It is not enough, that a monster simply learn to love. Emotional healing will lead to physical healing, but he must also be forgiven for hurt he inflicted during the healing process. Monsters have loved before, and they have been hurt—damaged beyond recognition, and turned into something that should be unlovable. The real challenge is to prove to everyone that this is wrong. They can still be loved. If they cannot, there is no meaning to the story.
The beast has expressed true love by releasing the beauty, but what really matters is that the Beauty be able to do the same. He has set her free; if a happy ending is to occur, she must choose to return. In the case of Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” the prince does not return the mermaid’s selfless love, a move which results in her death.
At this point in the story, a new antagonist is often introduced. In the Curse section, the villain is a figure who cannot properly love the beast. Now, in the Return, comes a figure or group of figures who should love the beauty, but instead set out to betray her. This figure is often a sister or a mother-in-law, though in the cases of the mother-in-law, the two antagonists may be merged.
In Villeneuve’s The Beauty and the Beast, after being released, the beauty returns to her father’s home—a home greatly improved by gifts from the beast—to reunite with her father, brothers, and sisters. The beast has mentioned that he will die if she leaves him for over two month, and so she makes it clear to her family that this is a temporary visit. But her sisters are jealous—yes, she was kidnapped by a horrific monster, but the horrific monster is rich. They pretend to have missed her desperately, and convince her to stay past the deadline.
In other variants, an additional element is often added. Having betrayed the beasts, under the influence of their own malevolent loved ones, the beauties must now embark on a quest to save them. This is the pivotal difference between the story’s heroines and the figures who love the monsters before cursing them. The first lover to betray the beast does so spitefully, in a fit of jealous rage. The second does so mistakenly, and goes to the ends of the earth, sometimes literally, to rectify said mistake. Bettelheim claims that “[in] each of these stories—as in so many others—the rescuer demonstrates his love for his future bride in some form. We are left in the dark about the feelings of the heroines, however” (277). This seems blatantly wrong, regardless of which figure one casts as the rescuer and which as the rescued: if the beast did not love the beauty, he would not send her home, and if the beauty did not love him, she would not return.
The betrayal in “Cupid and Psyche” is very similar to that in The Beauty and the Beast, brought about by jealous sisters. In this story, Cupid brings Psyche’s sisters to visit her when she grows homesick, though he warns her several times that it is unwise. The sisters, over the course of their visits, grow increasingly jealous, convincing the pregnant Psyche that she sleeps with a monster, and that “when the time of delivery shall approach, he will devour both [her] and [her child] as a more tender morsel” (Apuleius 76). Though Psyche, unlike some heroines, has been specifically warned against looking upon her husband’s face, she too is led astray. When he wakes and sees what she has done, Cupid leaves her, fleeing the wrath of his jealous mother.
This leads Psyche into the next stage of the story; in order to return to him, she must undertake several impossible tasks set for her by his mother Venus. Cupid will appear on occasion to help her carry out these tasks, but they cannot be truly together again until Venus is either satisfied or subdued.
“East O’ the Sun, West O’ the Moon,” as always, closely follows the pattern of “Cupid and Psyche,” although here, the girl is convinced to look upon her lover’s face by a concerned mother, rather than by wicked sisters. In order to return to him, she sets out for a land that lies east of the sun and west of the moon, unwilling to be thwarted by mere impossibilities.
She travels to the hut of one old woman, who directs her to another old woman, who sends her to another, who sends her to the winds. She rides on the back of each wind to the next, until finally the North Wind is able to take her all of the way to the land she seeks. Here, she offers gifts, collected from the old women, to the white bear’s troll bride. In exchange, she is given three nights in his bedroom, though he sleeps through the first two, having been drugged by the trolls. On the third night he wakes to see her return, which will make his freedom possible in the morning.
In the Grimms’ The Six Swans and its variants, both antagonists, though sometimes by accident, are often mothers. Asbjornsen and Moe’s The Twelve Wild Ducks features a mother who unwittingly trades the birth of a daughter for the humanity of her twelve sons. Andersen’s version, The Wild Swans, has eleven princes turned to swans and their sister sent into exile by a wicked stepmother. The brothers Grimm themselves actually have three different variants of this story. The Six Swans also features a wicked stepmother, while The Seven Ravens and The Twelve Brothers are cursed by their father, who values the life of his one daughter over all of theirs.
The sister begins questing to save them as soon as she learns of their predicament, but is hindered, in all of these variants, by her mother-in-law. The terms of breaking the curse on her brothers are generally that she must remain completely silent for a period of time, varying by story, and that she must create shirts for each brother, made out of flowers, nettles, and other such materials. Often blaming herself for their transformations, she will do anything to save them. Though her mother-in-law frames her for increasingly outrageous crimes, such as eating her own children, she displays love for her brothers by refusing to speak a word in self-defense, even as her husband prepares to burn her at the stake.
Fortunately, her brothers love her as much as she loves them, and return to save her from burning, though this often prevents a full transformation—with the final nettle shirt unfinished, the youngest brother will spend the rest of his life with a wing instead of one arm.
It is the beauty’s return, as a display of love, that technically breaks the curse; usually it is a romantic commitment on her side, such as a kiss or a positive response to a proposal, that the terms demand. But the beast’s display of love, though not spelled out in the terms of the initial enchantment, is no less necessary. Before she can return and break the spell, the beauty must have a reason to do so.