When someone says ‘fairy,’ most people immediately think of little creatures, dressed in leaves, who dwell at the bottom of the garden and cause mischief. This notion has never been challenged more than by these girls:
Meet the Winx Club, a group of teenagers who attend Alfea College for fairies in the classy, futuristic realm of Magix. Where advanced technology meets magical powers, and somehow the balance works. A city filled with mobile phones that create holograms and flying motorbikes exists alongside woodland pixie villages and spell casting classes. They’re not alone, either. Also in Magix is the Red Fountain school for ‘Specialists,’ warriors who help the fairies fight evil – no prissy Prince Charming characters in this fairy tale! And finally Cloud Tower, a school for witches, teaching girls to focus on dark magic as opposed to the fairies’ light, because every story needs villains.
Winx Club was created by Iginio Straffi, and began in 2004 in Italy. It is has recently been taken over by Nickelodeon, who have been working closely with the Straffi and his company, Rainbow S.r.l, to reboot the series. It is currently in its seventh season, and has three feature-length motion pictures. I discovered Winx in 2005, and instantly fell in love with it due to my passion for all things magical. Now, ten years later and way out of its 4-12-year-old target audience, my obsession has not dwindled. Winx Club is what you might call my guilty pleasure. I’ve seen it change and expand over the years, and whilst it has its issues I still firmly believe that it is one of the best things currently out there for young girls.
The Winx Club is made up of six fairies – from the left of the above picture: Aisha/Layla, Musa, Bloom, Stella, Tecna, and Flora. Each has a different type of power corresponding with the type of planet they are from, for example Flora’s planet is dedicated to protecting nature, so her magic comes from flowers. As a team, the Winx use their powers to prevent the witches from attacking their school and trying to take over the world.
Winx Club is unique on many levels, and looking at it whilst considering gender and narrative I found some interesting things…
Compared with other, more prevalent, media aimed at young girls (such as the Disney Princess franchise) the Winx seem to have a bit more going for them. Although similar to the average pretty-princess stereotype in some ways, there is one fundamental difference: all of the Winx are active protagonists. Throughout the series, all of them are willing to travel into danger and fight for their cause. The Winx don’t often wait around the Specialists to help out – they’re gone before they even arrive! And even when the Specialists are involved in their missions, they don’t take over. The gender balance is pretty healthy, and most definitely tipping in the Winx’s favour.
Women are also dominant in Magix, with two schools out of the three being populated by them. Interestingly, these two schools are also the ones that teach magic as well as combat. This makes women dominant both in number and skill. What’s also interesting is that they can choose whether to become a fairy or a witch – essentially, whether to use their powers for good or evil. This is shown in the first season by a witch named Mirta, who feels she doesn’t belong at Cloud Tower because she is too kind, and so moves to Alfea instead. This choice is not extended to the Specialists, who are always seen to be fighting for good unless they are corrupted by magic. However, in other realms, there are magic-wielding males who use magic both for good and evil, so in this universe magic seems to equal choice. But it comes at a price if you pick evil, as evil is always punished. The message seems to be that if you are blessed with the ability to pick your path in life, make sure you pick it wisely and for the good of all, not just yourself.
In seasons 2-5, a strong male magician arises and becomes the principal enemy. The witches team up with him each time – three witches in particular, Icy, Darcy, and Stormy, who are the Winx’s main nemesis. So, whilst the witches are controlled by the male magician and need his power in order to fight the Winx, the Winx girls earn new powers on their own merits. They always manage to vanquish both the witches and the male magicians in the end, reinforcing that choosing good magic above evil is right as it is stronger. Moreover, this also shows the witches to be weak as they are easily led and controlled, and therefore have little independence. They are more passive than the Winx who have their freedom and can fight on their own – and win!
Friendship is something which is seldom mentioned in fairy tales, where the emphasis is usually on romance. Whilst all of the Winx have boyfriends (who are, predictably, all Specialists), they always answer to each other first. The series centers around their friendship group and its strength, which remains intact throughout. This is a positive image of friendship’s endurance and loyalty, but unfortunately real life is not often like that. Where most other forms of media give young girls unrealistic expectations of boys and relationships, here we have the exact opposite: boys are good to be with but will probably irritate you sometimes, but your female friends won’t ever let you down. Any girl who has been through school knows this is not true! No high expectations are ever good, but despite this, it’s refreshing to see friends valued in this way and shows young girls that there’s more to life than finding your ‘one true love.’ You need other people around you as well, and there are many different types of love.
Complex Fairy Tale-esque Narrative
Winx Club contains many things commonly found in fairy tales. There’s ogres and dragons, princes and princesses, magical objects, and talking animals. The main narrative strand also follows a fairy tale-esque plot. Bloom, the main protagonist, discovers she is the princess of a lost kingdom and embarks on a quest to recover her heritage. This is the main plot of the series, and with each season it becomes embellished upon as Bloom learns new things about her past and pieces them together. This story reaches a climax in the first film, The Secret of the Lost Kingdom.
If you follow the story closely, you will find that it is epic in both length and content. Few other children’s TV shows contain such a detailed plot, and so do not encourage their viewers to think. They lack the pleasure which comes from consuming a long story – waiting for new episodes to come out, speculating and creating theories with other fans about what might happen. It is healthy for young people to be inquiring, and a narrative of this kind encourages that.
Right at the beginning I said that people often think of fairies as little flower-y creatures at the bottom of the garden. In the Winx, some of the traditional elements of fairies have been preserved – a love of nature, magical powers, and the notion of being helpful as well as devious. But these are mixed with new, more modern traits. The Winx are stylish, technology-savvy and interested in socialising as well as magic and nature. The fact that the Winx also resemble humans until they transform makes them more akin to ‘real’ girls, and therefore easier for viewers to relate to. They makes fairies cool and identifiable. The idea that you can be who you are but also something other, something more (like a fairy!) is a belief close to many children’s hearts. Winx Club gives them that hope, sparks off that imagination, and provides them with that much-needed escape from everyday life.
Witches also get the transformation treatment. In traditional fairy tales, the prevalent image of a witch is an old, malicious Baba Yaga-type figure or the kind with a pointy hat, riding a broomstick with a pet cat. Witches in Winx Club are young and stylish, just like the fairies, subverting the fairy tale stereotype. Although, Winx Club witches are also easily led and predictable, unlike the cunning ones in fairy tales. The brains belong to the Winx and the Specialists who are always one step ahead, implying that evil equates to ignorance.
The Winx live in a place different to our reality, but at the heart of it they’re real girls. They have flaws and fears, just like we all do, but they accept each other in spite of those and get on with their lives. Watching Winx Club just makes you feel like smiling, either because of how cheesy it is or because the feel-good factor is unmistakable. It shows girls they can be pretty and princess-y, but also independent and ambitious. There isn’t anything the Winx believe they cannot do, and I’m sure we could all benefit from thinking like that – young people especially. The world is a difficult place, and we need all the courage and positivity we can gather.
- You can watch Winx Club on YouTube, Netflix, or purchase episodes from Amazon and iTunes. Or if you happen to live in a country where it’s airing you can watch it the traditional way: on TV!
- For more Winx related things you can visit the official website: http://www.winxclub.com/en