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 one’s 
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 father’s  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, Beauty’s two older sisters are splendid young women, but cannot 
be easy to live with. The eldest inherited their mother’s intrepid courage 
and has earned herself the name of Lionheart. The second inherited their 
mother’s 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 Beauty’s father not turned utterly against all 
magic after his wife’s 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 
father’s 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 father’s 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 father’s 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 family’s 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 
small serenity".

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 Lionheart’s skill in 
cookery, Jeweltongue’s with her needle and Beauty’s 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 squire’s sister, which soon escalates into a budding 
dressmaker’s 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 
district. 

In the third year, the letter comes telling the return of one of the 
merchant’s 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, 
empty-handed. 

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 
prison.

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 salamander’s 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 Beast’s 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 Beast’s 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 place’s 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 woman’s dismay, has caught 
the eye of the squire’s eldest son, a handsome, spoiled, spiteful young 
cub. She dreams that Lionheart’s masquerade has been discovered by 
the squire’s second son, a far better young man than his brother. She 
dreams that Jeweltongue and their father enjoy a growing friendship 
with the village’s 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 glasshouse’s 
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. Beauty’s presence is taken 
for that of a ghost, one known to have manifested before. The hostess is 
cajoled into telling the ghost’s story, which turns out to be one version of 
the legend of the ancient sorcerer’s battle, and the greenwitch of Rose 
Cottage. Into the midst of all this atmosphere strides young Jack Trueword, 
the squire’s eldest son, with a spiteful grin and a second, cynically mocking 
version of the same story, as well as the news of Lionheart’s 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 Beast’s 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 father’s 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 
squire’s 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 enemy’s forces assemble Beauty finally becomes angry, and, 
taking strength from the salamander’s 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 
never read.

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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