In Search of Cupid and Psyche:
Myth and Legend in Children's Literature
Focus Questions For Rose Daughter
- Early in the story, Beauty recalls her mother's "restlessness" as that of someone "in search of something
that cannot be found," and thus the Quest motif is quickly asserted and, quite significantly, coupled to a
sense of loss and a yearning for the impossible. In different literary works the various things for which
one yearns delineate the nature of the world, a character's unique vision, or, perhaps, the author's own
particular temperament. Arthurian knights seek the reflection of an ideal purity, Don Quixote an
exemplary code of behavior, and Psyche, of course, the lost perfection of true love-a physical as well as
metaphysical completion. In earlier chapters we discussed the mythological principles underlying the
Quest. Now, describe the nature of the things Beauty seeks.
- How does Beauty's recurring dream bear the mythic weight of the Delphic Oracle in "C&P?"
- McKinley's creation of Lionheart and
Jeweltongue forms one of the most striking departures from the source
fairy tale and the jealous/vengeful/insufficient sisters motif that
traditionally forms one of its essential elements.
How does McKinley's re-vision of the daughters/sisters motif both
strengthen and weaken her story?
- Give examples of mythic framing.
examples of coincidentia oppositorum symbolism.
How does the garden symbolism advance and decorate the mythic notion of sacred time
(see Focus Questions2, question 4, for
another cut at this question.)
- What is the mythological significance conventionally associated with water symbolism-say briefly how
McKinley exploits this significance; give examples.
- What are Beauty's initial responses to the aspect of the Beast (her initial visual impressions);
how do they contrast with Psyche's lamplit glimpse of Cupid:
consider the intensity-emotional as well as visual-of each encounter.
- One of the off-cited problems with contemporary adaptations of mythology is the tendency of the
writer to demystify or explain away some of the mythic power of her story: do you think this is true of
- Do you think the merchant's
transgressive theft of the rose--a taboo violation, as it is first presented--loses its mythic
power when it is re-interpreted and rationalized toward the novel's conclusion?
- McKinley's use of animal imagery is a central part of her story. The animality of The Beast gains dignity in
her tendency to valorize all animals, while several animals-the "translucent earthworm" Beauty
encounters in the garden, the salamander, for example-are endowed with specific abilities and graces
and made to bear specific symbolic functions. Particularly Fourpaws. Fourpaws behaves mysteriously.
She conveys a sense of superior knowledge, independence and, unlike humans, she cannot be deceived
and she cannot be corrupted. Compare her with similarly helpful and elusive characters we have
encountered (e.g., the Cheshire Cat, Fox, or Pan). Say why you think this figure is so clearly essential to
- In "Cupid and Psyche," Psyche's pregnancy seems to imply several related ideas--
self-renewal, the perpetuation of all life, and an increase of delight. Are
these themes carried forward in some form by the pregnancy of Fourpaws? How does her kitten-birth
remind us of Psyche's child-birth?
- According to S.H. Hooke, eschatological myths depict the end of history. (The most familiar
eschatological myth is the Norse myth of Ragnarock; Judgment Day is another eschatological myth.) In
Rose Daughter the climactic battle of the fabulous beasts, on p. 294, suggests an eschatological myth.
Are there eschatological myths implicit in "Cupid and Psyche?" Could we safely argue that
into Proserpine's box of beauty-and, by analogy, her functional resemblance to Pandora-suggests
a kind of eschatological myth?
(Remember R. Graves has identified Pandora as "The Mother of Us All.")
- In addition, there are many other instances of McKinley's overt borrowing from mythology. For example,
when Beauty's father blindly stumbles upon the Beast's garden and palace, he cannot at first believe his
eyes. McKinley tells us, "He was afraid to turn round; would he see wintry woods again, the blizzard that
might have killed them?" (p. 70). Besides this obvious allusion to the myth of Orpheus (and to the Journey
to the Underworld
motif), what other Greek myths does McKinley reference-and what effect or effects
do you think she intends?
- The story of Beauty's encounter with the bat (a story within a story) sounds some of the central
elements of the frame story, such as the need for sensitivity, receptivity, diligence,
persistence, a kind of inner-ecology we might say, and self-control. The bat story also tells us about the
complicated relationship of need and freedom-a coincidentia oppositorum symbol. Are these ideas
essential to the "C&P" story of Apuleius, or are they concerns of McKinley's she has chosen to 'valorize' by
interbraiding them within the authorizing web of the myth?
- McKinley clearly intends to make her
heroine a very different sort of character from the Psyche-type-her Beauty is neither helpless nor given to despair,
she is self-reliant, strong-willed, capable, etc. What are some of the other
characteristics Beauty possesses that clearly distinguish her from Psyche? Do you think that
the demands of a novel for detail and originality somehow militate against the mythic
effectiveness of the Psyche character?
- Apart from Beauty's very un-Psyche-like
characteristics, McKinley also endows her with very Psyche-like characteristics-her
penchant for self-sacrifice, for example. What are other characteristics our heroines share?