J. Grace Pennington

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Tale as Old as Time

Beauty and the Beast

This is an article I wrote for my mom’s blog about a year and a half ago, and I thought I’d recycle it. Enjoy, and don’t forget to look at my review call and giveaway!

A hideous beast falls in love with a beautiful young girl. Such is the essence of the “beauty and the beast” story type. Whether it’s an actual beast, a giant gorilla, a hunchback, a wild jungle man, or a masked mystery who haunts an opera house, the idea remains the same: the ugly and unlovable develops a passion and longing for the lovely and pure.

Each story is slightly different. Sometimes, as in the classic Beauty and the Beast, the girl learns to love the monster for his heart, not his appearance, and they live happily ever after. Other times, like in Tarzan, the beauty falls in love with the beast, but cannot bring herself to share her life with him, leaving him lonely and brokenhearted. Still other stories, such as King Kong or The Hunchback of Notre Dame feature a girl who is repulsed by the beast. All different, yet all the same.

Why do we love this story so much? Why does it continue to attract us in its various forms? And why is it that we sympathize with the beast so strongly? What part of us is drawn to this tale as old as time?

I noticed as I was thinking over this topic that the oldest and greatest story in the history of the universe is actually the opposite. Rather than a beast who loves and sacrifices himself for a beauty, a Beauty, perfect, flawless, without blemish or spot, descended from His throne to sacrifice Himself for the beast whom He loved more than anything — us. We are the beast.

Thus, we relate to the beasts in the stories. At first glance, I thought that our love for the tales might be related to pride. We want to believe that we are truly beautiful underneath our blemished, ugly exterior, that our hearts are good rather than “desperately wicked and deceitful above all things” as the prophet Jeremiah tells us. We want to think that there is something in us that would be drawn to the beauty, something innately good.

But a friend encouraged me to look deeper, by pointing out the redemption of the beast in most of the stories. Tarzan is wild, hopeless, a true animal without any ethics or understanding of love, until his beauty enters the jungle. The Beast too is wild, animal and completely selfish until Beauty finds her way into his castle, and her lovely spirit calls out love in his heart. Quasimodo changes from a cowardly kidnapper to a man who is willing to lay down his life for Esmeralda, while Erik, the Phantom, goes from a selfish, monstrous ogre, to being willing to give up the woman he loves when he knows that he is not best for her.

Perhaps then, these famous tales present a stronger resemblance to our own story than one might expect. As the beast, we need to see that a beauty can love us, despite what we are. And the love of the one true Beauty is the only thing that can redeem us from our ugly past, the only thing that can call forth true, though still flawed, love. They are a reflection, if a vastly imperfect one, of our own story.

Thus, we shall doubtless continue to read and write beauty and the beast narratives, no matter how many we’ve experienced before. They give us hope, by pointing us to our Beauty, who loved us despite our beastly character, and whose love and purity cannot help but create beauty in all of us, if we only keep our eyes on His glorious light.

For further reading:

- I’m co-authoring a steampunk fairytale series with Aubrey Hansen, and we’re starting with Cogs, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Find out a bit about the series on her blog!

- My friend David J. Hartung has written his own version of the beauty and the beast story, a delightful tale called The Song of the Troll. Have a look at it in first draft form on his blog!

19 Responses to Tale as Old as Time

  1. Jeremiah says:

    This is really neat, I think I’ve heard a bit about this somewhere before, but this post put it all together (I think it was in discussion form on HW or something, so was broken up and incomplete). It’s amazing to think about how all stories draw any awesomeness they have from the greatest Story ever–the Gospel (I believe Tolkien mentions this in On Fairy-Stories, and that was the best part of the book). I think it speaks a lot about our heart, as a race.
    Nice post. :D

    • Grace says:

      Thank you, Jeremiah! Yes, I think I’d started a discussion on HolyWorlds about it. :)

      I should read On Fairy-Stories sometime… I know Mark’s always trying to get me to. ;)

      I’m glad you liked the post! :)

      • Mark says:

        @Jeramiah Indeed. :D ‘Cause one can catch a glimpse of the mountains through the gaps in the leaves. B-)

        @Grace Mhm, you should. ;) While you’re at it, you should read Leaf by Niggle as well (Tolkien’s allegorical short story), they really should be read together.

        • Jeremiah says:

          Ah, that makes sense then. :D

          Yes, you should. Because I am going to be doing the same now. ;)

          @Mark – Yes. :cool:
          Oh! I should read that, too, then…

          • Grace says:

            Silly Marketh. ;) We’ll see. If I can find a copy somewhere, I shall certainly attempt to acquire it (them). :D

            It would be fun to discuss with you two if I do get to read them. ^_^

  2. I suppose you might already know that it was your Holy Worlds discussion of the very topic that led to the creation of Caesar the Troll. And so, I am very grateful for this post.

    • Grace says:

      I had forgotten about that! And, that particular story proves my thesis, since I adore it so much, mainly because of that same timeless quality — though I think you put a really wonderful new spin on the “beast.” Love that story. *grins*

      • Ahh! You should see the page-view count on my blog already! You know to this day your guest post remains my most popular post ever?
        Thanks much for linking me in there!
        And yes, I am still sorting out who really ends up being the “beast” in that story. It feels almost like an inside-out and backwards of the typical.

        • Grace says:

          Aww, I’m glad! *smiles* Your blog deserves it. ;)

          Well, seeing as how I haven’t finished your story, I guess I can’t say for sure… but to me one of the interesting things is that the beast starts out lovable, even though he’s ugly and flawed. Generally he’s just horrific at first, though there’s usually a spark of something inside that’s good. It’s very interesting to ponder.

  3. Leah E Good says:

    Great post and good thoughts. And you and Aubrey Hansen are co-writing something?! That should be good. How far along are you?

    • Grace says:

      Thank you, Leah! Yes, we’re very excited about it. :D I believe the first book is mostly written, and Aubrey and I have been talking publication schedules. Hopefully more news coming in the not-so-distant future!

  4. This is one of my favorite articles by you, Grace. :)

  5. Very nice post, Ani. :D I’ve never really thought about it that way before. *Ponders* :)

  6. Calista/Milly says:

    Wow, fascinating post, Grace! I never thought about it that way before. :)

  7. Hope Pennington says:

    Love this analogy… Interesting theory! It makes so much sense! Thanks for sharing Grace, and I can’t wait to hear your and Aubrey’s story!

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