The focal point of the Beauty and the Beast story is always love, whether it be romantic or platonic, right or wrong, requited or not. Love, in all its forms, moves and shapes each character, both breaking them and putting them back together. When loving relationships take a turn in the wrong direction, the beast loses himself, his humanity, everything he once was. Clearly, he cannot be dependent on another relationship to return him to all his former glory, but neither can he do it alone. Humans are not solitary creatures, and it is the exile the curse demands, as much as the betrayal that causes it, which strips away the beast’s humanity. One cannot be a person when one has no other people to lean on. G. K. Chesterton is right in saying the great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast” is “that a thing must be loved before it is lovable” (3). Love is perhaps the most powerful force on earth, and this folktale type has demonstrated, for hundreds of years, how humans are shaped and defined by its use and abuse. To be a person, one must have love.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
Saturday, May 28, 2016
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.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
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.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
There comes a turning point, in each of these relationships, which makes the ultimate breaking of the curse possible. This happens when the beast, moving past his own hurt to see what he has inflicted, comes to love the beauty enough to let her go.
By the time the beauties dare ask for an escape, relationships have drastically improved. The beauties are still enamored with the men they meet at night, but in the daytime their relationships are friendly. One might, perhaps, cry Stockholm Syndrome, but the beauties are eager to escape, and often return only from some sense of duty, or, perhaps, an interest in the trappings of captivity, love and devotion coming slightly later. Dreams of princes and lives in palaces, however, are not enough to cure homesickness.
In The Beauty and the Beast, Beauty begs for a two month visit with her family, promising to return at the end of that time. He responds, “I can’t refuse you anything, even though it may cost me my life” (Zipes 181). He explains that he thinks he will die without her, but though he asks her to return, and though she promises to do so, the matter is left entirely in her hands. He presents her with a wishing ring which can transport her to any location she chooses, and she wishes herself away. He makes no attempt to follow her or summon her back when she passes the two month line, but sits quietly in his castle, dying of sorrow. He has seen that she deserves the freedom he was denied, and he has given it freely, no longer expecting anything in return.
The heroine of “East O’ the Sun, West O’ the Moon,” too, has expressed some homesickness, “[so] one Sunday the White Bear came and said, now they could set off to see her father and mother” (Asbjørnsen 12). She rides his back to her parents’ home, and he leaves her there, with a promise to return and a request that she not speak to her mother alone.
Of course, this is only the first act of the story, so things cannot go too smoothly. She does speak to her mother alone, and her mother raises admittedly reasonable concerns about the unseen figure her daughter is sleeping with every night. This will significantly complicate the story arc and the traditional pattern of Release and Return. After the bear sets her free, the Beauty will respond with a betrayal—worried by the conversation with her mother, she will light a candle to see with whom she sleeps at night. This violates the terms of his curse, a curse of which she was never made aware, and sets off a chain of events in which she is once more released. Left to her own devices after he is swept away by his troll stepfamily, she must make a much more serious decision to return to him, described in the following section, in order to set the story back on its natural path.
The white bear was to last one year without the girl succumbing to curiosity, and failed a month short of the goal. Had he not returned her home for that one month, the curse would already have been broken by that time, but he chooses to put her freedom before his own.
In Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” one can see one of the greatest examples of sacrifice for the beloved. The mermaid—the beast of this story—has already given up her family, home, and voice for a chance to be with her prince, but now her life is at stake. There is no chance for a happy ending with the prince; he has already married another. She has a choice, now, having failed in her mission to win his love. Either she can die, or she can take his life instead. Provided with this escape clause by her sisters, “she looked at the sharp knife, and again fixed her eyes upon the Prince… and the knife trembled in the sea maid’s hands. But then she flung it far away into the waves” (Andersen 558). The mermaid chooses a beauty who cannot even return her affections over herself, and she releases him from any expectations or obligations by sacrificing her life for him.
This section begins with monsters loving in the same way they have been loved: selfishly, possessively, with little concern for the feelings of the beloved. Until they move past this, toward a purer form of love, the story is stalled. The beast must heal emotionally before he can be healed physically, and he must learn to love others not as he has been loved in the past, but as they deserve to be loved, freely and unselfishly. The beast must learn not to act like a monster before any transformation can occur. Then, “[having] truly become himself, the hero or heroine has become worthy of being loved” (Bettelheim 278).