Griffin wrote an interesting post about young adult literature on here a few days ago, with subsequent interesting discussion in the comments; and while I’m not going to discuss new, popular YA, I do feel now that I can talk about fairy tales here. So, thanks. Also, I did like Divergent.
I’ve mentioned here before how much I adore Robin McKinley, who over her career as a novelist has written two full-length YA novels based on the story of Beauty and the Beast. It’s kind of amazing that one person could envision the same basic storyline in such different ways. Her author’s note at the end of the second version asserts that perhaps each writer has a single story to tell and spends his or her career telling that story in different ways – each time getting a little closer to whatever he or she is trying to say.
Beauty was McKinley’s first published book, and it sticks pretty closely to the storyline most people know: Beauty stays in the enchanted Beast’s castle, falls in love with him, realizes it at the very last minute, and causes him to transform (back) into a man. Except wait, what? “‘I can’t marry you,’” she bursts out, and “the smile left his face as if it had been cut off, and his eyes were dark and sad.” But thanks to some quick explaining on his part, she accepts that he is the same person she fell in love with, just freed from his hideous exterior. Yep. Sounds right. Swoon.
Rose Daughter, published almost twenty years later, takes a different twist on the story’s resolution: although this Beauty also breaks the spell, her Beast does not change back into a man. In fact, she is given the opportunity to make the choice: between the handsome man he once was, though cruel and powerful; or the gentle Beast he is now, though poor and hideous. She says, “I love my Beast, and I would miss him very much if he went away from me and left me with some handsome stranger.” And in response he says, “Then everything is exactly as it should be.”
It’s weird, that ending. How do things (a whole lot of them) work out for this couple when one of them isn’t really a human? But at the same time, maybe it seems like a more organic way to wrap up the narrative.
In most versions of the story, both the reader and Beauty spend most of their time being persuaded to fall in love with the Beast. If he changes back into a human at the end, it kind of negates all of that. True, in the Disney version, the transformation is expected and welcomed. Also, Disney’s standards of beauty don’t include fur and horns, so there’s that. And while Robin McKinley doesn’t really let her readers in on the secret, there’s probably zero chance you don’t already know that the Beast is under a spell. So I guess the question is whether he’s returning to who he was before (which, in Rose Daughter, is implied), or actually accomplishing what the spell was supposed to do—becoming a better person.
But still. I’m intrigued by this idea of retelling the same story, wrestling with similar ideas over the course of time, not settling for a previously discovered answer if some new information has come to light.
It’s sort of like the idea of calling or purpose: not just what is your job, but what is your mission statement for your life. For me, on a broad scale it has something to do with loving God and loving people. Am I constantly aiming to do this better? Are the things I do somehow targeting or reevaluating this goal?
In short, I guess I’m using these narratives as confirmation that questioning and reassessing are good. Scary too, but maybe in an I’m growing and it’s odd way. That while the day-to-day events of my life may change, and even while the big statuses of my life may change, the growth and development and yes, the changes aren’t for nothing. I don’t have to go back to where I started. I can assess where I am, and what I have, with different eyes.
And maybe someday too, the things that now seem like beasts will just be friendly and lovable and even, somehow, beautiful and right.