What is it with mothers-in-law? I never had a mother-in-law I didn’t like, but today your basic mother-in-law is too often depicted as a depraved, scheming perfectionist who is all too eager to tell you how to live your life.

Why should this be so? Over 70 years ago, any child who could read knew that when it came to basic evil, the wicked stepmother was head and shoulders above the mother of all mothers-in-law.

The demise of the wicked stepmother was recently called to my attention while perusing a well-worn copy of “The Wonder Clock,” a book of stories written and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth’s mentor, Howard Pyle.

In some stories, wicked stepmothers have the ability to turn themselves into crows so they can sit on a nearby limb and overhear conversations. Anyone familiar with the habits of a crow knows that, unless a crow has been trained, even seven-league boots won’t get you anywhere near the thing.

Children unfamiliar with the habits of crows might accept reports of the talking or listening crow at face value. But should you, or another adult, see a crow sitting nonchalantly on a nearby branch, would you not have your suspicions? Underneath the feathers and makeup is probably a National Security Agency drone.

Everyone knows that although an occasional father might lead his breadcrumb-bereft children out into the forest, it is the stepmother alone whose bony shoulders bear the entire burden of domestic wickedness.


If ever a good stepmother existed in any bedtime story my mother ever read to me, she was immediately shunted aside as of no use.

And before you raise a hand in protest, remember that you might well be thinking of a fairy godmother. Fairy godmothers flitter about on the other end of the political spectrum and reward little boys and girls for their generosity and kindness.

Even before Euripides wrote, “Better a serpent than a stepmother,” you can believe that the wicked ones had to live up to a reputation that preceded them by two or three millennia.

There is no question but what wicked stepmothers have recently been losing ground. We read online that there are over 10 million pages of mother-in-law jokes out there today and less than half a million pages of wicked stepmother jokes. On late-night television one is more likely to hear jokes about the bumbling antics of the popular governor of some obscure state – which tells the world more than it wants to know about the unlettered folk back in the hills who support him.

Where has the wicked stepmother gone? Shall we lament her passing as inevitable and quietly accept it? Or could she rise anew from the ashes, elbow that governor aside and become a regular object of ridicule on late-night comedy shows?

You, the viewer, will decide. She stands a good chance, as the archetypical wicked stepmother was motivated by greed and that everything-for-me-and-mine and nothing-for-you way of thinking that seems to be enjoying a popular renaissance.


To bring those not yet on Social Security up to speed, the plot in those good old folk tales was thus: An honest but obviously incredibly ignorant man, whose only child is a princess in the making, marries a woman with two daughters. Not much time passes before a crow, or some other imp of Satan, whispers in the new bride’s ear: “Why should your two girls share anything with the other? Feeding the pigs is good enough for her.”

Today it would be mandatory for the crow to add, “… and make sure anything over 30 hours is not on the books so she won’t be eligible for benefits.”

Is it possible that the wicked stepmother has not really faded away?

Perhaps she has simply morphed into one more crow.

Or a governor.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:


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