From Fables #43, Art by Mark Buckingham
|First appearance||Fables #3 (September 2002)|
|Created by||Bill Willingham|
|Alter ego||the Black Forest witch|
|Abilities||Extremely powerful magical ability; high intelligence gathering capability.|
Frau Totenkinder is a fictional character in the comic book series Fables, created by Bill Willingham. Leader of the magicians of Fabletown, Totenkinder (a pseudonym which literally translates as "dead children" in German) represents many of the unnamed witches found in tales and legends. Her outward appearance as a rather frail old woman masks the fact that she is one of the most powerful Fables to have escaped the Homelands. She has appeared throughout the series as an integral part of the Fabletown community, both defending it against the Adversary's mages and making her own deals with its residents.
Totenkinder was born a beautiful girl into the Fog Mountain tribe and grew up there, apparently during the Paleolithic era. Once she reached puberty, she began to experience premonitions, initially weak, but growing in strength and accuracy, until the tribe made her their shaman. She became romantically involved with Aurac, the son of the tribe's chief who expected to marry her, until another nearby tribe invaded their lands. To avert war, the chief's son was married to the daughter of the other chief, leaving the newly pregnant Totenkinder alone. If it had become known that the two had slept together, both would have been banished, so Aurac denounced her, accusing her of consorting with demons, which led to her banishment from the tribe.
Realizing that she would need far greater power than she currently possessed in order to survive, Totenkinder ritually sacrificed her newborn son and was granted considerable power, which she used to take revenge on Aurac. She learned that, while sacrificing one child a year would keep her power, sacrificing two would prevent her from aging. Years passed as she heaped every indignity imaginable on the tribe that cast her out; ages passed and she remained unchanged, growing only in power and cunning. She assisted those who were kind to her, creating the three Billy Goats Gruff to eliminate a bridge troll that was causing problems for a village that won her favor, and blessing those who she felt worthy. She took her revenge on the town of Hamelin by giving away an enchanted flute that was used to lure away their children. Prompted by her experience with Aurac, she waged her own private war against handsome princes and men of wealth and privilege, during which she was responsible for the curses on Beast, Flycatcher, and Rapunzel. In order to stem her own physical desires, she allowed herself to age considerably. Finally, tiring of dealing with others, she retired to a cottage deep in the woods, interacting with others only when a child passed, when she would dress up her house with sweets to lure them in to be sacrificed to keep her power. Eventually, she encountered Hansel and Gretel, who outsmarted her and burned her in her own oven. Surviving in horrific condition, she was eventually rescued by Snow White and Rose Red, running from the Adversary's forces. Telling her about the mundane world, Snow and Rose attempted to help her reach it, covering a considerable distance with her. However, they became separated while traveling and exactly how Totenkinder ultimately reached the mundane world is unknown.
The mundane world
Since arriving in Fabletown, Totenkinder has kept a relatively low profile. With the general amnesty absolving her of her past sins, she has assumed leadership of the various magic-users present in the mundane world and has shown an interest in helping others, including, with some irony, her old foe, Gretel, in studying the magical arts.
Totenkinder has been instrumental in resolving several crises that have hit Fabletown. When the evil Max Piper visited Fabletown in the 1920s, she drove him away after a fearsome battle, and worked to restore the Fables' fertility after he released virus to sterilize the community. She defeated Baba Yaga in magical combat during the wooden soldier assault, much to the shock of the latter, who had always considered her opponent to be minor-league at best. She was also responsible for thwarting the plans of Yusuf, chief advisor to Sinbad of the Arabian Fables, when he released a d'jinn, instructing it to eliminate all his opponents and bring him great power and wealth. Totenkinder anticipated this possibility and ensorcelled him, so that, unknown to him, he actually instructed the genie to kill all his accomplices, then himself (in the same drawn-out and painful a manner that he had intended for his enemies) and then return safely to its bottle.
She has established something of an alliance with Beast since his advancement to the position of sheriff; while this generally establishes itself as a quid-pro-quo arrangement of mutual favors, it remains to be seen if any darker reasons lie behind it. Totenkinder eventually reveals the nature of her spies in the Empire. She installed a magical brush in the woodcarver guild's tools which allows her to look through the eyes of any of the carved beings whose eyes are painted using that brush and to see what they see. Among her unwitting spies is Geppetto's pet owl. She has also been able to apply this spell upon Fabletown's zephyr spies, as per Prince Charming's request. This allowed for members of the Fables' magical community to see what spies saw, in order to make up for the zephyrs' lack of experience with solid beings.
In one conversation with Beast, she tells him nearly everything regarding her intentions in the then-upcoming war with the Empire. In her opinion, she says, Fabletown cannot win in war, simply because there is no war to begin with. To her, this is a personal duel between her and Geppetto, with their respective "allies" being their chess pieces. To mitigate Beast's horror, Totenkinder further insists that Fabletown and everyone in it is very dear to her, and she intends to get as many people alive out of it as possible. She explains that this drive to destroy Geppetto and wipe out all he created stems from a debt she believes she incurred when Rose Red and Snow White rescued and revived her after her defeat at the hands of Hansel and Gretel. In return for their "undeserved act of kindness", Totenkinder made their enemy her enemy and eventually decides to free the Homelands for them.
After the destruction of Geppetto's empire, two thieves accidentally release the physical embodiment of darkness. The entity, who called himself Mister Dark, declared a vendetta against Fabletown as one of the artifacts they used to fight the empire contained a portion of his power. In an attempt to defeat Mister Dark, Totenkinder reverts to her original youthful form, and sets off on a journey to find more information on Mister Dark, during which she meets Dunster Happ, the leader of a group that initially contained Dark. After consulting Happ, she duels Dark, defeats him, and seals him in gold. Unfortunately, Mister Dark subsequently breaks free, a rematch occurs and Dark wins by biting Totenkinder in the neck when both are in mythical forms. Though he defeated her in battle and apparently withered her away, she was not dead. Instead, in a desperate act she turned herself into a drift message and sent herself off to the Farm to meet with Dunster Happ, her lover. However, she was surprised to find Maddy and Ozma waiting for her as well. Maddy realized that she had survived the battle and both waited for her. While Ozma had hoped to use Frau's powers again to fight Mister Dark, Frau reveals that the battle was her final attempt. She also tells them as of now, she's retired from all wars. She and Dunster have no plans to join the group in Haven.
She leaves, telling Ozma she's now the leader of the witches and wizards. The fate of defeating Mister Dark is left to her and she'll not see anyone again. She and Dunster then leave for parts unknown. She would appear again, with her husband at some remote arctic plain. Mr. North had summoned them to be there when he killed himself, taking Mister Dark along with him. She chooses to leave his box in the icy lands, leaving with her husband to figure out how to get back home. After some time spent merely surviving thanks to their magic, they are eventually rescued by Winter - Bigby and Snow White's daughter - who found them in the quest to figure out who among she and her siblings would be the new North Wind.
Personality, ability and identity
Frau Totenkinder's natural form is as a beautiful young woman, but she appears to be an old woman.
While generally acting in the best interests of Fabletown, Totenkinder is something of a schemer and often seems to be playing her own game. Her help usually comes with a price, such as the many "favors" Cinderella owes Totenkinder for the enchanted items she provides (although what those favors are have yet to be revealed). Very little escapes her attention in Fabletown; she was the only one to be aware of Snow White's seventh child, for example, and knew of the arrest of Trusty John, despite attempts to keep it quiet. Her intelligence network in the Homelands is extensive, as she has access to the sight of many of those running the Empire.
When she came to Fabletown, Frau Totenkinder ostensibly stopped killing newborn infants for her power, instead merely taking a little blood from each newborn Fable. However, during a conversation with Kay, it is revealed that this is just a ruse to ease the minds of the Fabletown community, and she still secretly sacrifices children to maintain her power, only now it is many more than two a year. How she manages this is unrevealed, but she maintains that what she does is legal in the mundane world even though it would be frowned upon by the Fable community should they learn of it.
In Fables #88 it is revealed that her rocking chair is also the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, the stone tower from Rapunzel and the stone on which she killed her baby. She gives some of its names as "Capture" (in its gingerbread form) "Refuge" (in its Rapunzel's tower form), and "Burden," "Damnation" and "Regret" (in its original altar stone form).
In the same way that Jack represents many of the different Jack tales, Totenkinder is "just about every witch in fairy tales", according to Willingham, as long as that witch was unnamed in their story. Therefore, Frau Totenkinder is not any of the Witches of Oz. In his online Fabletown forum, Willingham clarified that Totenkinder and Cinderella's Fairy Godmother are two separate characters (later confirmed in Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love.), and that the story from 1001 Nights of Snowfall was probably a nonspecific story similar to that of the Witch archetype. She is also not any of the named witches of Arthurian Legend (e.g. Morgan le Fey, or the Lady in the Lake) but she did make contributions during that era. She introduces herself to Dunster Happ as "Bellflower", which is her original name from childhood. This is backed up in Peter and Max: A Fables Novel, in which she states that she does not rely on one name alone because it could be used against her, if she used one long enough to consider it her true name. This is the same reason why Mrs Someone refuses to give her real name to anyone. However, Ozma not only recognized her in "Rose Red" but also showed that she already knew "Bellflower" to be Frau Totenkinder's oldest name.