Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Beauties and Beasts

The pizza turned out to be pretty good as leftovers, too. It just took a few minutes in the toaster oven to reheat it, and then it was almost as good as when it was right out of the oven.

Meanwhile, I've rewritten the first chapter on the latest endeavor, and although that was the part of the book that I thought was just fine as it was, I think I managed to improve it. There were nuances I found in the characters that I think came from having reached the end of the book, and that added an extra touch.

Today's topic is something that popped into my head when I was walking home from the library the other day, and I have no idea what triggered it. I was thinking about the Beauty and the Beast story and how it's always irked me that it always seems to be the woman who is expected to be able to fall in love with a man regardless of appearance, while even a hideous man gets a beautiful woman. It's like those Internet dating ads where it always seems like there's a guy who looks like the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons who's seeking a woman who's tall, blonde and beautiful with a great body and who is willing to look past appearances. There's the Beauty and the Beast story and the Bearskin story, where the man has to go a certain amount of time without bathing, shaving or cutting his hair, and the woman has to fall in love with him anyway.

The Beauty and the Beast tale also has a creepy twist, if you think about it. He has to get a woman to fall in love with him, so he resorts to forcing one to live with him, with the idea that if she spent enough time with him, then she'd eventually come to see his true qualities. That's the kind of logic that stalkers use on their prey, that if they're persistent enough and keep calling, e-mailing and showing up, then the woman will change her mind about him.

The modern Disney take on the story (that showed up again in Beastly, both book and movie) irks me even more if I think too much about it. In the original versions of the tale, there isn't much reason given for the spell. It doesn't seem to imply that the prince was being punished, and he demanded that the daughter be sent to him because he thought that the girl whose only request from her father was a rose might be the kind of person who'd be open to seeing beyond appearances. But the Disney take has him being punished for being shallow and judging on appearances. So he atones for this by falling for the most beautiful girl around? Granted, the other part of the deal was that he had to get her to fall for him, and presumably that's more difficult with a beautiful girl, as a homely girl might have lower standards and be more willing to look past appearances. But what would be wrong with him learning to fall in love with someone he might have rejected previously?

There is a story I can think of that puts a twist on it, and now I can't recall where I read it, if it's a real fairy tale, if it's from a legend, or even if it's a story within a story. I have this sense that it was told as a parable within another story to illustrate what women really want. In the story, a man (maybe a knight, prince, king, or someone like that) is forced somehow to marry a wizened old hag -- I think for some reason that involves saving or helping someone else. But on their wedding night, the woman who comes to him is a beautiful young woman. She tells him that she can only be that way part of the time, and he has to choose whether he wants a beautiful young wife during the day in public and a crone in his bed at night, or a crone that everyone will see as his wife, but a beautiful young woman in his bed. He tells her she can choose how she wants it to go, and that breaks the spell so that she can always be a beautiful woman. Though that still doesn't say anything about him being able to fall in love with a woman who looks like a wizened old crone because he's able to see her inner good qualities. He marries her purely out of duty and is willing to take his medicine, so to speak. I don't recall the story saying anything about him really coming to care for her, except for maybe that he fell instantly in love when he saw the young, pretty version.

People cite Shrek as an example of the reversal of the Beauty and the Beast story, but it isn't really. Yes, Princess Fiona becomes an ogre permanently when the spell is broken, but the hero is an ogre, so to him, the spell being broken turns her beautiful, especially because it makes her someone who is a better match to him. That seems to be an important element -- no one seems to be stuck with the ugly person, no matter how much they come to love the beautiful interior. At the end, the pair is evenly matched.

It might be interesting to have a "Plain Jane and the Beast" story if you're going with the Disney addition to the story, in which he's being taught a lesson about judging on appearances. What if the spell also turns him blind, where the only thing he's capable of seeing is his own reflection in the mirror, so that he knows how awful he is, and then he has to find a girl, fall in love with her, and get her to love him, without having any idea what she looks like. He can break the spell to see one time, but if he then rejects the woman because of her appearance, the spell becomes permanent. It's broken if he really does love her. She doesn't have to be a monster. She can even be "Hollywood ugly" (where a new hairstyle, contact lenses and lipstick make her go from drab to stunning). Or maybe she just sounds like someone he otherwise would have assumed would be unattractive. I went through a phase where I was frequently being set up on blind dates, and it seemed like the guys were always shocked to meet me in person after talking to me on the phone because they assumed based on the way I was on the phone that I would be really unattractive. It seemed I gave off "fat chick" vibes, since one guy did blurt out something about being surprised that I was so small. He tried to correct it to say he meant short, but since we were being set up to go ballroom dancing together, we'd already talked on the phone about our respective heights. I got the feeling that he'd just assumed I would be short and fat. I'm not sure what it is about me that projects that, unless men automatically assume that a woman who is intelligent and into science fiction and fantasy will be physically unattractive (I wasn't dealing with geek guys).

Oh great, just what I needed, something else for the idea file.

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