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Friday, February 8, 2013

[Guest Post] Jax Garren on Tales of the Underlight


Beauty and the Beast - Why We Love It
by Jax Garren

Beauty and the Beast has always been one of my favorite fairy tales. It seems to make a lot of people’s top lists! I think the timelessness of the story is why. Many fairy tales center around outdated gender and class roles or simple wish fulfillment (I’m looking at you, Cinderella). But Beauty and the Beast is a story about the triumph of our better selves—of love over prejudice, hope over despair.

In older versions of the story, such as Villeneuve (links to an abridged version of the oldest known published Beauty and the Beast) and Beaumont (the most famous version, published in 1756), Beauty has always been a good girl, lovely outside and in. She doesn’t care overly about her family’s wealth, is willing to work for her living and is brave enough to trade her life for her father’s when her request for a rose goes horribly awry. She’s easy to like. But even this seeming paragon can’t help being repulsed by the beast’s exterior.

The beast has been cursed, depending on the version of the story, for refusing the amorous advances of a fairy (Villeneuve), for arrogance and/or cruelty (Beaumont) or sometimes for no reason at all (various others). His character is harder to pin down than Beauty’s, though he is kind to her, has a temper with her farther and shows generosity to everyone. He is willing to keep Beauty at his castle against her will but does so to break his curse—a pretty compelling reason.

For him love comes quickly—before he’s seen her even. Beast falls for Beauty because of the bravery she shows in offering to take her father’s place. While I’m sure her looks don’t hurt his attraction to her, the story makes a point of showing it’s her character, not her appearance, he finds compelling. And yet he can’t believe someone so lovely could ever want him. This self-deprecation as well as the way he hides from people (unless enraged) hints that he is unable to accept himself since the transformation. Other people’s looks may not be of primary importance to him, but his own vanity causes him issues. (Not that I blame him! Who wouldn’t have a hard time coping with that?)

Beauty, after her initial fear at the beast’s appearance, quickly begins to see the great person behind the ugly façade. Though she grows to appreciate him as a friend, enjoying his company and loving the life she has at his castle, she can’t bring herself to be romantically attracted to him. I think this part of the story is very true to life. Humans are aesthetic creatures, even the best of us. Despite being an all-around great person, Beauty can’t quite make that leap from friend to curling up next to him at night. In some versions, I get the impression she wants to…but can’t until dramatic circumstances force her to reevaluate her feelings. Again, it’s hard to blame her. She’s not a vain or silly person. She’s us, having the exact same reaction we would have. And if she can overcome it, maybe we, too, can be better people.

This realistic conflict at the heart of the story is why I think Beauty and the Beast remains one of the most popular fairy tales to tell and retell. It touches on our fears that we are not loveable as we are, that people will not or cannot see the person inside who is trying to be good and needs to be loved. It is impossible not to want the beast to win the heart of the beauty, because when it happens we are reassured that we, too, can win our heart’s wish just as we are, flaws and all.

I used this same idea to build a modern Beauty and the Beast. The setting is wildly different and includes warring secret societies, magic and action-adventure mayhem. But the love story retains the same basic conflict. The one significant alteration I made is that Hauk, our beast, is a soldier who returned from war a burn survivor. Unlike the original tale, he isn’t looking for a way to break a curse and return to his old self. He’s trying to forge a new life out of the ashes of his old. He doesn’t see Jolie, our Beauty, as a catalyst to bring back the physical shape he lost. She is his inspiration for finding his old self internally, a man who allowed himself to love and be loved.

What are your favorite things about Beauty and the Beast?

How Beauty Met the Beast (Book 1) Summary

The Beast

Scarred. Damaged. Living with a terrible secret. Agent of the Underlight Wesley "Hauk" Haukon has nothing left but the fight for liberty against the oppressive Order of Ananke. He's starting to lose hope…and then he sees her.

The Beauty

Despite her night job as a burlesque dancer, grad student Jolie Benoit has always played the mostly good girl. That all changes following a scorching sexual encounter with a stranger whose face she doesn't see. After she's kidnapped by thugs and rescued by a man with a very familiar voice, Jolie becomes a pawn in a struggle she never knew existed.

Hauk knows he cannot have her, and resolves to protect his heart and his secrets. But as they work together and grow closer, he finds new reason to keep fighting. Dare he risk hope in a new life, one where Jolie can see past his ravaged face and where their friendship can grow into something more?

How Beauty Saved the Beast (Book 2) Summary

Jolie Benoit left her old life behind to become an agent of the Underlight. Training under Sergeant Wesley Haukon, she’s honing her combat skills, all the while coping with the intense sexual attraction she feels for Hauk. She keeps their friendship casual, but when his high school sweetheart transfers into their division, Jolie finds herself grappling with jealousy.

The Underlight gave Hauk a purpose, but he can’t escape his past completely. The physical and emotional scars from the fire that killed seven fellow Army Rangers will mark him forever. Jolie sends his protective instincts into overdrive, but he’s convinced he’ll never be worthy of her love.

Hauk is determined to keep Jolie from harm. But when the Order of Ananke ambushes them with a new weapon that neutralizes Hauk, making him vulnerable, it’s Jolie who must tap into her hidden strengths to rescue him—or risk losing him forever…

About Jax Garren
Jax Garren is descended from Valkyries and Vikings (she’s part Swedish) but was raised a small town girl in the Texas Hill Country. She graduated from The University of Texas with a degree in English and a minor in Latin and stayed in Austin to teach high school. During her eight years in public education she was in a riot, broke up fights, had cops storm her class with guns drawn…and met the most amazing young people who taught her more about life and hope than she taught them about any school subject.

Jax believes in happily ever afters. She married her real life hero, a handsome engineer who is saving the world through clean energy technology. Her heroine is Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the perfect blend of tough and feminine. Jax blames Marion for her dream of traveling to Nepal to experience Himalayan palaces and monasteries and to drink yak butter tea.

Jax loves meeting new people, so if you see her out and about say hello! She’s always happy to raise a glass with her readers (or anyone else) in a toast to courage, adventure, and love.

4 comments:

  1. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite story. I've loved it since childhood, long before Disney's version came out (though I love that, too). I also love similar beauty vs. beastly stories, like Cyrano de Bergerac, Phantom of the Opera and Edward Scissorhands. And I love your Tales of the Underlight series!

    I even have a similar theme in my own books -- but through the lens of science fiction. In Stellarnet Rebel, my heroine wants to care about the alien freedom fighter, but "can’t until dramatic circumstances force her to reevaluate her feelings." lol

    For many years, I saw the story from Beauty's perspective -- I wanted to be her, to find and love a Beast who deserved my love and would appreciate it, not take it for granted. My heart went out to him. But then I realized it was because I was also the Beast, feeling unloved and unlovable. I think many people feel that way, especially if they grow up in a dysfunctional family.

    Thanks for this great post. I wish you all the best with the series. You deserve it!

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    1. Thanks J.L.! I love the Stellarnet series, and can total see the Beauty and the Beast tie.

      I think that's totally true that when we see the story through Beauty's perspective, we feel good because we're connecting with our better selves, the one that doesn't give in to prejudice and fear. Either character you sympathize with, there's an emotional connection to make.

      Thanks for the well wishes! :) I appreciate it!

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  2. I have always been a fan of the original myself. I actually just got the pleasure of re-reading it for my Literature for Children studies course. Another favourite of mine was the television series staring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman.

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    1. I did enjoy that. Ron Perlman's voice is incredible! I had hope for the reboot, but admit I stopped watching after a few episodes.

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