Error #404: Happily Ever After Not Found, or “Why Your Prince Charming Myth is Bullshit”

“In real life, Prince Charming would’ve had some skeletons in his closet. Possibly even some evil ex-girlfriends. …Or ex-boyfriends. No judgment, but that guy’s boots were pretty damn shiny.” – Tash Bohner, PROMISCUOUS (Deleted Scenes)

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve listened to a girlfriend complain about how all the guys she’s dated were ‘messed up,’ or ‘dysfunctional’ in some way, I’d have about a million dollars. And if I also had a dollar for every time I cried about my problems to my mom or one of my girlfriends, I’d have at least twice that by now. As a rule, we ladies like to hash out our issues and vent about such things.

That said, there’s a reason we rarely see two guys dissecting their latest breakups at the local bar. Why whenever a celebrity male cries, even for a good reason, the picture inevitably ends up as an internet meme. “Bromance” is something we joke about, but how many guys do you know who have a lifelong best friend (like Margot or Tash) they can share all their secrets with? How many guys go to therapy?

According to a study done by the American Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 1998, (which is around the time Grant Blue would’ve been born, if he were real) only 56.2% of men in the U.S. who were diagnosed with depression chose to talk out their feelings with a professional.* But by 2007, only 42.5% of men were choosing therapy. At the same time, the number of men who choose to take prescription drugs in an attempt to dull or ‘cure’ their emotional issues just keeps on jumping from 68.8% in 1998 to 73.3% in 2007. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But when you add the data from studies done by Oxford University, which suggest that men are up to 75% less likely to report or seek help for their anxiety and/or depression than women are, you can see where the rift between the sexes begins to reach chasm-like proportions. Right?

OBSESSIVE Cover 400 x 639When I decided to write a “sequel” to PROMISCUOUS, I promised myself that this one would be happier. Not just because of popular demand–because I’d had so many requests and comments from my readers who wanted to know what happened with Grant and Tash, and hoped they would work out in the long run–but also because I felt like Tash and Grant had been through so much already, they each deserved to have their own happy ending.

Unfortunately, life almost never gives us the happy ending we think we deserve. Partially because we can’t see the whole picture, and we often want things we shouldn’t. But also because, let’s face it, real life is kind of an asshole. And apparently, so am I. Because I keep writing about what I think would really happen to my characters, instead of what I think might go over well with the majority of readers.

One of the most common bits of feedback I heard from my OBSESSIVE beta readers, especially within the fist few chapters, was “what’s up with Grant?” Or, “poor Grant!” like when he would freak out or make bad choices, the readers didn’t understand how that could happen to someone like him. Or they automatically assumed it wasn’t his fault. Because, to all appearances, in PROMISCUOUS Grant was the perfect guy. He was the charming prince who swept in and tried to rescue Tash, even though she was hardly a damsel in distress, and she didn’t think she needed to be rescued. He was the “good guy,” and Tash was the damaged girl who just needed to learn how to let someone love her.

When I cast around for a fairy tale to use in writing Grant’s story, I immediately thought of Beauty and the Beast, because it’s always been one of my favorites. But much as I did with PROMISCUOUS, I wanted to follow the story back to its source (i.e. the more grotesque and gritty version of Aschenputtel, instead of the more fluffy Cinderella.) Which is how I stumbled upon a very loose translation of the original French tale, La Belle  et La Bete by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. This version, even more so than the Disney-fied one with its cuddly-looking Beast and drool-worthy library, was RIGHT up my alley. It involved numerous plot twists, at least two back stories that were dark as fuck, and tons of feminist subtext and literary angst. Armed with this dark tale, I began to tell the story of Grant Blue–mythical creature of high school perfection that he seemed–and his inevitable psychological unraveling.

I promise, I didn’t choose to do this because I’m a douche bag who likes to plunge my readers into despair. In fact, the more I started to think about all the Grant types I’ve ever known, it’s actually kind of a miracle it didn’t happen sooner. How can someone stand the pressure of all that perfection? What happens when you raise a kid to believe that he can do no wrong…until he starts to actually believe that he’s not allowed to do wrong? Or make any mistakes at all? Or be a goddamn human being every once in a while? Sure, telling our girls they have to be pretty and skinny and smart and chaste and sexy at the same time…that’s pretty fucked up. But isn’t telling our boys that they have to be strong and funny and brave and wealthy and dependable and stoic just as bad? Why isn’t it okay for guys to freak out about their hair, or cry in front of others? Why is it gay to tell your friends you love them? Forget about the whole OCD thing for a second. How is a straight guy supposed to walk the line in these metrosexual times, and somehow discover the perfect medium between mango-scented hair gel and homophobia? Between talking about his feelings and getting called a whiny little bitch?

After I finished drafting OBSESSIVE, and skirting around just these kind of issues, I did another search to see if I could sneak in a bit more of the original fairy tale. Because hey, I’m all about the issues, but I didn’t want this book to be a complete and total bitch-fest. I wanted it to have all the elements of a good love story.

That’s when I found this article, and basically burst into tears as I realized that everything I was trying to say has already been said, in this article by Terri Windling. (And also, by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (in her own way, which was much more French-like and hard for me to grasp.) But anyway, here’s what Terri had to say about our grasp of Beauty and the Beast:

“De Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast, over one hundred pages long and published for adult readers, is somewhat different than the shorter version we know today. As the story begins, Beauty’s destiny lies in the hands of her father, who gives her over to the Beast (to save his own life) and thus seals her fate.

The Beast is a truly fierce figure, not a gentle soul disguised by fur — a creature lost to the human world that had once been his by birthright. The emphasis of this tale is on the transformation of the Beast, who must find his way back to the human sphere. He is a genuine monster, eventually reclaimed by civilité, magic, and love — and it is only then that Beauty can truly love him. In this story, the final transformation does not occur until after Beauty weds her Beast, waking up in her marriage bed to find a human Prince beside her.

Sixteen years later Mme Leprince de Beaumont, a French woman working as a governess in England, shortened Villeneuve’s story and published this new version in a magazine for well–bred young ladies. She tailored her version for her audience, toning down its sensual imagery and implicit critique of forced marriages. She also pared away much unnecessary fat — the twisting subplots beloved by Villeneuve — to end up with a tale that was less adult and subversive, but also more direct and memorable. In the Leprince de Beaumont version (and subsequent retellings) the story becomes a more didactic one. The emphasis shifts from the Beast’s need for transformation to the need of the heroine to change — she must learn to see beyond appearance and recognize the good man in the Beast. With this shift, we see the story altered from one of critique and rebellion to one of moral edification, aimed at younger and younger readers, as fairy tales slowly moved from adult salons to children’s nurseries. By the 19th century, the Beast’s monstrous shape is only a kind of costume that he wears — he poses no genuine danger or sexual threat to Beauty in these children’s stories.” (Emphasis added, and once again here’s a link to the original article.)

Well, down with moral edification, I say! Up with critique and rebellion! (I never really liked the idea of Prince Charming, anyway. TBH, he always struck me as kind of boring and shallow.)

Also, hugs not drugs.

The end.

***

By the way, you can BUY THE BOOK here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

And not to go all promotional on you, but PROMISCUOUS (the first book in this series) is FREE on Amazon for the next 48 hours (March 16th-17th), so check that out.

To find out more about the author, please visit her website or follow her on twitter @IsobelIrons.

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