Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Beast

An Analysis of Beauty and the Beast
All too often we read these stories and consciously take little more away from it than a sense of satisfaction that the hero got the girl and the baddie got to put on the red hot iron slippers and dance off over the horizon. This, by the way, is more commonly known as living “happily every after
But inside our heads we pick up on the little hints and tiny clues that things are not as cut and dried as they seem on the surface and so it is with this weeks story.
On the outside it is a classic tale of Girl meets Monster and saves him from a terrible curse but only when you peel back the safety wrapper and peer inside that you see that this is less a tale of true love than it is a tale of forced confinement, Stockholm Syndrome and emotional blackmail. Don't believe me? Read on gentle soul read on and be afraid.

The Story:
We'll make this simple. A man had three daughters and he was going on a trading trip, wanting to bring them back something special he asked them what they wanted.
Daughter One wanted a brocade dress, Daughter Two wanted a pearl necklace [1] Daughter Three, whose name was Beauty wanted only a single rose that he had picked for her very own [2]. The trading trip is successful and on his way back the man is beset by a terrible storm that leaves him quite turned around [3] but eventually he stumbled across a castle [4] and thankful to be out of the storm he went inside.

Now theres a huge dinner of the best sort on the table but our friend the trader isn't foolish or rude and he calls out for the owner so that he might present his credentials but nobody answers and eventually hunger overcomes him and he sits down to a hearty meal. It's the same story with the sleeping arrangements for upstairs there is a grand bed that has been made and once again nobody answers his calls. He retires for the evening thinking that in the morning he'll meet with his host over breakfast.
When he does awake he finds a fresh pot of coffee and a lavish breakfast waiting and there is still no sign of his mysterious host [5]. He retrieves his horse from the stables and as he is leaving a large rose bush catches his notice and, remembering his youngest daughters request, he plucks a particularly large bloom for her.
He is rewarded for this by a huge beast leaping out at him and bemoaning the fact that he had given the trader shelter and a good meal [6] all the thanks he gets is the theft of his flowers [7] “For this you will die!” [8]
Our trader pleaded for his life and the beast decides to spare his life on one condition, that his rose loving daughter be sent in his place. The merchant agreed since it was a choice of agree and live or refuse and die.

Thankfully Beauty is an adventurous sort and agrees to go to the beasts castle and although her father was worried about his daughters honor [9] he was pleasantly surprised because the beast greets them politely and is a perfect gentleman [10].
Her fear of his appearence faded as time went on and Beauty found that she and the beast actually got on quite well [11] eventually the beast asked for her hand in marriage but because she did not love him as he did her she turned him down as kindly as she could [12].

Life continued on as it had done before and the beast gave her a magic mirror. When she looked into it she could see her family. But then she saw something terrible her father was lying in bed deathly ill. She asked to return to her father and at first the beast refuses because he hasn't been so happy in a long time and if she leaves then there is no guarantee that she will return. But eventually he relents making her promise to return in seven days.

She visits her family and sets her father straight about the nature of the beast [13] but she doesn't notice the days slipping by until one night she has a nightmare where the beast is in agony. She hops on her horse and races towards the castle. She finds the beast curled up in the garden under the rose bush and rushes to his side crying out “Don't die! Don't die! I'll marry you” [14]
The beast turned into a handsome young man “An evil witch cursed me into the form of a beast. And only the love of a maiden who accepted me as I was could break the spell” [15]

They were, of course, married and lived “happily ever after”

I have a feeling that once the initial joy of the wedding wears off Beauty is going to find her life not as happy as she was before the big reveal. Consider the following:
Before the Transformation
After the Transformation
Beauty lived alone with the beast
More contact with the families on both sides will mean less time for one another.
Both saw family and friends infrequently at best
Beasts family may not approve of Beauty's as they would be old money and she would be anything but.
The beast controlled her comings and goings [16]
Beauty will have more freedom or at the very least the illusion of such. The beast may not be able to cope with this.
Beauty was dependent on the beast for almost everything
It will be hard to make friends in the social circles that the real movers and shakers travel in. Wherever he goes the beast will cast a long shadow

Points of Interest:
  • The Beast obviously didn't like been seen. What would have happened if the merchant hadn't sent beauty as per their agreement?
  • Call me crazy but I think Beauty's behavior has a lot to do with a guilty conscience about something. Nobody is as nice as she is without a reason.
  • This story needs a villain, or a chase scene [17], instead of an offhand remark about a nonspecific evil witch.[18]
  • When she realized that she loved the beast I wonder if it was him that changed or merely her perception of him? Theres an interesting paper for the Objective Philosophy majors.
  1. Nudge nudge wink wink “Say no more!”
  2. I suspect that someone went out raving last night and is now trying to get back in daddies good books
  3. Obviously this is set before GPS became popular. But would it have killed him to bring a map or even a native guide?
  4. Must have been under a camouflage net, making it one of the largest duck blinds in the history of ever.
  5. Or his mysterious bill
  6. Actually a series of good meals
  7. Floral Larceny! By Jupiter the worst kind
  8. I suspect that this is the beasts only entertainment. The man was never going to get out of the castle without doing something wrong
  9. He's lucky we're not doing the hentai version of this little story
  10. Or possibly pedigree. The jury is still out.
  11. Identifying with your captor is one of the first indications of Stockholm Syndrome
  12. I know a certain Princess Grabby who should be taking notes
  13. Theres an album I'd buy.
  14. Bam! Emotional Blackmail right there!
  15. Wouldn't it be terrible if he'd gone through this whole pantomime only to discover that she's no maiden?
  16. No You can't visit your dying father. Wait. Now you can”
  17. Someone throw a pie!
  18. "Cause witches they were persecuted.  Wicca good, and love the Earth.  And woman power.  And I'll be over here" Name the song and get 10 Geek points!
I would just like to assure everyone that I am getting these stories off the Internet. I'm certainly not hanging around the childrens section of the library desperately trying to look inconspicuous.

For another version of these classic stories check out the Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey. 
Although I'm not her biggest fan because I feel the baddies that she writes are taken care of just a little too easily I would happily recommend her books as they are well written and although one is able to spot the fairytale used fairly easily it doesn't detract from the novel itself.

In contrast The Iron Tree by Celia Dart Thornton shoehorns a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin into the narrative with such force that this minor side story breaks the reader out of what is otherwise a pretty good story.  The book got "accidentally" savaged by a dog and I've bypassed her writing ever since.  Not just because of the Rumplestiltskin thing although that was a factor.


  1. LoL...children's section. I say "Bah!", and most of these tales were written for adults, anyway. So, we should read them. The original B & the B (<cause I'm lazy now) involved evil faeries, seduction, attempted murder, etc. But, it was polished a bit, and just jumped into the storyline between the two protagonists. It's a nice tale, but wrought with issues...ones that you've outlined here in your post. But, a lot of fairy tales are jacked up and present some sort of abuse (mental, emotional, blah blah) as a "love story".

    As much as her sheltered and solitary life with her Pet (<puns) may change, I'm inclined to think she would be relieved to see him turn to a man. For one thing...less fleas. She wouldn't have to consumate with a talking dog. What would their babies be like...puppies? human? Human with furry faces a'la "wolf boy"? Creepy.
    Besides, maybe she can get out of the house now and that he will have duties once again, he being a prince. He was, after all, incredibly smothering.
    Thanks for the book recommendations...will have to check them out. :)

    (I never pictured you as a Buffy fan. You're full of surprises.)

    It must be a bunny!
    (or maybe a midget...)

  2. My own theory is that its an evolution of an idea. The original idea is pretty gory but over time the rough edges get sanded away by well meaning parents and concerned groups [the kind that insist it is the red combed chicken that greets the morning sun] and eventually we are left with a story that is almost total sugar and as we all know too much sugar is bad for you.
    As for Buffy, yeah I'll wear my geek badge with pride and will watch anything with James Marsters in it.