Today we associate them with gold dust and eternally cute faces, but the fairy is a kind of monster. Southeast Asia’s”yaksha“nature spirits devour stray travelers, the Germanic”earlking” can kill a child with his bare hands. Fire Ring‘s Malenia, the Blade of Miquella, emerged from a rotting flower with tangled wings, and is known as one of the most dangerous creatures FromSoftware has ever created. She fits right in.
When I was a child, fairies were something to lure and, if I was dedicated enough, one day stay. I read children’s books with instructions on how to attract fairies to your garden with the dedication of a small scholar – I had never considered the magical properties of a bottle cap dosed with sugar before – and spun around in wings touched with iridescent cellophane, swinging around a silver wand pearls.
In line with more neutral global adventure myths that the african “aziza” who blessed hunters, or the Scottish Seelie Court that didn’t outright kill all humans, I saw fairies as logical extensions of nature’s mercury, and thus of myself as a fickle five-year-old with arms too plump and useless to contain my emotions. Fairies weren’t heroes, certainly not, but they commanded their delicate, blooming frames with dignity and a commendable dark bite.
I found the first video game fairy I met, the great fairy in the 2006 action-adventure game The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess– a game my friend’s brother played with sullen teenage reverence – surprisingly docile. Or, not docile, but… her eyes looked puffy and sad as she sat in that fountain praising Link. Still, a neutered fairy is better than no fairy, so when I got a Nintendo DS in 2007, I decided to play The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.
I was pleased to see three more fairies, Ciela, Leaf, and Neri, act as Link’s companions and the player’s markers in the game. But these colorful balls of light were also surprising to me. Ciela’s zest for life seemed to originate in her glimmering around Link, not in bubbling near streams or playing practical jokes. It was a far cry from the behavior I had expected from what I considered to be serious adventure literature, illustrator Cicely Mary Barkers 1923 The flower fairies of spring and her truly life-changing “journal” Fairyopolispublished posthumously in 2005.
But social expectations took their toll, and as I got older I started watching video games just like most older brothers and male classmates did after school. These expectations convinced me that the role of the video game fairy could only be that of a companion. For me, this consent was based on facts.
Brentilda in the 1998s Banjo-KazooieBand in the 2000s Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards, Stella in the 2010s Dragon Quest IXeveryone confirmed it, because fairy mythology is often female coded and because games often marketed to men, fairy women in games were condemned to occupy limited auxiliary roles such as “informer” and “background healer”. They were designed as unquestioningly loyal and incurable chippers, plucked from forest houses and rivers and bluebells only to have their interesting wings clipped. They do not hover or willfully take what they want as their mythic predecessors did. They instead remain attached to their new, unnatural habitat: a male protagonist.
Into this pool of baggage go the golden toes Fire Ringis Malenia. But Fire Ring brilliantly deviates from expectations, making Malenia a striking antithesis to the fairies that came before her.
With a first-phase character design more reminiscent of another female-coded myth—the spirit guiding valkyrieNorway’s leader for contentious souls — Malenia look like war. She plays like that too. Between her HP that regenerates every time she hits and the infamous Waterfowl Dance, a slashing attack that has been called “unavoidable,” Malenia has been unofficially crowned FromSoftware’s hardest boss. Players would not dedicate countless hours of game time exclusively to defeat her if she wasn’t so formidable.
Unlike some shrimpy video game fairies, Malenia is made strong because of, not in spite of, her fairy-like form. This fairy doesn’t stay stuck in the background. She appears to you naked and mutilated, deceptively tender and feminine, and reduced to her true, brutal nature. “But she whose hours of tenderness were gone / Had neither hope nor fear,” writes William Butler Yeats of the fairy princess Niamh in the epic poem The Wanderings of Oisin.
A rotten flower blooms and butterfly hordes come to her rescue, stabbing you, stabbing you, inflicting her nature on you, much like how disfigured European change exchanged for the purity of human childhood, or how the death of 17th-century faerie scholar Robert Kirk was attributed is stolen by the creatures. Malenia is a boss who wants to rot your essence, eliminate the entirety of your personality with quick, easy death. Fairydom is the world’s horror story to capture the capriciousness men often prescribe to womanhood. When women like Cicely Mary Barker turn this horror story into inspiration for girls like me, Malenia becomes the video game fairy I’ve always wanted.
There is one problem (there always is). Look at her name, “Malenia, Blade of Miquella.” Video games just can’t help themselves, can they? On paper, this fearsome fairy is just a companion, nothing more than a tool for her sleeping, twin brother Miquella.
But unlike Link or the main character in Dragon Quest IX, Miquella is absent from the game. In his absence, Malenia is a champion – perhaps his champion, but still a winner in her own right – and her existence opens up the possibilities for female video game characters. If I had Malenia 15 years ago – her success, not only as a character in Fire Ring, but also as a measure of the game’s difficulty and design – I would have seen games for more than the red boys in the class. I want to understand that women in games do not need to volley between pretty pink princesses, total eye candyand subdued final girl, although disgruntled internet commentators still insist they must be. No, women can be intimidating. They can be beautiful, and terrifying, and rotten to the core.