Beauty times 3 (part four)
JOdel at aol.com
JOdel at aol.com
Fri Nov 19 12:52:41 EST 1999
Beauty x 3 (Part Four) Warning! SPOILERS
According to McKinley in 97;
Beauty is the youngest of three sisters. Her name is Beauty. All three of the
girls are beautiful, but in this particular culture one tends to earn ones
name by occupation or character, and Beauty, being quiet and retiring does
not appear to have any stronger characteristic upon which to hang a new name.
She is very sweet, and the peacemaker of her fathers household, which needs
one. It is not a happy home. Not because the people in the family are
particularly bad sorts, but they -- and the chief servants -- are all fairly
difficult people and much of the time everyone in the household seems to be
either angry or unhappy.
For example, Beautys two older sisters are splendid young women, but cannot
be easy to live with. The eldest inherited their mothers intrepid courage
and has earned herself the name of Lionheart. The second inherited their
mothers brilliant wit and has earned herself the name of Jeweltongue. Both
have exceedingly dominant personalities. Their father, by contrast appears to
have none, being distinguished only by being the richest merchant in the
city. At the beginning of the story, anyway.
One major difference between the two McKinley versions of this tale is that
while the world of BEAUTY was a rationalist one in which magic was considered
superstition and folly, in the world of ROSE DAUGHTER magic is known to
work. Consequently, all ambitious practitioners of magic gravitate to the
cities to make their fortunes. There are many levels of magic workers.
Magicians, sorcerers, fortune tellers and seers. One of the more humble, but
most welcome of these are the greenwitches, purveyors of garden magic and
small useful spells. It is soon fairly clear to the reader, although never
actually stated, that had Beautys father not turned utterly against all
magic after his wifes death, and had she been given training, Beauty, a
great lover of gardens and all plants, might well have been a greenwitch
herself. Another difference between this work and our own is that unlike our
world in which roses are grown in virtually every country worldwide, in the
world in which the story takes place, roses are very rare, since only great
love or great magic can induce them to bloom. Due to their father's revulsion
of feeling against all forms of magic, all three girls are forbidden to have
anything to do with it. Nevertheless, the two eldest still occasionally
purchase street spells, and Beauty maintains a friendship with the magical
creature of a retired sorcerer. And just what is this creature, may one ask?
It is a salamander.
As in BEAUTY, the blow falls after an engagement, but before a wedding. In
this version, both older sisters have made brilliant matches and are planning
a double wedding. Ten days before this wedding takes place, the word of their
fathers ruin becomes public. Both suitors break off their engagements, and
before the day is out all of the servants have left, many unofficially taking
with them various valuable household goods in lieu of wages, without,
needless to say, permission, realizing that the family no longer has the
resources to pursue them. The three sisters are left alone in the house with
their father, who is a broken man. This fall is far harder than the one in
78. This time it is not mere financial loss which faces their father, but
disgrace and probably debtors prison. Their fathers kin no longer wish to
know them and their former friends have turned away.
Thrown upon their own resources, Lionheart, who enjoys a challenge, takes to
fighting the kitchen into submission. Jeweltongue looks after their father
and sees to the running of what household is left to them. Beauty sifts
through the papers from their fathers office to try to discover if there is
anything which might offer them some hope of a future. In this manner she
discovers a lawyers document dating from the year she herself was two years
old stating that the three girls had been left a cottage in the country. None
of the creditors want a piece of property so far from the city, so they girls
decide to remove to it.
Their house, and what is left of their valuable goods are put up for auction,
hoping that the sale will bring enough to keep their father out of gaol.
During their last weeks in the city Beauty visits the many retired servants
and other people who had given homes to the dogs, horses and other creatures
which had not managed to work out in the familys former life-style and asks
their advice on the skills which they will need for living out in the
country. This information she writes down to take with them. In the midst of
this, her friend the salamander offers her a gift as well and grants her "a
The journey is harsh and unpleasant. Their father is weak and wandering in
his wits and the carters convoy which they have paid nearly their last funds
to join regards them as unwelcome. An early winter strands them in a small
town no more than halfway to their goal, during which Lionhearts skill in
cookery, Jeweltongues with her needle and Beautys peacekeeping finally earn
them the carters respect. At last, at the earliest turn of spring they reach
their goal. Not bucolic Blue Hill this time, but the more dubiously named
village of Longchance.
Nevertheless, Rose Cottage turns out to be unexpectedly sound, even though it
has stood vacant for many years, and the three sisters throw themselves into
bringing it into order. Their father sleeps a great deal but gradually seems
to begin to recover his wits. Once the house is brought into order, and the
meadow returned to meadow rather than being lost to woodland, Beauty begins
the job of recovering the garden. One of the many mysteries about the place
is the identity of all the vicious thornbushes which cover much of the house
and have produced an impenetrable thicket in the middle of the garden itself.
Once things are under control, the two elder sisters begin to put their own
plans into action. Lionheart cuts her hair, and dresses as a boy, taking a
position in the stables of the local squire. Jeweltongue strikes up a
friendship with the village draper and eventually manages to get a commission
to sew for the squires sister, which soon escalates into a budding
dressmakers business. The family begins to be able to meet its expenses, and
there is hope that they may be able to save enough to have the thatch
replaced before the old quite begins to leak. Beauty has her hands full with
the garden and her vegetables and the thornbushes which to all of their
astonishment have turned out to be rose bushes.
Their life in Longchance is a vast improvement over ruin in the city,
although this life is not easy. But Longchance is a pleasant place and they
manage to make friends there. Their father continues to improve and has taken
to scribbling, although none of the girls know what his writings are about
since he keeps it in his pockets by day and under his pillow at night.
In the second year their father takes up bookkeeping for some of the village
businesses. Beauty also learns that the old woman who left them the cottage
had been the regions greenwitch, although nowadays no magic worker will
settle in the area. And the sisters begin to hear rumors of a curse regarding
Rose Cottage -- but only if three sisters should happen to live there (by
this time everyone accepts that Lionheart is a boy), and the legend of an
ancient sorcerers battle which had taken all of the magic away from the
In the third year, the letter comes telling the return of one of the
merchants ships. Against his daughters advice he makes the journey back to
the city. It was a mistake. The ship was seized by creditors despite
impoundment, and there is nothing left. He had much to do to avoid starving
in the City over the winter, and sets out on his return with a borrowed pony,
He goes astray in a storm, is housed and fed in an apparently empty palace,
given a new suit of clothes and served breakfast at a table with enough food
for six and a red rose in a silver vase. He takes the rose with him, rouses a
beast who demands his life. Begs pardon and tries to explain that the rose is
for his daughter. The Beast demands his daughter in his place. He is given a
month to comply.
In this version, the Beast was once a sorcerer who called himself a
philosopher and got too close to the mysteries. The touch of its guardians
made him as they were. And a terror driving onlookers to madness hangs about
him. His exile was originally self-imposed, but other sorcerers could still
visit him, and it was the wrath one of these who has turned his exile into a
Well, as usual, Beauty insists on being the sacrifice. In this version their
father has fallen ill again, and she slips away, setting forth on foot, after
bidding her sisters good-bye, before he recovers, with a bundle containing
slips from her own roses and rose hips full of seeds. The magic sets her on
the path and she reaches the palace by midday, and the salamanders gift
enables her to face the Beast without gibbering into madness.
And, no, for a change we do not wallow in luxury this time. Luxury rolls over
us like the sea and we are hard put not to drown in it. For the opulence of
the Beasts palace is diseased. It is a hateful, shifting, crushingly
oppressive penance which he, and Beauty, and the reader himself must just
stoically endure. The greatest mercy which Beauty is granted is that the
opulence of her own rooms is stable. It does not shift or mutate into other
forms when her eye turns elsewhere and so she is able to bear it and the part
of the enchantment of the place which inhabits in her own rooms lacks the
spiteful quality of that in the rest of the palace, so she can even draw some
comfort from it. For once Beauty is not here to rest and recover from honest
poverty and to live the life of an idle "lady". She certainly will not be
dawdling about in a library. She has come here to work. In fact to work like
a navvy. The Beasts roses are dying. She has been brought here to save them.
Out of a glasshouse once bursting with roses, only one bush still blooms. The
one from which the rose her father stole had grown. She sets about her task
at once. The glasshouse is not like the palace. It is an extravagant,
exuberant folly, and here the enchantment appears to be consistently benign
and helpful -- for which she has cause to be grateful, for she has undertaken
a backbreaking task. Each endless day of the week she slaves away in the
glasshouse, clearing out dead wood, planting her seeds and cuttings and
tending what live plants remain. Although the Beast has claimed that no other
creature (apart from Fourpaws, a small, pastel calico cat who sometimes
chooses to share his exile) will come near to the place where he is, each day
another creature, or creatures, appear for her to direct to its, or their,
proper place(s). As though in her own insignificant self she were reforging
the places link with the natural world.
At night she dreams of her family. In her dreams their lives have
moved ahead of hers, for although she has been gone only a few
endless days, in her dreams their lives have hastened on several
months, and she sees small changes creeping into Rose Cottage. She
dreams that Jeweltongue, to that young womans dismay, has caught
the eye of the squires eldest son, a handsome, spoiled, spiteful young
cub. She dreams that Lionhearts masquerade has been discovered by
the squires second son, a far better young man than his brother. She
dreams that Jeweltongue and their father enjoy a growing friendship
with the villages young baker. She dreams that her father has taken
to writing poetry.
And by daylight she labors in the glasshouse and begins to learn something of
the palace and its surroundings. She learns of the way into the woods where
she makes her bonfire of garden rubbish, and the way into orchard and kitchen
garden. She learns that the power of the enchantment which holds the place
can touch nothing living, which is why the roses, untended, had begun to die.
She also learns to pity the Beast for the clumsiness which, along with his
ignorance, had prevented him from doing so himself. She also learns that her
father was not the first traveler who had sheltered there, and that the
others had all at length run away at the sight of the Beast, or had been
driven away by the loneliness and silence. She learns that the Beast would
not have harmed her father if he had returned alone. And, no doubt due to the
enchantment of the place, before the first week is out she sees that her
cuttings have taken and the seeds have sprouted.
And in the night before her fifth day she sees the old woman, who even the
Beast does not realize lingers nearby, supplying him with butter and cheese.
The next night Beauty follows her, and finds her with her flock of ponies,
horses, cows and sheep -- and milky-pale unicorns, with silver shadows.
The next day is the day of the requisite crisis. In the midst of what had
been an innocent, if somewhat dangerous, investigation of the glasshouses
weathervane, the enchantment of the place abruptly turns on Beauty and she is
nearly killed. In the midst of the ensuing storm, fighting for her life, she
is thrown into a vision of her father and Jeweltongue -- at a poetry reading
of all things. The same storm rages in Longchance. Beautys presence is taken
for that of a ghost, one known to have manifested before. The hostess is
cajoled into telling the ghosts story, which turns out to be one version of
the legend of the ancient sorcerers battle, and the greenwitch of Rose
Cottage. Into the midst of all this atmosphere strides young Jack Trueword,
the squires eldest son, with a spiteful grin and a second, cynically mocking
version of the same story, as well as the news of Lionhearts masquerade, and
a taunt at them all with the curse of three sisters in the cottage. This
manages to upset everyone.
The vision ends. Beauty finds herself falling. She cannot save herself. The
Beast saves her. Together they reach the ground in safety and take refuge
from the storm inside the glasshouse. There is no more storm once they are
inside the glasshouse, and the Beasts roses have gloriously revived. Beauty
begs the Beast to send her home, for her task is done, and she must learn the
truth of her vision. He agrees to send her, knowing that it means his death.
But, saying that as he brought her to him with a lie, it was only right that
he should lose her. He sends her with a rose which will bring her back if she
does not overstay.
Her return is a mistake as great as her fathers trip to the city.
Jeweltongue and Lionheart, both rush home to find her lying on the hearthrug
deep in a sleep from which she will not rouse. When she finally comes round,
they learn, in the scant hour or two given to them, that time in Longchance
has passed as a month to each day that Beauty has spent in the Palace, that
both sisters had been escorted home by a cat whose description matches that
of Fourpaws, and that if Beauty feels about the Beast the way she seems to be
acting like she feels she had best go ahead and marry him. At which point
Lionheart points out that the last petal is falling from the rose, and Beauty
knows that the Beast is dying, and her way back is lost.
It takes her the rest of the night and well into the following day to return.
The enchantment is still working against her. And, once returned, the
shifting palace thwarts her in her attempt to reach the glasshouse. At
length, as night is falling, she escapes from the house into the wild wood,
and stumbles, lost, into her bonfire clearing where a unicorn has been
standing guard over the unconscious Beast. He is not yet quite dead. She
speaks the traditional formula and rather than bringing about the end of the
enchantment, all hell breaks loose. Nothing in this version of the tale is
going to be easy.
Beauty is given a choice. She may break the enchantment, return the Beast to
what he once was and all his greatness, with all its temptations, or she may
take him, as he is, back to Longchance and be the sister of the baker and the
squires horse-breeding son. She makes her choice, and she chooses to keep
him a Beast.
All the forces of evil magic are ranging against them for the final
confrontation of the battle begun so long ago. The old woman, who is of
course the greenwitch of Rose Cottage, her unicorns and the two guardians of
the mysteries whose touch had made the Beast what he is stand on their side.
As she watches the enemys forces assemble Beauty finally becomes angry, and,
taking strength from the salamanders gift,she faces the enemy and sends it
away. The palace is a prison no longer. Theterror which hung about the Beast
has departed, and the air is filled with birdsong.
Certain factors are constant. In all versions it is admitted that, by
whatever means, the Beast has gotten himself into this fix by his own
actions. Whether it be rudeness to the apparently humble, a falling from
grace, or by seeking after forbidden knowledge. Beyond that, it is clear that
these are three widely different stories, which have no reason to lean on
each other for support. And, while there are also some detectable small,
amused tweaks at the Disney version to be found in ROSE DAUGHTER, even the
behavior of Jack Trueword is not enough to cause more than a slight nod of
recognition. One is left feeling vaguely that it is a pity that we cannot see
the tale over again from the point of view of Lionheart or Jeweltongue. For
these young women are not the dear, pleasant, but ultimately ordinary girls
that Grace and Hope were in 78. These are two young women of strong
character, who clearly have stories of their own, which we will probably
But it does definitely seem to me to require altogether too much of a stretch
to try to deny the presence of the Lackey effect. Still, I may be
exaggerating it. ROSE DAUGHTER is a powerful work, and whatever the reasons
it may been written were, I am unabashedly grateful to have it. In fact, I go
so far as to hope that some 20 years hence some other event or popular
retelling will goad McKinley into telling this tale over to us for a third
time. I should like to know what further changes may be rung upon this
particular theme when she might tell it in the voice of the crone.
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