Fairy tales are more than stories. In the best of them, we see ourselves in them and incorporate their truths and magic.
I was seven years old when I first saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in theaters. To this day, the twirling leaf in the wolf-haunted forest still makes me tingle.
My mother encouraged her children to practice and grow comfortable with theater and performing from a very young age. Although two of her three children were born introverts, under to coaching, all of us took to the stage with joy.
On our vacation in Disney World last week, my family attended a Beauty and the Beast interactive story (Enchanted Tales with Belle) in which children assisted Belle (who wore her glorious golden ball gown) in retelling the fairy tale. I knew as I watched the children act out the story, that as my heart leapt, it was because my mother had passed along this passion to me, like a glowing torch.
A few minutes later, inside a shop designed to look part of Belle’s French village, my hand stroked a woven blanket patterned after the stained glass scene at the end of Beauty and the Beast in which Belle is united with her prince beneath the glory of the eternal red rose. My mother appeared at my side and handed me a card with the information on the blanket. Already one step ahead of me. She knew that I’d fall in love with it.
She knows me. She understands my dreams as if they were her own because she’s watched them bud and blossom. She’s especially fond of them because she watered them so carefully in my early years.
It takes huge amounts of tender care to nurture a young girl’s dream, and yet my admiration for Belle persevered into my adulthood.
While watching the stage show of Beauty and the Beast, I found myself chagrined and a bit embarrassed that tears sprang to my eyes when Belle crouched beside her dear friend as the Beast slowly surrendered to a mortal wound. I thought I was being overly sentimental, yet as we filed out of the theater afterward, my mom confessed that she’d cried at exactly the same moment that I did.
I share many qualities with m y mother, and this explains some of the eerie connections we experience—but I believe it’s more than that. My mother is a strong woman who passed along a legacy of creativity, love, dedication, and inspiration.
Years ago, I was reading John Eldrege’s book Waking the Dead, and the author mentioned the power of legendary and fairy tale heroes to inspire and encourage us. He suggested seeking a hero with which the reader resonated, and adopting the identity of the hero. The way to find your hero was to ask your close friends and family to think of one they found suited to you.
I felt silly and needy, but the book proposed this exercise as homework and, for better or worse, I’m too conscientious (my friends read this as “goody-two-shoes”) to skip assignments like this. I emailed my family and held my breath.
The first reply came from my mother. She wrote:
Ist thought—Belle from Beauty and the Beast (she loves books, is intelligent yet emotional and loving) She learns to see the beauty in things not so beautiful. She loves her Dad (though she doesn’t totally understand him). She’s repulsed by Gaston.
I can’t fully explain what makes this so powerful for me, or why little girls want to be princesses or why adult women like me still long for regal magic, but I know that royalty is passed along from parent to child, and my mother never once let me doubt that I was beautiful and royal and brave and everything that Belle was. I’m so thankful for that.
Our trip to Disney World was wonderful, magical, and precious because of the people who came with me. I’m glad to be home and I’m treasuring the fresh memories. I am especially treasuring this reminder that amidst the crazy list of me: tired mother, loving and anxious wife, frustrated and sometimes desperate writer…I’m also Belle.