Friday, January 29, 2010

Beauty: A Conscience at Peace

One of the best novels I’ve ever read is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” written by Robin McKinley and titled, Beauty. The story you already know, but the characterization, writing, and wisdom conveyed is extraordinary. One scene especially has stuck with me because of the great lesson it teaches.In the story the father trespasses the estate of the Beast and takes a rose from the Beast’s garden. Because of this transgression, the Beast demands that the father send his daughter to live with the Beast or he can sacrifice his own life. When the father returns and tells his family what has happened his daughter, Beauty, has a choice to make. She can go live with the Beast or she can send her father to his death. The logic of the world would tell us that he was the one that got himself into the mess so he should be the one to suffer.

Beauty, however, feels that she should go, and does what her heart is telling her to do. In telling her story, Beauty repeats the following dialogue that takes place when she first goes to live with the Beast but before she has come to know him.

The Beast says, “'Would it help perhaps if I told you that, had your father returned to me alone, I would have sent him on his way unharmed?'

“'You would?” I said: it was half a shriek, “You mean that I came here for nothing?'

"A shadowy movement like the shaking of a great shaggy head. 'No. Not what you would count as nothing. He would have returned to you, and you would have been glad, but you also would have been ashamed, because you had sent him, as you thought, to his death. Your shame would have grown until you came to hate the sight of your father, because he reminded you of a deed you hated, and hated yourself for. In time it would have ruined your peace and happiness, and at last your mind and heart.'” (Robin McKinley, Beauty [New York: Pocket Books, 1979], 115.)

When we live in Truth and do what our heart and conscience directs, we are free of the vexation the Beast identifies here. We are free to love, to live in peace, to progress, and especially to enjoy life.


kirjote said...

Brings to mind the poem by Lord Byron: She Walks in Beauty. It seems to suggest that true beauty lies in the peace of living with integrity.

"And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent."

And by the way, I'm a friend of Patrea's who bought "Man, Woman, and Deity" from you. This week in Sunday School I am teaching our branch youth about the Fall and have reason to appreciate your insights all over again while I am treading such delicate spiritual ground.

Thank you!

Sherrie Mills Johnson said...

Kirjote, Thanks so much for the addition. I love Byron's poem. And thanks you for the kind note about "Man, woman, and Deity." Writing it was a labor of love and it is always nice to know others like it, too. Good luck with your lesson. (I love the pictures on your blog of your daughter wrapped in your quilt!)