The trope of a pure and innocent heroine pursued by a man drowning in darkness has lasted for generations and shows up in many stories, from The Phantom of the Opera to Beauty and the Beast, to Professor Snape and Lily James in the Harry Potter franchise. It also appears in the classic stories of the middle ages, which inspired the Knights of many a court in their theatricals. It speaks to a more ancient, cultural belief that women, being the ‘fairer’ sex, are more Pure. It may relate to the Catholicism belief in the divinity of women, through the idealization of the Virgin Mary as being ‘blameless.’ It is an ideal—a non-reality (women are no more pure or decent than men), an inversion of the Garden of Eden story (where Woman Falls first, and leads Man into temptation), and an idealization of women.
In some of these stories, the love of a pure woman sets the man free of his curse or inner darkness—if not breaking the spell, then allowing him to experience love fully enough for the first time to release his maiden from captivity. This happens in the Phantom of the Opera, where after Christine agrees to stay with him to save Raoul, the man she loves, Erik sees the true nature of love as being self-sacrificing, and releases her. It is a tragic, sorrowful ending to his tale, but one of hope, in he has at long last understood true love. It is not ownership, possession, or forcing another to be with you, but being willing to abandon Self for Other’s welfare.
We see a similar conclusion to Beauty & the Beast, in which the Beast has fallen in love with Belle, but upon seeing the torment she has over her father’s potential fate, releases her to return home to him—knowing full well that doing this might mean he remains a Beast forever. Like Erik, the Beast has learned true love is not keeping a girl locked up in your castle; it is loving her enough to let her go.
And we see this in Ben Solo and the Scavenger, Rey, in the newest Star Wars trilogy. Right from the beginning, Ben, or as we know him at the time through his selected alter ego of “Kylo Ren,” has developed an obsession with Rey. He both passionately wants her, and feels drawn to her out of a mysterious lack of understanding about how she exists, and how she possesses such raw power and has such tremendous access to the Force. When he sees her, he visualizes their future together as joint rulers of the galaxy; he sees what she “is” and what she could “become,” if she walks into the darkness with him.
Rey is the “Ideal” woman—not in the sense that she is perfect. She is not. She has a bad temper, she can be rude, she runs away from things she does not want to confront, and can be reckless. But one thing sets her apart—her innate goodness, her inability to stand by and see bad things done to good people… and her willingness to change her mind. Unlike Luke, she does not fear her inner darkness, thus the Dark Side of the Force has no power over her. She lacks fear. She knows who she is, and she will not change for Kylo Ren. She finds him repugnant. But she sees beyond the Beast and the Monster to the soul within—the broken boy who felt alienated and neglected by his family, who fashioned himself into something to impress others with, to cover up his deep inner insecurities. In hearing his story, Rey finds sympathy for him, and believes she can reach beyond Kylo Ren to Ben Solo.
She does. And she kills Kylo Ren, both literally and metaphorically. The director says of the scene where she heals Ben from a lethal wound after striking him down that she has killed Kylo Ren, not Ben. The experience of being forgiven and given a second, undeserved chance by the woman he thinks he loves (feels obsessed with) heals Ben of his darkness. It enables him to do what the Phantom and the Beast do—he lets Rey go. Ben brings her back to life after her death, trading his life Force for hers, possibly knowing that is the price—and it’s one he pays, because he finally knows how to “love.”
Love is the one thing that connects all humans, regardless of their differences. Everyone experiences it, whether it’s for another human being or for a pet, and we all long for it, if we do not have it. Such stories echo a deeper truth, an idealized love, the desire to see souls redeemed from darkness through love. Being a Christian, I see echoes of the Jesus story in these idealized romances—the broken man or monster representing Fallen Humanity, and the personification of goodness and love that teaches them selflessness through forgiveness and personal sacrifice. It’s a story that echoes over and over, in our favorite stories, in tales of those seeking redemption (or in Kylo’s case, trying to run away from it) that speaks to our own deep inner hopefulness that one day, we will love enough to reach that ideal.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Charity Bishop devotes her free time to eating chocolate, debating theology with her friends, researching the Tudors and writing novels about them, caring for her beloved cats, running a MBTI typing blog, writing books, blogging, and searching for spiritual truth in all aspects of life.