Thoughts from Dr. Joe: The sublime 'Beauty' of fairy tales

Did you miss “Thoughts from Dr. Joe” when I took a vacation last week? Don’t answer that.

I was in San Diego visiting some Marine buddies. Although it was nice to see everyone, I’m not much for sitting around talking war stories with a bunch of old guys. Thank God I had an exit strategy. I had promised my daughter Sabine that we’d see the movie “Beauty and the Beast.”

The boys had a difficult time wrapping their heads around why I’d want to leave Johnnie Walker Blue for a fairy tale. Some things are too complicated to explain. Nevertheless, we raised our glasses, “Here’s to us and those like us — damn few left.”

I have a penchant for fairy tales. They’re the earliest road map helping us navigate mystery, love, fear, courage, hope, transformation, etc. They have been around for thousands of years. Versions of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Rumpelstiltskin” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” existed before many modern European languages and would have originally been told in a now extinct ancestral language from which those tongues evolved. Having been in existence for more than 4,000 years, some tales predate the Bible and Greek and Roman mythology, and may have actually influenced the Bible and other religious texts.

For most of human history, literature, both fiction and poetry, have been narrated, not written; heard, not read. So fairy tales, folk tales, stories from the oral tradition, are the most vital connection we have with the imaginations of the ordinary men and women whose labor created our world.

I recall the first movie I saw, “Peter Pan.” It was 1953. The genius of Walt Disney took my generation on its first magic carpet ride through fantasy. Dr. Seuss said, “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.”

My favorite fairy tale is the last one I’ve either read or seen. “Beauty and the Beast” speaks to all the elements that make life real and make it worth living.

It is a traditional fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle Suzanne Barbot and published in 1740. Barbot’s tale is similar to Cupid and Psyche, one of the first love stories written in the second century AD. Throughout oral and written history, we have taken refuge in fantasy to explain the miracle of life as if to explain our inability to be as wise, courageous or good.

What a beautiful story. It has sublime messages that our imaginations can envision. It speaks to what we all hope for: transformation. I’ll tell you a secret about stories. Stories do not begin with perfection. If the prince or princess had everything from the beginning, there wouldn’t be a story. The message of “Beauty and the Beast” tells us that through our imperfections we can become the main character in our story.

Fairy tales focus on survivors. Rarely do we learn about what happens to those characters who fail. How many brave knights fell to the dragon before the noble prince slew him? How many maidens were eaten before the wicked witch received her due? These stories are lost, but the lesson behind them is not — we have to hope.

I’ve been sitting at Starbucks for three hours attempting to intellectualize the sublime beauty of “Beauty and the Beast.” I don’t have the poetry of imagination or the eloquence of diction to intellectualize its magic. Instead, let me leave you with a few lines from the title song:

“Tale as old as time

True as it can be

Barely even friends

Then somebody bends


Just a little change

Small to say the least

Both a little scared

Neither one prepared

Beauty and the beast”


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

Copyright © 2017, La Cañada Valley Sun

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