The “Strength” tarot card inspired.
What I really love about this is the symbolism. The Strength card, in tarot, isn’t about physical strength, but the things that are strong enough to restrain it (in both self and others). The Rider-Waite card depicts a maiden closing the jaws of a lion. This all makes it look quite simple and easy.
In practice, as well as the story these characters go to, sometimes it isn’t so simple. Sometimes kindness and goodness are met with violence anyway. The Rider-Waite illustration works on that very subversion, of course–we expect the lion to be stronger than the maiden, to rip her to shreds, and the fact that that isn’t what happens is proof of some other power at play. But everything has a failure state, which isn’t to say that it had no power at all. Even strength of the physical kind can be met with setbacks and defeat.
It can be difficult to discuss nonviolent resistance, especially when met with violence. There is certainly a pressure to avoid violence at all costs, usually coming from those who really would rather you showed no resistance at all, or at least “resistance” they could safely ignore. But the kneejerk against that can end up disparaging those who do use nonviolent forms of strength, or implying that such forms of strength and resistance don’t exist at all, an unfortunate erasure. The point of acknowledging such strength isn’t to say that it’s morally superior, or that everyone should use these tactics, or that the fact that it works sometimes means no one should ever use violence in self-defense–but simply to talk about the many possible forms of strength. The physical strength, that of the lion, was never forgotten, nor does it have a moral value, but it can be bested with other means–that’s the point of the Rider Waite card. This tells a slightly different story–one where that alternate Strength did win, eventually, but not without a price. The maiden closes the lion’s jaws, but with her blood on its teeth.
I’ve been thinking a lot about interpretations of Beauty and the Beast (fairytale/all versions, but also the Disney version) and how there’s a bit of a modern feminist backlash, because the beauty “tames” and marries the beast. I think this is seen as a narrative where it’s the woman’s “job” to fix bad, boundary-violating, violent and threatening men. But I think people forget how controversial divorce was, only clawing its way into mainstream acceptance in the 1970s, and at times in the past, nigh unthinkable–and how marriage, if not always arranged, was at least not the romantic affair it is today, and how people might get hitched with lower expectations than True Love, and sometimes barely knowing each other. And in those, as well as in other, non-romantic situations, sometimes empathy, negotiation, deescalation, communication, and other nonviolent arts were not the best choice for moral reasons or even the individual’s preference, but the only tools she might have to defend herself. What modern feminists might see as “choosing” to stay with and put effort into a “beast,” may have at the time been a survival guide for girls stuck with beasts and no other options.
That isn’t actually what’s going on with the OCs–I just mention it because one of the reasons people tend to disparage meeting violence with kindness is that it’s seen as weak, or broken, or generally inadvisable. Sometimes it is the last effective weapon in a trapped person’s arsenal, and I do think it’s important not to disparage people who use what they have. The other possibility, of course, is people who use it when they don’t have to–when they’re capable of using violence but show restraint, or trying to help someone they could just as easily walk away from. This is a more modern view of Beauty and the Beast as romance–the beauty could easily leave the beast to his misery, but she sees something worthwhile in him. Whether that’s good taste or bad taste on her part depends on the viewer, but meeting danger with kindness as a choice has an almost holy power to it. I don’t mean this, again, to imply that it’s good to do it or that we’re all obligated to try it–if anything, I avoid it whenever possible, and advise my friends against it. The feeling of grace one gets from it has to do, in part, with what a bad idea it is. It’s a form of self-sacrifice, and sacrifice has a sort of religious power, cross-culturally. It’s the sort of thing you don’t wish on anyone you love, but when you see its power at work, it can fill you with a sense of awe. It’s the power of goodness to redeem, to bring peace. The maiden closes the lions jaws, eventually. If she pays a price and digs deeper within herself for that determination to meet pain with kindness, that isn’t weakness or failure, it’s another form of strength.
I should note, by the way, that these particular OCs aren’t actually in any kind of romantic relationship! I used the Beauty and the Beast parallels because it’s a well-known story of meeting beastliness with kindness and kindness winning. It can be good ship fodder for romances, and I do have tons of ships like that, but this is…not love and not even friendship, which I guess makes the mercy and compassion all the more unexpected and Good?
Anyway yeah <3 when I saw this art I was like ohhhhh that hits hard. I definitely have a weak spot for self-sacrificial characters who are Too Good for Their Own Good, like the kind of person you’d smack upside the head and teach Selfishness 101 to if they were real.