Friday, January 4, 2008

I Have Discovered A Meaning

Sometimes you realize the true meaning of a familiar story suddenly. As if a curtain has been lifted on the face of an old friend, and you suddenly realize that the friend looks like Alf. Or, something more sublime than that.

This hardly *ever* happens to me because I fancy myself so mercilessly perceptive. I block off all possible meanings that I don't immediately perceive. Like, if I didn't get it already, it ain't there to be got.

Tonight, however, I had one of those epiphanies like other people get, you know, people who don't pierce through literature to its underlying message with the scathing accuracy of a whisper-thin rapier.

I figured out what Beauty and the Beast is *really about.*

There is a Chinese fairy tale called "Sing Sun and the Tartar," which has a lot of parallel elements to Beauty and the Beast. Three daughters, one really pretty and smart. The father goes off on a journey, promising to bring each girl a present. The sisters ask for expensive, frivolous things, and Sing Sun asks for a piece of the great wall. While he's hacking off a piece of the wall, the father lets a Tartar through (A tartar is like a hun but more hairy). The Tartar immediately imprisons the father, but promises to let the father go if Sing Sun will marry him. Sing Sun decides to comply, so she goes to live in his nasty tent on the other side of the wall. She rots there, lonely and bored, until he cries over the fact that she'll never love him. At this pivotal moment, she takes pity on him, kisses him, and BAM -- the world is full of butterflies and he's a handsome prince! I left out the part about a goldfish telling her, "You have to be kind to the Tartar, or you will never marry the prince." Everyone is happy forever and Sing Sun has her prince to marry. Excellent.
I realized, reading this version of the story, that the point of the story isn't that appearances are deceiving, that sometimes princes don't always look like princes, etc. The point of the story is that LOVE TRANSFORMS. So, you could say that the beast was a prince all along, or you could say that the PRINCE IS STILL A BEAST. Are you totally feeling me? In the Chinese version, there is no fairy, no enchantment, no last petal of the rose to drop. The Tartar is the Prince is the Tartar. The beast is the man is the beast. What changes is not the man, but the woman.


  1. I wasn't aware that the Beauty and the Beast was based on a more ancient story but I like this story. And I like your views on it too however I must say that this is a story of compromise THEN transformation. Remember the Tartar has to display the non-Tartar like qualities of regret, sorrow and even resignation to appear transformed to the Princess. He has to change to allow the Pricess to see who the person is underneath the, well err, hair.

  2. You mean Disney got it wrong?

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. I really like Beauty and the Beast, and the other variations of the Animal Bridegroom fairy tales, and it's exactly because they say so much about love and perception and transformation and trust.

    Have you read Angela Carter's short story "The Tiger's Bride"? It explores the whole transformation side of these tales, but with a twist.

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