The Connection Between Death and the Maiden & Beauty and the Beast

For day four of Beauty & the Beast Week, I have decided to discuss the connection between Beauty and the Beast tales and the Death and the Maiden motif.   Regular readers of my blog will know that I have long adored the artistic and literary motif known as Death and the Maiden.   This motif is intimately linked with the tale type of Beauty and the Beast.

In some ways, Death and the Maiden can be seen as the almost earlier and more extreme version of the Beauty and the Beast tale type.    I already did a post earlier in the week about Eros and Psyche as the earlier Greek mythic version of Beauty and the Beast.    There is a different Greek myth that exemplified this more extreme version of the Beauty and the Beast-like tale type, the myth of Hades and Persephone.   I will go more deeply into the comparison between Eros and Psyche and Hades and Persephone for tomorrow’s post.

Today, I want to focus on the link between the two tale types.   While Beauty and the Beast have its basis on a human falling in love with someone who is cursed to be a monster or is in some way not human (when we look at Eros being a God), Death and the Maiden has a human falling in love with (or at least being enthralled by) the literal embodiment of death.   That is what I meant about this being a more extreme variant of the tale type.   That being said, it is impossible to not see the link between these two disparate tale types.   Both have a human (who is usually a woman) falling in love with a beastly or death-like figure (who is usually a man).   The human feels drawn to this figure due to their power and often due to the fact that they are misunderstood by the larger society as a whole.   This leads to a bond forming that shows that the two are not as different as they may have first assumed.   Both the Death and the Maiden motif and Beauty and the Beast tale type are endlessly fascinating for readers and artists alike because they are so easily adapted into new forms that keep the archetypal appeal of the stories intact!

Every novel that pairs a supernatural being with a human is playing with these archetypes and using one or both of these tales types to some extent!   This explains a lot of the enduring appeal of the original Beauty and the Beast fairytale and its countless adaptations.   I hope you have enjoyed this brief comparison between Beauty and the Beast as a tale type and the Death and the Maiden motif.   What is your favorite usage of either of these literary tale types?   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Further Reading

  • Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Bride and Grooms from Around the World edited by Maria Tatar 
  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton
  • Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch