Ch-ch-ch-changes. Monsters are not always stationary, never-changing evil. They can be made, they can be unmade, and they can be remade. Sometimes their changes are just a shift in perspective on the part of the reader/viewer. Fascinating stuff!
For example, take a look at the Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In the prologue, he is a physically handsome man with a bratty, spoiled soul. He’s mean to an old lady, and in the best fairy-tale tradition, she turns him into a beast until he’s learned the error of his ways. I love that – the bully is punished, but he’s got a way to redeem himself, if only he can figure out why he was wrong and he can take steps to change things. This is his first transformation, which is a physical one.
So, he grumps around in his castle for a very long unspecified period of time, then Belle comes into his life, and slowly transforms his soul. He becomes a better man, and he falls in love (and not necessarily in that order). Belle accepts him for his kind actions, and doesn’t mind his rough exterior. (Although, it would be quite a lesson indeed if the Beast could have fallen for a dowdy little librarian and learned to become a better man. But, I suppose that would have been a different story.) Not only that, he becomes good enough of a man to win her love. This is his second transformation, and it is an inner transformation of mind and spirit. This is the task he was entrusted with, the lesson to be learned.
Finally, true love’s kiss transforms him from a beast into a beauty again. Initially, Belle is a bit suspicious about this handsome stranger, but his eyes prove that he’s really the Beast she fell in love with. Awwww! Happy ending, Disney wedding, hoorah, hooray! This third transformation is physical, and the reward for his completing his task. We can hope he learned his lesson, as well.
From the same movie, we see that Gaston is a handsome bully. Belle (and we, the viewers) soon see through his beautiful exterior into the evil selfishness beneath. No old woman forces him through a transformation, and he dies during his task/lesson.
Looking at another Disney movie, we can see another handsome monster in Frozen. Cracked.com had a good article on how Prince Hans manages to keep his monstrous identity a secret until near the end. Cracked argues that Prince Hans is a victim to the magic of certain other characters, and he’s not a monster of his own free will. If this is true, it’s an example of a bad mishandling of monster transformation. Transformation should be strenuous. If it’s physical, there should be effort and rips and pain. If it’s mental or spiritual, it should also be painful. It should also be hard-won goodness, or hard-lost evilness, as the case may be. No one should flip on the magic and say, “OK, you’re a bad guy now.” Or vice versa. That’s why I think the standard reading of the Disney film stands. Prince Hans was a monster inside, full of pure selfishness. He was defeated because he could not transform himself.
Elsa, on the other hand, never quite becomes a monster although she is viewed as one. When she stops refusing her power and learns to use it with control (instead of just suppressing it), she transforms from dangerous to powerful.
How about you? Do you have any favorite stories where the monster turns good, or the hero/heroine turns bad?