This is a theme that fascinates me, but I was surprised to discover in my research that few other authors touched on the subject. In fact, given the importance of the theme in the book, it's pretty much ignored in most papers and books.
I learned some interesting things about C. S. Lewis as well-for example, his wife was not considered especially beautiful, and for a while he himself treated her like one of his male friends. This is also a theme of the book-how Orual is despised as a female and at best is treated like "one of the guys," all because of her ugly face. Only by veiling it can she ever hope to be treated like a woman.
Not only do critics of the book ignore the topic of female ugliness, but I think culture at large avoids it. Women love Beauty and the Beast-it is still far and away the favorite on Surlalune Blog's favorite fairy tale poll. Other popular stories involving beastly/deformed males include the Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Elephant Man, and especially Phantom of the Opera. You'd have to live in a cave not to know that (at least some) girls find the Phantom to be eternally more attractive than Raoul.
Yet what about examples of Animal Brides or females with deformities? Though folklore has examples, virtually none remain in common knowledge. Even with historical Animal Bride tales, generally the animals take beautiful forms-swans or cats-and there is little struggle to win male affections. There are seal maidens, but they shed their seal skins and then the men fall in love with their naked human forms.
The Frog Bride (illustrated above by Kay Nielsen), is one of the exceptions. But very few people know that the Frog Prince is sometimes a Frog Princess. Why do we ignore this theme? Why do we only have animal grooms?
My theory is that we, as a culture, can't even stand the idea of an ugly female. Females themselves are willing to love the Beast-but don't want to be the ugly, vulnerable one themselves. I'd be interested to know how popular Beauty and the Beast is among males. Do they mind picturing themselves as the Beast? Or can they stand it as long as Beauty stays hot the whole time? From my limited experience, it APPEARS as though men tend to judge women by more shallow standards. Please contradict me if I'm wrong.However, there are some exceptions to the rule: Gail Carson Levine's Fairest. This book features a hideous girl with a beautiful voice in a land where singing is valued as highly as beauty. I would LOVE to live in a land like that (I am definitely one of those people who wishes every deep emotion would trigger backup music and a song with choreographed dancing). It's a very good story-I found it on the bookshelf of a girl I was babysitting one day and started it, and after I went home I had to go to the library and finish it. Then there's Penelope, in which Christina Ricci's character has a pig snout for a nose. Yet first of all, these examples are hardly classics like the male versions I mentioned before, and I also wonder about their implied messages. Fairest has good messages about how each girl is beautiful on their own, but seems to put a lot of pressure on the boys to fall in love (basically) at first sight-yet now they're not supposed to judge by beauty, but instantly know character. If boys do judge by appearances-and let's face it, we all do to some degree, should we ignore that fact? No one would claim that beauty/appearance doesn't matter at all. How do we deal with it in the world in which we live?
And one Netflix commenter pointed out that Penelope seems to indicate that any physical flaw will result in being treated like a complete monster, and that true happiness ends in looking like a beautiful celebrity. Of course, that's sort of the message implied by the old versions of Beauty and the Beast as well. Another commenter-I tried to find the exact quote but it was left a while ago-said something to the effect of, "This movie is stupid. I kept waiting to see Christina Ricci cuz she's hot but she had that stupid pig nose on the whole time."
What do you think?