There are two things I notice about fairy tales. The first is food. Hansel and Gretel, Little Miss Muffet, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Princess and the Pea, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and her pumpkin. And then there are apples, apples, apples – Snow White, the golden apples, Avalon, Eve. I’ve read a few things on what food represents in mythology. 1) Comfort and bounty, 2) consumption/cannibalism, 3) change, 4) home and 5) sexuality.
The second is the idea of transformation. Disney has had a field day with this one with cartoons like Beauty and the Beast and Shrek. But the quintessential tale is the Frog and the Princess. Beautiful princess kisses ugly frog and he is transformed into a handsome prince. Have you ever noticed it’s always the woman doing the accepting, the overlooking of external ugliness?
Feminine concepts of goodness are always represented by physical beauty and ‘evil’ is represented by ugliness. Can you think of one single fairy tale where a woman is trapped in an ugly exterior and is “rescued” by being loved and accepted as she is? I know of only one. None of our western or eastern stories follow that model. Sure Cinderella is impoverished, but still beautiful. Shrek’s love for Fiona certainly transforms her, from a beautiful women to an Ogre. How would that message be different if he were the handsome prince who broke the shell of her angry, but beautiful, exterior with a kiss that allowed her outer beauty to fade away and her inner beauty to be seen?
Asian mythology is really tough on women. Women must be perfect in order to be the consort of a king or a god. They must be forever young, beautiful, patient, kind, graceful, dutiful and loyal. Women of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are worthy love only if they conform. Their entire existence is one of sacrifice. Poor Sita; poor Druapadi. Radha is the only model of femininity that I know of who is truly her own person, who follows her heart and is admired for it. But I have to wonder, would she be so revered if she were not beautiful? Would Krishna have loved her then? Would he have loved her more than all others for her kindness and her tender nature?
Interestingly, women represent the same thing in mythology as food does – Comfort and bounty, consumption/cannibalism, transformation, home and sexuality. These things say a lot about our models of life and love. This is the one story I know where a woman is transformed by love, the story of the beginnings of the snake clan:
Spider Woman whispered to the young man, that the one that acted so very angrily was the pretty maiden and that he should try to take that one. He tried, but the snake was very wild and fierce. “Be not afraid,” Spider Woman whispered…. He at once grabbed it, held and stroked it four times upward, each time spurting a little medicine on it, and thus freeing it from its anger.
The snake then changes back into a beautiful maiden; the two later marry, and their children become the ancestors of the Snake Clan.
The thing I hope that you take away from this is that the moment of acceptance is the moment of transformation, the blossoming of beauty.
Little Miss Muffet may have let her Arachnophobia scare her away from her food, but you should not be scared away from love or lunch.
Grits with Cheese (VG)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 ounces sharp aged cheese, shredded
Place the milk, water, and salt into a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Once the milk mixture comes to a boil, gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once all of the cornmeal has been incorporated, decrease the heat to low and cover. Remove lid and whisk frequently, every 3 to 4 minutes, to prevent grits from sticking or forming lumps; make sure to get into corners of pot when whisking. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until mixture is creamy.
Remove from the heat, add the pepper and butter, and whisk to combine. Once the butter is melted, gradually whisk in the cheese a little at a time. Serve immediately.