Once upon a time, a Father had a beloved child...
The roots of our beautiful tale, and an ongoing project
an essay for
Vincent, our favorite Scholar. About... Father? Not only
him. We are here,
over 25 years, celebrating a
fictional birthday of a fictional character, and still dreaming about the
modern rendition of a fairy tale that captured our hearts. Why so?
For many different
there is probably something that lies beneath the personal motivations,
and which has its roots in the fairy tale itself.
Something our favorite Scholar would love to explore.
Beauty and the Beast, before being the story of Vincent and Catherine, of Father and the tunnels, of NYC and its many faces, is a myth, and myths speak to our souls. Over the centuries, they are continually told in many ways, but they have inner truths that the listeners always recognize, and which make them resonate. Beauty and the Beast has many such inner truths, from the truth that the essential part of each individual can only be seen with the eyes of heart, to the truth that one's heart must be set free to be able to love, to the truth that deep, deep Below, within ourselves, there is a secret source of peace and compassion... Ron Koslow, the creator of our series, managed, while developing the show, to keep and intertwine in the narrative these and many other truths of the original fairy tale, So, we recognize them, and resonate.
Once upon a time, a Father had a beloved child. One of the elements of the fairy tale, a very important one, is constituted by the father of Beauty. His love for his child, and her daughterly love for him, is at the heart of the story and is the motivation for much of what happens. And it's a powerful element of the myth as well. The loving relationship between a parent and a child, and the need to grow, to meet different kinds of love, to shift priorities, are fundamental steps towards adulthood for all human beings.
In our rendition of the tale, these elements are widely present, in many ways: Koslow gave involved fathers to both Catherine and Vincent, as they both are Beauty and the Beast, and they both need to learn to grow up, to reach out despite walls and prejudices, and to go beyond their fathers' dream for them. And there's more. Paracelsus/John Pater is another powerful and enigmatic parental figure in our show: in Latin, pater means "father," a telling play of mirrors. The tunnels are populated with many children, like a welcoming womb, and for many it’s a place of rebirth. And the relationships between Margaret and her father, between Father and Devin;, the dream of family and children for unusual lovers like Vincent and Catherine; baby Jacob and the change of perspective in Third Season...
So, in honor of Vincent's birthday, we initiate today the ambitious project to explore those many relationships, a project which we plan to develop in the future with several essays for each of these fascinating topics.
On this January 12th - of course! - we start with the relationship between Vincent and Father, which began on that fated day when Vincent was found. It's the beautiful story “of a child who became a son, and of a man who became a father.”
Welcome the Child
by Zara Wilder
You created a world, Below. You spoke the truth.
People followed you. You gave us everything.
– Vincent, "Remember Love"
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It was the twelfth of January, the coldest day of
– Father, "God Bless the Child"
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Echoes from the Past
History asks us to ponder beginnings. Destiny requires us to create new beginnings for future histories. Meanwhile, Story quietly weaves our lives into meaningful patterns. In our turn, we ask the stories we tell to one another to also tell us all who we are. This story is about a child who became a son, and a man who became a father. As with many of our most enduring legends and fairy tales, the story begins with a mysterious birth.
It was the twelfth of January. Let us place this coldest of New York City days in the year of 1955. Much could be debated about the validity of this timeline, but History is just as well-acquainted with variation as is Destiny, its twin. Both were operant on January 12, 1955, enabling the discovery of an extraordinary being.
This was a child like no other. We know no record of his parentage. No true answers are ever given to our questions about his origins, no definite explanations forthcoming. He was born. And he was discarded.
Imagine the cold. Imagine the insidious stench of trash and sooty grime. Can we feel the child's infant terror? His instinctive desperation? Where are the warming arms to hold him? Where the nourishment to relieve his hunger? Where the soft mouth to kiss his newborn face? Where the gentle voice to sing to him, to name him, and speak loving words of thanksgiving for his new life? Where in all the world has mercy gone?
The details of his rescue are sketchy. The history told by the man who became the child's father informs us that this unique baby was found behind St. Vincent's hospital by a woman named Anna Pater ("Ceremony of Innocence"). She lived beneath the city with a small group of people who were also seeking refuge in the forgotten spaces Below. She took the ailing child away from the garbage, the cold, and his abandonment. She brought him down to the Tunnels. The child gained a surrogate family.
However, this patchwork family of urban outcasts was no idyllic sanctuary. Division brewed among the early Tunnelfolk. Anna's husband, a devious visionary named John Pater, had grand ideas about how their embryonic society ought to function. Another man, a former research physician by the name of Jacob Wells, had other notions. John's designs seemed to bring out the worst in people. Jacob's ideas held out hope and love as the foundation for a secret underworld realm. Strife ensued. In the tumult, Anna decided to give her foundling baby to Jacob Wells, and paid for this exchange with her life, murdered by her husband for her betrayal of his cause. In the end, John was exiled from Jacob's group. It may be assumed that John's followers departed as well. The child remained in the care of Doctor Jacob Wells.
The fairy tale's internal history gives us these few facts about the characters. Then destiny shapes such a bleak beginning into an astonishing life of love and light beneath the city streets. The extraordinary child lies at the heart of our unfolding story.
At the beginning of the story, Jacob Wells is a bitter, angry man. In a paranoid era that preferred nationally self-righteous fabrications to empirical fact, Jacob was blacklisted for speaking the truth about atomic weaponry. He lost his profession, his marriage to a beloved wife, his home, his reputation, his friends, his employability—his future. Reduced to living alone, and in poverty on the streets, he lost his self-respect.
An early Tunneldweller led him Below, a woman who loved him in her way. Her name was Grace: "a good woman...not an educated woman, but with her own wisdom, and a kind heart" ("Promises of Someday"). Grace died bearing Jacob a son he could not find the courage to acknowledge as his own for over thirty years. He raised Devin simply as Grace's orphaned child, until Devin ran away from the Tunnels as a young adolescent in the 1960s.
In his first years Below, as Jacob slowly reconstructed himself and his life, he also took up the mantle of leadership in the underworld community. He became their doctor, their chief idealist, a father-figure to lost children, and a friend to those disenfranchised adults who sought refuge in the Tunnels. Jacob was stronger than he knew, but his wounds were very great. He was by no means a healed man when he first accepted responsibility for the incomparable baby brought down to him from the merciless cold of the city streets.
They called the baby "Vincent," after the hospital where he was found. At the beginning of the story, he is a child urgently in need of care. He is helpless, sick, starved, alone.
A child in this condition inspires pity and outrage—or ought to. And yet: Vincent also evoked fear and doubt. He is a miniature monster. His body is not like that of ordinary human babies. He is tiny, bestial, a complete mystery. Jacob and his community made a conscious choice to act out of compassion rather than fear. They accepted the child's differences. Out of compassion and acceptance grew love.
From the first, Vincent was a symbol of strange new possibilities for the people who lived Below. Baby Vincent was even the focus of the ideological tug-of-war between Jacob and John. However that battle finally played out (we are not given the details), it was Jacob who won the right to raise Vincent as his own.
The early community upheld that right. The people's ultimate inclusion of this child into their lives established their foundation throughout all the years to come for a world defined by love and nobility. They expressed hospitality toward the penultimate stranger. By welcoming this child, they opened the door to a new life of hope and freedom, which had been denied to each of them by the world Above. Loving Vincent gave them fresh momentum toward loving each other. So, having acquired this son, Jacob assumed the title of Father, a role he accepted within his community, and a service he eventually came to perform for the whole community. Perhaps the people's reasoning went thus: if this man can be a father to Vincent, he can be a father to us all. So it is that Jacob's leadership emerges from fatherhood. And the welcomed child receives a loving home.
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Healer-King and Enchanted Prince
It is now the late 1980s. Vincent has not only survived but flourished in his adoptive father's domain. Father has also changed for the better. The story presented in the episodes of Beauty and the Beast grants us a wealth of insight into the powerful relationship between father and son. The love they share touches the life of every other character in the story, and reaches out beyond the fairy tale into our own lives as well.
Both characters are now more than what they once were. In terms of the fairy tale, Father has become a true king of his underground realm. Specifically, Jacob Wells is a healer-king, a beneficent leader who is also gifted with healing powers and skills. He is an openly emotional man, quick to anger yet equally quick to laugh. The good king is protective of his people, those who live Below as well as those friends and Helpers who live Above, all of whom he considers family. He is experienced in coordinating his community, leading their collective efforts to do more than merely survive in difficult conditions. He directs and encourages everyone's efforts to celebrate their humanity, to reclaim lost hopes and dreams, and to actively love one another. He is a very accessible leader, remaining a father, teacher, and friend to all. He is also not the sole or even the primary authority in matters of leadership, functioning as a cooperative chairman to a Council of Tunnels citizens, who meet to make important decisions as a group. This is a very participatory kingdom. Father is a man who lives according to principles of forgiveness, trust, life-long learning, healing, faith, and acceptance.
Vincent too fills a role which transmutes the old fairy tale standard into twentieth century terms. He is, of course, the enchanted prince, the royal Beast who lives his life under special conditions unique to himself. He bridges cultural gaps and existential gulfs, being both Beast and Man, rich and poor, fierce warrior and gentle scholar. He is a prince who is also a knight. More than this, he is the crown prince, his father's son (as Narcissa points out in "When the Bluebird Sings"), the healer-king's chosen heir. He is a teacher of children and a protector of all vulnerable people. Like Father, he is a counselor and a healer. He is concerned with the security of the Tunnels, building secret doors, defending his people against intruders, managing the many thresholds between Above and Below. He is a member of the Council, his by no means the only point of view among his people, but as Father tells him of his voice, "It's the truest, and the strongest" ("Shades of Gray"). Vincent is innately just and deeply sympathetic to others. He is emotional—and authentically so. He is wise, an adult son who has learned love and leadership from his father. His life is characterized by wonder, caution, courage, nobility and gratitude.
Between these two characters exists a bond every bit as real and powerful as the connection that grows between Beast and Beauty. This is a bond of respect, trust, and love. Oh, how Father and Vincent love each other! It is the first thing we learn about them in the Pilot episode of the series. They live according to the laws of their community, and they also tend to interpret those laws in different ways at different times. Father fears the world Above, and only rarely in the series does he ever leave the Tunnels. Vincent, on the other hand, visits the Topside world regularly, taking great delight in the company of friends, or the scenery of the city. The separate perspectives of king and prince spark many arguments between them.
In fact, Vincent's and Father's first full scene together opens with an argument over the ethics of rescuing a wounded Beauty from peril in Central Park. But their first confrontational discussion also concludes with a loving gesture. By the end of their conversation, Father has accepted Vincent's medical rationale for bringing a stranger Below, even as he still does not completely agree with Vincent's choice to endanger the secrecy of their community, not to mention Vincent's personal safety. Regardless of Father's fears, he praises Vincent's desire to bring healing to a victim of violent crime. Father steps close to his tall adopted son and reaches up to caress that mane of hair. The affectionate contact implies everyday intimacy, bestowing warmth and love. Then the moment deepens. Father smiles, and he kisses the face of the Beast.
This is how the audience of our story first meets Father.
For this parent and this child, a lifetime of mutual influence upon each other has produced a healthy relationship between them. Furthermore, it has permitted each of them to mature into admirable heroes. Now that they are both adults, these two men live their lives as equals, and each immensely enjoys the other's presence in his life. They laugh and cry together. They read books, guide children, counsel community members. They argue without being cruel or violent. In arguing, they also listen. They change each other's minds, and they freely teach each other new lessons about life. They never threaten each other or dismiss the other's fears and concerns. They both feel completely safe in one another's company. They work and they play. They offer comfort to each other in times of sorrow. They protect each other and work together to protect their people. They lead their community and they heal the wounded ones. They hug, kiss, tease and jest, walk together arm in arm, talk about anything and everything over a chess board, or over tea. Their love is beautiful.
Each character's individual approach to that shared love tells us much about the nature of both. Father's way of loving is at its core protective, while Vincent's chief emphasis is on liberation. They enact two complementary responses to the circumstances of their lives Below. Father tends to object strongly to risk, while Vincent is more willing to evaluate risks with the intention of exercising freedom to the fullest possible extent. Father is a pessimist, Vincent an optimist. Father bears the weight of historical secrets, in the hope of preventing further suffering in the life of his son. Vincent easily shares most of his thoughts and feelings with his father, trusting that he will not be judged, that he will always be accepted and understood in the same way that he accepts and understands his beloved parent.
Father's acceptance is very important to Vincent. Throughout his life, the accepting guidance of his father has given Vincent the foundation he's needed to develop confidence in himself, and to establish his honest estimation of his own strengths and weaknesses. Father's love has given Vincent safety—that essential security once denied to Vincent when he was abandoned to the winter cold as a newborn child.
Within the safe places Father has established for him, Vincent has come to terms with his identity, his holistic nature and presence in the world. He understands himself as a Beast who is a Man, all sides of himself developing simultaneously in one person. As a complete person, he has learned to withstand the pressures of the larger world, a world that is unwilling to accord Vincent the right to even exist. And he does these things free from bitterness or shame. He derives pleasure from his talents, and takes pride in his work. He is empathic by nature, but Father's nurturing encouragement has also taught Vincent to value his own insights into the human heart. His insights strengthen Vincent's innate sense of justice, and continually expand his tremendous capacity for compassion.
These qualities in combination drive Vincent to explore as much of both worlds as he can access. As Vincent tells Catherine, "He took me. He raised me. He taught me everything" ("Once Upon a Time in the City of New York"). The son gratefully honors his father for all the things Father has done to ensure that Vincent may now embrace as much freedom as possible.
Father credits Vincent's loving gratitude for healing his own broken heart. During the brief period of time when he is reunited with his wife after decades of separation from her, Jacob tells Margaret, "All is forgiven. I let go of all that anger years ago. Oh yes, there was a time when I gorged myself on bitterness and self pity. But then I came to know someone who had every reason to curse fate, to feel punished, and yet he accepted all that life had to offer with gratitude and love" ("Song of Orpheus"). Vincent's love has given Father freedom—an irreducible liberty which was once revoked when societal authorities pronounced an innocent man guilty of intolerable honesty.
Vincent's childhood needs inspired Father to create a world where all people are free to "explore the best of our being, the best of what it means to be human, and to be alive" ("Labyrinths"). Vincent's freely bestowed love rehumanized Father. Within the new freedom Father discovered through his relationship with his adopted son, Jacob Wells began to live again. He found an appropriate outlet for his skills and was enabled to offer help and support to others who had also been cast aside by mainstream society. He regained the confidence to speak the truth. He learned how to laugh again, to feel joy. As leader, teacher, and healer, Father was himself guided, taught, and cured. He became strong, forgiving, inventive.
Because of their special father-son bond, when Vincent is drawn Above through his new relationship with Catherine, Father too is brought (albeit reluctantly) more and more frequently into the doings of the larger world beyond the Tunnels. Vincent persistently encourages Father to continue to heal, to mend broken relationships with Margaret and Devin, to find new love with an old friend, Jessica, and always to claim the freedoms beckoning to Father at each new stage of his growth in love and wisdom. Vincent's example emboldens Father to "leave our safe places and walk open-handed among our enemies" ("Masques"). This is a frightening course of action for a man who has been shattered by enemies in the past. Yet even Father's stubborn conservatism in this area eventually resolves into a courage to brave many dangers for the sake of personal fulfillment. In the end, he has learned from Vincent and Catherine that all worthy dreams truly are possible.
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Gifts of Love
Father's legacy to his son is a priceless gift. The example of Father's life, and his unconditional love for Vincent, provide inspirations to look beyond hardship and evil, with hope for present and future happiness. Vincent inherits a world where he may do great good, living simply, welcoming the forsaken, loving and being loved. He serves now as a spokesman for those who are rejected, those who are deemed worthless and useless, too strange and too Other to be accepted or loved. Vincent stands at the threshold into his peaceful world and greets strangers with the words, "There are no freaks here" ("Brothers"). He holds out the clawed yet gentle hand of inclusion to the excluded. He joins his father in sustaining "a refuge where the disillusioned regain their vision, the lost become found," and the discarded souls are gathered and treasured for being themselves ("Labyrinths").
The gifts presented to us by our story are transferable to our own real-world lives. We can be heirs of Father's legacy, participants in Vincent's inheritance. No matter where we've come from, or what trials we face, we can emulate our heroes. We can be or become loving mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, lovers, partners, and friends to one another. This hope allows us to continually emerge from our own history. By the light of this hope we follow our dreams into the myriad destinies that await us. This is how we claim the best definitions of ourselves, faithfully endeavoring to construct a good life and a better world. Our stories about this process testify to the perseverance and creativity of humankind. Our best stories tell us necessary truths about love. The tale of love between Vincent and Father in Beauty and the Beast offers a vast array of rich experience in this regard. We have only to accept the gifts...and to pass them on.
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