Tagged moral of the story

Beauty and the What Kind of Moral Is THAT?!

Today on the blog, I am venturing into new territory with a study of morality. I will be using as my case study the story of Beauty and the Beast. A tale whose moral is, of course, that beauty is more than skin deep.

I’m sure we are all familiar with the story, but I will summarise. A vain and narcissistic Prince lives a cruel and shallow existence, caring for nothing but outward beauty and hedonistic pleasures. (That last bit might only be in the most recent film, actually. I’m not sure the Prince was holding Freddie Mercury-esque parties in any of the earlier tellings of the story, but I digress.)

An Enchantress, disguised as an old hag, asks the Prince for shelter from the rain/to accept a rose from her at one of his wild orgies. (Again, this very much depends on the version of the story. We’re not even going to consider the version where everyone is secretly the child of some kind of fairy, and being raised in a variety of unlikely fake families to hide their true identity. Ain’t no one got time to be figuring out what the hell is going on in that version.) The Prince, repulsed by the Enchantress’ ugly appearance, rejects her. (Or, in the mad version, he rejects her because she’s his evil adoptive mother and is trying to seduce him, and he felt it was all a bit weird. But that version kind of removes the moral judgment on the Prince, so no one really knows what point was being made. Like I said, ain’t no one got time.) The Enchantress curses the Prince for his cruel and callous attitudes, giving him the monstrous appearance of a beast to reflect his inner ugliness. The curse can only be broken if the Beast is able to find real love in his heart, and receive real love in return, despite his appearance. He must do this before the final petal on the enchanted red rose the witch gives him falls, or he will remain a beast forever.

Inexplicably, the Beast, despite being deeply concerned about the status of the dying rose, chooses to live as a complete hermit, holed up in his castle, meeting no one. I’m not sure he fully understood his task. Even more inexplicably, in the films, the curse requires the staff of the castle to be turned into – I would say inanimate objects, but that would be wholly inaccurate, given that they perform several very animated song and dance routines – household objects. It is not very clear what connection this has to the Beast learning that beauty is more than skin deep and how to love. Was it to stop him from taking the easy route out and falling in love with one of his servants? Far be it from me to criticise, but I think falling in love with someone despite the fact that they are a teapot would have been a much better illustration of the principle of loving someone for who they are inside, and not their outer spout, but hey ho!

Anyway, while the Beast is busy doing very little to break his curse, a merchant returning home gets lost in a storm and finds the Beast’s castle. He seeks shelter inside, and is well looked after, despite the castle appearing to be deserted. As he goes on his way the next morning, he sees the Beast’s rose bushes and, remembering that his daughter had asked for a rose as a gift, picks one. (Now, in the films, the merchant has just one daughter. In the original tellings, he had several, all greedy and selfish apart from the youngest daughter who asked for the rose.) The Beast appears and is very angry that the merchant has stolen from him after having received shelter and hospitality. He plans to kill the merchant, but the merchant pleads with the Beast, explaining that he just wanted the rose for his daughter. The Beast agrees to allow the merchant to go free, on condition that his daughter comes to live at the castle. (Except in the most recent film, where the merchant simply gets imprisoned, but his daughter comes to look for him and chooses to take his place. Presumably because otherwise the film would either have been very short, or the Beast would have been trying to find true love with the merchant (which, again, would actually have been a better illustration of loving what is beneath the surface). In the original versions, the merchant simply had to send any one of his daughters to the castle. The number of shits given by the Beast about which daughter he gets are zero.)

By one method or another, the merchant’s daughter takes his place at the Beast’s castle. We will call her ‘Belle’, as they do in the films. (See what they did there? Because Belle means Beauty, and it’s called Beauty and the Beast. The films didn’t want any confusion. No repeat of the chaos, panic and disorder experienced in that version where everyone was the child of some rival fairy. Oh no. No fairy parents here. There is a beauty, called Beauty, and a beast, called Beast. No one is getting confused. We leave no man behind.) The Beast (and his talking teapot, if you’re watching the films) take good care of Belle. The Beast does not plan to kill Belle – he’s not quite that clueless about his task.

The Beast asks Belle to marry him, but she repeatedly says no. On account of not knowing him, and something about fur and horns. This is probably for the best, as asking the first random you meet to marry you was likely rather missing the point of the curse. Belle has the Beast firmly in the friendzone. Well, to start with, more in the ‘you threatened my father and are now holding me captive, you creepy weirdo’ zone. But then Belle finds out the Beast likes to read, and that completely overrides earlier concerns about what kind of person tries to kill your father for picking a rose, holds you hostage, and has fur and horns. So they are friends, but the Beast’s time is running out. The rose is nearly dead.

Belle is worried about her father and the Beast sees that she cannot be happy. The Beast allows Belle to go to her father. (Because, as the saying goes, if you love someone, set them free. If they come back, you won’t have fur for eternity. If they don’t, well, at least you’ll never be cold in the winter. Or something like that.) The Beast has a magic mirror. Obviously. (No one really knows why. Presumably, the wicked fairy he was raised by was the one from Snow White.) He gives the mirror to Belle so that she will be able to see what is happening at the castle. And the magic ring, of course – he has one of those too, apparently – so that she can return to him.

Depending on the telling, Belle either needed to save her father and races back to the Beast when she realises a group from her village plan to attack the Beast (pitchforks at the ready). Or, she simply missed her father, promised the Beast she would return, and forgot (easily done – it’s not like he’s particularly memorable). Either way, the Beast is almost dead (from pitchforks or heartbreak) when Belle returns to him, causing her to realise that she does, in fact, love him and does not want to be without him. Thus, the curse is broken, the Beast survives and turns back into a Prince (servants stop being teapots, etc). Belle is thrilled because, while she, of course, did love him despite being a beast, a prince is still better, and they live happily ever after.

So, as I was saying, the moral of the story…yes, about that: I think I must have misunderstood. What I’m getting is that the shallow Prince was cursed to live as a Beast until he learnt to see beyond outward appearances, and to love and be loved for inner beauty. A lesson he learnt by, well, by kidnapping and falling in love with the most beautiful woman in the town. Okay. So we know that Belle is not shallow. She loved the Beast despite him being a beast. But Belle wasn’t the one who had been cursed for being a shallow arsehole, was she? Said shallow arsehole managed to rehabilitate himself through the supreme sacrifice of letting the really pretty girl live in his house. Thank god he learnt his lesson. I’m telling you, he should have been made to love the teapot.

(True) moral of the story: don’t listen to life lessons from fairy tales, particularly when retold by Disney, because they talk utter bollocks.