Beauty and the Beast: Welcome to the Dark Side by Lorraine Sharma Nelson

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 melancholy man, 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 upcoming anthology, After the Happily Ever After, 12/15, from Transmundane Press.

Photo source: “Beauty and the Beast” (c) MiroBudis

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Edward Cooke says:

    Thanks for this Lorraine. I’m not a regular blogger and I underestimated how long it takes to write these posts, especially for folks like us who redraft.

    This week I’ve been reading ‘The World Beyond Your Head’ by Matthew Crawford. He suggests it might be a mistake to understand freedom as complete personal autonomy. Crawford uses the image of a jig in woodwork: freedom means submission to an appropriate set of environmental constraints to get the job done. Bob Dylan said the same: ‘You gotta serve somebody.’

    Submission is critical to us as writers. Samuel R Delany thinks a draft derails when the writer loses connection with the appropriate model for the piece. We’re not plucking these things out of thin air. Fluent writers are those with the largest library of models abstracted from their reading. Most of us can recognise which model is guiding a text when we see it. Few can set aside their burning originality long enough to let one or more models guide them.

    I’d like to think Bettelheim is right that fairy tales can teach us life lessons. Perhaps the lifespan of a fairy tale can be extended when examples become counter-examples: if this story ever was a model for how men ought to carry on, it certainly isn’t anymore. The abiding lesson, I think, is that constraints are not all bad and submission to them, if they allow us to produce more satisfying work than if we insisted on starting from scratch, is a great virtue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lorraine says:

      Hi Edward: Thanks for responding to my post. I’m not a regular blogger either, but I had fun writing this. Anything to help Alisha and Anthony promote the AHEA anthology. They’ve been amazing with everything they’re doing for it, and I’m happy to do my small part to help.

      I enjoyed reading your post. Your comments about the Illiad had me laughing out loud. I also agree that Bettelheim is right that fairy tales can teach us life lessons. It’s why I believe they’re so enduring.

      I look forward to reading your work.

      Best wishes,

      Lorraine

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Edward Cooke says:

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

    As writers we have a rich legacy of tropes to draw on. For the AHEA project, it was appropriate to work within one recognisable master story, but usually I try to be more eclectic. The stories I enjoy reading are the ones that reuse material from various and incongruous sources. By happy coincidence, these are also the easiest to pitch.

    I hope you have plenty more projects on the anvil.

    Like

  3. Lorraine says:

    Thanks Edward. I agree with you completely; we do have a rich legacy of tropes to draw on. I do have plenty of projects going, and wish you all the best with yours too. Looking forward to reading your story.

    Like

  4. claudiaquint says:

    Reblogged this on claudia quint and commented:
    A blog post from my upcoming interview with Lorraine Sharma Nelson!

    Like

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