On Good Friday I took my daughters and a gaggle of their friends to see the new live-action Beauty and the Beast by Disney. I know there has been controversy, but the truth is: I don’t really care. We live in this world, which is full of sinners, me included. So let’s just not go there right now.
Anyway, because of the gaggle that accompanied us, I was politely requested to Not Sit By US! I could have just dropped them off at the theater and gone and gotten a latte, but I actually wanted to see the movie. (True confession: I’d already seen it. As had my daughters, who actually allowed me to sit WITH them the first time. Ah, teenagers!) So I sat alone. In the lovely leather recliner. With my blankie. And my latte. It was blissful. I digress.
I don’t know if it was because I was sitting alone, or all the reflection that whirls around Good Friday and its impact, but I was strangely moved by the story. I grew up with Disney princesses and so have my daughters (don’t judge, please just re-read the first paragraph), but I’ve never thought deeply about the underlying story that fairy tales have to tell us – the universal truths that initially created these stories. Mostly, I’ve just enjoyed the fluffy entertainment and let it go at face value.
This viewing was different. As we got to the end of the story, I found I was crying. (Keep in mind – I’d already seen it once, sans tears) The love Belle had for her Beast, and the sacrifices she made, magically transformed the whole castle.
A wise person (okay, my husband) once said: The best stories are redemption stories. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, Lucy reads a beautiful story in a magician’s book, but because of the magic is not allowed to turn back to re-read it, and then finds she can’t remember the story. But “ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story that reminds her of the forgotten story.”
So back to Beauty and the Beast. As the credits and my tears rolled, I realized that the story is yet another hidden allegory for The Greatest Story; the Story that feels like a tragedy on Good Friday, but has a surprise ending on Easter morning.
On the macro level, much of the story of Beauty and the Beast is similar to the great Narrative of God. We have changed from what we were intended to be in the beginning into shallow selfish angry creatures. We hide ourselves away behind high walls shutting the world out so that no one can see what we are truly like – we put on the masks of politeness, but slowly our facade decays and crumbles just like the Beast’s castle. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people, God’s chosen ones, are given the law to help them remember – to point them back to God. But much like the Beast shelters and protects his precious rose, the Hebrew children take the Law and turn it from God’s love letter into a set of rules and regulations that they use to judge each other. In essence, love is shut out and forgotten in the mists of time.
Until one day, a Beauty enters the picture. The Child of God comes into the world and, like Belle entering the castle, fearlessly sees beyond the beastly exterior into a heart that is worth loving. Hearts that the Beauty loves so much that He sacrifices himself on the cross to transform the Beasts.
As I sat in the theater, I realized that I am the Beast! This is not something anyone really likes to think about themselves, but it is so very true. The love of the Beauty is what ultimately transforms me.
Now I know this is not a perfect allegory. One could argue that the Beast saves Belle as much as she saves him. And I am not trying to say that we have anything whatsoever to do with our own salvation. Grace is not earned, but rather learned – experienced – given by a great teacher to an unwitting student. There are no perfect allegories – only the One True Story. But tales like Beauty and the Beast point toward the Great Story. Our world needs the Beauty to save it. Even those that don’t admit it, those who claim there is no God, that life has no meaning, still create stories, unknowingly, that point to Him.
In our fallen world, the world that can’t remember the story, any story that reminds us of the forgotten story is a good story.