Msnowe's Blog

Short reflection on Arabian tales (some fake, some imagined)

Posted in Arabian, beast, beauty, King Kong, Sheherazade by m.snowe on April 14, 2008

Scheherazade is an icon of mythic proportions, to be sure. She is the frame around which One Thousand and One Nights takes place; and it is her role as ultimate storyteller that saves her life, and tames the king. Often, the frame of any story, otherwise know as the prelude to the story within a story, is told by a captivating narrator. More often than not, the best narrators in books are the abused, under appreciated, or downtrodden. The storyteller must come to us from a different perspective than the mainstream, and for good reason. No one wants to look in the mirror as they read–they do not want to hear about the commonplace or everyday (that is, unless it’s told in a new and exciting or at the very least intriguing or grotesque way). You see it in books paradoxically written by those who keep the downtrodden trapped in the frames–Uncle Remus, Sheherazade–they all share a common thread of subjugation or slavery, and the stories they weave make it implicit, and yet at the same time, these stories are in fact written by the captors (who strike similar reliefs to the beasts or villainous men of the story). Is this, in some creative fashion, an apology–a subconscious literary mea culpa? Or is it an argument for keeping people down, through the creative and artistic outlets–a justification of sorts?

It seems, through the frame, that literary masters superimpose their mastery on the downtrodden. But it’s not just the frame. While (in a uncharacteristically bored moment) watching the 2005 version (Peter Jackson’s) King Kong, the following quote was presented:
“And lo! The Beast looked upon the face of Beauty, and it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.”

The quote claimed to have been sourced from “an Arabian proverb,” when in fact, as this archived NYTimes article explains, it was originally fabricated as an old proverb by Marian C. Cooper, the original writer of the King Kong story. There are multiple things wrong with this fake proverb, number one being the warning against a beautiful woman’s deception and the probability of impotence in it’s wake. The other is the notion that a beautiful woman has some secret store of power that men cannot resist–even the most beastly of them. What is so appalling about attributing women with such a gift of control, you might ask? Well, it is shuttered about with deception. It implies that women use guile, and their significance relies solely on their appearance. Also, it implies that women are somehow “above” the affairs of men. And we all know about pedestals… and the quote:
“The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer examination, been revealed as a cage.”

And yet, Jackson’s movie ends with the quote: (it wasn’t the airplanes) “it was Beauty killed the Beast.” Despite all her power as a potential savior, the tragic end and final words condemn the “beauty,” while simultaneously drawing the viewer’s attention away from the fact that she, like Kong, suffered as a victim in a plot acted upon her. His other-worldy strangeness, and her womanly beauty were both attributes to be exploited, not celebrated