Sunday, July 01, 2007

"Beauty's Folly" - by Eugie Foster

"Beauty's Folly"

By Eugie Foster

I've always loved fairy tales, starting from when I was a little girl. They continue to inspire me with their resonant themes and archetypes, and "Beauty and the Beast" is one of my favorites. It's such an elegant little tale, juxtaposing layers of stark contrastthe beautiful and the grotesque, savagery and civilization, sacrifice and selfishness, tenderness and brutalityto tell a sweet, coming-of-age story.

I also find Beauty to be an easy character to empathize with and admire. She's strong as well as beautiful, the embodiment of love and sacrificetwo potent themes that appear throughout the fairy tale. Gutsy and headstrong, she isn't the sort of heroine that just naps in her glass coffin or languishes in her tower, waiting for the prince to come and rescue her. On the contrary, she's prepared to give her life to protect those she loves, a young woman who dictates her own fate rather than consenting to the role of passive princess. And also, she possesses uncommon intelligence and depth, capable of seeing beyond surface appearances and transcending societal mores. How can someone not root for her?

There's also room for some interesting examination of Freudian symbolism*. Seen through the lens of Freud/Jung's Electra complex, the Beast is a metaphor for Beauty's burgeoning sexuality as she matures from a girl into a young woman. Beauty, in cleaving to her father with a little girl's devotion, sees all other men as beastly. It's only through growing up, by learning to love the Beast, and perhaps comprehending the human flaws and shortcomings of her father, that she triggers the Beast's metamorphoses into a prince, freeing them both.

Or not. It's also a romantic happily-ever-after, which I'm a total sucker for.

So I've been hankering to write a contemporary "Beauty and the Beast" story, but while it's been mulling as a free floating aspiration, I kept putting it off. I wanted to make it more than a rehash of the fairy tale; I wanted it to reflect updated themes and modern issues. Yet at the same time, I didn't want to sacrifice the integral charm and magic of the fairy tale to the gritty realism that often comes with current settings and issues.

I was doing research for another story, reading up on the plight of the homeless in America, and saw that the figures are now indicating that an estimated one-third of the homeless population suffers from untreated, severe, and persistent psychiatric illnessesmost of whom end up stigmatized and victimized, their plight misunderstood and overlooked by mainstream society who view them as distasteful and/or threatening. Then I got a note from Steve Berman asking if I had the time to write a re-told fairy tale for an anthology project he was pitching to Mirrorstone Books, the YA imprint of Wizards of the Coast/TSR.

With fairy tales at my forebrain and homelessness and mental illness at the back, my inner psychologist and my muse had a powwow. A person having to overcome preconceived notions of the impoverished and homeless brought to mind Beauty's circumstances after her family's dramatic turn in fortunes. What would a rich socialite have to confront in those circumstances? And what would a young woman able to overcome the tenets of her privileged upbringing be like? And what about one who would strike up a conversation with a panhandler in an alley rather than ignore or avoid him? And there I had my Beauty/Annabel. In keeping with the mental health theme, the Beast/Eloy became a gentle sociopath, and his "castle" transformed into a sort of a magical psychiatric ward. And I was off.

As it turns out, I ended up writing a different story for Steve's anthology, Magic in the Mirrorstone (slated for a Feb. 2008 release), but I owe him major snaps for sparking the idea for "Beauty's Folly."

*Disclaimer: I'm not a proponent of Freud's theories!

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