Beauty and the Beast: Not for the Faint of Heart

opera-paris

 

The 1756 French fairytale of Beauty and the Beast, later retold by the Grimm Brothers as the less recognizable The Singing, Springing Lark, has become a staple of Western childhood: the young girl who sacrifices herself to save her father by agreeing to live with the Beast, until she ultimately redeems both herself and the Beast with love. However, as with most stories – fairytales in particular – there are hidden depths, and just as the Beast is revealed to be an enchanted prince, so the tale itself reveals inner truth despite its outward appearance.

 

In the beginning of Beauty and the Beast, Belle is attached to her father. When he steals a rose from the Beast’s home, the Beast threatens to kill him but then allows her father to return and even promises to send gold to his home – on the condition that he send back a daughter willing to take his place. Though Belle expects to be eaten, she accompanies her father to the Beast’s palace. Her father leaves, and she is surprised when the Beast shows her nothing but kindness, asking her daily to marry him – though she always refuses. When she misses her father, the Beast allows her to leave, but when she realizes that the Beast is dying of love for her, she returns to the palace. She agrees to marry him, quite forgetting his appearance, only caring for his life and loving him for who he is. Upon her acceptance of him, the enchantment is ended and he is revealed to be a handsome prince.

 

While other classics such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White revolve around the physical awakening of the main female character to sexuality and adulthood and her place in society, Beauty and the Beast  focuses on the inner psychological awakening of the heroine, manifested in what Jung termed ‘Individuation’ – the reconciliation of the conscious with the unconscious. In fact, in the book, Man and His Symbols, which was co-authored by Jung, a wedding is spoken of as “a woman’s initiation rite.”

 

Unlike the female characters of other fairytales, Belle is not in need of saving by a male figure. Belle, the heroine, is the one who does the saving. She saves her father, she saves the Beast, and ultimately saves herself. By leaving her father-figure and accepting her shadow, the Beast, the darker side of her unconscious, she reconciles different parts of herself to become a complete person. She unites light with darkness.

 

But how far back does the Beauty and the Beast story go? Some have speculated that the seeds began with tales of lovers who cannot look upon the one they love without losing them. In mythology Cupid hid his appearance from the beautiful Psyche. She believed she had been doomed to marry a monster, but when she snuck a peek at her lover, he was a beautiful youth. He ran to his goddess mother, and Psyche had to perform several cruel tasks set by her before she was reunited with her husband. Many interpret Cupid and Psyche as being the embodiments of Love and the Soul.

 

In another mythological tale, the great musician Orpheus wed the maiden, Eurydice. However, when his bride dies, he uses the power of his divine music to journey to the Underworld and convince the gods to let her live again. With the power of his song, he “made Hell grant what Love did seek” on the condition that he not look upon his bride until they had left the Underworld. When Orpheus walked into the daylight at last, after the long dark journey, he looked back for his wife – who had not finished leaving the Underworld. It was too soon, and he lost her. He could not return and gave himself over to grief until he was torn apart by “a band of Maenads.”

 

Both mythologies have some elements – though not all – of the classic Beauty and the Beast story we have come to know and love. In the story of Cupid and Psyche, there is her belief in a monstrous lover who is ultimately revealed to be a god. The heroine performs tasks for the sake of love and ultimately a happy ending. However, in the tragic tale of Orpheus, the male is the hero, the seeker, and the lovers endings are anything but happy.

 

The theme of a dark or forbidden love echoes in modern stories as well. In the 1986 film, Labyrinth, 15-year old Sarah dreams of fantastic realms, creatures, and adventures; consequently the Goblin King Jareth falls in love with her. However, when King Jareth takes her baby brother, she must venture through a Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin city to save him. She goes on an adventure, and finally faces Jareth who confesses he has done everything: subjected her to trials, tormented her friends, stolen her brother – all because they were what she wanted. In almost the same moment, she realizes that she is the one with the power, and not only rescues her brother, but realizes that she can be responsible while not entirely giving up her fantasies.

 

Jareth, while not exactly a father-figure, is a dashing and beastly character – a shadow of her own inner desires. Her selfish desire to prolong her own childhood and escape her responsibilities through fantasy threatens all. If she does not break out of her self-created fantasy world, she will lose everything – both for herself and those she cares about. As in Beauty and the Beast, in the end, a girl slowly awakens and sees beyond her own childish wants and needs; she becomes an adult.

 

There are, of course, many other modern adaptations of the Beauty and the Beast story. The 1980’s television show, Beauty and the Beast, was a modern day romance with the beast living in the sewers with an entire undercast segment of the city’s population. In the modern television series, Once Upon a Time, Belle (Beauty) also appeals to the better nature of the Beast (conveniently doubling as Rumplestiltskin, the series’ villain). Even the series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, had a romantic subplot where the heroine was in love with vampire, a beast split in two – one half a monster and the other a hero.

 

However, in my opinion, no other story reflects this internal feminine development quite so well as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical retelling of the novel, The Phantom of the Opera. The themes of light versus shadow, night versus day, the duality of the inner self and the acceptance of someone unattractive for who they are despite their outward appearance makes Phantom an obvious modern parallel of Beauty of the Beast, accompanied by a more overt Jungian psychological meaning. In fact, the musical (as well as the musical film) can be viewed as an “archetypical coming of age” story for a woman.

 

In Phantom, Christine lost her father at an early age, whose dying words promised that he would send her an “angel of music.” She grows up in the Opera house under the Phantom’s secret tutelage, believing him to be the angel of music, but in reality her teacher is a mad and disfigured musical genius. In the beginning of the Andrew Lloyd Webber adaptation, she is suddenly thrust into the spotlight and becomes the star of the Opera, wooed by the Opera’s patron and her childhood friend, Raoul. The Phantom becomes increasingly more jealous and Christine is torn between her fear of the Phantom and her love for Raoul. Eventually, the Phantom creates an Opera called ‘Don Juan Triumphant’ in order to court Christine both openly (in front of an audience) and secretly (behind a mask so everyone thinks he is another person). She is obviously attracted to him, but at the last moment unmasks him and he forces her to accompany him to “the dungeon of his black despair.” She must make a choice, but each one holds danger and possibly death. Does she choose the handsome suitor, Raoul, and become a wife and mother or does she choose the dark and brooding Phantom, the fountain of her creativity? In the end, she shows that she can touch the Phantom without fear, touch him as another person without his mask. Thus transformed, the Phantom lets her and Raoul go, showing his kinder side, having known the love of another for once in his life.

 

In both Beauty and the Beast and Phantom, the heroine must leave behind a father-figure, an essential part of becoming an individual. Each heroine is courted by a dark lover, a shadowy figure that appeals to other parts of her personality, creativity, and sexuality. Ultimately each heroine must awaken to the true nature of the darkness, redeeming him with her acceptance. Her marriage (or kiss) unites her with her shadow and animus - the masculine, dark embodiment of her unconscious, and she ultimately awakens a more complete person.  In the words of Jung, “- for a woman to feel right about herself, life is best realized by a process of awakening.”

 

The themes of Beauty and the Beast are such an integral part of our cultures and our psychological development, any writing on the subject will necessarily fall short. The story echoes throughout our mythologies, our literature, and our films because it is indeed, as told in the Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, “a tale as old as time.” As long as humans exist, I doubt it will ever stop being told.
*image courtesy of BigFoto.com

 

NewsFlash – February 2015

NewsFlash

Johanna Harness will make an appearance at the new Nampa Library in Nampa, Idaho. The library’s grand opening is March 14th, and one of their first events is a meet the author reception the following weekend, on March 21st. Johanna is one of the invited authors and will have copies of her award winning middle-grade novel, Spillworthy, available for sale and signing. Other authors in attendance will be Suzanne de Board, Margo Kelly, and Michaelbrent Collings. The event runs from 11am until 2pm. Drop by if you are in the area.

A hand pulling back a red theater curtain.Crooked Cat Publishing has reveled the cover for David W. Robinson’s latest novel, A Theatrical Murder. This will the thirteenth title in his Stanford Third Age Club (STAC) cozy mystery series. The release date is to be announced, but we are assured it will be soon. You can see a much larger and therefore more satisfying image of the cover here.

Mark Kerstetter had an article he wrote about Henry Darger linked to by the Huffington Post. The HP article from January 29th is “Inside The Dark And Twisted Alternate Universe Of Outsider Artist Henry Darger,” by Priscilla Frank. Look for the quote “’Babies,’ he once wrote, ‘were more to me than anything, more than the world.’” in the HP piece for the link to Mark’s article, “The Two Worlds of Henry Darger.” Kudos, Mark!.

Alan Baxter has had not one, but two pieces nominated for the prestigious Ditmar Awards. The Ditmar Awards, Australia’s premier awards for speculative fiction, are similar to the Hugos in that nominations and balloting are fan based. Alan’s novel, “Bound: Alex Caine #1” is nominated in the Best Novel category. His story, “The Darkness in Clara,” originally published in SQ Mag #14, is nominated in the Best Novelette/Novella category. The awards will be announced in April at this years NatCon, held this year in Perth. You can see the full preliminary ballot here. Good luck Alen!

~jon

Sleeping Beauty: Not for the Faint of Heart

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How many children have heard the story of Sleeping Beauty and dreamed of the beautiful sleeping princess woken by true love’s kiss? However, the older, darker versions of this tale are better suited for nightmares, and the prince is often anything but charming.

 

It’s difficult to say how far back in time the legend of Sleeping Beauty began. In Icelandic legend, Brunhilde was a warrior maiden punished by Odin to fall into an everlasting sleep, similar to her more familiar counterpart. The hero, Sigurd, crossed through a wall of fire to awaken her with a kiss. However, rather than live happily ever after, he left and married another woman, then returned in disguise to trick Brunhilde to marry his own wife’s brother. After his deception, and being a warrior maiden so not likely to take such deceit lightly, she plotted his murder. After his death, she was filled with such remorse that she threw herself on his funeral pyre.

 

So much for happily ever after.

 

Later, in the 1600’s, Giambattista Basile retold a folk tale under the title of Sun, Moon and Talia, which would later be praised by the Brothers Grimm. When a great lord had a daughter named Talia, he was warned that she would be in danger from a piece of flax. He took appropriate fatherly precautions by forbidding that sort of thing in his house. However, when she grew to be a young lady, from her window she spied an old woman spinning. (I thought that a bit odd at first, but it turns out the drop spindle was a portable way of spinning)  The predictable thing happened; she got a splinter of flax under her nail and DIED.

 

Her father mourned her, sealing her body up in one of his mansions and abandoning it to forget his grief. One day, a king happened by and ultimately discovered the maiden in the empty house. He thought she was asleep, she was so beautiful, and since she didn’t wake up when he called to her “he beheld her charms and felt his blood course hotly through his veins. He lifted her in his arms, and carried her to a bed, where he gathered the first fruits of love.” Then he left her there and went home and forgot all about her for awhile because the king was a really busy guy.

 

Meanwhile, back at the mansion, nine months later Talia gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Obviously this was quite a feat for a dead woman, but luckily there were two fairies that came and put the kids at mom’s breast. However, the kids were unable to find the nipples (apparently, the fairies weren’t terribly competent) so the infants sucked on their mother’s fingers instead. One sucked out the flax, which woke her up. Of course, she was surprised to find she’d had two children, but after breastfeeding them, she loved them more than her own life.

 

The king eventually remembered Talia, so he said he was going hunting, and returned to discover her awake with two kids. He told her who he was, what happened, and “When she heard this, their friendship was knitted with tighter bonds, and he remained with her for a few days.”  He promised to come back soon and bring them home.

 

So… he went home to his wife. No mention is made about when he got married, but needless to say – after hearing him continually talk about Talia, Sun, and Moon (Sun and Moon were the names of the children), she became suspicious.

 

Naturally, she did what any red-blooded queen would do when he husband is an unfaithful rapist. She sent, under false pretences, for the victim’s children to have them slaughtered, cooked, and served to her cheating husband. She must have been a fan of Greek mythology, since she took a page from Medea’s playbook. At the very least, she went a great deal farther than Brunhilde. The evil queen was able to enlist the help of one servant, but another servant, the cook, hid the children with his wife and cooked two lambs instead. The queen, none the wiser, gloated as her husband commented on all the tasty dishes until he’d had enough and left. The queen decided that eating his own children wasn’t payback enough, so she sent for Talia saying the King wished to see her.

 

“Talia departed as soon as she heard these words, believing that she was following the commands of her lord, for she greatly longed to see her light and joy, knowing not what was preparing for her.”… which is a bit hard to believe, but given the circumstances, she had little choice. However, the queen met her instead and wanted to throw her into a fire. Talia reasoned with the queen, saying that the king had “taken possession of her territory when she was drowned in sleep”, but the queen wouldn’t hear of it. However, she allowed Talia to undress so she could keep the beautiful clothes for herself. The delay allowed enough time for the king to return and order the queen thrown in the fire instead. He was about to do the same to the Queen’s accomplice and the cook, but when the cook produced the children he was spared. In the end, the King got his kids back, married Talia, and they lived happily ever after, thus proving the proverb:

“Those whom fortune favors

Find good luck even in their sleep.”

 

By modern standards, the truth of this particular proverb is a bit hard to see, though the sexual and violent connotations are writ bold. The recurring themes of sex and consumption, of the helpless sleeping victim and the masculine (and feminine) hunters, are indeed hard to miss. Talia is destined for misery, cursed with a blood curse upon maturity, pursued by a hunter and taken unawares as she lay sleeping and helpless, yet blamed for her victim nature by another woman. She died, yet was brought back to life by the needs of her children. In the end, she finds her “good luck” in the death of the another woman and marriage to her rapist.

 

The hunting and predatory nature of the man towards the maiden is emphasised more than once. The hunter consumes his prey, the man sexually consumes the maiden. The king’s wife, presumably an older woman, preys upon Talia’s innocent children as well as Talia herself. The young and the blameless are repeatedly victimized. Jealousy turns the queen into a monster, though in the end she also is consumed – by fire upon the king’s command. In Jungian terms, the male and female characters could be seen as the anima (female aspect of a man’s pysche) and animus (male aspect of a woman’s psyche).

 

A later retelling, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault in 1697, softened many of the tale’s more vicious and gruesome features. Perrault paid attention to details and descriptions, lending the story a more romantic air. Instead of a simple prediction and warning, there is a curse cast upon the princess by a slighted fairy whose invitation to the christening was overlooked, which meant she was the only fairy without a golden place setting. This part of the tale resembles the Greek myth of the goddess of discord, Eris, who – annoyed at not being invited to a wedding, tossed a golden apple amongst the gods which eventually caused the Trojan war.

 

However, in Perrault’s story, the fairies gave the princess gifts, and since one fairy had not given her gift yet, she was able to soften the curse. According to the curse of Eris – er, the evil fairy, the princess would prick her finger on a spindle, but now the princess would be spared death and instead would fall into a hundred-year sleep from which a prince would come and wake her.

 

As often happens in fairy tales though, just when the parents should be most attentive, they happened to be conveniently away. The princess, now a young lady, happened upon an old woman spinning in the castle, the inevitable happened, and the good fairy put the rest of the castle – except for the parents – into a sleep so the princess would not be scared to wake up in a creepy, abandoned castle. A thick forest now protected its sleeping occupants.

 

A century later, a prince was out hunting nearby when he heard of the sleeping princess. When he went to investigate, the woods magically parted for him, and when he saw her he fell instantly in love. She awoke, sans kiss, and they married. So far, Perrault’s version is much closer to most modern children’s retellings, but from here on out the tale darkens considerably.

 

The prince was secretly married to Sleeping Beauty for TWO YEARS, returning to his kingdom but visiting her whenever he could by making the standard “hunting” excuse, during which time the couple had two children named Morning and Day. When his father died and the prince became the king, he finally brought his family home to his kingdom. His mother, an ogress, had been suspicious of his frequent “hunts”, and the reader can only imagine what she thought of being lied to for two years.

 

Eventually, the king had to go to war, so he left his mother in charge. She decided she wanted to eat her granddaughter, then her grandson, then her daughter-in-law – all with “sauce Robert” Apparently, she was quite the connoisseur ogress. Just as in the Talia story, the cook saved them by hiding the children. He tried to force himself to kill Sleeping Beauty, going upstairs and confessing his intent, and she told him it was alright because she thought her children were dead. Unable to go through with the evil deed, the cook reunited her with her children and cooked a hind instead.

 

The queen was satisfied, but sometime later discovered she had been tricked. Throwing nasty creatures like snakes and toads into a large tub, she planned to throw in everyone one else, including the cook, when her son came home early. The ogress queen then threw herself  into the tub and was instantly devoured, thus sparing her potential victims from death and her son from the burden of matricide. He soon got over his mother’s death though, because he had a pretty wife and children with which to live happily ever after. The moral of the story? According to Perrault:

“Moral

Many a girl has waited long

For a husband brave or strong;

But I’m sure I never met

Any sort of woman yet

Who could wait a hundred years,

Free from fretting, free from fears.

 

Now, our story seems to show

That a century or so,

Late or early, matters not;

True love comes by fairy-lot.

Some old folk will even say

It grows better by delay.

 

Yet this good advice, I fear,

Helps us neither there nor here.

Though philosophers may prate

How much wiser ’tis to wait,

Maids will be a sighing still –

Young blood must when young blood will!”

 

Though the first two stanzas refer directly to the story itself and that “true love” is magical, the last stanza seems to be yet another warning – though of a far tamer variety than Talia’s, of the risks of succombing to sexual desire. The themes of sex, violence, and consumption remain, but are tempered by magic and the first hints of true love. The prince is still a hunter; the previous queen, an ogress mother instead of his jealous wife, but the romance of the modern story begins to shine through as well.

 

In the early 1800’s, when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published Little Brier-Rose in their book of fairy tales, they retained most of the familiar elements. The fairies and hundred year curse remained; everyone in the castle fell asleep with the princess. A thorny hedge grew around the castle, and when curious princes would venture to pass they would die “miserably” caught in the thorns. However, when the right prince came along, the thorns turned to flowers and let him inside. He awoke Sleeping Beauty with a kiss, everyone else woke as well, and the story mercifully ends with a wedding and “they lived long and happily until they died.”

Now, we come to perhaps the most familiar adaption of modern times, the 1959 animated Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty. This version is so familiar, the barest of reminders should suffice. The sleeping princess is visited by fairies and succombs to a sleeping curse, but the role of the evil queen/ogress is replaced by Maleficent, the evil fairy – the one who cast the curse. Instead of an old woman accidentally causing the princess to prick her finger, Maleficent tricks her into succombing to the curse. However, this time the princess has actually met and fallen for her prince first, so despite Maleficent’s malicious plans and taunting of the prince, he escapes to free his true love. But not before fighting Maleficent as a gigantic dragon and defeating her with a magic sword. True love prevails, and the prince and princess live happily ever after.

Since the Disney boy-meets-girl classic of 1950’s popular culture, this fairy tale has evolved to reflect the gender politics and psychological views of our modern society. The warrior maiden who later became the helpless victim, once again becomes empowered as the roles of modern women evolve. Not confined to magical realms, the story becomes science-fiction, where a cyborg named Cinder shares traits of Grimm’s and Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, but without the princess’s passivity. She’s someone who fights back. In the television series, Once Upon a Time, the magic remains but the princess uses her experience with the sleeping curse to help her friends. In the Princess series by Jim C. Hines, Talia is a martial artist whose “fairy blessings make her almost unbeatable.” Now Disney has even created a more feminist version, by retelling their Sleeping Beauty classic from the point of view of Maleficent – a now justifiably angry protagonist who is both victim and hero, and who empowers both herself and others.

If the retelling of fairy tales – along with myths, legends, and modern cinema – are the expression of our collective psyche, the dreams of our cultural unconscious, what dreams may we look forward to in our future?

*image courtesy of BigFoto.com