The Black Swan is one of Mercedes Lackey’s clever retellings of old fairytales, Swan Lake in particular. It retells the classic story from the perspective of Odile, generally considered the equally conniving daughter of the evil sorcerer von Rothbart. However in Lackey’s version, Odile is an intelligent girl and promising sorceress, desperate only for her aloof father’s love. She is charged with the care of the flock of bewitched swan maidens, which is headed by Odette: the normal heroine of the story. Though she first believes the swan maidens justly imprisoned, Odile comes to respect and gradually befriend them, mainly through Odette. Thus when the moment of treachery occurs and Odile is unwittingly used in Odette’s betrayal, she seizes her power to defeat her father’s evil spell and save the formerly-doomed lovers.
This version of the tale gives voice to the silent character of Odile, who has been equally manipulated by von Rothbart. While it follows the traditional path of the story – the moonlight meeting with Prince Siegfried, the vow of eternal love, the disguised Odile, Siegfried’s mistaken pledge that betrays Odette, the lovers’ suicidal plunge into the lake, von Rothbart’s death – that plot is not the point of interest. What is really important is Odile’s transformation from unsure and inexperienced daughter who prefers the quiet shadows, to strong and independent sorceress prepared to stand up for what is right. Her slow realization of her father’s treachery is painful, but it leaves her vindicated and powerful rather than depressed.
The interplay between Odile and Odette is the fulcrum on which the transformation depends. Odette is beautiful, remote, and threatening to the quiet Odile, but her power over the rest of the flock and her bravery in standing up to von Rothbart earn Odile’s grudging respect. In return, Odette recognizes that Odile is cut from a different cloth than her father and opens up the new possibility of friends for the lonely sorcerer’s daughter. In the crucial moment, it is the bond between the two women that drives Odile to action.
Odile, who in the original ballet appears only in the scene where she is disguised as Odette, is expanded into a rich character who grows even stronger as she comes into her own power. In fact, the focus shifts from Siegfried’s actions/the love plot entirely onto the interplay between the two women. Girl power!
For more (pickychick approved) fairytale retellings, check out:
– Mercedes Lackey
– Robin McKinley
– Gail Carson Levine
– Marion Zimmer Bradley
– Gregory Maguire
– Shannon Hale
– Frank Beddor