One of my favourite sayings is Suck it up, buttercup.
I don’t know why, but I find it comical. I can just imagine some drawling John Malkovich type saying
Life ain’t no fairy tale, princess.
And in the context of what’s been going on in my life recently, it’s sort of comforting in a morose British way to think – that’s life. Sh*t happens. It isn’t personal.
Miscarriages happen. Infertility happens. And life, princess, ain’t no fairy tale.
Or is it?
The thing is… with our impending trip to the Magic Kingdom penciled in for just a few months away, we’ve been kind of more interested than usual in all things Disney in our household. In the course of planning our trip we have been focusing on what we really really want to do. For instance, we’ve managed to secure a coveted reservation at the Be Our Guest restaurant (for breakfast)… which just so happens to relate to my favourite Disney movie of all time.
Beauty and the Beast. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to add it to your list. It’s definitely the best Disney film ever, because I say so. And it turns out that T hasn’t watched it! (We’ve added it to our Prime list on Amazon.)
The basic premise of the storyline is as follows:
Belle (Beauty in French, natch) is a bookish, but also extremely beautiful poor girl who lives with her father (who she loves) in rural France and is dealing with intermittent s-xual harrassment from the neighbourhood jock, Gascon. Gascon thinks he’s the bees knees. If you watch the film, he is pretty much as handsome as a cartoon prince can be and has a hilarious song about how great he is, to prove it. But he has a bit of a rubbish personality. (Ladies… We all know the type.)
The Beast is actually a prince who got a nasty spell cast on him by an evil enchantress, because he was once not very nice to her. We all make mistakes. Understandably, he’s in a bit of a mood about being a Beast (something between a lion and a human… actually quite attractive if you like hirsute men) and so he just roams around his castle in a bad mood.
One day, Belle’s dad accidentally ends up being detained in the Beast’s castle. Belle offers to switch places with her adored father so he can get back to the village, as the Beast is being beastly about it. She doesn’t really enjoy it at first, but gets to make friends with the Beast’s servants who’ve all been transformed into household objects. They sing the best song in all animation called Be Our Guest. (“Try the grey stuff; it’s delicious! Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!”) They all have comedy French accents which somehow elevates the song to another level. Not to mention the synchronised swimming-in-soup cutlery.
Anyway, the Beast is no match for Belle as it turns out she gives as good as she gets and tarts up really well. That’s what having an anthropomorphic style supervisor wardrobe will do for you. Standard Disney princess fare but she gets a yellow dress and she’s not blonde therefore she’s quirky, because she reads books and stuff, and she’s quite a feisty thing and doesn’t let him boss her around. It’s quite feminist really.
The Beast tries to be grumpy but he’s just not very good at it, because he really fancies her. (He’s not all bad; he just made a mistake when he was young and cocky. We can forgive him because he’s really nice. And he’s got a castle.) Also there’s a hilarious moment when he’s getting primped for dinner. It’s hard to primp a Beast.
They basically have the hots for each other, even though he’s meant to be really unattractive because Beast. (This is rubbish; he’s a lot nicer looking than most of my colleagues.) The thing is, they flirt like mad and anyway beggars can’t be choosers when you’ve been stuck in self-imposed exile for years and years. Plus, what girl can refuse a
man beast with such a massive… library?
They have a moment – whilst Mrs Potts the teapot (aka Angela Lansbury) sings Tale As Old As Time (aka Beauty and the Beast), which generally makes shivers run down my spine even though they are cartoon characters and it was originally sung by Celine Dion. Belle realises she really quite fancies the Beast, and the Beast is a sucker for Belle’s yellow-hued charms and big eyes. This part has the most awe inspiring animation (for the time) when the “camera” pans back and up through the chandelier in the ballroom. In 1991 this was pretty mind-blowing. (Fun fact: It was one of the first uses of CGI in a Disney cartoon. And the song won an Oscar!)
Then there’s a bit of upset what with Gascon being a bit of a knob, and the villagers being a bit crazy, but it all works out in the end. I’m not going to ruin it for you… You have to watch it.
The point being… That whole thing about fairy tales is that they are supposed to have a happy ending. The reason that we are meant to “get real” and accept that life isn’t a fairy tale is that we have to believe that life isn’t all about getting a happy ending. But what if not all fairy tales have happy endings? And what if life is like a fairy tale?
If you look back through the original (non Disney) fairy tales, they didn’t all have happy endings, and they had some fairly alarming middle bits too. As a bookish child (like Belle, without the beauty) I had two massive tomes of fairy tales – Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. And let me tell you, they weren’t that nice. They were pretty scary. So, quite frankly, I’d have been worried as a child if you’d told me life was like a fairy tale…
Off the top of my head:
The Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen) – Mermaid loves prince. Mermaid makes immense sacrifices and undergoes a lot of pain (tongue cut out, feeling of daggers to turn tail into legs) to be with prince. Prince a bit stupid. Marries someone else. Mermaid dejected. To go back to being a mermaid, must murder prince. Decides against it. Dies. (In this version she doesn’t have any anthropomorphic fishy pals or a sea shell bikini.)
The Little Match Girl (Hans Christian Andersen) – Match girl is cold. Doesn’t sell any matches. Lights last matches and has visions of happy times (that she hasn’t actually experienced). Dies. (For some reason Disney hasn’t decided to make a cartoon version of this.)
Hansel and Gretel (Brothers Grimm) – Siblings have wicked stepmother and father who won’t leave her. Stepmother drops them in woods. They stumble across strange house. Turns out it’s made out of gingerbread and candy. Eat bits of house. Get captured by witch who wants to eat them and prepares oven to cook them. Fortunately she’s blind and they escape. Wicked stepmother has mysteriously died. They all live “happily ever after”, despite the fact that their father effectively abandoned them. (I want Disney to make a version of this just so we can go and eat the house.)
Rumpelstiltskin (Brothers Grimm) – Silly miller promises king that daughter can spin straw into gold. Turns out she can’t and the king’s going to chop off her head if she doesn’t do it. Eponymous dwarf turns up and sorts it for her in exchange for necklace, then ring, then a promise of firstborn. Silly girl agrees. Marries king. Has firstborn. Angry dwarf comes to claim baby but is fobbed off by gamble of her guessing his name in three days. She leaves the palace (and presumably baby) and tracks him to village, where she hears him singing a little ditty that happens to mention his name. On third day after feigning ignorance she “guesses” his name correctly, and he gets so cross he tears himself in two. And she lives “happily ever after” with her baby and her husband the king who previously threatened to chop off her head if she didn’t spin straw into gold. Lovely. (I’m thinking this won’t translate well to a cartoon.)
I guess my point here is… Fairy tales aren’t that great. And life isn’t great all the time.
Maybe fairy tales are a bit like real life. I mean, aside from the chopping off heads and limbs and so on… we end up with some fairly scary situations in real life. And the most unexpected things happen.
On the one hand we have wicked stepmother, murderous witch, the threat of personal injury, evil dwarf baby snatcher.
On the other hand we have infertility, illness, IVF, miscarriage, loss.
In both we have evil and we have good. And we have to believe that there is enough good for it to triumph over the evil. Despite pain. Despite loss. There are dwarves whose names we unexpectedly guess. There are witches who happen to be blind and easy to trick out of cooking us. There are… umm, actually, there aren’t any mermaids or match girls, but we do all die in the end. We just have to make the in between bits as enjoyable as possible.
My fairy tale
A baby was born in a foreign land. There was nobody to look after the baby until a nice young couple from a strange land came and took the baby and raised her as their own daughter. They gave her everything: food, shelter, love. Some fairly idiosyncratic family traditions and a questionable haircut. And three little siblings who were sometimes a pain in the ass but still happened to be the best siblings ever. They traveled the world and showed her many things. She was given many gifts, some of which were really horrible matching outfits that she was not very grateful for. Which was mean. She should have pretended to like them. She wasn’t very good at disguising disappointment. She still isn’t. Point is, her family are hilarious, loving and crazy and they’re hers.
She grew up over quite a few years and aside from a few annoying bits at school, she had a nice life. She had as many books as she ever was able to read, especially once the Kindle was invented, and as much family as she ever could have hoped for, what with originally having been given away.
She met her handsome prince who turned out not to be a prince but worked in IT. After many years her dreams came true and they were married. They had a lovely life in a nice village and three or four holidays a year. But something was missing. A baby, amongst other things. A happier life she thought in the back of her mind that she could maybe have. She wasn’t sure. So she packed up her knapsack and went on her travels.
She went to a big city and found a tiny box to call her own. She didn’t need a lot of room to hold the empty space inside of her. She went out a lot and made a lot of new memories. And some she couldn’t remember because she was drunk. She met a lot of princes who turned out not to be princes after all, but narcissistic toads who worked in Finance. For a while she survived mainly on wine and cigarettes, which gives you good cheekbones but a sad heart. She became a little hamster on a wheel, going through the motions.
One day when she least expected it, she met an astronaut. He had a kind smile and bad hair. (Apparently space travel is bad for hair.) He took her hand and he never let it go. He kissed her on the lips all the time and told her she was beautiful. (Even when she got really fat.) He always did that. He had a superpower which was spreading joy. He would drop little missiles of fun wherever he went and everyone ended up happy. They got an enchanted puppy whose magical licks could heal any hurt. Eventually her sad broken heart healed bigger than before.
What they wanted most of all was a baby to call their own, because they had both been babies from First Families. They just wanted to have their own First Family. So they tried and they tried, but nothing happened. Their baby was hiding from them. Everyone else in the kingdom had a baby, or more than one baby. There really were a lot of babies and they kept looking for their baby, but they couldn’t find him. One day a doctor came and helped them and they had a little baby for a while, but he died. They were still happy, but with a new little sadness to carry around with them. Most people do. Their pup’s magical licks helped.
And so they wait. Their story isn’t over yet; not by a long shot. There are still ogres and witches and demons to fight. They are still looking for their baby. The little bugger is still hiding. And yet… in the meantime they are happy. Sometimes she thinks of the baby they lost (always, in the back of her mind, he giggles). And she wonders. She wonders if she will ever meet him (or her). And in the meantime, he spreads joy. They make plans to visit the Magic Kingdom, and other adventures. She takes the majority of the magic licks and she heals (and magic pup gets fat on treats and love). He still kisses her on the lips and tells her she is beautiful. She still wants to be with him forever.
And they live happily ever after.
(Not The End.)