word or something to eat.

Each enjoys seeing the other punished. It is actually very funny when Marshall shrieks “Beat him!” Mother Gothel slaps Tomlyn and Marshall shouts “Again! And again!” When the baby Rapunzel first arrives, Tomlyn says that they can blame her for what goes wrong and she will get the whackings.

Rapunzel has never seen anything of the world and knows nothing about real life, life as lived by people who are not prisoners and are not being forced to try to learn black magic.

The play may be amusing, but the real life counterparts are not. Double messages, loving words combined with cruel actions confuse the recipients and damage their sense of reality.

Hope for all?
Both Marshall and Tomlyn start to reform when they are treated with kindness and respect by Rapunzel and her parents, and see how decent human beings behave. When Rapunzel is banished to the far side of the moon, they accompany her out of love and loyalty.

Marshall eventually stands up to Mother Gothel and tells her some home truths. He even turns her into a tree! She must stay like that until she grows a heart. Marshall and Tomlyn decide to stay with her because they cannot leave poor old Mum all alone.

There are a few indications that Mother Gothel has some remaining human feelings. She becomes thoughtful when she first sees Robert. After her three hostages have gone, she says “An empty room is so cold.”

Tomlyn pours some water over the roots of the tree. A small green leaf soon uncurls from one of the branches.

Mother Gothel and Nicholas Stuart Gray’s mother
The play is very amusing: it contains some witty dialogue. However, there is something very chilling beneath the surface. If we remove the humour and the magic, we are left with something that sounds very like the condition known as malignant narcissism.

Nicholas Stuart Gray speaks about his mother in an interview:

 “She was a megalomaniac…very beautiful…She could never believe she was no longer sixteen…she never got over it…She could never believe that all this beauty was going over…once we stopped saying ‘Yes Mummy’ and started saying ‘No Mummy’ we were instant enemies. We were challenging her - especially me…She spent the whole of her time trying to cut us down…So we grew up terribly unsure of ourselves and doubtful of other people, always prepared to be cut down…We were always ugly, stupid, gullible, useless people in her eyes…The sad thing about people like that is that they are completely alone.”
- The Pied Pipers by Justin Wintle and Emma Fisher

His words immediately reminded me of certain passages in Lady Colin Campbell’s book Daughter of Narcissus and on Anna Valerious’s website Narcissists Suck. These sources describe appallingly cruel mothers, beautiful women who were probably extreme narcissists.

Finally, a request to the universe
I have told elsewhere how, after feeling an impulse to check online for a children’s book that was rarely up for sale and then only at too high a price, I found a copy that I could afford – signed by the author. I felt an inclination to visit a certain town, and got Sheri S. Tepper’s Marianne Trilogy for next to nothing.

I have also mentioned not being able to find or afford a copy of Nicholas Stuart Gray’s Over the Hills to Fabylon. I suddenly felt impelled to check online recently, found a copy up for auction and won it! The price was high, but nowhere near what I had seen in the past. There were hardly any bidders: perhaps people no longer bother to check because they never find a copy for sale.  I can still hardly believe my luck.

This gives me some more feelings of positive paranoia. I believe that the universe is rewarding me for producing some articles about fictional witches, and is getting me the material I need to continue doing so. I am very grateful for this and appreciate what has been done for me. I am now hoping that yet another wish will be granted.

I would like to find a copy of The Stone Cage in story form at an affordable price. The play is short: I see it as a taster or sample of the real thing and I suspect that the book will contain much more inspirational material, enough for another article.

I have just checked online again: no story on sale, just the play with an asking price of ten times what I paid recently for my copy, which looks identical!