Just what is the “tale as old as time”?
Tuesday was not a good day for me. It was one of those cold, dreary May days in which nothing was going right; one of those days that persuades me “spring” and its promise of “new life” is a myth invented by those famous ‘old wives’. So when Jill suggested a trip to the movies to see “Beauty and the Beast” I jumped at the chance. Buttered popcorn solves a lot of life’s little problems.
The movie tells a “tale as old as time”, as you know, and if you don’t then this is your “spoiler alert”. The handsome prince becomes a hideous Beast because he fails to see the beauty inside a woman who comes for help at his castle door. He will remain forever the Beast unless someone loves him before the final petal of a magical rose falls. The Beauty finally does express her love for the Beast, but not until after the final petal has fallen, and not until after the Beast has been killed in his defense of the beauty from her enemy. Now, I have to tell you, I have seen this story in movie and theatre form, but I had forgotten that the Beast dies as the final rose petal falls. I thought, “Oh no, did they modernize the movie and let the Beast die?” Silly me. What kind of ending is that to a tale as old as time? The Beast, of course, rises in a swirl of sound and sight and the entire castle and environs are restored. Dark becomes light. Brokenness is healed. Death becomes life. Love wins.
So, what is the tale as old as time, I wondered. That animals and humans can love each other? While true on some level, I don’t think that is the point of this tale. That beauty is only skin deep? No, the prince and princess each gain a companion with a beautiful outward appearance. That true love transforms people’s personalities? That might be closer to the meaning of the tale.
But I think the real tale as old as time is that when you love someone not for their appearance, and even when that love is not returned; when sacrificial love is offered, then death is defeated. What makes such a tale remain part of the campfire stories library for as long as time is not that “boy gets girl”, but that transforming love acts to save the object of one’s love expecting nothing in return. Such love happens because love is “other-centered”; such love is unselfish. Such love is what grace might look like if expressed in a tale as old as time.
It is this kind of love alone which allows the Lover to say to all who will listen, “Even though you die, you will live. Do you believe this?”