Beauty and the Beast - Part I - Who is the Beauty and who the Beast?
It's probably no surprise that George R. R. Martin, who wrote for the TV show "Beauty and the Beast," really seems to like this fairy tale and has included two major Beauty and the Beast stories in A Song of Ice and Fire, those of Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister, and Sansa Stark and Sandor Clegane.
I've just read the chapter in A Clash of Kings where Catelyn visits Jaime in the dungeons of Riverrun (one of my favorite chapters in that novel and in the series, because it’s so packed full of interesting things and quotable lines. “What’s a brother’s life when honor’s at stake?” “So many vows, they make you swear and swear” “There are no men like me.”) and it’s very, very striking to me that GRRM puts all this Beauty and the Beast stuff for Brienne and Jaime into Catelyn’s head, assigning her the role that Beauty's father plays in the original fairytale, of introducing Beauty and the Beast to one another. Catelyn (and the readers) meet Brienne at Renly’s tournament at Bitterbridge; before Brienne ever speaks a line of dialogue, we (and Catelyn) are informed that this woman is mockingly called “Brienne the Beauty” (in the same way that a giant might be called “Tiny.”)
"That's Brienne of Tarth, daughter to Lord Welwyn the Evenstar."
"Daughter?" Catelyn was horrified
"Brienne the Beauty, they name her ... though not to her face, lest they be called upon to defend those words with their bodies.
Catelyn also notices Brienne’s eyes, foreshadowing Jaime’s noticing them. And this is imo, very, very deliberate, because of that unattributable but very popular quote about eyes being the windows to your soul.
Beauty, they called her ... mocking... Brienne's eyes were large and very blue, a young girl's eyes, trusting and guileless, but the rest ...
Catelyn, who sees elements of Sansa and Arya in Brienne, is wonderfully motherly and kind to this girl whose inability to fit into the norms of society is so manifest. She is with Brienne when Renly - the first man Brienne has loved - is murdered by the sorcery of a devotee of Rh’llor, and dissuades Brienne from fruitlessly seeking revenge against Stannis that will only lead to Brienne’s own death. Brienne, whose habit is to recklessly pledge her life and allegiance to anyone who’s kind to her, says her vows as Catelyn’s sworn sword, putting her on the tragic path to meet Catelyn’s horrifying revenant, Lady Stoneheart, who was raised from the dead by a devotee of Rh’llor, and, who in her quest for vengeance, makes Brienne swear a heartbreaking oath to kill the man she loves, in order to save the life of an innocent.
At Riverrun, Catelyn, who comforted Brienne in her grief for Renly, tells Brienne about Bran’s and Rickon’s supposed deaths - in fact, aside from the Riverrun Maester who gave Catelyn the message, Brienne is the only person in Riverrun who knows about Bran and Rickon at this point, just as Catelyn was the only witness besides Brienne to the shadow that killed Renly. Again, this is important. There are reasons why Catelyn, Brienne and Jaime form these alliances and connections and I really think Catelyn’s role in pushing Brienne and Jaime together cannot be understated. The dinner where Catelyn reveals this tragedy to Brienne is actually quite weird because Catelyn has this strange, dissociative conversation with Brienne, leaping from topic to topic, almost talking to herself. At one point, the reader is led to think that Catelyn will seek revenge on Jaime right then and there, since he is the only enemy who is within her power.
And then we get to the dungeon, and (sadly) the only scene Catelyn and Jaime share.
Jaime Lannister had been allowed no razor since the night he was taken in the Whispering Wood, and a shaggy beard covered his face, once so like the queen's. Glinting gold in the lamplight, the whiskers made him look like some great yellow beast, magnificent even in chains. His unwashed hair fell to his shoulders in ropes and tangles, the clothes were rotting on his body, his face was pale and wasted ... and even so, the power and the beauty of the man were apparent.
The language here is very deliberate - Jaime's house sigil is a lion, and Catelyn thinks of him here in leonine terms - golden whiskers/great yellow beat (significantly, in the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, the Beast is often portrayed with leonine features.) Catelyn, who is devastated by grief for her murdered children, who is desperate to save the ones who remain to her, who has decided to do something that she knows will estrange her from Robb and Edmure, still takes time out to notice Jaime Lannister’s physical presence. In the same paragraph, she calls him a beast and beautiful. (Jaime must be insanely charismatic and gorgeous, because he apparently hasn’t bathed or changed his clothes or had room to stretch his limbs out thanks to the chains in something like 3 months* but Catelyn, who has every reason in the world to absolutely loathe Jaime, still perceives him as possessing power and beauty and magnificence.)
There’s a whoooole lot more to this scene, of course, with Jaime’s talking about vows and how it’s impossible to reconcile them (which will be something that Brienne - and Jon, and Robb who’s off at the Crag marrying Jeyne Westering at the time this scene is taking place - all have to come to terms with) and since Brienne apparently is well aware of Jaime’s guilt regarding Bran and his relationship with Cersei, I have to believe she overhears the entire conversation, including the horrifying tale - that has apparently haunted Jaime all these years, even if he shrugs it off as “the Starks meant nothing to me - of how Brandon and Rickard Stark really died.
This amazing conversation ends with Catelyn calling to Brienne for her sword, the sword Brienne swore to Catelyn earlier, which foreshadows another sword that will be Brienne’s death warrant when Catelyn’s zombie self finds it in Brienne’s possession. (That sword, named Oathkeeper for Brienne by Jaime, only comes into Brienne’s possession because Catelyn sends Brienne on this journey with Jaime; and we learn later that Catelyn also made Jaime swear a whole bunch of oaths at Brienne’s sword point, oaths that he quite unexpectedly decides to keep because of what befalls him in Brienne’s company, i.e. losing his sword hand, and with it, his identity as only the Kingslayer.)
In any case, Catelyn, whose introduction to Brienne includes the mocking designation of Brienne as “the beauty”, Catelyn, who considers Jaime as both “beauty and (vile) beast,” is also the person who sets up this Beauty and the Beast storyline for Brienne and Jaime, and who puts them in each other’s paths. And later, as an inverse, almost, of living Catelyn, Lady Stoneheart somehow (we don’t quite know exactly how or why) reunites Brienne and Jaime after they both think they have parted ways for ever. It may all end in blood, but Catelyn keeps facilitating this narrative, which is why I jokingly call her a shipper.
In retrospect, it seems blindingly obvious that we are being served a big Beauty and the Beast storyline, and I think people who have read the books and contest that this is a love story maybe just need to go back and read a little more carefully. What makes this Beauty and the Beast so different and so compelling to me, far more so than the other versions even that Martin is telling, is that Brienne and Jaime aren’t just a gender-flipped version (though there is definitely part of that) - it’s that in the narrative, they are both, equally Beauty and Beast.
Brienne is mockingly called the Beauty, because physically, well, she’s kind of a Beast (Jaime thinks of her as a “cow” when they’re first traveling together, and there is pointed emphasis on her physical unattractiveness, her “unnatural” abilities for a woman. Her only beauty, it’s repeatedly emphasized, is a pair of gorgeous blue eyes. Which, again, see above: windows on the soul.) So she’s physically a beast (both in terms of attractiveness and in the way that we sometimes call someone who’s physically strong and has amazing stamina “a beast”) but morally a beauty. And like the Beast in the fairytale, Brienne also longs for love, to the point where if people are even vaguely not horrible to her, she pledges them her life and sword.
And Jaime - well, Catelyn thinks of him as a magnificent beast and as the most beautiful man she’s ever seen; Jon thinks he looks like a King; Bran thinks he looks like a knight out of stories; his physical attractiveness is emphasized over and over and over again, but at the same time, Jaime is a monster, the Kingslayer, the man who threw a seven-year-old child off a tower to his death, who flouts every rule of morality with his ongoing affair with Cersei.
Like the Beast in the fairy-tale, both Brienne and Jaime have built fortresses to protect themselves from the world. Jaime built a wall around his horror at Aerys’s actions and his disillusionment that the fabled knights of the Kingsguard, all paragons of honor, did nothing to interfere with those actions; Brienne built a wall of suspicion and mistrust around herself because of how everyone she has ever met has mocked and belittled her for her appearance and for her nonconformity. Brienne is there when the walls Jaime has built around himself crumble, when he loses the sword hand that did so much evil, and she is there when he tells her about the Kingslaying and why he did this thing for which he is universally reviled. Jaime recognizes that Brienne will be irrevocably hurt (”on the inside”) if she is raped because she doesn’t have those walls, and, in his first selfless action since he killed Aerys, Jaime acts to spare her that horror.
Also like the fairy tale Beast, both Brienne and Jaime are fundamentally lonely people: Brienne has no siblings and Catelyn seems like the first actual friend she’s ever had; Jaime has Tyrion and Cersei but one of the things about his sexual relationship with Cersei is that they must be secretive about it - which precludes any kind of really deep friendship with anyone else. Tyrion remembers Jaime being really good at leading men, and we do get a little mention of Addam Marbrand’s childhood friendship with Jaime, but neither of these are truly equal relationships. That’s in part because all of Jaime’s relationships other than that with Tyrion are colored both by Jaime’s Kingslayer rep and by the need to preserve the secrecy of his relationship with Cersei. (It must have been awkward being on the Kingsguard with Barristan silently (or not so silently) despising Jaime for years, eh?) Strikingly, Brienne is the only person Jaime confides in about why he slew Aerys (and because he’s out of the habit of confiding in anyone, he does later regret that moment of what he considers “weakness” later on.) He tells Brienne because he trusts her, because - for the first time in his adult life (Arthur Dayne died when Jaime was still a boy) - he has met someone who actually lives up to those ideals that he once shared, and who makes Jaime realize that it’s still possible to live morally in an immoral world. (And oh dear, the fallout of Brienne’s betrayal of Jaime to Stoneheart, if that is indeed what happens, will be immense, I think.)
And it’s this, this Beauty and Beastliness of BOTH parties, this equality in their perceptions of each other, where each of them has been the knight and each has been the damsel, and they change up and switch roles almost unconsciously, that makes THIS story so compelling to me. It’s wonderful, and wonderfully told, and it is also, as someone pointed out (I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly where I read this!) the ONLY “falling in love” story in these books where we get both parties’ points of view. We know what they think and feel about each other, and it’s beautiful - and also why I have to believe that Jaime hasn’t died offscreen at Stoneheart’s hands, or that Brienne will immediately kill him in chapter 3 of The Winds of Winter or whatever. There has just been way too much build-up of their beauty and beastliness and meaningfulness to each other’s storylines. Part II - where I talk about roses and falsehood - is here.
*Based on this timeline, Catelyn arrives at Bitterbridge on August 4, Renly dies on August 29, Catelyn arrives back at Riverrun on October 4, so about 6 weeks journey from Bitterbridge, and she frees Jaime on October 29. This means that the failed rescue attempt of Jaime had to take place sometime between July 14, when Tyrion dispatches Cleos back to RR with the fake Lannister soldiers, and Cat’s return on August 4..