This is (my apologies in advance) an extremely long continuation of the analysis I presented in the Descent, in which I explain the next step of the archetypal Heroine’s Journey as presented in The Force Awakens.
Consider yourself warned: this presupposes a relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren which transcends the familial. Hic sunt leones.
Don’t Be Afraid; I Feel It Too
When you are a young girl burdened with the task of understanding your own identity (and sexuality) there’s a likelihood you went looking for the truth about it wherever you could. Prior to the internet, and assuming your parents didn’t let you watch as much TV as mine did, you had to go to a library to figure these things out.
So let’s say you were young enough that you did so at school, where the adult and young adult sections were underdeveloped, or sanitized of any brand of questionable material. At some point you’d find a treasure trove in the nonfiction section of fairy tales, folktales, and mythology. Here were female heroines with their own challenges and rewards.
Once you drink deeply from that well, there is no going back. You will start seeing these stories everywhere–because they are.
“No matter how smart we get, there is always this deep irrational part that makes us potential hosts for self-replicating information.” ― Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
It’s no question that fairy tales and folktales are memetic. We keep retelling them over and over again because we project our identities and understanding of the world upon them, re-purposing them with each new generation. But lets also consider that these stories are wildly subversive when viewed in the context of women’s understanding of the world.
They began in oral traditions, long before they would (or could) be written down. Spoken stories are also secret stories, teaching things that society or culture consistently demand we keep quiet about. Each era in history has its own challenges, it’s own flavor of suppression. So even though Disney has been spoon-feeding us versions of these dark and driving tales of human need as early as 1938, we have to go back a very long time to understand why we respond so innately to them.
Little Mermaid was the first animated Disney fairy tale I went to see in a theater. You can probably imagine the surprise of a 7-year old discovering Hans Christian Andersen’s original version where the maid is cursed to dissolve into sea foam. Andersen’s work is very young in the grand scheme of storytelling, which is perhaps why it is so rich in implicit content: the Steadfast Tin Soldier melts beside the burnt remains of his paper princess, we pay for the Red Shoes with our souls, etc.
While they contain perfect examples of the subtextual element of fairy tales, we can also see why they have been so consistently updated. Much like the man himself, these stories are tragedies mixed in with the occasional wistful hope/religious redemption. Tragedy has its necessity, of course, but not so much when you are a very young girl seeking the message that all of your internal confusion will someday have a constructive and positive outlet.
This is why we go seeking something very different: something romantic.
Let’s talk about romance a little first, just to clear the air of any misunderstanding* of it. Romance is the idea of love (it’s also very much the good and clean idea of sex, in a socially and culturally acceptable format). It’s definition is two-fold:
a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.
a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.
The common thread is important here: the qualities of excitement and mystery. Reality is a very uninteresting second to the chemical cocktail that is the human brain’s anticipation of pleasure. We dream about it, fixate on it, cry over it. But it isn’t reality–we must always keep that in mind when discussing such things.
If you ascribe to a more literary/analytical interpretation of the theme, you know storybook love represents something much more intense: personal transformation.
“The intense yearning which lovers have toward each other does not appear to be the desire for sexual intercourse, but for something else which the soul of each desires and cannot tell, and of which he or she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment.” – Plato, “Symposium”
A rich metaphor can be found in the ancient concept of the alchemical marriage, which was extrapolated by Jung in describing the idea of the syzygy archetype of the combined anima and animus, traceable back to Gnosticism and elaborated upon deeply by the Rosicrucians**. In this union, the darkness nigredo is transformed by the light albedo to produce a transcendent substance (the individuated Self):
In the Jungian archetypal schema, nigredo is the Shadow; albedo refers to the anima and animus (contrasexual soul images); citrinitas is the wise old man (or woman) archetype; and rubedo is the Self archetype which has achieved wholeness.
So it’s no secret that it has long been an understanding of humankind that the union of opposites is necessary to create an idealized whole. When we are lacking in some ingredient of personality or understanding, we unconsciously seek it out. If you think of it chemically, materials do not react with identical or like substances. In order to change we must be exposed to and resolve with the unknown.
In a way, romantic stories teach us how to love ourselves. This doesn’t detract from the notion that they can be uniquely egalitarian.The most deeply satisfying stories–romance or not–treat the characters as individuals with equal potential, and on separate but equal paths towards Individuation.
In contrast, we have Snow White, or Sleeping Beauty. These stories are about the relationship between the princess and her mother (her Shadow). The prince is added in at the end to satisfy traditional gender roles and to underscore the fact that the innocent princess has become a woman. The “happily ever after” in these stories is a consolation prize for having spent half of the story asleep. However important and uniquely feminine, these stories are not what we consider romantic.
So what is romantic?
The limitations we place on a heroine are ones which she (we) can personally overcome. If she can do this through love it is not because she’s a proxy for our own needs or as a result of a backwards belief that a woman’s story must revolve around a man. It is because we understand that the quest for wholeness of Self requires us to understand all of the parts of ourselves–good and bad, male and female–as we encounter them in the world around us.
As we accept that we must meet and overcome the Shadow, we must also meet and match our animus. Our journey is not complete without this step. In fact, if we consider the curse we’ve been given as both heroines and heroes–saving others in order to save ourselves–it is intertwined with ours, for better or worse.
Wedding the Animus
As stated before, Star Wars’ great progenitor Campbell didn’t spend very much time on women’s roles as protagonists in the Hero’s Journey. But here’s one of his takes:
“The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart. The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity: amor fati), which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity. And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. Then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed—whether she will or not. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace.” – Joseph Campbell
The context for this quote is Monomyth Act II, the task of Meeting the Goddess, followed immediately by Woman as Temptress, representing equally the light and dark sides of the anima. Since we don’t have a heroine-aligned equivalent in Campbell’s work let’s use the term “Meeting the Other”. Valerie Frankel refers to this as “Wedding the Animus”:
In the game of love, the hero and heroine each view their partner as a shapeshifter. This “other half” they must cleave to like themselves has frightening mood swings and unpredictable desires. Physically, the two people are opposites, with contrasting desires and emotions.
I’ll try not wax too Jungian in regards to the animus, mostly because there are some very big holes* in his interpretations. Regardless of the patriarchal overtones to our historic understanding of a woman’s internal masculine, we can’t discard the baby with the bathwater: this is how we identify and process our personal understandings of the opposite sex. We first learn of it from our parents or parent-figures, find it later in our friends, and eventually go looking for elements of it in our lovers and partners. But it is merely a reflection–a dark, magic mirror. It takes on whatever shape and nature we assign to it.
So what do we do when the animus assumes the role of the Shadow, twisted into a form that is hidden, despicable, or monstrous?
There are two basic structures to folklore which deal with both the good and bad outcomes of such a story and we will look at both. But the good, i.e. the redemptive, is encapsulated in the 425 section of the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification of folklore for an answer.
ATU 425: The Search for the Lost Husband
400-459 Supernatural or Enchanted Wife (Husband) or Other Relative
300-749 TALES OF MAGIC
Cf. also Types 430, 432, and 441. I. The Monster as Husband. (a) A monster is born because of a hasty wish of the parents. (b) He is a man at night. © A girl promises herself as bride to the monster, (c1) to recover stolen clothes or jewels, (c2)…
425 The Search for the Lost Husband
425A Cupid and Psyche
425C Beauty and the Beast
425J The Heroine Serves in Hell for her Bridegroom
425N The Bird Husband
Here we have Beauty and the Beast, the Green Serpent, Prince Lindworm, East of the Sun, West of the Moon and many others. You can even include Jane Eyre.
“Many myths and fairy tales tell of a prince, who has been turned into an animal or a monster by sorcery, being saved by a woman. This is a symbolic representation of the development of the animus toward consciousness. Often the heroine may ask no questions of her mysterious lover, or she is only allowed to meet him in darkness. She is to save him through her blind faith and love, but this never works. She always breaks her promise and is only able to find her beloved again after a long quest.” – Marie-Louise von Franz
Now if you’re new to this, the “search for the lost husband” title is fairly misleading. These aren’t stories where the heroine tosses a glass shoe in a prince’s general direction (see: Supernatural Helpers 510A). This is about meeting and dealing with the dark-aligned or unindividuated animus. These stories are a vertebrae in the spine of tales of feminine individuation and growth. They are empowering for their protagonists even while being sourced from a time long before women had a choice in their roles and partners.
Let’s examine the dark-aligned, monstrous animus in the context of the stages of animus development:
Man of mere physical power
The animus “first appears as a personification of mere physical power – for instance as an athletic champion or muscle man, such as ‘the fictional jungle hero Tarzan’”.
Man of action or romance
In the next phase, the animus “possesses initiative and the capacity for planned action…the romantic man – the 19th century British poet Shelley; or the man of action – America’s Ernest Hemingway, war hero, hunter, etc.
Man as a professor, clergyman, orator
In the third phase “the animus becomes the word, often appearing as a professor or clergyman…the bearer of the word – Lloyd George, the great political orator
Man as a helpful guide to understanding herself
“Finally, in his fourth manifestation, the animus is the incarnation of meaning. On this highest level he becomes (like the anima) a mediator of…spiritual profundity”. Jung noted that “in mythology, this aspect of the animus appears as Hermes, messenger of the gods; in dreams he is a helpful guide.” Like Sophia, this is the highest level of mediation between the unconscious and conscious mind.
The first stage of animus development is the wild boy/animal-man archetype (in the anima it’s Eve). These represent the “child” stages of spiritual development. They are the roughest sketches of the feminine/masculine characters–only gaining dimensionality as we gain new perspectives and wisdom.
When the animus is shown to be a beast/monster, it is the natural “dark” state of the first stage, when it has been kept from it’s own path of Individuation and growth into the second stage. In the absence of any external characterization it represents the heroine’s projected, unconscious fears of her own chthonic nature. It also represents the heroine’s inability to move past childhood herself as she remains fixated on the ideal of her father figure or an assumed innocence that cannot last. Until she recognizes and accepts the “dark forces” within herself she cannot move forward into adulthood.
To proceed the heroine must either escape this force, or embrace it.
We will touch upon variations of this story in which the natural result is escape, but let’s consider embracing as the ages-old remedy to the dark animus. To do so we must look at the trope-definer of the ATU 425–the oldest story of marriage to the monster: Eros/Cupid/Amor & Psyche.
From the Darkness, Light
Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Darkness, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love (Eros) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in the deep Abyss with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light.
This myth began in ancient oral traditions and was committed to writing by Apuleius in The Golden Ass as early as 150-180 AD. Apuleius was an adherent of the Isis cults, which exalted the sacred marriage of the goddess to Osiris (god of being murdered, torn apart, and put back together again). If you are not familiar with this age-old myth I recommend listening to this episode of the Myths & Legend podcast.
It’s by definition erotic, and deeply symbolic. It’s the basis for our obsession with the dynamic between the archetypal pairing of a virgin and a monster, and their eventual reconciliation. It is also a tale of healing and self-development for both figures.
Eros & Psyche, from FAIRY TALES, THEIR ORIGIN AND MEANING John Thackray Bunce 1877
“Once upon a time there lived a king and a queen, who had three beautiful daughters. The youngest of them, who was called Psyche, was the loveliest; she was so very beautiful that she was thought to be a second Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty and Love, and all who saw her worshipped her as if she were the goddess; so that the temples of Aphrodite were deserted and her worship neglected, and Psyche was preferred to her; and as she passed along the streets, or came into the temples, the people crowded round her, and scattered flowers under her feet, and offered garlands to her.”
Aphrodite is a jealous goddess. She decides to curse this girl with a fate worse than death: separation from the gods and marriage to a horrible and deadly creature. Her plan to do so revolves around sending her son Eros (better known as Cupid) to pierce Psyche with one of his arrows of desire.
“Let this girl be seized with a burning passion for the lowest of mankind, some creature cursed by Fortune in rank, in estate, in condition, someone so degraded that in all the world he can find no wretchedness to equal his own.”
Let’s quickly consider Aphrodite and the other rank and file of goddesses of beauty and love (Freya, Ishtar, Parvati). These goddesses are deeply under-appreciated in their complexity and stories. Beyond love/beauty they represent something much more interesting in this context–a love of war.
In Aphrodite’s case she is married to lame Hephaestus but is fixated on Ares in all of his aggressive glory. The earliest versions of Eros consider him a primordial god, more of a principle than person, but later interpretations suggest that he’s Ares’ child. This makes him the son of Love and War along with the other Erotes, a product of desire and destruction.
To add to this is our modern day psychological concept of Eros, founded in Freud’s understanding of it as the “pleasure principle”, i.e. the natural pull towards life and the experiences which sustain it. Later he would write Beyond the Pleasure Principle and other works describing this force as running contrary to the death drive, referred to as Thanatos. This illustrates quite beautifully how Love and Death have been considered the pushmi-pullyu of the human mind, being two sides of the same coin. The fact that this concept was developed as product of war shouldn’t be discounted:
It was in 1920 that Freud offered his death instinct theory. This was an uncertain time both in Freud’s own life and in European culture. World War I, “The War to End All Wars” (unfortunately, misnamed), had finally concluded. Both the victorious and the defeated had experienced grievous loss.
Eros’ weapons of choice are randomly-loosed arrows, understood as the lightning-strike type of desire that is the source of much of our human comedy/tragedy. Even removed from a sexual context, desire is a possessive force with the equal power to grow or to consume. In itself it is neither good nor bad, but we know full well that much can go wrong in the misapplication of it.
When Eros goes to use his arrows on Psyche, he inadvertently ends up enraptured with her himself. In a way this is the first time Eros is given the opportunity to understand the disastrous effects of his meddling with human hearts. He is also now in the unique position of being the only one who can save this girl from the curse placed upon her by his mother. So he resolves to take her for himself.
In opposition to him we have our doomed bride, dear Psyche–betrayed and unwanted by both people and gods such that she is very much isolated from a passion or desire of her own.
“For all her beauty, Psyche is lonely, unwanted, and unwed. Her father, the king, is distraught and, in his grief, prays to the deities and asks them to send a suitable husband for his daughter. The sacred oracle answers his prayers and instructs the king to prepare Psyche for her marriage. She is to dress in wedding finery and go to a high mountain crag. She then is to plunge herself into the abyss to meet her husband—death. The death marriage is archetypal and is not unique to Psyche’s situation. Every young woman or maiden dies in marriage. Virginity is lost along with the carefree youthful days and the unconscious self-absorption of maidenhood.”
Her father seeks counsel from an oracle of Apollo (thanks, Dad) on what belies his daughter’s future and is given a dire prophecy:
Let Psyches corps be clad in mourning weed,
And set on rock of yonder hill aloft:
Her husband is no wight of humane seed,
But Serpent dire and fierce as might be thought.
Who flies with wings above in starry skies,
And doth subdue each thing with firie flight.
The gods themselves, and powers that seem so wise,
With mighty Jove, be subject to his might,
The rivers blacke, and deadly flouds of paine
And darkness eke, as thrall to him remaine.
– translation by William Adlington published in 1566
Psyche’s betrothal to a serpent/marriage to Death is hardly a false prophecy if we understand the destructive and possessive qualities of Eros. This imagery evokes in itself the primordial fears of women in undergoing sexual initiation. There is the very real dread of arranged marriage to a monster disguised as a man, someone who could kill or abuse us without thought. In great contrast there is the anticipation of losing oneself to sexual ecstasy, i.e. le petit mort. As with all initiation rites, by facing the unknown and her betrothal Psyche is forced to die to her old life and be reborn again.
This is the first of many times in which our heroine will face her fate with a certain stoicism and resignation. After a wedding procession that reads more as a funeral, she waits on the mountaintop as a sacrifice to the gods and her monstrous bridegroom. She is instead taken by the West Wind, Eros’ servant, who represents Spring.
“Zephyrus lulled Psyche to sleep, and then carried her safely down, and laid her in the place where Eros had bidden him. When Psyche awoke from sleep she saw a thick grove, with a crystal fountain in it, and close to the fountain there was a stately palace, fit for the dwelling of a king or a god. She went into the palace, and found it very wonderful. The walls and ceilings were made of cedar and ivory, there were golden columns holding up the roof, the floors were laid with precious stones, so put together as to make pictures, and on the walls were carvings in gold and silver of birds, and beasts, and flowers, and all kinds of strange and beautiful things. And there were also great treasure places full of gold, and silver, and gems, in such great measure that it seemed as if all the riches of the world were gathered there.
But nowhere was there any living creature to be seen; all the palace was empty, and Psyche was there alone. And while she went trembling and fearing through the rooms, and wondering whose all this might be, she heard voices, as of invisible maidens, which told her that the palace was for her, and that they who spoke, but whom she might not see, were her servants. And the voices bade her go first to the bath, and then to a royal banquet which was prepared for her. So Psyche, still wondering, went to the bath, and then to a great and noble room, where there was a royal seat, and upon this she placed herself, and then unseen attendants put before her all kinds of delicate food and wine; and while she ate and drank there was a sound as of a great number of people singing the most charming music, and of one playing upon the lyre; but none of them could she see.
Then night came on, and all the beautiful palace grew dark, and Psyche laid herself down upon a couch to sleep. Then a great terror fell upon her, for she heard footsteps, which came nearer and nearer, and she thought it was the monster whose bride the oracle of (Apollo) had destined her to be. And the footsteps drew closer to her, and then an unseen being came to her couch and lay down beside her, and made her his wife; and he lay there until just before the break of day, and then he departed, and it was still so dark that Psyche could not see his form; nor did he speak, so that she could not guess from his voice what kind of creature it was to whom the Fates had wedded her.”
Now Psyche has married a monster–just not the kind with real fangs and coils. Eros is a creature of the shadows, attempting to possess his bride without being possessed in return. He acts like a spoiled child, hiding his new-found prize from the pantheon and limiting her contact with the world and her family. This state is doomed to failure not only because it does not allow for potential and growth but because it demands that Psyche love and trust him without knowing him fully. We cannot wholly love or trust that which we do not know.
Where Eros represents passion, Psyche (breath/butterfly in Greek) is mind, soul, spirit. Without integration of these forces they remain their individual selves with all their foibles. The former is violent, reckless, and chaotic. The latter is painfully alone, isolated from everyone including the gods above and below. As they learn of each other at this point in the story they are poised at the beginning of a process of transformation by each other’s natures.
“So Psyche lived for a long while, wandering about her palace in the daytime, tended by her unseen guardians, and every night her husband came to her and stayed until daybreak. Then she began to long to hear about her father and mother, and to see her sisters, and she begged leave of her husband that these might come to her for a time. To this Eros agreed, and gave her leave to give her sisters rich gifts, but warned her that she must answer no questions they might ask about him, and that she must not listen to any advice they might give her to find out who he was, or else a great misfortune would happen to her.
Then Zephyrus brought the sisters of Psyche to her, and they stayed with her for a little while, and were very curious to know who her husband was, and what he was like. But Psyche, mindful of the commands of Eros, put them off, first with one story and then with another, and at last sent them away, loaded with jewels. Now Psyche’s sisters were envious of her, because such good fortune had not happened to themselves, to have such a grand palace, and such store of wealth, and they plotted between themselves to make her discover her husband, hoping to get some good for themselves out of it, and not caring what happened to her. And it so fell out that they had their way, for Psyche again getting tired of solitude, again begged of her husband that her sisters might come to see her once more, to which, with much sorrow, he consented, but warned her again that if she spoke of him, or sought to see him, all her happiness would vanish, and that she would have to bear a life of misery.
But it was fated that Psyche should disobey her husband; and it fell out in this way. When her sisters came to her again they questioned her about her husband, and persuaded her that she was married to a monster too terrible to be looked at, and they told her that this was the reason why he never came in the daytime, and refused to let himself be seen at night. Then they also persuaded her that she ought to put an end to the enchantment by killing the monster; and for this purpose they gave her a sharp knife, and they gave her also a lamp, so that while he was asleep she might look at him, so as to know where to strike.
Then, being left alone, poor Psyche’s mind was full of terror, and she resolved to follow the advice of her sisters. So when her husband was asleep, she went and fetched the lamp, and looked at him by its light; and then she saw that, instead of a deadly monster, it was Eros himself, the God of Love, to whom she was married. But while she was filled with awe and delight at this discovery, the misfortune happened which Eros had foretold.
A drop of oil from the lamp fell upon the shoulder of the god, and he sprang up from the couch, reproached Psyche for her fatal curiosity, and vanished from her sight; and then the beautiful palace vanished also, and Psyche found herself lying on the bare cold earth, weeping, deserted, and alone.”
Like any revelation there is no going back for Psyche–knowing the truth of someone, one must either reject it or accept it. And of course by the lamplight Psyche finds that Eros is not a monster; he’s the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. To add a bit of spice Apuleius’ and other versions have Psyche prick herself on one of his arrows as she watches him sleep. Even if she were not already desirous of him it is understood that by shining a light onto his true self their love can now evolve to a higher form. Again, she now knows him–and not just in the biblical sense.
But Psyche accidentally burns Eros, awakening him to the sight of her standing over him with a knife. In some versions the burn is a mortal injury. He reacts much as we would expect a betrayed and selfish child would, lamenting Psyche’s broach of the trust that he demanded from her but has not earned. He flies away, leaving her to wander the earth with the pain of living in a world in which all the gods and goddesses have turned their back upon her. On top of this, she is now pregnant with their child.
“Then poor Psyche began a long and weary journey, to try to find the husband she had lost, but she could not, for he had gone to his mother Aphrodite, to be cured of his wound; and Aphrodite, finding out that Eros had fallen in love with Psyche, determined to punish her, and to prevent her from finding Eros.”
Cruel Aphrodite gives her four impossible tasks to achieve, all of which have been dissected quite beautifully by others in terms of their symbolism and meaningfulness to the feminine path of Individuation. That there are four tasks is interesting in itself because in most stories there are only three–the inclusion of the fourth indicates this is a story of apotheosis, i.e. achieving divinity.
This is also typified by the fact that the fourth task is a descent into the Underworld to request the favor of some of Persephone’s beauty. Women entering the world of the dead and surviving this trauma is a common theme throughout feminine narratives. The reality of dying at a young age, usually in childbirth, was so well understood that almost all of our fairy tales nowadays are missing their birth mothers. But beyond that we understand this movement as an important theme in acknowledging and integrating with one’s darker, shadow nature in becoming a woman.
Psyche contemplates suicide in order to go to the Underworld–and is interrupted by the tower that she’s climbed to fling herself from (interesting masculine symbolism). It provides instructions on how to enter the abyss and also how to avoid becoming trapped there. She will be asked for help three times, but must refuse them all. She can speak no words, nor eat of the food. She must bring Charon his coins and Cerberus his bread.
Psyche navigates the Underworld with patience and care. She meets with Persephone, who provides her with the gift of her “beauty” hidden away in a box. However, as soon as she has made it out of the darkness unscathed her curiosity (and perhaps a bit of vanity) compels her to open this box, revealing that it instead holds the peaceful but dreamless sleep of death.
At this point Psyche is unable to save herself, and of course it is Eros that finds her and is able to revive her–realizing his failures in the process. He sends her to receive the reward of Aphrodite’s blessing while he goes to Zeus to plead the case for their love and marriage. They are successful in convincing the gods of the validity of their marriage and Psyche is granted immortality. The pair give birth to a daughter Hedone (Joy/Pleasure).
Acknowledging that there are archaic facets of this tale in its treatment of the heroine (suicidal tendencies, not-so-metaphorical pregnancy, curiosity as arbiter of women’s ruin) it should be clear how and why this story has been perpetuated time and time again. It is about achieving consciousness through self-sacrifice and love.
Part of the inherent charm of Psyche and Eros is that they come to know one another in the darkness, in a way that largely disregards their exterior forms and is fully bound in the interior (a true knowing and integration with another person, in the intellectual/emotional/spiritual sense). We see the natural evolution of this dynamic in versions written generations later.
Of Monsters Who Are Men
The ATU 425 has been explored most adeptly by women writers–and with much improvement upon the original tale. Thanks to Madame de Villeneuve’s and d’Aulnoy’s interpretations from the late 17th century we have our most famous example of the Bride and the Monstrous: ”La Belle et la Bête” and it’s lesser known but just as important cousin, Serpentin Vert. Together they re-configured the Eros & Psyche myth for adult audiences, stressing the importance of humility, grace, and the transformative nature of love in our perceptions of others.
It suffices to say that Beauty and the Beast is so well known that to tell you the tale again would require a much better hand then mine to provide further insight. It has been done great justice by the likes of Robin McKinley, Angela Carter–even Disney. If you have the time and interest, there are a great many interpretations and analyses of the historical and cultural significance of these stories old and new and their relevance to feminine narratives today.
At the heart of these stories, the one which has made them so endearing, is their equality. Both characters have to grow in their understanding of one another and themselves. They are changed forever by knowing each other. And they stress an important facet found in every fairy tale written since the beginning of time: there is no curse that can’t be broken by love.
To me this is best epitomized by another, older story: Prince Lindworm. This is a Scandinavian tale which has long served as a similarly redemptive treatment of marriage to the monster. Like many I read this story as a child, but my reintroduction to it in adulthood was through Donald Kalsched’s The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defences of the Personal Spirit.
This book includes analyses of Eros & Psyche, Fitcher’s Bird, and another personal favorite anecdote from Jung’s patient files: the bride of the moon vampire. Kalsched approaches these stories from the perspective that their archetypes represent forces of self-protection in recovery from internalized traumatic experiences.
In this story a queen obtains a spell from a witch to conceive a child. The spell will give her a girl if she eats a white rose, or a boy if she eat a red rose. Even though she is warned against it, the Queen ends up eating both flowers. Her twins turn out to be one perfectly healthy baby boy and a terrible serpent (lindworm), who slithers away only to reappear years later when his brother goes out into the world to seek a bride. As it goes, the Lindworm is the eldest prince, and he demands a princess for himself before his brother can marry.
When they marry a poor unlucky princess to this beast, but he of course eats her on their wedding night. They run out of royalty when the second princess meets the same fate. So the king goes to a poor shepherd and coerces him into giving up his only daughter as a bride for his serpent son.
Distraught, the daughter runs into the woods only to encounter the same witch who devised the spell in the first place. She gives her interesting instructions: she must command the Lindworm to shed a skin for every shift she removes on her wedding night. To that end she is to wear ten shifts, and once his ten skins are removed she must beat him with whips soaked in lye and then bathe him in milk before holding this horrifying creature in her arms.
Here’s Kalsched’s words on the subject, taken from Google Books (my apologies for the inability to paraphrase):
Like Psyche or Belle, the shepherd’s daughter completes these tasks with courage and self-sacrifice and is rewarded with the transformation of the monster back to a handsome prince. She can now proceed to the next stages of Individuation and definition of her Self. But what if she cannot change the creature? What happens when the monster is actually a monster?
Of Monsters and Men
The ATU 312 category provides the archetype for monstrous marriages gone bad: Bluebeard. The Brothers Grimm’s The Fitcher’s Bird is another in this vein. In these stories the heroine must escape a violent and vengeful husband who has killed his previous wives and hidden their corpses away.
In this case the bridegroom is truly a monster–and his nature isn’t revealed until after the seduction of the heroine and separation from her family. It’s once he’s locked the heroine away and left her alone (as a test) that she finds his murdered brides in the room hes forbidden her to enter. Like the spilling of the drop of oil on Eros’ shoulder, the key leaks the blood of the discovery so that there is no hiding it’s stain. The heroine must escape her husband before he kills her as punishment for disobeying him.
This is generally resolved by the deus ex machina**** of the heroine’s brothers coming to her aid at the end of the story and killing and dismembering the villain. This is very clearly not a transformation of the animus but its replacement by a safer, familial masculine energy. It won’t surprise you to know that most of these tales were written by men. There is a clear pretext of cautioning young women from letting curiosity (especially sexual) lead them to their doom. While the key and the presence of a spiritual aid give the heroine a role in her escape, the need for external masculine aid–be it fatherly, brotherly, or prototypical good guy–has been perpetuated in these stories over and over again ad nauseam.
While some archetypal analyses stress that gender isn’t important to understanding and cautioning against the internal destructive forces represented here (Claudia Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With the Wolves provides a great example) this is almost never helpful when considered in a romantic context.
Our most telling examples appear in Gothic fiction: agonists to the dark animus in gothic romances are frequently childhood friends/”brotherly” types who serve to protect the sanctity and safety of the heroine: Raoul from Phantom of the Opera, Alan in Crimson Peak, Jonathan in Dracula. In these versions its clear that the monster husband is unable to be re-integrated into polite society (he’s a murderer, sexual deviant, etc.), hence the need to eliminate and replace him permanently with a good, Christian alternative.
While the heroine can escape, replace, and recover from being stolen away by a monster husband of this type, it is generally understood that her relationship with this force is more transformative than the one she will have with its replacement. As a result the substitute heroes tend to suffer the fate of playing one-dimensional and uninteresting roles. They wait in the wings for the heroine to surface from her descent, ready to take her back to normalcy and proper gentlemanly love. The Bronte sisters provided the most realistic treatments for these surrogates: Jane Eyre turns down St. John’s loveless proposal, Catherine’s marriage to Edgar is doomed long before Heathcliff’s return.
So while certainly not misogynist, these secondary heroes most definitely do not represent empowering feminine archetypes. One could argue that they are the result of whitewashing of women’s sexuality and desires, the inherent “darkness”, from our narratives. Beyond that they remove the confrontation/conquering of the dark animus from the purview of the heroine’s journey–turning it into just another hero’s tale of slaying the beast.
Unmasking the Animus
“The demonic power of the anima or animus resides in its bewitching mask. When we can see through that to the psychological realities that it symbolizes, our intuition can “hear the spirits talk.” Our ego and our Self are acting in unison, linked by our anima or animus. When we hear the spirits talk and understand what they are saying, we acquire a more profound understanding of what is before us. The spirits belong to the archetypal world of the collective unconscious. They have a broader perspective than that of our conscious ego. Whereas we tend to understand things in the context of other mundane events, they see things against the background of the largest possible reality, the All. The spirits know the All, and they appreciate every object, person, and event in the context of that Wholeness.” – John R. Haule, Divine Madness: Archetypes of Romantic Love
So now that we have established what the bride and the monster represent in all their nuance, we can explain how this pertains to movies about space battles, light swords, and magic invisible forces.
I’m not the only one who feels that for this story to advance in a satisfying and meaningful way we must see a transformation in our characters as a result of one another. Who doesn’t seek an intellectually satisfying and egalitarian narrative in which two people can transform one another? Even if we limit our expectations to a positive transformation for our heroine, we know she must first understand and accept the darkness within herself. As Luke before her, it is only by integrating with the Shadow that she can have power over it, and grow as an individual. If we follow that same logic, the dynamic must work both ways, balancing the story such that the Shadow is changed positively by it’s integration.
Our heroine will be forced again and again to resolve her conflict with her destructive animus until he is either transformed, or dead. You can be sure that they will keep meeting in this manner until either end is accomplished. If we can expect that the former takes place in the vein of the ATU 425, it would represent something generally missing from the previous trilogies (but introduced in the EU and canon prolifically): romantic love as a positive transforming force between two people on opposing sides of the war of the Light and the Dark.
I am going to blame Lucas for the lack of this theme up until now–he made romantic love a priority, but didn’t emphasize its redeeming qualities as central to the narrative. There are strengths in both preexisting romances but it is important to note that at this point both have ended tragically. Is it safer to assume that this will happen again–or that our writers will avoid a romantic tale entirely? Personally, I believe we will see something much better: the natural evolution of these stories.
Concept art from Revenge of the Sith depicting a version of Padme’s final meeting with Anakin–in which she would have tried to kill him only to be unable to because of love.
I will happily risk eating crow by saying we’ve already seen the beginnings of an epic, romantic love within The Force Awakens. I’ve already (haphazardly) compared Kylo Ren’s character to Eros–one of the fundamental “divine child” archetypes. If we expand this to include other ATU 425 identities such as the Beast, Prince Lindworm, et al. the structure of the characters and story as it stands is even more clear:
Destructive, reckless, immature, narcissistic, selfish, chaotic
The child of equal parts love and war
Born to a royal or divine/magical heritage
Cursed as a child with monstrousness—either by their parent’s error or their own (usually maternal)
The monster’s curse and motivations are shadowed by vengeance
Forced to take out their internal frustrations and aggression on their environment
Their true identity is hidden in the shadows
Surrounded by the dual imagery of fire and ice (qualities of anger, which vacillate between external eruptions of rage and icy “dead” emotionless-ness)
Becomes infatuated with the heroine immediately and steals her away to his personal prison
Is possessive and jealous of her relations with the opposite sex, be they filial or rival
Revealed as beautiful beneath a monstrous façade/monstrous beneath a beautiful façade
Repeatedly called a “creature” and a “monster” by the heroine
Attempts to convince the heroine that he is the opposite of what she instinctively understands him to be
Fails to convince her of his true nature because of his own shortsightedness; he does not understand that she cannot help but respond to his external
actions/appearance in the absence of knowledge of any redeeming qualities of his internal character.
Offers the heroine relative wealth, influence, and power (including divinity i.e. magical/spiritual knowledge) in exchange for isolating her from the world and her family
Is subdued/calmed in his rages by the presence of the heroine, which quickly return when she is absent
Runs away to a possessive maternal figure when revealed/rejected by the heroine
Is burnt by the heroine as a reaction to the revelation of his true nature, i.e. she leaves a mark upon him which is a reminder of his failures
Unassuming, humble, hopeful, resilient, curious, wise beyond her years
Represents an opposite to the monster (external beauty/calm interior vs. passionate interior/external ugliness)
Is relatively poor (youngest child, etc.), understanding the value of hard work
Has a nostalgia for things she doesn’t have (i.e. adventure, acceptance by family and community)
Lives in isolation and is fiercely protective of both herself and what she considers her family
Uses self-education as both an escape from the mundane and to cope with her relative loneliness
Struggles with issues of rejection and other people’s fixation on her external characteristics over her hidden, internal strengths
Rejects opportunities for long-term relationships (i.e. other suitors) over taking care of family (and possibly in order to avoid disappointment)
Stuck in the perpetual and sterile environment of her childhood
Idealizes an absent parental figure (usually paternal) often removed from her by long journeys into the outside world. She uses the hope of their reunion as a source of strength and motivation.
Withholds expectations from others and thus is able to better weather the storms of their betrayals or failures
Has a unique capacity for forgiveness, but is far from naive
Abandoned by her family and offered up as a sacrifice to a divine rite, forcing her initiation into the mystery/spiritual realm
By no fault or will of her own is bound to the monster in a metaphysical fashion, i.e. through an understanding formed in the shadows/night-time, alternatively signified by dreams and visions
Let’s also consider the major plot points that are prevalent in the ATU 425:
Despite being on opposite sides (heaven vs. earth, real world vs. magical), the story quickly establishes an overlap in the character’s spheres of influence, forcing confrontation.
The monster gains prior knowledge of the heroine, and actively seeks her out for a self-serving purpose (either directly or indirectly to overcome the curse of his own monstrousness)
His primary actions involving her are possessive, isolating, and controlling–more out of immaturity than antipathy
Those closest to the monster, trapped and bound by the same curse, act as divine aid in attempting to break it. These “invisible servants” understand the past and/or better nature of the character, as well as the conditions for their salvation. They seek to ease the way of the heroine in confronting and overcoming the curse while accomplishing their own self-serving motives (i.e. they cannot be free until the curse is lifted).
The protection of her family is the primary motivation for the heroine to selflessly confront death i.e. accept the role of “sacrifice” to the monster. There is an implicit understanding that she will have to face him alone and without hope for external aid. She must survive and overcome/escape him by her own wit and strengths.
The primary conflict they face is a misunderstanding and/or ignorance to each other’s similarities. The monster seeks to make the heroine acknowledge these in the hopes that it will force her to accept him. Her rejection of him is significant because it reinforces his fears and beliefs that he is not worthy. But her rejection is also a rejection of herself, since the external and internal qualities of these characters are mirrored. It is in her best interests to recognize the Shadow within herself–so that she is better able to subdue and control it.
And what we can anticipate/speculate, knowing the other stories in this vein:
In their physical separation, each person is given knowledge of the other person’s past and what brought them to the point of confrontation. In knowing each other through words and stories told by others, they will be forced to rethink their first impressions and their reactions to one another.
Their second physical confrontation will include a reveal which will alter their dynamic forever, foreshadowing an inevitable change of heart.
There is the strong likelihood that at some point, communication between the two characters will manifest in a written/spoken/vision/dream form only—i.e. the “words from the darkness” which allows for a positive reconciliation without the danger of physical confrontation.
The monster’s interest in the bride will only grow in its obsessiveness, just as its possessiveness similarly disappears with the realization that he loves her enough to let her go.
The absence of the other only brings their longing for one another into sharp relief. Each moment they spend apart has enormous significance for their eventual reunion. Again–as with their confrontation and separation–they will face one another alone.
An act of self-sacrifice on the part of the monster in the darkest hour is the catalyst for change. This will most likely involve death, figurative or literal, from which can follow resurrection (and hence redemption).
Now does this feel fundamentally right–or are you convinced that the only solution to the problem of Rey’s dark animus lies in the ATU 312?
This is not what was presented to us in The Force Awakens. Even as we were incessantly goaded by the imagery of Finn battling Kylo Ren (and we assumed, saving Rey) the movie’s climax quickly subverted this tired trope. A character as powerful and resilient as Finn should not be shoehorned into the role of good guy saving girl from monster/bad guy. Like the other main characters, Finn needs to find his own destiny, including discovering his own identity and internal motivation to fight vs. flee. I anticipate his story is much more important.
Rey’s self-sufficiency requires her to face her personal challenges on her own whenever possible. Though these characters need each other, I believe I speak for many when I say we’d prefer to see them form a powerful friendship based in trust and individual growth (Max and Furiosa, anyone?) rather than one turned into an awkward romance for the sake of “safe,” “realistic,” or “PC” notions of male/female relations. Again, this isn’t romantic–it is a bastardization of it. Even if Finn were Luke’s son and the new heir apparent to the Skywalker clan it does not follow that he should also inherit the transformational chemistry of Rey’s character as anima when this dynamic has been entirely missing from the first movie of the trilogy. Just as Luke’s story paralleled Leia’s rather than converging, these characters can have their own goals and story while developing their relationship in the non-romantic way they already have.
Finally, no matter what, questions of victimization come into play whenever we encounter the trope of the maiden/monster. This is understandable, as many of the qualities which define both characters can manifest in real relationships and lead to systematic abuse and repression. But focusing on the worst, real-world versions ignore the fact that the goal of the story is overcoming and learning from these traits in ourselves. No children’s story, or archetypal story, offers up a negative without its equal and opposite, positive resolution.
I’ll be the first to agree that the imagery of the “dark” animus has historically been tied to a psychological understanding of internalization of trauma. But please do not forget that beyond being abandoned, and hungry, we have not seen anything which defines Rey as the “victim” of dark forces or a trauma that extends beyond those we know of. Rather, she has been a resilient survivor against each and every form oppression that she has faced.
So who in this story has very obviously experienced trauma and been unable to process it in a healthy/constructive manner … ? Who has internalized their trauma and rejected themselves to the point that they can’t have a scene without becoming emotionally compromised?
I’ll leave you with that thought.
This meta is as much a product of (but in no way the fault of) the following people:
@lomesawrites for the lovely dialogue, art sourcing, and sharing of the Beauty & the Beast project (the glee I feel knowing G.R.R.M is just as in love with the ATU 425 has no end). I’ll be posting an accompaniment to this post with the dozens of Bride/Monster examples from modern fiction–my apologies for being unable to get to it in the course of my diatribe
@and-then-bam-cassiopeia for the brain sparkles and shared existentialism
@starwarsnonsense aka @enchantingimagery for the reading recommendations and wonderful commentary
@ohtze for being our favorite Sith dinosaur and mother of meta
@a-shipper-despite-herself for comparing Rey’s costume to mummy wrappings/Bride of Frankenstein and Kylo Ren’s helmet to ashes smeared on Shiva’s forehead
@winterofherdiscontent for providing beautiful illustrative inspiration for the correlation of Eros & Psyche to the tale
@frolickingfizzgig and @geminiwankenobi for fighting the good fight in the Jedi Council forums Kylo & Rey thread which is now at 1100-something pages and counting
and so much for everyone else out there doing their best to dissect and interpret this behemoth of a story, no matter your take on it, no matter how you feel about it, thank you so much for the inspiration you provide daily
… and finally, to my other half who has patiently tolerated my ranting and been the hero to my monster for the last 3 months. I love you very, very much.
*There’s been a great deal of trivialization of the theme of romance in women’s stories–much of it by other women. A false dichotomy has been set up that in order for a woman to be strong, she should not be “compromised” by romantic and/or sexual passion. If you think this is normal, please consider taking a Voight-Kampff test.
**Don’t get me started on the Rosy Cross, its association with the Knights Templar, hieros gamos, “sacred marriage,” Isis/Osiris cults, etc… . please someone stop me … this is too much.
***Let’s play a game of which Jung said it best–renowned psychologist Carl:
”I use Eros and Logos merely as conceptual aids to describe the fact that woman’s consciousness is characterized more by the connective quality of Eros than by the discrimination and cognition associated with Logos. In men, Eros, the function of relationship, is usually less developed than Logos. In women, on the other hand, Eros is an expression of their true nature, while their Logos is often only a regrettable accident.”
or his wife Emma:
“To discriminate between oneself and the animus, and sharply to limit its sphere of power, is extraordinarily important; only by doing so is it possible to free oneself from the fateful consequences of identifying with the animus and being possessed by it. Hand in hand with the discrimination goes the growth of consciousness and the realization of the true Self…when women succeed in maintaining themselves against the animus, instead of allowing themselves to be devoured by it, then it ceases to be only a danger and becomes a creative power.
We women need this power, for, strange as it seems, only when this masculine entity becomes an integrated part of the soul and carries on its proper function there is it possible for a woman to be truly a woman in the higher sense, and, at the same time, also being herself, to fulfill her individual human destiny.”
****Here’s a bit of synchronicity for you: the film Ex Machina is a modern retelling of Bluebeard from a (uniquely) masculine perspective. If you haven’t seen it yet–which I’d be surprised considering it’s stars–it’s a wonderful inversion of the story and its characters. Expect a future analysis.