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Passing through Adventure Town, The Hero hears from the Quest Giver that there's a hideous she-monster bedeviling the town. A creature so ugly she can stun those looking at her and make them wish they'd brought their brown pants, she's so repulsive. The worst part is that her monstrous mien is like a car-wreck, you can't look away. This may be compounded by her hypnotic gaze...which can be triply bad if it can also turn onlookers into stone.
Except, once the hero actually sees her... she's actually rather pretty. Sure, she has snakes for hair, glowing red eyes, fanged teeth, bat wings, and scaled skin... but her face is perfectly symmetrical, even classically beautiful. The snake-hair is actually rather playful, and her scales are colored not like a deadly coral snake, but opaline. The ones on her face may even be pigmented to imitate tasteful makeup. Her body is probably nicely curvaceous, too.
The hero has just met the Gorgeous Gorgon. Her beauty can be due to one of four causes. The most common is that she merely has an Informed Flaw in the form of her ugliness, much like older actors are treated as if they were teens due to Dawson Casting. Everyone reacts like she's ugly and says so, but the viewer doesn't really see why. Or that touch of human appearance causes the whole thing to slip from just being a monster headlong into Uncanny Valley Girl territory due to the dichotomy. Alternately, she may be using some form of Voluntary Shape Shifting or magical glamour to appear more beautiful than she naturally is in order to confuse the hero. The more subtle interpretation is that the townsfolk have Flanderized her ugliness because she's, well, a monster. This may be explained by her inhuman features and the fact that, if we were to meet a person with a snake tail or four arms in real life (for example), we would be scared too, or at least greatly surprised and startled.
If the latter, this usually presents one of two alternatives.
One, the ugliness is played up by the superstitious townsfolk, who are so scared of her appearance (orunintentionaldangerousness) that none of them bothered to notice she's actually a Reluctant Monster and very lonely. This Gorgeous Gorgon will likely prove friendly and even pull a Heel-Face Turn if "evil" when shown some compassion.
Two, the "beauty" is merely skin deep and exotic. This creature is much like Daddy's Little Villain, she is evil through and through and hides it behind an angelic (scaled) face to confuse victims. She most likely wants to proposition the hero before mating, killing, and then eating him. (And if he's very lucky, it'll bein that order). This Gorgeous Gorgon is perfectly fine to kill.
These two alternatives can be seen as playing with Beauty Equals Goodness. In the first, the slightly hidden physical beauty is a sign of the internal goodness, in the latter, it represents the danger inherent in Evil Is Sexy.
Another less-often but still used trope is that the Gorgeous Gorgon pissed somebody offby being so good looking, and was subsequently transformed into a monster. The transformation, though, wasn't quite enough to make her ugly.
The title of this trope itself, by the way, has solid foundations in later interpretations of Greek Myth where the Gorgons became Progressively Prettier, at least in literature if not art. In the oldest versions of the Gorgon legends, they were said to be hideous-looking, hence Medusa's classic snake hair and scaled face. Older depictions show them with bulging eyes and fangs, with evil grimaces. But as centuries passed, many tellings had the Gorgons as mortal women more lovely than Aphrodite, causing that goddess to curse them such that any who saw their loveliness would be turned to stone. Others went so far as to say the Gorgons were so beautiful, their faces could stop men's hearts. Another version is that Medusa was originally a beautiful temple maiden, and Poseidon was so captivated by her beauty he raped her in Athena's temple. Athena, disgusted that the maiden would allow it, turned her into a Gorgon as punishment. It's worth repeating that, despite Gorgon being in the trope name, other types of monsters and genders can have this apply.
Note that practically all "classical" art portraits Medusa (after her change) as horrific butt ugly (see e.g. Caravaggios take) and the whole Cute Monster Girl and Not Evil, Just Misunderstood thingie is a strictly modern interpretation.
Related to Cute Monster Girl and Hollywood Homely. Compare Beauty to Beast, Bishonen Line, Freakiness Shame, and You Sexy Beast. For the trope about Gorgons, see Medusa.
Lucy and the other diclonius from Elfen Lied are frequently reinforced as non-human, horned killing machines that are dire threats to everyone around them and the doom of mankind...and they're pink haired Woobies with cute little horns. Yes, they may also be horned psychopaths with a genocidal instinct against mankind and able to project kinetic arms capable of ripping apart armoured soldiers as if they were made of paper...and Lucy does this lots oftimes, but then there's her other personality, Nyu, who is harmless, innocent, and kind.
Averted somewhat with Boa Hancock in One Piece. She fits everything above and is, in fact, known as one of three "Gorgon Sisters", except she's famous for her beauty, and she uses it to pull off a Jerkass Fašade.
Subverted with her sisters who are more Gonk than ugly, and have a second serpentine form.
One of the omakes for the series had the Straw Hats as monsters, and Robin ended up being the gorgon who was looking to make friends.
'Inner Moka' from Rosario + Vampire is supposedly a terrifying 'super-vampire', a monster that even other monsters fear. She looks like this◊.
An actual gorgon also appears in the series. And later, a lamia appears...and she's one of the most beautiful monsters of all...well, from the waist up, anyway.
The character Medusa in Soul Eater is actually called The Lady of Gorgon. Not only does she fit the trope name, but she is also quite beautiful, in that creepy, wicked sort of way. While she does not have snakes for hair, she does control and manipulate vectors in the forms of snakes and arrows. At one point in the series, she possesses the body of an extremely cute little girl, further enforcing this trope as a monster in the body of an innocent, adorable child.
Her sister, Arachne, also fits the trope. She's beautiful and large-breasted with a spider web in her eye.
Her other sister's unusual textured hair and irises bring her closer to the monstrous look, but is still quite attractive.
In Masamune Shirow's commentary for a picture of a Nubile Savage with dreadlocks in his artbook Intron Depot 2: Blades, he suggests that the legend of the Gorgons may have been inspired by this type of hairstyle.
In the second season of Bakemonogatari Nadeko becomes a medusa snake godess.
Played literally in The Incredible Hercules, in which Delphyne is a Gorgon born and bred, with snakes for hair and scaly skin, and also the love interest of Hercules' sidekick. As it turns out, not all Gorgons have the petrifying gaze.
Valentina, the most iconic villain in Filipino comic book history.
In Superman comics, at least before the Crisis, the facet-skinned Bizarros were odd-looking, but never as ugly as everyone seemed to react to them as being. The Bizarro Loises, in particular, were usually drawn with attractive figures and really nice legs (they were all imperfect copies of Lois, after all).
In X-Men, Nightcrawler is supposed to be demonic looking enough that the vast majority of people think of him as a literal demon upon seeing him. Though the personality is enough to change people's opinions of him, it doesn't change the fact that he's sometimes drawn as a rather attractive blue elf, Depending on the Artist. Other times he has skin (or fur) so dark it's almost black, glowing yellow eyes, and a pointed tail. Throw in the smell of brimstone that's a side effect of his powers, and his features may be symmetrical and healthy in terms of attractiveness, but he's living in a setting in which All the Other Reindeer has been enacted into law at various times.
Solaron, protagonist in the Dungeons & Dragons story Tale of Solaron, is a rare male example of this trope. Given that he is able to seduce most any lady he talks to he seems quite attractive by human standards.
The gorgons who appear in Shadowchasers are rather attractive if you can get past the snake-hair. (Because interaction with humans is impossible in this reality, a gorgon can use simple dark sunglasses to render her gaze harmless.)
The 2007 animated film adaptation of Beowulf changes Grendel's mother from an ogrish sea-monster to a shapeshifter who appears as a beautiful woman based on her voice actress, Angelina Jolie.
It's implied that her true form is vaguely draconian, however - hints to golden scales, claws, and a tail are seen in the background, and even in human form, she still has wicked talons in her feet that amusingly double as natural high heels.
Her true form is actually more serpentine than draconic, and can be viewed here. Warning, spoilers so spoily that they aren't even spoiled in the movie.
Her real face is also seen reflected in a shield at the end of her first scene talking with Grendel.
She got the same treatment in the 1999 adaptation (which was only very loosely based on the original poem) where she was played by model Layla Roberts. Again, she could appear beautiful (in which case she resembled Roberts) but her true form was a large, black, serpent-like monster.
The remake still has her as a scaly, serpent-tailed thing, but her face is very good looking due to being played by Russian model Natalia Vodianova (pictured above). However, when she goes to turn men to stone, her entire face changes into something a lot less attractive◊.
Mike from Monsters, Inc. was in a relationship with Celia, a gorgon with very playful snakehair.
The gorgon from the Hammer Horror film The Gorgon is not played by the most attractive actress in the world and has some rather pale and heavy scale makeup, but she's not exactly hideous. And that's only when she's in her gorgon form. The actress who plays her human form has the sort of looks you'd expect from the lead actress in a movie.
The main character of the Spanish novel La Dama Del Alba (The Lady Of The Dawn) was Death herself, but she looked like a reasonably attractive woman and actually envied mortals because they could love - everything she touched died.
The Gorgon in the Xanth series is pretty and the Reluctant Monster version. The petrification was the result of her magical talent, which she couldn't turn off. She eventually married Magician Humphrey, who gave her a magic veil that rendered her face invisible. She found at least one practical use for her talent — glaring at pans of milk to make 'gorgon-zola cheese', which was noted by Dolph to be a little crumbly.
The Shambleau in the classic Northwest Smith story of the same name by C L Moore. She is both terrifying and hugely desirable to the protagonist...
Max Fraj's Chronicles of Yeho features the protagonist's encounter with an incomplete Reluctant Monster example - a girl who encounters an unknown wizard in her dreams, who casts some sort of spell on her eyes. The girl awakens with an always-on petrifying gaze and barely manages to lock herself in a cellar while keeping her eyes firmly closed. The protagonist's ability to summon random items lucks out - he had previously summoned sunglasses.
In The Laundry Series, "gorgonism" strikes humans randomly, from old South Asian grandmothers to young attractive middle-class girls (presumably, males also). When a gorgon looks upon a target, her gaze turns some of the target's carbon atoms into silicon, resulting in instant flaming death. Gazing upon a gorgon whose eyes are closed or covered, on the other hand, has no effect.
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, it is revealed that Disc gorgons have a body-odour problem, because deodorising your armpits is impossible when your armpit hair keeps biting the can thus rendering it useless. Apparently the goddess didn't stop at head hair. (Our Gorgons Are Different? Or the thing with armpits having hair too has been bowdlerised from Earth myth?)
A Gorgon joins the City Watch. Unfortunately her sunglasses slip and several innocent people are petrified, needing Wizard intervention to turn them back.
Not a Gorgon, Divine Blood's Eija Semezou is a gothically beautiful Japanese-Greek girl with dark hair, pale skin and red eyes. She also just about terrifies most of the people that come near her. For further fun, its noted that the aura is pretty much useless against some of the more dangerous people while making normally harmless people dangerous. It's suggested she might grow out of it when she gets more control of her powers, but pointed out that she already has more control than most adults. She has a bit of a phobia when dealing with crowds, but it's hard to tell if the phobia resulted from the aura, in which case it's rather reasonable, or the aura resulted from the phobia.
In a Tales from the Darkside episode entitled "Miss May Dusa", an attractive and relatively normal looking gorgon awakens after having spent several centuries as a mannequin. She meets up with a blind musician in a subway and shares her sad story, only to catch her own reflection and end up back where she started.
The Medusans in the original Star Trek series need to stay hidden in a box, or else you'll be driven insane just by looking at them. They're actually quite friendly, and it's not their fault they make you go crazy when you look at them.
Natira, Scorpius's mistress on Farscape. She's even referred to as "Medusa" by Crichton.
Special Unit 2 had medusae Links, two extremely attractive sisters who would pick up guys in a bar, take them to their place, and turn them into stone. Going undercover, O'Malley has to decide which of the two pairs of girls were the Links and which simply wanted a threesome with him. He guesses right: whichever pair is going to go to any lengths to get him. The other girls were a little new at this.
An episode of Blood Ties involves a Medusa who was a very beautiful woman. The characters specifically mention that she was so beautiful that a god raped her on the steps of Athena's temple. Athena got pissed off and turned her into a monster. (Actually, this was how it happened in actual mythology, at least in one version; the god in question was Poseidon.) Hence Medusa's hate for anyone who thinks she's beautiful. She actually liked Mike because he seemed to genuinly care about her rather than her looks. She would seduce male models (usually younger than her), be their sugar mama, and then turn them into stone out of spite. When Vicki finds the statue of her latest victim, she takes it back to her office, only for the medusa's Mook to break in and destroy it. Apparently, not even vampires are immune to her stone gaze. After Vicki takes her head with a sword, all victims (except for the crushed one) are fine.
Although she would be more a a Cute Gorgon due to her age Chyna in the Alternate Universe version of ANTFarm qualifies as this.
An episode of Land of the Lost had a Medusa that could turn into an attractive woman.
In Menotti's Unicorn, Gorgon, and Manticore, when the secluded mad scientist lies to the townspeople and tells them that he's killed his Gorgon, the townspeople wail over "The gorgeous, gorgeous Gorgon, the pride of his age!" (These are the same townspeople who previously believed the Gorgon was the ugliest creature they'd ever seen.)
Of course, whether a Medusa is truly beautiful or not in this game is Depending on the Artist (and the current edition of the game). Some pictures of them depict them as beautiful, shapely women (other than the snakes for hair); others, however, make them reptilian creatures with scaly skin and faces that can even be demonic-looking.
On the other hand, Nymphs use their beauty as a weapon...it's the last thing any trespasser looking at them sees.
Well, usually, nymphs are A) highly charismatic (low to mid 20s) and B) naked. Some editions say that looking at a clothed nymph will blind you, but looking at a nude one will kill you. So, you know, it's a case of Go Out with a Smile.
Mariliths are this, Depending on the Artist. Sometimes, their upper bodies are beautiful women, sometimes, they're fairly ugly snake people all the way through. Since demons are made of concentrated evil and chaos, it's implied that both forms are perfectly normal.
Mariliths, being demons, can shapechange pretty much at will, so they look pretty much how they want to. Except those enslaved to a more powerful demon, who look pretty much how their master wants them to look.
In the Ravenloft setting, there is Althea, the darklord of Demise, a medusa. A journal entry written by a sailor named Johan Wehner (the only known human to see her and survive) describes her as a seductress who seeks a lover. The journal details how he and his crewmates entered the labyrinth that made up her home, only for her to hunt down and petrify them one by one, until only Wehner was left. Unable to escape, Wehner tried to prepare himself, partially binding his eyes to give himself only limited vision; but she didn't attack, instead softly called to him as she approached, offering her arms. Wehner's text described what he saw of her (from the waist-down) as "perfection greater than that of any woman he had ever seen", and he nearly submitted, but came to his senses and fought back when he heard the hiss of snakes. (He was blinded in the fight and managed to escape, which is where the journal ends; most believe he eventually perished at her hands, but he still lives, suggested by the source as an NPC hook for any adventure set in Demise).
In Scion, Medusae (the result of Gorgons feeding normal humans their blood) can make themselves look pretty very easily. Unfortunately, for the big tricks to work, they gotta get ugly. The Gorgons themselves have a much harder time fitting in.
The Monster High doll Deuce Gorgon is a rare male example, who only has scales and snakes on his head, which he fashions into a mohawk. Otherwise, he is your typical handsome teen. To be fair, "attractive monster people" is pretty much the whole theme of the franchise.
Boss Fight Studios' planned Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S.' Medusa and Gorgon armies largely invert this trope, but a Medusa variant portrays her◊ as a Green-Skinned Space Babe with snakes for hair.
Medusa is a recurring boss in the Castlevania series, but her appearances are almost uniformly aversions of this trope. Her first few appearances are as a floating, disembodied head, while the other ones are similar to her classical ugly design. About the only one where she is conventionally attractive is the appearance from Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, which, while still a giant, disembodied head, is still conventionally pretty.
If you want a hot Medusa from a Castlevania-related source, look no further than Sexy Parodius.
Played straight and then averted in God of War series.
The first Gorgon you meet in the first game, Medusa herself, is fairly attractive (and topless, to boot), but the other Gorgons you meet are not as much ugly as faceless. And then there's II's Euryale...*shudder*
God of War III gorgons even more so. Thanks to stunning graphics and Jiggle Physics the many gorgons you fight have a slick scaly body and a pretty gorgeous face to match it.
The Locust Queen in Gears of War 2. It's implied, though, that few humans have ever met the queen and she certainly is not reluctant to be a monster.
So much so that the Gears begin to wonder why she looks so different compared to the other Locust. Word of God says she's actually human.
World of Warcraft's Naga Queen Lady Vashj seems to be widely regarded as Fetish Fuel. She is a six-armed mutant elf who not only has snake hair, but also has a snake tail instead of legs).
This is reportedly what happened to Queen Azshara as well. It is specifically noted that she still retains her otherworldly beauty in stark contrast to her monstrous form.
Infested Kerrigan from Starcraft has a little something too, especially on the cover and title screen.
Marilith from the original Final Fantasy I could be seen as this. While she doesn't have the turn-her-enemies-to-stone ability, she's still the deadly powerful demon of fire, and could easily be seen as quite attractive.
Final Fantasy IV's bestiary includes a mildly disturbing amount of monsters who are either entirely beautiful women or part beautiful women-part snake, or part spider, or part bat, or...you get the picture.
The Lamia Queen from Final Fantasy II plays type two straightest, being beautiful and seductive and tricksy and perfectly willing to try the mate/kill/eat thing on Firion.
The legendary demon of pure destruction, Razgriz, of Ace Combat 5 fame, is always referred as "it" in the game, but the few still images of "it" suggest that "it" is actually a woman (and a redhead,to boot). Fanart creators universally think "it" is, in any case.
The Medusae in the PS1 game Deathtrap Dungeon manage to both play this trope straight and subvert it - their faces are pretty monstrous, but their figures, on the other hand...
Medusa from Castle Crashers fits this trope. Even though she's trying to kill you, she's still fairly nice looking for someone who's half snake.
Cassiopeia in League of Legends is a gorgeous Naga, but her backstory claims she was a beautiful woman who turned into a monster when she double-crossed one of the men she seduced for information. She even says "You called me beautiful once", but aside from being a naga, she's still beautiful.
Played with interestingly for the Beauty and Beast Corps from Metal Gear Solid 4. While they are perfectly normal women (if Ax-Crazy) under their Powered Armor, the armor invokes this by making them look like cybernetic monsters. Defeating them in their armored form causes it to fall off, revealing that they're quite fetching under the mask. They actually embody both sides of the trope-their armor shows the duality of a vicious, inhuman soldier contrasted with the terrified, broken victim wearing it, while their real forms contrast a beautiful, serene exterior with an inner core damaged beyond the ability of anyone to repair.
In the Official Fan Remake of King's Quest III they completely overhauled the Medusa scenario (Originally all you do is hold out a mirror while your back is turned) in this version, they give her a complete backstory, and the fact that Alexander has to unfreeze her heart by proving that there are still pure men in the world. If you manage to remind her of the beauty in men, she gains the appearance of a beautiful woman, albeit still with green skin and snake hair (Before her curse is lifted completely and becomes a pretty blond woman).
Fate/stay night made Medusa into a lithe, pale skinned beauty whose 'snakes' were just ankle-length hair that got blown around a lot during battle, and the whole 'turn to stone' thing was easily mitigated by an enchanted visor or sexy nerd glasses. Oh, and she's really attractive too. Who is she? Rider.
Justified in that this is supposed be Medusa before she was transformed into a monstrous creature. As well as the fact that Word of God says that history is Written by the Winners, so what is recorded in legend is not necessarily what actually happened in-universe. In fact, this may even be an example of Shown Their Work, as most myths actually present Medusa as having once been very beautiful, either being turned into a monster because of Athena's jealousy, or because Poseidon had sex with her (or raped her, the myths vary) in Athena's temple. Rider can still become the famous ugly monster version for a power boost. She just chooses not to because she loses control of herself in the process.
Aurielle Goldenscale from Monsterful; she's a sexy, blond (her snakes have yellow scales) gorgon teacher, and even though she's really gorgeous, she's also a big, mean teacher. She will petrify any student that doesn't follow her rules either partially or entirely and is feared by most of the students of Addams High for this.
One briefly shows up as a patient in The Dragon Doctors. Her name is Yuri (a shortening of Euryale) and she has a boyfriend named "Percy" (a shortening of "Perseus"). She's visiting the doctors to have herself turned into a non-Gorgon so she doesn't worry about turning him to stone.
In Sluggy Freelance, form 2 Aylee and the current incarnation aren't ugly to the eyes...well, except for the lack of a nose and pupils, but a little paint and prosthetics let her pass for human.
Justified, since it was a subconscious choice. At a certain point, Aylee's transformations were in response to threats she couldn't deal with, so she evolved appropriate defenses (emp blasts to deal with nanites, spirit-binding seals to avert natural death, a mind-protecting helmet to stop telepathy, etc). In the last case, she feared not being accepted by humanity, so she evolved a form that would have greater chances of being accepted. Well, by half the population, at least...
Mona from Pilli Adventure is a gorgon. She doesn't think of herself as "gorgeous", though, mostly due to Monsters having different standards of beauty.
The Sphinx featured in many Subnormality comics is actually quite pretty.
Except being 15' tall and frequently eating people. She's cute in some appearances, though, especially the comic where she was complaining to Blockbuster that her monster claws could handle VHS tapes, but not thin DVDs.
The Gorgon and Elan from A Magical Roommate. They actually both look pretty normal, excepting the snakes.
Wapsi Square has a few characters who qualify. First of all, there's Phix, who has a bit of a Hot Librarian thing going, despite being a sphinx. On top of that, an actual gorgon (mildly NSFW, even though nothing is showing) seen at the library fits this trope quite well.
The titular medusa from Modest Medusa is at least cute rather than hideous.
Medusa from the animated Hercules series. Here, she's a good-natured green-skinned girl who just wants "a friend that isn't a total rock-head". Aphrodite helps her out with a pair of magical heart-shaped sunglasses that keep her stone gaze at bay.
A gorgon appears briefly in Justice League. Except for the green skin and snake hair, she is fairly average looking and, oddly, has a New York/Jersey accent.
American Dragon Jake Long has Medusa and the gorgons as a group of attractive, Alpha Bitchy cheerleader types that fuss over split ends — split ends, in this case, meaning two-headed snakes.
Medusa appeared in an episode of Animaniacs; she wasn't exactly beautiful, but she appeared to be a satire of Joan Rivers and more-or-less harmless. (Maybe... There was a statue nearby the place where she was talking to someone, likely the remains of a victim.)
Gravedale High also had an attractive gorgon cheerleader, named "'Dusa".
In Disney's Aladdin: The Series, Jasmine got turned into a "hideous snake person" by Mirage. Truth be told, there wasn't all that much that's hideous about her, but the poisoned spines were something of a turn-off... to everyone except Aladdin, who willingly dosed himself with the same potion to be with her.