One of my favorite fairy tales is “Beauty and the Beast.” If you read the original by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont, it has as many weirdnesses as any other fairy tale. But it also has a heroine with more spirit than most (and who likes to read!) and a romance with at least the potential for more depth.
The story is pretty consistent, about a girl who goes to live with a Beast to save her father’s life. She sees past the Beast’s forbidding exterior to fall in love with him, breaking the spell and turning him into a handsome prince. And usually there are roses in it somewhere! In the original, the Beast is kind of scary and manipulative, not to mention far too attached to his flowers. But the retellings are some of my very favorite stories…
Beauty by Robin McKinley was probably one of the first fairy tale retellings I ever read. It’s a beautiful book that’s as much about Beauty, her family and her own growth as it is about her romance with the Beast–which is still quite sweet. The non-magical world feels very real, and even the enchanted castle, while appropriately magical, has a somewhat homey feel. It’s a cosy book, sweet and lightly humorous.
McKinley returned to the story for Rose Daughter, another (unrelated) retelling. This version is gorgeously written, and far more surreal. If Beauty is all pastels and greens and browns, Rose Daughter is all vivid scarlets and purples and strange shadows. The Beast’s castle is truly another world, where rules of magic supercede little things like the rules of physics. I didn’t like the romance quite so well and there was a lot about roses, but it’s still an absolutely lovely book.
I’m not as fond of La Belle et La Bête, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 movie version. It has a very surreal feeling too, but to some extent that kept me at a distance from the story. The characters felt too much like archetypes and some parts were unexplained–and I don’t think it was a problem of the French dialogue. The sets and effects are wonderful and it’s a landmark in fairy tale films, but it’s more interesting as an academic view than as simple entertainment.
I do love the much lighter Disney Beauty and the Beast. It has gorgeous scenery, excellent songs, and wonderful characters. Belle, the Beast and the assortment of talking objects are all delightful characters, and the plot is much improved by the introduction of Gaston as a convincing villain. This may be my favorite Disney cartoon (though there’s some stiff competition out there!)
Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier is a much looser, more mature retelling. Caitrin comes to the castle to work as a scribe, fleeing her abusive family and an unwanted suitor. She meets Anluan, crippled in body and even more so in spirit, and learns about his family curse that populates the fortress with ghosts. It’s “Beauty and the Beast” only in the broad strokes, but there is an enchanted mirror and a curse to overcome–even though it’s really more about finding strength within than it is about meeting requirements to break a spell.
I’d love to find more good “Beauty and the Beast” retellings! Any suggestions?