Connection, Quarantine, and “Beauty and the Beast”
April 21, 2020
If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “Beauty and the Beast is basically just about Stockholm syndrome, right?” I would have my own Scrooge McDuck swimming pool.
And they’re not 100% wrong. Beauty and the Beast tales, especially the older versions, often feature Beasts who are gigantic jerks. They extract some pretty coercive promises to get their Beauties to live with them in their castles – after all, it’s not really voluntary if Beauty is staying to save her father’s life or to keep her family from starving.
But Stockholm syndrome is only part of the picture.
Despite their reputation, fairy tales often have very little to say about romantic love. Cinderella? It’s all about the relationship between the ash-girl and her family. Snow White? The prince only shows up at the very end! Little Red Riding Hood? Yikes!! But Beauty and the Beast is all about getting to know your romantic partner. It’s about living with them, day-in and day-out. It’s about the process of falling in love with someone that you really know, someone who has taken the time to know you.
My favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings all have something in common – Beauty and the Beast are brought together by circumstances beyond their control, and the Beast isn’t holding Beauty hostage. Instead, they have to work together to break free of a curse or to face a danger that threatens them both. (If you want to read some A+ Beauty and the Beast retellings in this vein, check out Juliet Marillier’s Heart’s Blood, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, and Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.)
These Beauties are under a lot of pressure, but they’re incredibly capable and badass. They have curses to break and ghosts to settle and vampires to put in line. But they also cultivate curiosity and respect for their Beastly counterparts. The more they learn about them, the more they like them, and the more the situation becomes bearable.
Because they realize they have a friend, an ally. A partner who loves and appreciates them.
Which brings me to my own quarantine experience and why this fairy tale has been resonating even more strongly than usual with me.
Last week was my husband’s and my second wedding anniversary, but we’ve known each other for eight years, and we were friends for a looooong time before we started dating. We’ve been through some stuff (Health stuff. Grad school stuff. Doing our taxes together and not killing each other stuff.) and I think we’re both pretty even-tempered, positive people.
But the last month has been unprecedented, for everyone.
I’m finding myself feeling snappish and grouchy way more than is normal for me. And there’s nowhere to go and no one else to hear it but Jared. We live way outside of Atlanta, in the North Georgia mountains. It’s absolutely beautiful, but it’s also the middle of nowhere. We’re in our own Beauty and the Beast isolation now, whether we like it or not.
It has helped me immeasurably to use Beauty and the Beast as a touchstone in the last weeks. When I’m feeling confined and rage-y, I remind myself that it’s an external threat. And I can face that by snapping at my awesome husband or by remembering that this situation is something that we’re facing together.
I try to choose, again and again, to be like the Beauties that I admire. The ones who are stressed but curious, afraid but brave, and willing to trust in their partners to have their backs. And when I find myself acting like a Beast on an off day – wanting to roar or snap or lash out – I try to reign it in.
Jared is the most even-keeled person I’ve ever met (much more of a Beauty than a Beast!) and when I’m being grumpus, he shows his support by making me a cocktail or cooking dinner or coaxing me into playing Link’s Awakening with him. But really, we takes turns taking care of each other and of our castle.
Jared and I had originally planned to see Hamilton on our anniversary, but obviously that’s not a thing right now. Instead, we went full Beauty and the Beast at home.
We cooked dinner and drank a respectable number of French 75s. And we gathered up all the candles and candlesticks we could find and covered our dining room table with them. Even though we couldn’t go anywhere, we got dressed to the nines, and I wore a dress that’s been languishing in the back of my closet for far too long. It honestly felt amazing to get dressed up and be intentional about a date night.
We talked a lot – about exciting things and scary things. We shared the frustration of not knowing so much right now. And then we danced around our living room, channeling the 1991 ballroom scene (we pretended our cats were Cogsworth and Lumiere – gotta work with what you’ve got!)
At their best, Beauty and the Beast tales are about connection. They’re about sharing fear and uniting with someone who gets you. And that’s how my favorite fairy tale is getting me through quarantine.
What’s your favorite fairy tale? How is it helping you right now?
PS – There’s less than a week before Rapunzel’s Circle starts! Join us in our fairy-tale refuge for stories, community, and a path into creativity.