|by Arthur Rackham|
So far, I've described the tales of "Cupid and Psyche" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Together with "Beauty and the Beast," these stories make up what folklorists call Tale Type 425. It's essentially the story of the animal bridegroom. It's related to "Cinderella." The Grimms' version is called "The Singing Springing Lark." There's a good English version called "The Small-Toothed Dog," too.
|Sometimes the beast is a weird warthog thing. By Walter Crane|
|by Mercer Mayer|
|by Katy Bratun|
What does all this tell us about Superman? Well, that depends on what we want to see, to some extent. I see that Superman is really a story about marriage. Lois is always trying to marry him, or anyways she was until not too long ago. Sometimes they do get married, though in the comics version right now they're not.
|Action Comics 243, by Otto Binder and Wayne Boring|
|Superman 165 by Robert Bernstein and Curt Swan|
A lot of these folktales reflect the anxieties that women several centuries ago felt about marriage (and childbirth). They show us a time when women could be bought and sold, to men who might very well murder them, when bearing children was less a choice and more of a life-threatening obligation. They were stories about fearing men because men held all the power. Stories like "Bluebeard" told of the dangers (in that story, a woman is married off to a man who keeps a closet full of the bodies of his previous wives). But Superman stories have rarely reflected the Bluebeard story (except for All-Star Superman issue 2, which shows it to us through Lois Lane's paranoia, which we later learn was the result of exposure to some weird chemicals). The old stories are very much about women coming to terms with their marital situations. In "The Small-Toothed Dog," the girl has to learn manners. In the stories, she has to make up for doing the very things the beast tells her not to do (like looking into the wrong room, or seeing him for what he truly is, even when he is benevolent). There are consequences to Beauty's violation of the interdiction. In the same sense, Lois Lane is often mildly punished for her attempts to prove that Superman is Clark Kent and get him to marry her.
Gender politics and brutality has changed somewhat since the seventeenth century, but "Beauty and the Beast" is still about the same issue. Disney sort of made the story about accepting the animalistic aspects of the man. Consider the fact that on her first night in the castle, Belle does precisely what the beast tells her not to do, yet there is no real consequence for her behavior. He's the one who needs to learn the lesson, not her.
In Action Comics 243, the story is sort of about the same thing. Superman is turned into a beast, and at one point Lois even tries to turn him back by kissing him. But she assures him that she still loves him ("What do outward appearances mean?" she says at one point. "You're still the same wonderful man inside.") But he's awfully depressed about this transformation.
|From Action 243|
Reading through the Showcase Presents collections of Silver Age Superman stories is fun for spotting folktale motifs. It would be hard to find any of this sort of folktale style in the more recent stories, I think. I recall the first time Clark Kent meets Lois Lane in Birthright, for example; his reaction is quite simply "Wow." She's already worthy of him. But of course, everything is different in the comics now. And there's a new movie series to rewrite their relationship for us again.