WRITING HAPPILY EVER AFTER...
Ever wonder what happens after the happily ever after? After the handsome prince marries his beautiful princess? Find out in this collection of fractured fairy tales, which includes my story, Beauty and the Beast: The Beast Within. Available on Amazon.
Beauty and the Beast: Welcome to the Dark Side
Of all the iterations of this classic fable, very few actually deal with the fact that the poor girl, Beauty, is forced into servitude to the Beast by of all people, her own father. Most retellings focus on the Beast as a tragic hero, who needs the love of a good, kind, pure soul to break the evil witch’s dastardly spell, and turn him into the handsome prince he was, once upon a time.
That’s all very well and good. It is after all the version that we in civilized society prefer. When you really think about it though, this is just as much if not more, the tragic tale of a young girl who is forced by her father to become the captive of a terrifying monster.
In the original tale, our poor Beauty has no choice in the matter. Her father offers up his daughter to the beast in order to save his own life. Think about that for a minute, and then just imagine the kind of daddy issues you’d have for the rest of your natural-born life.
This fairy tale shows in no uncertain terms, that in days of yore women were seen as chattel to be bartered and sold as the situation warranted. Poor beauty is raised, as were all women, to know that they were second-class citizens. She has no choice in anything to do with her own life, so when she finds out that she is to be given to the Beast in exchange for her father’s life, she accepts her fate. Imagine the uproar if one of her brothers was told he had to go and live with a hideous witch who has supreme control over all that he does? And yes, in the original story, Beauty has brothers.
Yes, the Beast is a tragic figure, who was transformed from a handsome prince into a hideous creature by a vengeful witch, but it does not give him the right to imprison a young, innocent girl. Somehow, in all the retellings down through the ages, this part of the story is glossed over, in favor of the more popular love story that emerges between these two tragic figures.
Beauty and the Beast is rife with dark overtones. She is a woman, and therefore has no control over her own life. She is imprisoned in a castle by a monstrous creature who, nightly, asks her to marry him. She has to live with the hand she’s dealt, because that is what she is supposed to do. By degrees, and by virtue of the situation she is placed in, she begins to fall in love with the Beast. Would this have happened had she been given a choice: stay or leave? In the original version, would Beauty have stayed or returned home? Was her life in the castle better with just the Beast for company, or would she have returned home to be mistreated by her wicked stepsisters? And yes, in the original she had those too.
Given the circumstances, Beauty may have chosen to stay in the castle with the Beast as her only companion. She wanted for nothing, was given beautiful clothes, meals fit for royalty, and the run of the castle. She no longer needed to work her fingers to the bone for her family. But that isn’t the point, is it? The point is that she was not given the option to begin with.
As a woman in a world controlled by men, Beauty did as she was told. It may very well be that because she so graciously accepted her lot in life, she was well rewarded with her handsome prince, and could in fact live happily ever after.
-- Lorraine writes as Lorraine Sharma Nelson. Her story, “Beauty and the Beast: The Beast Within” appears in the After the Happily Ever After anthology from Transmundane Press --
Fairy Tales and Their Significance in Society
Fairy tales in general, the most obvious ones made famous by Disney, and the lesser known tales hailing from the far corners of the world, originated as stories that teach a lesson, impart a warning, or convey the importance of critical thinking (thinking through a problem in order to solve it). They all end with a moral -- some blatant, some subtle, but there is always one.
One such fairy tale is Little Red Riding Hood. The little girl ignores her mother’s advice to beware of strangers. She stops to talk to a wolf who, by all accounts, is as dangerous as he looks. This is when Red’s problems begin. In her innocence she blurts out all the vital information the wolf needs, without thinking things through. When she arrives at her grandmother’s house, where the wolf waits in disguise, she realizes that all is not as it seems, which is made evident by her questioning the wolf’s appearance. “What big ears you have,” etc. Of course, poor Red realizes too late that this is not in fact her beloved grandmother. In the Brothers Grimm version, the preferred version by many a child, a woodcutter happens by, cuts open the wolf, and frees grandmother and Red.
The moral here is obvious: Always obey your mother, and never talk to strangers.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” the message (or moral) here is just as obvious. The Beast is a hideous creature, who should be monstrous in nature as well as in appearance. As it turns out, he has a warm and loving nature that completely belies his outer appearance. The moral in this beautiful fairy tale cautions us never to judge a person by their appearance; that true beauty does indeed come from within.
In “Aladdin,” the genie in the lamp represents untold power. In the wrong hands this power can prove deadly, not only to the person who wields it, but also to the populace at large. When an ordinary mortal in possession of the lamp is granted three wishes, things can take a tragic turn for the worse. As Lord Acton, a historian, so eloquently and succinctly phrased it in a letter to a colleague in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The moral in this delightful tale is where I believe the old adage, “be careful what you wish for,” comes into play.
Finally, let’s discuss “Rapunzel,” a story fraught with highly-charged sexual innuendo. A very popular interpretation of this fairy tale suggests that the high-walled tower represents Rapunzel’s virginity, and the prince climbing up the tower via her hair, and entering through the lone window, breaches that virginity. Once the prince enters Rapunzel’s room, there is no going back; her innocence is gone.
Another interpretation argues that this tale is proof that true love conquers all. In other words, locking up your daughters just won’t work; love will find a way.
There is one point that many scholars agree on when it comes to this particular fairy tale, and it is that love is blind to the obvious. Why the heck didn’t one of them suggest cutting her hair and using it to escape the tower together? They could have been miles away before the witch realized Rapunzel had escaped.
The moral here is that children grow up and lose their innocence despite parents’ best efforts to prevent this from happening.
It is worth noting that these stories were written so long ago that there are myriad versions of them available. They have been told and retold at least a thousand different ways, yet one thing remains clear through all these retellings. The morals and lessons threaded through these fairy tales are as effective today as they were in ages past. Ask any child what Little Red Riding Hood did wrong, and they’ll immediately tell you that she shouldn’t have talked to the wolf. Ask them if the Beast is bad, and they’ll disagree. He may look scary, but he’s really nice deep down inside.
The questions remains: Do we still need fairy tales in today’s society? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” These fables, heavy as they are with their morals and lessons, show children that they can overcome the dangers presented by the big, bad world out there. Yes, there are some tales that don’t end well for the hero/heroine (the original Little Mermaid comes to mind), but for the most part they prevail and vanquish the bad guys. The evidence is overwhelming and compelling; fairy tales and the lessons they impart really are timeless.
-- Lorraine writes as Lorraine Sharma Nelson. Her story, “Beauty and the Beast: The Beast Within” appears in the After the Happily Ever After anthology from Transmundane Press. --