Netflix Is Adapting The School for Good and Evil, So I Read the First Book!

The School for Good and Evil is a middle grade book series released in 2013 with a similar plot to Ever After High and Descendants and with all the ambition of Harry Potter. Considering how popular this fairy tale-inspired series seems to be, I'm surprised I never heard of it until a little over a week ago when I learned that Netflix is turning it into a movie. Perhaps one of the reasons it was so overlooked is its super generic title, which sounds like it could be about literally anything. Most fictional stories are about the battle between good and evil. A better title would have been The School for Princesses and Witches, which would have been more eye-catching to lovers of fairy tales. Maybe the vagueness is good, though, since this book contains many horror elements that could scare off young fairy tale aficionados or particularly sensitive older ones like myself.

The School for Good and Evil cover

When I began reading The School for Good and Evil, I had many questions that were mostly resolved by the end, but not entirely. The author threw around so many contradictory ideas that the school that made no sense, even for a fantasy world. Ever After High, which came out the same year as this book, did a better job of creating a school for fairy tale characters because the classes weren't separated based on who is a "royal" or a "rebel," meaning students could study whatever they wanted just like a real school. The characters were all descendants of the famous ones from storybooks, which eliminated the issue of altering their childhoods. Here, students are kidnapped and forced to attend whichever school is chosen for them whether they want to or not, particularly in the case of Sophie, who spent her entire life dreaming of becoming a princess and is essentially thrown into a prison with a bunch of monsters who debate whether they should kill her or not upon meeting her. This school is also allegedly where every famous fairy tale character got their start including ones like Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, who all spent their childhoods in isolation and abuse. Attending a school where they were supported by friends and teachers should have changed the outcomes of their stories, but that is never addressed here.

Questionable world-building aside, the plot is a mash-up of Wicked and Descendents 3. It focuses on Sophie and Agatha, two girls who are the best of friends but could not be more different. Sophie wears fancy dresses and walks around in glass slippers on a daily basis (ouch), dreaming of the day she'll get kidnapped and begin her fairy tale, while Agatha is a goth recluse who lives in a graveyard and carries around dead animals to remind everyone about the value of life. When Agatha is sent to the "good" school filled with other wannabe princesses and valiant princes while Sophie is sent to the "evil" school and forced to take classes about how to make herself more ugly, Sophie flies into a jealous rampage that leads her down a path befitting of her new school. The book raises many questions about what "good" and "evil" really are by making the good characters shallow and superficial, while the evil characters have an honor system and prefer to be ugly so they can be appreciated for their talents rather than their looks. This makes the mix-up between Sophie and Agatha particularly confusing because Sophie is no different from any of the other girls at the "good" school who probably would have reacted the same way she did if they had been in her place. Meanwhile, Agatha, who is supposed to be "good," refuses to let Sophie live out her dream because of her selfish desire to have her all to herself. While the ambiguity of human nature was the whole point that the author was driving at, it could have been done better if everyone wasn't so fixated on their appearances. If all the villains who attended the school were taught to value ugliness over beauty, how would they explain the jealousy of wicked stepmothers?

I can understand why someone might read this book and think it would make for a good movie. There are a lot of cinematic elements and horror movie imagery reminiscent of the Harry Potter series. Parts of it would need to be toned down if the movie has a similar target audience as the books, 9-12 years old, which I personally think is too young for this series. There were several things that I felt were inappropriate for middle-grade readers, including forced dressing and undressing that I would equate to a minor form of assault. I hate to admit it, but I could tell this book was written by a man due to the gratuitous nudity of young girls as a result of magical transformations as well as the way he viewed girls as being obsessed with their appearances and finding boyfriends and pretty much nothing else. Still, if done right, this story would make for a compelling film. Sophie and Agatha are great characters with equally interesting strengths and weaknesses. Agatha puts up with Sophie's abuse out of her desire to always be with her, while Sophie suffers in a school she never asked to attend and is willing to take down everyone and everything in it to get what she wants. As someone who also dreamed of being a princess, I was a little triggered by the accusations the book threw at her about how wanting to be the heroine of a fairy tale doesn't necessarily make you a good person. The book really got under my skin and made me think even when I wasn't reading it, so I give the author props for that.

There are currently six books in this series, and they are quite long, so I doubt I will be reading the rest. However, I will probably watch the Netflix movie to see how the dark imagery described in the book translates to the screen. There's an interview with the author at the end of this book about it being picked up for a film by Universal Studios back in 2013, but I doubt this is the same movie. I can understand why a well-known studio would have wanted to bring such a visual concept to the screen, so I'm not sure what happened to that version of the film. Netflix probably had to wait a few years to get the rights from Universal once the project was canceled. Considering how risqué Netflix tends to be with their content, I hope no children get traumatized by this film. Even though I was a little traumatized by the book as an adult, I found it to be a thought-provoking experience overall. I recommend The School for Good and Evil series to people who enjoy comics like Fables from Vertigo Comics or Grimm Fairy Tales from Zenescope, which mix the horror elements with well-known fairy tales. The Netflix film does not have a release date yet, but it is said to come out this fall.


I haven't read the books, but given how it's apparently intense for the 9-12 year old demographic, my guess is that the Netflix adaption (at least from this teaser) is trying to aim it for more of an older audience. While it's not the case for everything out there, a general rule of thumb for teasers and trailers is that the presentation of content can help determine what the target audience is.

If the target audience is specifically young (like say 2-7), then the trailers will usually promote positive values and general good feelings more explicitly. Think like how Nick Jr, Disney Junior, PBS Kids, and many Barbie projects (mainly the Barbie projects since the mid 2010s) advertise things like the power of friendship and all that.

If it's for older kids (like say 7-12), they'll usually highlight the more epic moments (mainly if it has heavy action or fantasy elements) with more moderated comedy (like how Tangled The Series or Glitch Techs are advertised) or really exaggerate the comedy if it's a wacky cartoon (like SpongeBob SquarePants or The Cuphead Show).

If it's for older audiences (older teenagers and adults) and it's not explicitly a comedy, they'll usually highlight the more epic moments and try to pass themselves off as more serious. Think shows like Castlevania, Supernatural Academy, or Invincible.

Based on the more serious nature of this teaser, it seems to want to be more serious and show that it's for older audiences.
Lisa Dawn said…
The target audience doesn't necessarily determine who watches it, especially on a network where anything goes like Netflix.
Lady Culturina said…
It remind me when I critiqued the book on my comment under the "Descendants 3 " article, under my secondary account of "The lady of royal manners". Then, I imagined that if "The school for good and evil" shall be adapted, it could be with modern day teenagers instead being born in Gavaldon, but it look like this aspect will be kept. Anyway...I read all the books or so. You can feel that the author actually had difficulty to keep the story going on after a definitive end.

-Second novel: a war between girls and boys
-Third novel: Everyone is compelled to be a villain (and once again you feel it could have ended here)
-Fourth novel: Wandering the world outside of the school (like in "Harry Potter", bad idea)
-Fifth novel: Same
-Sixth: Focalizes on the "tale" of the main characters (with Tedros succeeding to his father)

What disturbed me, as a princess lover, is while thrilled to be in a school like the one of good, the behaviour of students there imply that princesses are superficial and mean, and it is superficial and mean if you wish to be one. The question is, how will it be approached in the movie.
Lisa Dawn said…
Even the first book wouldn't have needed to exist if the schools were actually "good" or "evil" because then the schools wouldn't have had all those contradictions, and Sophie probably would have ended up in the right school all along. Plus, you'd think not all the girls who wound up in the "good" school would be princess types. Some would be warriors and heroines are aren't obsessed with their looks. Even Ever After High had Darling Charming.
Lady Culturina said…
Exactly! Ever After high is a good example of the royal school trope (, I wrote the entry, by the way). But Good scroll is presented as sexist (lessons are not co educational like in Evil) and women have a passive role (only boys are warriors and heroes), where being a princess is the best you can be. Soman Chainani certainly view tales as sexists, but I would not be so categorical.
Lisa Dawn said…
I love that Sofia the First is featured there. Royal Prep is probably the ideal school for future fairy tale characters because it has a positive and inclusive environment that teaches students everything they need to know to survive an attack from a wicked villain. Sophie has a similar personality to Princess Amber, so she would fit right in.
Anonymous said…
Hi! I am not sure if you will know the answer to this but I know you have published books before. I am working on writing two stories, one is a generic princess book so I am not too worried about it but the other is based on Disney Princes. How would it work getting the Disney Prince book published? I know Disney has a lot of copyrights on their characters and stories. Do you think it wouldn’t be worth it to finish writing the books? Thank you!
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Anonymous,

You are correct that companies own the intellectual properties to their characters. Therefore, if you intend to write something for profit, you are only legally allowed to use your own original characters, unless, of course, Disney were to hire you to write for them under contract. If you have a work you want to publish that uses copyrighted characters, the best place to do that would be a website like Let me know if you have any other questions and have a great weekend!
Anonymous said…
sorry, but you do realise school for good and evil came out before both descendants and ever after high right? you cant say its a mashup when it preceded both of them likely by even more than the few weeks between the release of the first sge book and ever after high, due to just how long it takes to write a book. if anything, descendants and eah copied the school for good and evil, and i say this having gone through phases where i have liked every single one of these series. if youre going to criticise something, at least get your facts right.
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Anonymous,

I am glad that you enjoyed all three properties. Would you be able to point out the part of my post that states that The School for Good and Evil was written after Ever After High and Descendants so that I may correct it? Thanks so much and have a great day!
Tea said…
Ooh. Nice detailed overview, but tad disappointed that a lot of the book's important themes and nuances went over your head. I'd like to apologize in advance for the multi-part comments. Forgive me, and allow me to ramble a little and shed some light onto it and some points:

The School for Good and Evil's driving purpose behind pushing things like vanity, morality, and segregation was to provide thoughtful commentary on blurring the lines of dichotomy within the system. That thinking of things in strictly black and white can't last forever. The school being the system, and the commentary was on it being morally dubious, hypocritical, and contradictory, whilst losing sight of old foundational values. Just like in real life. The system was the fairy tale story-writing societal “system" that pushed children into dichotomous labels by reading their souls' leanings and showing how the main characters were able to challenge the societal norms and ideals. Just like in real life. Separating the students into two separate factions was purposeful- so that the lines are crossed at the end, and shows just how thin the line really is.

Good and wanting to be Good is not being attacked here. Vanity is simply a plot device to teach a lesson on what Good is. One can simply state that Good is about being valiant, courageous, and compassionate, but it is a different and more compelling story to show its character bleeding through a superficial child of it that has lost its way. The story is of them finding themselves and relearning what Good really is.
On the other hand, Evil is not being favored in the story, or something to be brought up on an honorable pedestal, but it is a beacon for originality and creativity in the face of an Evil that has become stagnant and must change the dynamic to break free of its cycle. Evil must evolve, much like how villains have in modern-day media (compare classic Grimms' villains to say, the Joker, or Thanos - not that previous classic villains are 'bad' but they are very different from back then and sometimes they win in their story). Evil is about being free, pushing boundaries, and showing drive, character, and honor to work for what you want when the entire world is against you (think Slytherins). Evil is ostracized for being different in society, for sticking out, and for showing their true colors, like the loner kid in school. Evil does not prefer to be ugly, they simply are and to grow, that is something that must be accepted so that they can improve on themselves. Evil has no time to wallow in self-pity. Evil has an agenda to get things done. Characters like Sophie, who look Good and do not look conventionally "Evil" are the symbol of Evil changing, and taking up new forms to outsmart Good. She is different from "different,” a testament to what Evil at its core was. Why else is it now that Evil Disney villains are idolized as gay icons by the ostracized, outcasted youth who saw themselves in Maleficent, Ursula, Jafar, and Scar? Who believed that their differences were what made them powerful.
Evil does have its honor system, but so does Good. The point of the story is that Good has forgotten its own, and both sides have forgotten that the other is needed to balance each other: the moral grey. By the end, a mutual respect for one another is reached and empathy is felt.
Tea said…
Also Sophie is different from the other girls at "Good" through very nuanced characterization by observing her actions and the intention behind them. It is shown in her nature. It takes a certain something to be able to kill someone, justify it to yourself, and walk away. The girls at the Good school would not be able to do that, even if they were thrown into the other school. I think most people can't. Sophie can. That is the point and that is why she is in Evil. Had she been led down a certain path, without her Agatha, she would certainly be an even greater danger (another theme: nature vs. nurture, where she had Agatha and her mother who loved her unconditionally despite knowing her nature). It's also showing that yes, it IS difficult to discern Good and Evil based solely on appearances, isn't it? Kudos! Lucky for you, that is one of the messages hammered down in the book where they have to specifically do exercises to discern the two and one of the characters has a whole conflict because he can't tell very well because he is initially blinded by looks. You saying that "Sophie is no different from any of the other schools at the "good" school” proves that point. Sometimes in real life, it is difficult to tell if someone’s intentions are well-meaning or not. That is why you must be smart about it and not trust someone’s heart off of appearances alone.
Agatha also does not selfishly desire the princess life all for herself. She IS genuinely shown to be good through her empathy, compassion, and self-sacrificing values. She desires to have her friend back and spends most of the book trying to find a way to get Sophie back home to have their peaceful life together (especially after seeing how dangerous the world beyond their village really is). Even in her later arcs in the next books, she isn't 'selfish' about hogging a princess' lifestyle or stealing Sophie's thunder but instead she strongly shows that she wants to share her life with her, princess or not. Like in real life where we should be happy for our friends' successes in life, because true love is when their happiness brings you happiness.
Tea said…
The point on appearances is also a point of commentary on society: pretty privilege, and the pursuit of casting away "ugliness." I think that it is an important message to be taught, especially to girls growing up being thrown into a media society that’s rapidly putting pretty people up on pedestals and putting more pressure on young teens. I actually see a lot of this series and its ideas and themes in real life now: Tiktok, Instagram, and Twitter, and the fact that media comprehension is at an all time low, and pretty privilege and instant gratification is at an all time high.
Evil is not taught to value "ugliness" (their Dean is in fact, written to be beautiful. She is unconventional to their standards of appearance of what “Evil” looks like, but she is undoubtedly powerful), the point of that lesson was to value what was underneath past it once you cast aside your fixation on appearance. Under your outer layer, what is left? The point was that they were more free to nurture other parts of themselves: their talents, their skills, their studies.
The societal pressure to want to be pretty is also imposed on Evil. Evil children at that point, are so overcome with pitiful self-esteem, always knowing deep down that they can never have what Good has (love, beauty), that they had to learn in school to embrace their ugliness. That is what brought them power to embrace who they were. If they embraced their ugly appearance, then they could embrace their ugly natures - their jealousy and envy, their malice, their hatred. Things that bring power to Evil.
The lesson is that Good should have learned the same thing, to free yourself from your appearance, but instead had become vain in the sense that they have forgotten that they can be truly Good on the inside. Instead it is Agatha, who doesn’t look like a conventional princess and has believed herself to be ugly, who is able to let go of things like societal pressures and norms so that she can be truly empathetic and self-sacrificing to others. Agatha had what modern Good didn’t, which was humility and self-awareness. However, as a result, she falls into a pit of self-loathing and low self-esteem. It's finding a balance and finding self-love, for how can we love others if we cannot first love ourselves. That was the beauty of breaking the dichotomy. Each side can learn a thing or two from the other. So what happens to the little girls who don’t believe that they can become princesses just because they don’t think that they’re “pretty” enough? I think Agatha is very important in this sense as a role model, because she proves it’s about what’s on the inside.
Sophie subverts these norms. She’s beautiful when Evil has conventionally been not conventionally beautiful. As a result, Sophie is boisterous and larger-than-life, and she has exactly what modern Evil lacks: confidence and flair.
That is why both of these girls are where they are. They ring true to the foundational roots of Good and Evil, they just look a little different. It’s where appearances shouldn’t matter. They confuse people, because they look different. They’re looked down upon by their peers because they look different. However, when they believe in themselves, they are at their strongest, Good or Evil.
Tea said…
Yes, the author is male, but he did not “view girls as being obsessed with their appearances and finding boyfriends and pretty much nothing else,” this is again, a part of the lesson that the old societal ideals must be changed and he took this directly from the classic Disney princess films. Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, Cinderella, all the films that so many children grew up with and were led to believe that by finding a man, everything will be fixed. The fairy tales of old are just that: old. They’re outdated. The author took the damsel in distress trope and played it up to eleven to make you feel uncomfortable. The idea of a girl HAVING to find a boyfriend by a certain time to be happy IS preposterous! Unfortunately, it still happens! Back then, women were believed to HAVE to settle down. Hell, until recently in parts of Asia like Japan, once an unwedded woman reaches a certain age, they are considered ‘forever single’, the equivalent of the ‘crazy cat lady’ character. In Japan, women who were unmarried by the age of 25 were called “Christmas cake” because those cakes couldn’t sell well after December 25. Uncomfortable yet? That’s the point. That is why Sophie and Agatha challenge the system by finding happiness themselves. It taught little girls who were growing up in this time period that fed off of Disney that they don’t need to fit into this box to be happy (myself included). In later books, other female characters in the series also outgrow this damsel box that they were thrown into to find their own independence and to find meaning in things other than boys and vanity. That is called character development. (The author is also queer, which is why so much queer representation is present in the series, yay gays!)

Again, the book does NOT attack anyone who wants to be a princess. If you’ve taken that as a personal attack, then that is quite literally something you must deal with and sort out in yourself.
The point is not that wanting to become a princess is bad or shallow or makes you not a good person, the point is just simply that truly becoming a princess is more than just being pretty. That’s it. You don’t need a castle or the jeweled dresses or the beautiful genetics and bone structure. It’s not just about materialism at all. To be Good it takes self-sacrifice, compassion, empathy, and the willingness to forgive. That also does not automatically mean that Evil can't do these things, however.
Sophie wants to be the heroine, yes. Sophie wants to be a princess, yes. Sophie is arguably a good person, yes (she has her redeeming moments, just like any human being). Being a princess, quite obviously, doesn’t automatically mean you are a good person. It’s not attacking anyone who wants to be a princess. It’s telling a story about someone who wants to be Good and all that it stands for, but their actions are not Good. Instead, they find their home and their calling elsewhere. Sophie wants so desperately to be a princess, and it doesn’t attack her for that. It moreso attacks her for literally every other facet of her character that is objectively, a morally bad person. Not as a princess or villain, just as a person and a friend when she messes up big time and forces her to take accountability for her actions, period.
Tea said…
They also do talk about the damages of abuse and isolation to both children of Good and Evil, and that's been done in very subtle ways. The book doesn't tend to talk too much about it, I’m assuming because a lot of people who have/had those experiences also don’t talk about it too often. (For previous fairy tale heroes, like Tinkerbell and Cinderella, they also appear in book 3 and give some insight into their stories in this world.)
In Evil, I recall some characters talking about how they were raised, dealing with grief (and this is developed in book 3) and in later books the complicated bond between a villain father and his daughter are explored. However, it shows that even Evil, who has seen better days, still don't lose hope in trying to make something of themselves.
In the same vein, Good is also shown to not always be sunshine and rainbows. It touches on children of heroes who also experienced loss, pain, and broken families (again explored in further books), and shows that Good and Evil aren’t too different. They’re two sides of the same coin, and these struggles aren’t limited to one side.

As someone who greatly enjoys EAH and Descendants as well, it's a little disheartening that preconceptions from these other series' can paint such a broad picture for every other piece of media that comes its way, instantly being branded as an “Ever After High knockoff” or a “bootleg Descendants,” when the stories and messages can be fundamentally be told in different ways.
That's alright, though. Most people who consume Ever After High and/or Descendants first because of larger backed marketing and greater exposure tend to favor these properties more and often make comparisons. Whatever gets famous first gets first dibs, I guess ^^. It's almost as if properties that have any concept surrounding 'fairy tale retelling' or 'children of fairy tale heroes/villains' and ‘fairy tale school’ can’t not automatically be compared to EAH or Descendants. Is it such a sin to explore these dichotomies of Good and Evil further in depth without it being heckled and being touted as copying other media when it carries its own originality and charm?

I do agree that the book is a little mature for its 8-12 warning, but it’s definitely got some messages that children need to learn fundamentally, and I personally still carry a lot of lessons from this series today, from Agatha’s messages of self-love to Sophie’s cautionary tale of acceptance and respect for others. I personally just think the book was ahead of its time.

Sorry for the whole essay, but I said what I felt needed to be said about the books, and I liked that not every deep lesson has to be spelled out word for word to be grasped. If you've read this far, I hope you have a nice day!
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Tea,

I appreciate your passion for this series as well as the immense amount of time you took to respond to my review, so I will do my best to respond to some of your points. I will likely not get to all of them because I work full-time and have other commitments, but I did read everything that you wrote.

First and foremost, I want to say that I did not hate this book. I gave it four stars on Goodreads because I appreciated what the author was trying to do and the amount of effort he put into building a unique world that was unprecedented for the time period that he was working on it. However, I also found the book immensely frustrating and had no desire to continue the series because of that, which is something that I tried to express in detail in my review. I have nothing against anyone who was inspired to continue the series and am glad that they found something that resonated with them so well.

One of the things that frustrated me the most was that the book claimed that fairy tale characters who had been established as living their lives in abuse and isolation attended the school as children. If Cinderella and Snow White went to a school where they learned to be good and met other students who were similar to them, they would not have needed an escape to find people to help them out of their situation--in Cinderella's case, the royal ball, and in Snow White's case, the dwarfs' cottage. They would have had teachers and classmates they could have confided in to find alternate solutions. This would make their stories any better or worse, but it would make them different, and the narrative of the book was their students went out to live out their lives exactly like the fairy tale. Even if the author expanded upon this in later books, it was still not an effective way to establish a universe.

Regarding appearance, I think it is undeniable that the book placed a very strong focus on it. During the climax, Sophie turned all the "good" students ugly to prove that they are evil and the "evil" students beautiful to prove that they are now good. If that is not saying that personal values are tied to appearances, I'm not sure what is. Even Disney movies do not always judge people's moral character based on their appearance. Take the Evil Queen from Snow White or the Hunchback of Notre Dame as an example. Your comment about evil not being taught to value ugliness was contradicted during a lesson in the book in which the students explained why it was so important to be ugly so they could focus on other traits and culminated in the entire classroom chanting "Ugliness is power!" Likewise, I did not see a single passage where a girl from the School for Good did something to prove her strong moral character aside from Agatha, so I cannot overlook the fact that the only thing they were focused on was looking beautiful and marrying princes. On that note...
Lisa Dawn said…

Your comment about how the older Disney Princesses are outdated is precisely an example of why this book frustrated me. That was a popular opinion in the mid-2000s that has thankfully lost traction thanks to Disney redefining their princess genre (See: As someone who loves these characters, it is difficult to see them criticized in such a manner and portrayed in the way they were depicted in this book as well as movies like Charming (See: In fact, every single one of the Disney Princesses was strong in her own way and focused on other things than dressing up and marrying well. Cinderella endured a life of abuse because she did not see the value of being as rude to her family as they were to her. Ariel was an explorer who wanted to learn about another culture despite her father's prejudice. Snow White was fleeing for her life and saw her prince as the only way to be safe and still live the lifestyle she was born into. She also did everything she could to pay back the dwarfs for offering her shelter by helping them with their chores. (See: I find books like these frustrating because they tend to focus on the most shallow elements of these stories without establishing the moral values and then acting holier-than-thou by portraying their own values as superior.

So yes, I did feel like there was some negativity in this book toward people who value princesses and want to be like them because it focuses on the most controversial elements of the genre and never seemed to acknowledge the more positive aspects. However, my interpretation may be different since I am quite a bit older than the target audience and have studied story structure, written several books of my own, and maintained a blog about princesses for five years. I'm glad you enjoyed the series more than I did and have nothing against anything that makes people happy.

Have a lovely day! :)
Lisa Dawn said…
Oh, I also want to add that the Netflix adaptation fixed many of my issues with the book, and my review for that does not make any other comparisons outside of the original material (even though one of my commentators did anyway). See:

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