You know that weird kid in your class who reads a book when an intriguing magic show is going on? I am sure you had one like that. Every class has one right? Full-on confession: I was that weird kid. I know, I know, you probably find that hard to believe if you know me. Or even if you have read my other stuff. I mean, the obvious question arises - how can SUCH a cool person have such an uncool past?
I won't answer that obvious question. I am chicken. Ha.
Now, the point of exposing my uncool past (yes, there is a point) is to make you aware that I was a huge, nay, humongous fan of fairy tales. I was obsessed with fairy tales. Grimm brothers' fairy tales, Andrew Lang's colour coded fairy books, Hans Christian Anderson's tales... I read them all. I do not think I was alone in my obsession, considering that Disney made quite a few movies on them. Quite a lot of money too. And among those many tales was a tale as old as time...... (sing slooowly with me) Beaaauuty aaaand the Beaaaast.
I am sure you have seen the animated or the live-action movie right? Which one did you like better? For me, it is always the animated one that holds the charm. However, I am sure that most of you haven't read the original 100-pages long version of the tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Long name. I am not sure I can even pronounce that. French pfft.
For the uninitiated, I will give a brief version of the story. Not the Disney one - that one is way too Disneyfied.
Once upon a time (a clichéd beginning that I love), there lived a rich merchant with six daughters and six sons. He must have been pretty rich as he did not spare any effort in siring progeny.
They lived exceedingly extravagant lives - the twelve of them. According to Villeneuve (pronounced vil-nuhv, ha!), the kids were pretty useless. The boys were too young while the girls were very vain. The sole breadwinner was the merchant, and for a while, it seemed it would be enough.
Then, disaster struck them unexpectedly. At first, their house caught fire and all their precious items were reduced to ash. It didn't end there. The Goddess of Fortune had really turned away from their family. Next, all the merchant's ships sank in the ocean and now, they were just paupers.
The family moved to a remote country house, away from the city of delights they resided in, for that was all that was left of their ex-fortune. The daughters were inconsolable. They lost their handsome lovers and their city life - both of which were entirely dependent on their father's money. A sad state, but well, money rules. No money, no life.
The daughters complained, whined and generally made life a living misery for their father. The only exception was the youngest, who tried to make the best of everything with a cheerful countenance. She was also so beautiful that everyone called her "Beauty". Her sisters were jealous of her but personally, I think it is possible they could just be annoyed at her people-pleasing goody-two-shoes behaviour.
And then, after two years of misery, it seemed that all would be well again. The merchant received news that one of his ships survived and returned. Overjoyed, he prepared to set off to the port at once. The daughters began demanding expensive clothes, jewellery and whatever they could think of. The only exception? You guessed it right - Beauty.
The father noticed that Beauty was silent. He asked her, "What do you wish for, Beauty? Speak your mind."
Beauty wished for nothing but her father's safe return. However, the doting father wouldn't hear of it. In the end, Beauty relented and said, "My dear father, I beg you will bring me a rose." If only she knew that the rose would end up being the most expensive of all the gifts.
He set off, all ready to become rich again. When he reached his destination, he discovered that all his efforts were in vain. The ship had arrived, but the partners believed him dead and divided all the profits amongst themselves. He barely got any profits, and he left as poor as he was when he arrived.
It was winter - not a good time to travel with a meagre amount of funds. The merchant painstakingly made his way back but found himself lost one snowy night. While cursing his ill luck, somehow he found himself in front of a beautiful castle. The castle was as creepy as it was beautiful as it seemed entirely void of human presence. There were only human-like statues all around the place. However, the merchant was not put off by this. After all, an inviting castle is certainly better than nothing in face of a harsh snowy night.
He went in and to his surprise, found the dining table laden with delicious, warm, inviting food. The starving traveller waited for a while in hopes that the host would make an appearance. When no one turned up, he started eating after expressing his thanks loudly. He ate, he slept and he made use of all the facilities the castle seemed to generously provide. Getting bolder and bolder, he ventured to the garden. It was a thing of marvel and beauty. Despite it being winter everywhere else, it was spring inside the garden. Flowers bloomed invitingly and birds sang in perfect harmony.
There, he also saw beautiful rose bushes in full bloom. That's when he remembered his promise to Beauty. Where can he find better roses in winter? With zero hesitation, he plucked a rose.
As soon as he did that, the ground beneath him shook and he heard a most frightening sound. A monstrous creature made its appearance and it looked very very angry.
"WHO DARES TO STEAL MY FLOWERS?"
Understandably, the Beast was furious. He gave shelter and fed a travelling merchant but the guy steals his flowers shamelessly. The merchant fell to his knees and prayed for mercy. He begged for his life and explained his circumstances. The only reason he took that rose was that he wished to give it to his youngest daughter - Beauty.
At last, after many entreaties, the Beast relented. He agreed to set the merchant free. On one condition. The merchant had to give the Beast one of his daughters within a month if he was to go free. Additionally, this lucky daughter had to come willingly. The merchant agreed, thinking to sacrifice himself at the end of the month after saying his goodbyes.
He returned home with a rose, plenty of treasures (courtesy Beast), and a heavy heart. Initially, the good man had no intention of narrating his misfortunes to his family. But humans are rarely good at keeping secrets, especially such big ones. Of course, when everyone came to know of what happened, chaos ensued.
"Beauty is responsible. She was the one who asked for the rose. She should sacrifice herself to the Beast." This was the general consensus.
Beauty, to her credit, agreed to go to the frightening Beast in place of her father willingly. The father tried to dissuade her but he was forced to give in to the opinions of the majority.
One month flew by, and it was time for Beauty to meet the Beast.
When Beauty and her father arrived at the castle, the Beast was nowhere in sight. The castle was as beautiful as the merchant remembered, maybe even more. Beauty was also suitably awed by the opulence and joked about how it was a nice place to die. Once they had their dinner, the Beast made his appearance. Beauty was repulsed by his monstrous visage but she tried her best to greet him normally.
The father had to part with his daughter now. The Beast was generous in sharing his treasures and wealth with the merchant. However, Beauty had to stay and the father had to go. After a lot of tears and embraces, he left and Beauty was alone with the Beast.
To her surprise, the Beast showed no interest in eating her. Soon, she fell into a routine. Every day, she was left to her own devices. She would play musical instruments, read books in the huge library (yay booksss!!), and before she knew it, the day was over. The Beast joined her only during dinner. Every day, he would ask her, "Would you marry me?" And every day, she would answer, "No." Then she would go to sleep and dream of a handsome prince. The prince tells her not to be misled by appearances. To love him who loves her. However, Beauty falls in love with this handsome prince. A fairy also comes into her dream and urges her to look past appearances. After many such dreams, she becomes convinced that the Beast is holding her dear prince hostage. She questions him, but the Beast is adamant about them being the only living creatures in the castle.
This goes on for several months. Eventually, Beauty becomes homesick and begs the Beast to let her visit her home. The Beast is devastated but agrees for he cannot deny any of her wishes. He gives her a magic ring that would let her wake up in her home instantly. There was only one condition. She was to return within two months. If she did not return, the Beast would not be alive. Beauty was over the moon and promised to return faithfully. She liked the Beast and she thought him gentle and generous by now. She was no longer frightened by the sight of him and she thought of him as a dear friend.
Beauty woke up at home the next day. Her father and brothers were delighted. However, her sisters had thought her dead and weren't exactly delighted to find her dressed like a princess. The jealousy turned into animosity when their suitors tried wooing Beauty. She rebuffs their advances but the sisters start plotting Beauty's downfall. They came up with a plan: delay Beauty from going back to the Beast so that she loses favour with him.
When the two months were almost over, they employed every trick in the book to make her stay. They cried, they cajoled, they showered her with sisterly affection, and when all failed, they also enlisted the help of their father and brothers. Everyone was loath to see her go, and at last, she agreed to stay just a little bit longer.
When the two months ended, Beauty had a vivid dream in which the fairy admonished her for not returning to the Beast. She also saw the Beast groaning in pain, on the verge of death. She woke up terrified and resolved to go back that day itself.
She goes back and finds her worst fears confirmed. The Beast was dying and on seeing that, Beauty was so distraught that she realizes that she loves him. She confesses her love and agrees to marry him.
The Beast regains his health and they get married. The day after their marriage, she wakes up to find the prince of her dreams next to her, looking more handsome than in any of the dreams. The Beast had turned into a prince. An evil witch had cursed him to be a beast when she failed to seduce him. Only true love would bring him back to normal. By falling in love with the Beast, Beauty had broken the curse.
And then, Beauty and her prince lived happily ever after.
True love? Pfft.
Beauty as a paragon of virtue and womanhood? Pffft.
Beast as a romantic hero? Pfffft.
As you may have guessed, I have a lot of issues with this story. I am willing to make some allowances as it was published in 1740 BUT there are some glaring issues that I am dying to point out.
It is not true love!!! The Beast literally forces Beauty to stay with him and asks her to marry him every single day without knowing a single thing about her. He keeps her happy with his riches and makes sure that she is dependent on him completely by isolating her from her family. Beauty does not care for the Beast at first but his "kindness" convinces her that he is actually a gentle and generous person. Now, we have to remember that this gentle Beast was willing to kill a man who dared to steal a single rose from his garden. The gentle Beast demanded a human in exchange for a rose. Very gentle. Mindblowingly generous.
Beauty suffers from a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome. You probably know what it is. If you do not, here I am to enlighten you. In Stockholm, Sweden, a convict on parole held four bank employees as hostages. Three women and one man. They were held hostage for six days in total. The convict negotiated the release of his friend to enlist his help too in the situation. When the hostages were released, they were unwilling to testify against either of their captors. Instead, they showed animosity towards the police and even raised money for their captors' defence. The story gets even more interesting. Two of the hostage women ended up marrying the criminals.
When hostages end up having positive feelings for their captors, it is Stockholm Syndrome. Now, tell me. Dear readers, did Beauty truly love the Beast?
Okay, my rant is almost over. Bear with me.
Beauty is not like other girls. Beauty is beautiful. She is cheerful. She is charming. She doesn't care for riches. She reads books and plays instruments. She is not swayed by looks.
Why, even in 1740, did women have to be all that while the guy can be just a monster with zero wit and charm? And why oh why does the female protagonist have to be the ONLY good woman in the story? Sigh.
Now I am done.
If you enjoyed reading this, you may also enjoy: https://www.littlepixieblog.com/post/the-curse-of-medusa-a-tragedy
See you next week!!