Saturday, May 28, 2016

And He Became A Handsome Prince Part V: The Transformation

            The most important thing to understand about the climax of every transformation story—the transformation itself—is that it does not apply only to the monster. There are many kinds of transformation, not all of them physical. In fact, even the most important changes undergone by the beasts are not physical. The previous three points in the story have been about the healing process, which has everything to do with deep emotional hurts inflicted by loved ones, and very little to do with growing unexpectedly froggy or furry. The beasts must learn to truly be human again; looking the part is merely a pleasant side-effect.
            Bettelheim points out that “The story’s essence is not just the growth of Beauty’s love for the Beast…but her own growth in the process” (308). The growth of the Beast, from happy child to broken monster to free man, is essential, but so is the growth of the Beauty, into someone who can love something like a Beast. It is clear that this transformation effects more than one person, whether it be physical or not.
            One of the most dramatic transformations actually occurs in a story with no literal monster—that of “Cupid and Psyche,” in which Cupid is merely mysterious enough to be suspected of monstrosity. Here, in this story with no beast, the physical transformation happens to Psyche, the beauty character. After the many trials she must endure in order to find her way back to Cupid, she is offered a sip from the pot of immortality by Jupiter: “drink to the end thou mayest be immortal, and that Cupid may never depart from thee, but be thine everlasting husband” (Apuleius 96).
            In both of the Scandinavian transformation tales used in this paper, “Kong Lindorm” and “East O’ the Sun, West O’ the Moon,” the final transformation is laden with religious imagery and implications. The white bear has technically already been transformed, maintaining his true form after his beauty’s betrayal with the candle. His trials, however, are not over until a final confrontation, in which she attempts to reverse all effects of that betrayal. The bear—or the prince, now—is about to be married to his troll step-sister, and it all comes down to proving skill in wifely matters. Specifically, he makes a deal with his stepmother that he will only marry whoever can clean a certain piece of dirty laundry for him. The beauty wins by washing tallow from his nightshirt when none of the trolls are able to, thus literally cleaning the mess she made when she violated the terms of his curse, the tallow having dripped onto the shirt from the candle she used to see his face. This has been described by Mitchell as a move that strongly echoes the Biblical scene of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, but also evokes popular hymns about all stains/sins being washed away. This association can perhaps be offered as an explanation for the few translations suggesting that only Christians are capable of laundry.
            The story of “Kong Lindorm,” following a Biblical pattern as it has all along, ends with the transformation and complete redemption of the lindorm. He killed and ate two women, so there’s no denying that he’s a sinner, but after his curse is broken by his wife walking him through the steps of the sacrament of penance, he gains not only a human form, but immediate forgiveness for all previous sins.

            In “The Beauty and the Beast,” the beauty agrees, after returning just in time to save him, to marry the beast. Her change of heart is not, as in many cases, due to having made the connection between her nightly visitor and her daily captor. Instead, she lets go of her dream prince, choosing to join herself with a creature who clearly exists, and has some affection for her. As she searches the palace for him upon her return, she realizes that she has missed him in her absence, and when she finds him passed out in the hall, she tells him, “I had resolved in my mind to kill myself if I had failed in reviving you” (Zipes 190). This is one of the greatest examples of a transformation in the Beauty figure; unlike those with forbidden lamps, she rejects her night prince in favor of a hideous monster who is there for her, really and tangibly, throughout the day, making her one of the only heroines who truly learns to see beyond appearances. Her emotional growth and development is impressive, much more so than the rather baffling twist that she has been a princess all along (197). Thus, the Beauty is transformed into a woman with new maturity, wisdom, and kindness, and the Beast is restored to his true form, in mind and body, fully healed. In fact, when the prince’s marriage to her is brought into question, he begs that his fairy godmother not “allow Beauty to depart! I’d rather you make me into the monster again,” proving that the healing he underwent through their transformative love was hardly about the physical transformation at all (196). Through loving and being loved, he has won back his humanity; it no longer matters what monster he looks like, so long as that remains.

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