Pygmalion Plot

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Pygmalion and Galatea


Pygmalion, his offering given, prayed
Before the altar, half afraid, "Vouchsafe,
O Gods, if all things you can grant, my bride
Shall be"--he dared not say my ivory girl--

"The living likeness of my ivory girl."

A character has made someone—literally, such as by sculpting a statue, or figuratively, through giving lessons in speech, behavior, or etiquette—and has fallen in love with the creation.

Originally the Greek myth of the sculptor Pygmalion, and his statue brought to life by the gods. Ovid never gave the statue-girl a name, but the name Galatea was given in Apollodorus's Bibliotheca, which predates Ovid.

The most recognized version of this story nowadays is probably the musical My Fair Lady (which, incidentally, was based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion): Professor Henry Higgins teaches the poor, lower-class Eliza Doolittle to act and—especially—talk like an upper-class lady, on a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering. He succeeds, but Eliza, tired of being treated as an experiment, rebels against him and leaves. Higgins eventually realizes that he has "grown accustomed to her face," just in time for her to return. In the original play, Eliza ends up stranded between two worlds, fitting into neither; it was a Deconstruction of the concept of teaching "proper" behavior. Ironically enough, this makes the Trope Namer a subversion.

This is related to Wife Husbandry, but differs because it's not (as) intrinsically creepy. It's Older Than Feudalism, dating to Ovid at least, but most modern versions will probably claim to be more directly descended from My Fair Lady, commonly through references such as "by Jove, I think she's got it!" or "The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain." However, with the advent of modern Science Fiction, this trope seems to have come full circle (perhaps unintentionally).

Common twists include Pygmalion having his own lower-class past, Galatea not knowing of the bet with Colonel Pickering and reacting badly, and a Beautiful All Along addition to soften the Unfortunate Implications of classism or sexism.

See also In with the In Crowd, Pygmalion Snapback, and Teach Him Anger. If the situation is inverted (i.e. the new creation intentionally resembles a long-lost love), then the result is a Replacement Goldfish. Compare also Muse Abuse. Stories featuring The Svengali will usually have a warped version of this plot. The Pygmalion may be the Spear Counterpart to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in that they both are usually there to help the main character somehow transform their lives.

Examples of Pygmalion Plot include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Kannagi: Jin sculpts Kannagi out of a sacred tree, the goddess possesses the statue and thus the romantic comedy begins.
  • A.I. Love You - Pygmalion is a programmer, Galatea is his Ridiculously Human AI.
  • Imma Youjo, "Making The Woman Perfect".
  • The OVA My Dear Marie does it in reverse. Pygmalion (Hiroshi) creates Galatea (Marie) as a robot girlfriend, but ends up treating her as a sibling.
  • Subverted by Princess Jellyfish. Fashion-savvy cross dresser Kuranosuke easily makes the insecure jellyfish obsessive Tsukimi beautiful, but it is her shy, nerdy side he ends up falling for.
  • In Texhnolyze, Mad Scientist Doc gives cybertronic limbs to Ichise, the show's main Anti-Hero, to replace the ones he lost in a fight. She later admits to loving him because of how well he took to the technology.
  • A tragic inversion sets off the plot of Chobits. The Persocoms' inventor created two special Persocoms so they could be the children he and his wife could never have. He also gave them the ability to fall in love with someone. Sadly, one of them fell in love with him.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

Film[edit | hide]

  • My Fair Lady. For bonus points, it's the musical version of Pygmalion.
  • Deconstructing Harry provides a partial subversion with author Harry and aspiring writer Fay's romantic relationship; he considered her "a fan, then an admirer, then a pupil...", but in the end he truly fell in love with her as a person. The feeling wasn't mutual.
  • Pretty Woman: Pygmalion (Richard Gere) is a businessman; Galatea (Julia Roberts) is a Hooker with a Heart of Gold.
  • In the film Rhinestone, Sylvester Stallone plays the part of an irate cab driver that Jake (played by Dolly Parton) must transform into a country-western singer capable of wooing the crowd at an unfriendly bar. In the process, the two fall in love. Jake's transformation of Nick (Stallone) into a country-western performer is successful (sort of).
  • She's All That: Pygmalion is the school's top jock; Galatea is the ur-Hollywood Nerd.
  • Vertigo puts a dark twist on this. Scottie Ferguson forcibly molds a working middle class shopgirl into the image of an upper class dead woman with whom he is obsessed. Tragedy ensues, of course. "It can't matter to you" indeed.
  • The Opening of Misty Beethoven is a 70s pornographic film (back when they tried to at least have a pretense of plot) that gave this a dark edge, showing Misty having a near-nervous breakdown from the stress of trying to be the "Goddess of Love" that her Pygmalion is making her to be. Unlike most versions, it ends with the roles reversed with Misty becoming the controlling Master and Dr. Love her submissive toy.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The story Galatea Galante, by Alfred Bester. It gets very weird, to say the least.
  • The novel Galatea 2.2 features this plot with an engineer and a linguist as Pygmalion and an artificial intelligence network as Galatea (as the title implies, although the AI's actually named Helen).
  • In Lester Del Ray's short story Helen O'Loy, the titular robot first falls in love with one of her creators and, while initially against the idea, her love interest falls for her as well. It was only in their death that the narrator (the other creator) reveals to the reader his hidden love for Helen as well.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's The Paladin, Master Swordsman Shoka falls for his revenge-bound peasant girl student Taizu.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Galatea" is a Gender Flip.
  • In Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D, Roger thinks this at first, since the nymph was drawn as his ideal of an ideal woman.
  • Cherryl Taggart of Atlas Shrugged is Wrong Genre Savvy and thinks that her story is a Pygmalion Plot; after all, she does start out wishing to improve on her background growing up in a slum by marrying a great railroad executive and joining his superior clique. Problem is, she picked the wrong group to join: Every friend of her husband Jim Taggart is a huge phony, and Jim himself has a belief system that comes close to Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad—thus, Jim wants Cherryl to remain uncultured and resents all her efforts to improve herself.
  • The Great Lakeside High Experiment is all about this trope. It was filmed for TV as The Great Love Experiment. A plain girl was given a makeover and the most popular kids in school pretended to be her friends as a psychological experiment.
  • The Fall of the Sea People provides a completely literal example. The Mentor challenged Aclaí to create someone who was best at something, so he created Éirime. Then, when he fell victim to this trope, he hardly spoke to her again.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Warren's attempt to create a robotic girlfriend proved to be "too easy", and he ended up feeling nothing for her.
  • Cupid, "The Linguist": Pygmalion is a linguistics professor; Galatea is a talented chef with a Jersey accent.
  • Doctor Who. The idea behind Nubile Savage Leela becoming the Doctor's companion, though, needless to say, there was no romance involved.
  • So Weird did an episode about a painter who disappeared into the beautiful pastoral scene he'd created after falling for it. Though this is probably a near-miss, the Opening Monologue relates the story of Pygmalion.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Elaan of Troyius". Captain Kirk must teach the Dohlman of Elaas civilized manners before her wedding to the ruler of the planet Troyius. He ends up falling in love with her because he touches her tears—and the tears of Elaasian women are a potent love potion.
  • A similar episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "The Perfect Mate" has Captain Picard forced to train an alien in various ceremonial customs for her arranged marriage meant to end centuries of war between two planets. This woman is literally the "perfect mate" in that she is a powerful empath who, once she reaches full sexual maturity will become the perfect mate for her companion. Her intellect, interests, personality, etc are all shown to be highly variable at least until she permanently imprints on a mate (her flirtatious encounter with Worf is a possible Crowning Moment of Funny despite the Unfortunate Implications of a woman whose identity is entirely defined by her mate's desires). Of course, she ends up imprinted on Picard himself due to all the time they spend together, and he realizes that he is quite taken with her as well. The trope is subverted in the end though, because as HIS perfect mate, her sense of duty won't allow her to stay with him and she goes off to marry the obnoxious jerk (who personally admitted he preferred the thought of discussing trade deals for the finalized treaty tan meeting his betrothed) and end the war. Before departing, she assures Picard (in flowery prose to rival his own silver tongue) that while she will pretend to become whoever her new husband desires (so he will be satisfied with his prize), she will always be the woman she became with Picard and will always love him.
    • It's not so much that she "ended up" imprinted on Picard, she made sure of it because she liked herself while she was with him.
  • Star Trek: Voyager, "Someone to Watch Over Me": The Doctor gives Seven of Nine lessons in dating and ends up falling for her. Interestingly, the Doctor is a hologram (and therefore an artificial being himself).
  • Will and Grace had a rather offensive storyline in which Jack and Will make-over a Invisible to Gaydar named Barry into a Flamboyant Gay (which they consider a "proper gay"). Both of them fall for Barry and end up fighting over him afterwards. The arc is called, of course, "Fagmalion."
    • Jack also fell for Will in the distant past, when mentoring him out of the closet.
  • This was the basis for Nikki and Victor Newman's love story on The Young and The Restless, with her being a reformed stripper and him being a wealthy tycoon.
  • The entire plot of The Great Love Experiment, an ABC Afterschool Special, is this trope, for a girl named Maude.

Music[edit | hide]

  • Vocaloid Rin's song "KOKORO" and Len's counterpart "KISEKI" tell the story of a robot that was made to for this purpose. However, the two never technically meet face-to-face, as the robot only becomes conscious after centuries of isolation and disuse. Their love can just as easily be interpreted as platonic, and in some versions it's explicitly shown that the scientist based the robot off his late daughter. While it's sort of an odd, Zig Zagged example, "KOKORO KISEKI" definitely fits the archetype of a Pygmalion Plot.

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • The play (later adapted into a movie) Educating Rita: Pygmalion is a literary professor; Galatea is a hairdresser...and she eventually surpasses him.
  • All the stage and screen versions of My Fair Lady and Pygmalion, of course.
    • Including the X-rated Claiming of Misty Beethoven and the porno musical remake.
  • Neil LaBute's play and subsequent film The Shape of Things combines this with Muse Abuse.
  • Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is another variation on the theme.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • You can help an artist pull this off in Dark Cloud 2 by getting him special paints.
  • The visual novel Ever 17 contains one scene in which Takeshi tries to teach Robot Girl(ish) Sora how to behave like a real woman of her (apparent) age; it doesn't stick, and he concludes in the end that he likes her better as she is. The game also explicitly compares Takeshi and Sora's relationship to the Pygmalion story at one point.
  • This plot is pretty much the point of The Idolmaster, though the romance doesn't always happen...
  • Strongly hinted at between Professor Mei Ling Hua and her Robot Girl creation Mei Fang in the Arcana Heart series.
  • The Interactive Fiction game Galatea deconstructs the original Pygmalion myth. Here, the titular Galatea has been abandoned by her creator, who was mentally disturbed and didn't want (or expect) a real person to deal with. Her new "owners" decided to put her in an exhibition of Artificial Human art pieces, where the PC, an art critic, meets her. Of course, having come to life spontaneously (or so she says), Galatea is not like the rest of the pieces...

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • The SCP Foundation's Cassy - the unexpected outcome of an experimental interaction between several artefacts of power, she is something of a deconstruction in that her creators never explicitly wanted an sapient sketch and that her 2-D nature depresses her.
  • A Nintendo 3DS Nintendo Video entry called "The 3D Machine" has an Igor-like scientist's assistant discover that his master's new invention can bring drawings to life, so he attempts to use it to create a beautiful woman. However, said woman is not attracted to the hunchback, so he sets a drawing of King Kong on her, who then wrecks the nearby city.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In the animated movie Anastasia, two con-men style an orphan to pass for the Empress's long-lost granddaughter, and the younger, Dimitri, is smitten when he sees his creation succeed. Unbeknownst to all of them, she really is Anastasia. Though, of course, he loved her all along.
  • Parodied in Disney's |Hercules (the TV show) when a dateless Herc pulls the same trick, asking Aphrodite to bring her to life. Unfortunately, like with April he neglects to do much with her personality - she's clingy to say the (very) least - and chaos ensues.
  • The Simpsons had an episode parodying My Fair Lady, of course, in which Lisa plays the Pygmalion role and the Galatea is Groundskeeper Willie. It probably doesn't really need to be said that no romance occurs.
    • Also parodied in "The Regina Monologues":

"Oh, look at those urchins! Surely they could never be taught proper manners!"
"One gold sovereign says I can do just that."
"Oh! It's a bet, Lord Daftwager!"

  • Tiny Toon Adventures also did this to Dizzy.
  • In Superman: The Animated Series, the Toyman creates a perfect toy mate for himself named Darci (complete with creepy implications that she's basically a sex slave), who works as a runway model in her spare time. However, she rebels against him and runs away, and it doesn't end well.
  • Igor has the eponymous character falling in love with the female Frankenstein's Monster he creates.

General[edit | hide]