I had the privilege of attending the Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek this week, and one of the sessions was an interview with Ed Catmull, president of Pixar animation and author of Creativity, Inc (which is now most definitely on my reading list). He said something so simple and yet so profound: “Art is not about drawing; it’s about learning to see.”
I think that’s true of all art – it’s not about the art form at all – it’s about learning to see, and then using an art form to express what you see.
The very first version of Beauty and the Beast that I ever read was a pop-up book version; I think I must have been three or four at the time. It had a string attached to each cover, so you could open the book and tie the covers together, and the book itself became a castle of sorts, with layers upon layers of pop-up details. I was fascinated by the literal depth of the artwork – I had never seen anything like it – and in retrospect, I think the way it reflected the depth of the story was relatively brilliant.
Then there was the year that Disney came out with its version of Beauty & The Beast. It was one of the first movies I’d seen in the theater, and the storyline was compelling. Belle was smart, confident, and incredibly kind – you couldn’t help but love her. And, as previously noted, I do love fairy tales. So perhaps it is no surprise that I fell in love with this one:
Beauty is a retelling of Beauty & The Beast that has captured my heart. In this version, Beauty’s father is a wealthy widower and merchant who loses almost everything when his ships are lost at sea, and their family relocates from a fine city life to a more humble life in the country. Their losses are great, but Beauty and her two sisters do their part, and they build a new life and are learning to be happy in it. Then the news comes that one of the ships is not lost after all, and their father travels back to the city to see to his accounts. On his way back from the city, he is lost in a snowstorm, and stumbles upon a magical estate, deep in the heart of the forest.
From here the story is temporarily typical – after a night’s stay in the castle, waited on by magic, and seeing no one, the merchant gratefully heads back to the road the next day, but he cannot resist taking a rose from the beautiful castle gardens home to his Beauty, who loves roses. The Beast appears in a fit of rage, and the merchant begs for his life – and the Beast gives him a choice: he may go home and say goodbye to his family and return in a month, or he may send his daughter, Beauty, in his place. He promises that no harm will come to her, but is unrelenting in his insistence that one way or another, their lives will never be the same because of this one small theft.
Beauty refuses to let her father return to what they believe would be certain death, and bravely moves into the castle. She is homesick and initially frightened, but over time, befriends the Beast, and even falls in love with him, tho she does not realize it at first. I won’t spoil the ending by telling you exactly how she comes to know that she’s in love – but it’s a fairy tale, and so you know they will end up happily-ever-after.
Throughout this version of the story, there are little hints that the mysterious enchantment over the castle is lifting. Beauty hears the voices of her magical attendants, tho it is clear from what she hears that she shouldn’t be able to hear them at all, and as her friendship with the Beast grows, she becomes more and more aware of what is happening around her. There’s a scene in the middle of the book, in which Beauty awakens one day with a clarity of vision that she has never had before; she does not realize it at the time, but her new ability to see stems from her love for the Beast, and the story accelerates from there to their happily-ever-after. And at the very end of the story, while she is still learning to see herself with clarity, it is the Beast who is able to stand with her before a mirror and help her see herself more truly.
There are two things this story teaches me again, every time I read it: 1) it is love that will help us see others more clearly; and 2) it is being loved that will help us learn to see ourselves more clearly.
Who are the people in your life that help you see yourself more clearly? And who do you need to love more truly to ensure that you are seeing them for who they really are?
Deep questions, I know. But questions worth asking.
(Sidenote: Robin McKinley actually wrote another version of the story, years later, called Rose Daughter – which is also brilliantly told, but I love this version for its simplicity.)
This post is part of a series entitled “Seven Stories That Have Shaped My Life.” Catch the rest of the series here.
"Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else." —Fred Rogers via @momentumdash
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"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Einstein