Writing Wednesday: In the Beast’s Library

I wrote a few months ago about a writing retreat I attended, and the joint novella I worked on with a few other authors, retelling Beauty and the Beast.  Well, I recently finished the latest draft of Book Two of my Phantom trilogy, which calls for some form of celebration, I expect.  🙂  I sent it off to beta-readers for feedback, and turned back to novella revisions.

I wrote three chapters for the story, two from the point of view of a certain Good Fairy, and one from the point of the view of the Beast’s librarian.  The last excerpt I shared was from the fairy’s perspective, so today I’m sharing one from the librarian, Hugo Livre.  We set the tale in France (as traditional Beauty and the Beast tales are) so I named my librarian after Victor Hugo.  The other French writer I might have chosen to reference just wouldn’t have worked…because you can’t put a character named Gaston (Leroux) into a Beauty and the Beast story! Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: In the Beast’s Library”

TV Review: Beauty and the Beast (1987 TV show)

BeautyAndTheBeast1987_Complete_2014rereleaseI found myself with a hole in my television viewing a while back, when Once Upon a Time and Castle both went on hiatus at the same time. I needed something to fill in for my fairy tale show and my crime mystery show—so I decided to watch Beauty and the Beast. Because it’s a show that manages to hit both themes at once!

The story centers around Catherine (Linda Hamilton) and Vincent (Ron Perlman), the two title characters. In the opening show, Catherine is attacked by muggers and left for dead. Vincent rescues her, carrying her below New York to a secret society living apart from the rest of the world. They grow close, forming an empathic bond—but their friendship is complicated by the fact that Vincent is a…well, “lion-man” is probably the best descriptor. Catherine returns to the world above, inspired to change her life, and leaves her cushy corporate position for a job with the DA, bringing criminals to justice and protecting the victims. She and Vincent still have their bond, but struggle with their inability to live in the same world.

This isn’t a show that I ever loved, but I liked it a lot—at least for the first two seasons (more on that later). Sometimes it’s cheesy, sometimes it’s implausible, but I enjoyed watching it. A big part of that was Catherine’s character. I do love it that, after she’s attacked, she takes self-defense classes. I think that encapsulates her character. She’s determined not to be a victim, and to fight back against corruption, violence and anyone trying to exploit or harm the weak. Granted, it does help that she has a lion-man who can sense when she’s afraid and come to the rescue if things get out of hand…but she’s hardly a passive heroine just waiting for him to show up and save the day.  And I love that she doesn’t just become fierce over night–she has to learn how to defend herself. Continue reading “TV Review: Beauty and the Beast (1987 TV show)”

Classic Review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

Since I’m spending November working on (hopefully) the fourth book of my fairy tale-inspired series, Beyond the Tales, it seems like a good time to revisit one of my very favorite retellings!

*******************

“Beauty and the Beast” has always been one of my favorite fairy tales–probably because the retellings are so good.  If you go back to the original story, it’s almost as flawed as any other traditional fairy tale.  But the retellings…are SO good.  Beauty by Robin McKinley is a particular favorite of mine.

The basic story is familiar, if you’ve read the original or even if you’ve seen the Disney movie.  From the Disney movie you’ll recognize the part about the terrifying Beast living in the castle in the woods.  A lost traveler spends the night and, upon offending the Beast, agrees to bring back his daughter, Beauty, to stay at the castle.  From the original story you’ll recognize the part about Beauty’s father being a rich merchant who lost his fortune, forcing them to move out to the country.  And Beauty had two sisters as well, and it was Beauty’s request for a rose when her father began his ill-fated journey that, in a way, put everything else in motion.

I think I read Beauty before I read the original fairy tale, so when I did read the original, I kept thinking, “oh, now I see where McKinley got that detail or this part from!”  But, like any great fairy tale retelling, McKinley has taken the slender original story and embroidered and expanded upon it, bringing the characters to life and explaining the bits that never quite made sense. Continue reading “Classic Review: Beauty by Robin McKinley”

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Heart's BloodI’d just like to say, when Juliet Marillier is good, she’s really good, and I’ve been having a nice run with her books lately.  After recently reading Heir to Sevenwaters, I jumped into a reread of Heart‘s Blood, in part so that I could try to actually notice sooner this time that it’s a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling…  It took me far too long to figure that out on the first go-around.

The heroine of the story is Caitrin, who flees an abusive situation and, in desperation, seeks refuge and work as a scribe at Whistling Tor.  There are strange rumors about monstrous spectres in the woods around the Tor, and about Anluan, the chieftain.  Anluan proves to be bad-tempered and unfriendly; he was stricken by illness as a child and it left him semi-paralyzed on his right side.  He nearly runs Caitrin off at once, but instead she stays, becoming part of his very unusual household and delving into the myserious curse afflicting the Tor.

You probably already see some “Beauty and the Beast” parallels, and there are also enchanted mirrors scattered throughout.  It’s really only “Beauty and the Beast” in the broad strokes, though, and most of the story focuses on deducing the origin of the curse, as well as on an outside threat from foreign invasion.

I was also struck by Jane Eyre parallels, particularly in the second half of the book, so I don’t want to get into details too much.  Even at the beginning, though: a talented young woman sets off from a difficult situation, and finds work with a gruff employer at a big house on a misty moor (or Tor…)  He’s unfriendly but secretly attracted to her, while she comes to see the value behind his unattractive exterior.  (Although no, there’s no first wife locked in a tower.)

This was an interesting one to read right after Heir to Sevenwaters, because it was once again two of my favorite archetype characters: a heroine who has to find her own strength and worth, and a dark hero with a heart of gold.  That’s not to say, however, that Caitrin and Anluan are the same characters as Clodagh and Cathal.  They have their own unique characteristics and paths to walk.

Caitrin has a particularly difficult journey, overcoming abuse in her past.  Marillier focuses less on the bruises and more on the psychological damage, which is deeper and far more complex.  I ultimately found Caitrin’s path to be immensely satisfying.  Anluan has different internal demons to overcome, and though we get less of his internal thoughts (Caitrin narrates, but we do get into Anluan’s journal) his development is intriguing too.

The magic is spooky at times, creepy at others, and delves into questions of good and evil and the hazard of judging too quickly whether someone is one or the other.  There’s a nice balance of character growth with unraveling mysteries and, as is usual for Marillier, the last hundred pages are breathless and hard to put down.

Highly recommended. 🙂

Author’s Site: http://www.julietmarillier.com/

Other reviews:
Ivy Book Bindings
Academics Go Clunk
The Book Rat
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Heart’s Blood

Favorites Friday: Disney Women

You may have been seeing the buzz lately over Disney’s induction of Merida into their pantheon of Princesses–and even more buzz about the make-over that went with that.  It’s a fascinating and disturbing discussion (read more here).

It has me thinking about Disney women.  And I think it’s doubly unfortunate that Disney has a tendency to focus on the pretty, sparkly princesses, and not on the girls’ other qualities and abilities–because there are awesome Disney women.  Disney gets a fair amount of criticism in general for weak heroines, but there were already amazing Disney women before Merida–princesses and otherwise.  Here are my favorites:

Belle from Beauty and the Beast – Sure, she’s a princess, but only in the last minute of the movie.  Mostly, she’s an ordinary girl who loves to read and has big dreams.  She doesn’t let society dictate what she should be interested in (since they think she’s strange for reading) or who she should be dating (refusing to marry the immensely popular Gaston).  She sacrifices her freedom to rescue her father and stands up to the Beast when he bellows at her.  She’s brave, intelligent, inquisitive and yes, she has a pretty yellow dress…but there’s a lot more going on than that.

Katie from Darby O’Gill and the Little People – Lest you think Disney has no positive female characters before recent years, I point you to a live-action example, Katie O’Gill, whose movie came out in 1959.  She has immense force of will, there’s a clear sense that she’s running things in her family, and she’s not going to brook any nonsense from anyone, be it the local bully, her father, or the handsome Michael McBride (a very young Sean Connery, by the way).  She’s not waiting around for a prince–when Michael asks her once if she gets lonely, she remarks that she keeps busy, and seems to be sincere.  It’s not a perfect example because she doesn’t get to do much in her movie, but she has a strong personality and is a very long way from a sparkly, useless princess.

Chicha from The Emperor’s New Groove – Chicha, Pacha’s wife, is an absolute delight.  For one thing, she’s a pregnant animated character (how often do you see that?) and more importantly, she’s clearly as smart and as capable as her husband (probably more so).  To a certain extent, she’s stuck at home with the kids–but the villains come to call and Chicha swings into action.  She doesn’t wind up kidnapped or need to be rescued.  Instead, she becomes a participant in the efforts to foil the villains.  Love it.

Dejah Thoris from John Carter – I’m not denying there’s some issues with this one…like how she gets kidnapped, or her distinctly scanty attire.  But having read the original book, A Princess of Mars, I can assure you that they really tried to make her a stronger, more capable character.  I mean, she gets to use a sword–and she’s a scientist!  Big leap forward from the original source material.

Ellie from Up – Merida isn’t Pixar’s first amazing woman.  We also have Ellie, who is adventurous, daring and immensely confident in herself.  Even better, she marries a man who obviously loves those qualities in her.  It’s true she was only in the movie for ten minutes, but it seems to be a near-universal opinion that those were the most powerful ten minutes of the movie.  That’s a girl who’s having an impact.

It would be amazing if the debate around Merida sparks off some larger realizations for Disney.  Enough with the Princesses marketing campaign.  Yes, little girls like sparkles and pretty dresses and that’s fine, but Merida already has a sisterhood of Disney women who have qualities beyond their prettiness.

I think the problem is less the stories that are being told than the way the marketing campaign is handling them.  I mean, besides the women above, there’s Mulan, who rode off to war and found confidence in herself; Pocahontas, who saved John Smith from execution; and Jasmine, who inspired her father to change the law in a way that gave women more rights.  So I think it’s fair to give Disney credit for having some amazing women characters–and to hope that they’ll notice that fact!

Fairy Tale Round-Up: Beauty and the Beast

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?

La Belle et la Bête

In my ongoing quest for more fairy tales, I recently watched the French film, La Belle et la Bête.  This is another one for Once Upon a Time‘s Quest on Screen.  The movie was…odd.  I’ve heard this one touted so much as a landmark film in the realm of fairy tale retellings, but sadly, I just wasn’t impressed.  I’d actually seen it years ago, in a mythology class in high school.  I was hoping that I was wrong back then–because I disliked it the first time through.  I liked it better this time, but I’m still not really a fan.

The movie is based on the story by Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, as all Beauty and the Beast retellings seem to be.  Beauty’s father is a wealthy merchant who loses all of his money, forcing his family to live in poverty in the country.  This particular version involved poverty that still featured footmen and a big house, but they were supposedly fallen from greater means.  Beauty has two sisters who are greedy and horrible, while Beauty is kind and sweet and devoted to her father.  This movie does get points from me for including Beauty’s brother (the original had three brothers), the only version I’ve seen do that–and the brother was my favorite character.  Beauty’s father gets lost in the woods one dark night, and is sheltered at a magical castle.  When he makes the fatal error in the morning of picking a rose from the garden, a terrible Beast appears, and demands that the merchant send one of his daughters to live with the Beast.  Beauty, of course, volunteers, to save her father’s life.  And so it goes from there…

The movie was made in 1946, but felt more like it was from the era of The Thief of Bagdad than Casablanca.  I had trouble with the acting, especially Beauty.  She had the big limpid eyes of the silent film stars (which was fine) and she did a lot of strange head tilts and hands waving about (which was not).  There are a few scenes of her walking around the Beast’s castle, and nobody actually walks like that.  On the plus side, like the silent films, I was impressed by…I don’t know whether to call them sets or special effects.  Everything in the Beast’s castle is alive–the statues, the arms holding candelabras, and so on.  Those were well-done, and often achieved a very good, slightly creepy effect.  I also very much liked the music, which I think did a lot to set the tone.

The Beast I found hard to take seriously when he first steps out in the garden.  He’s, well, furry.  He’s just really obviously a man in a Beast-suit.  Which he would have to be, it’s live-action, but…he’s not that ominous when he’s just standing there.  However, he actually was creepy at later moments.  The camera pans in and he kind of looms and it’s much more effective.  He also seems to lose control at times; from a plot standpoint this wasn’t very good because I’m still not clear exactly what happened, but a couple times he wanders around the corridors looking lost and dishevelled with magical smoke coming off of him and blood on his clothes.  In a strange way, he’s much scarier when he seems scared and confused.

I never got very attached to the characters, though.  I don’t think the problem was that it was in French, with subtitles.  There are long stretches without dialogue at all, so I don’t think the language mattered that much.  It was more the style of acting and storytelling that got me.  I mentioned Beauty seemed to be coming from the silent film school of acting, and the Beast and her father also seemed somehow distant.  All three of them felt like fairy tale characters–more archetypes than people.  That’s why I liked her brother best–Ludovic is the only one who seemed liked a real person.  He’s something of a scoundrel but I think good at heart, and the only one with any sign of a sense of humor.

There’s a subplot here involving Ludovic’s friend Avenant, who is also a suitor for Beauty.  When the Beast turns into a Prince (sorry if that was a spoiler…) he turns out to be the same actor as Avenant.  I’m sure this was intended to say something symbolic, but it still felt disconcerting, especially because Beauty noticed it.  She comments that he looks like her brother’s friend, and I feel like that fractures some version of the fourth wall, or something.  A more serious issue (and more of a spoiler so I’m trying to dance around it)…let’s just say something is happening to Avenant at the same moment the Beast is turning into a man, and while they’re related events, I feel like it distracts from what should be the pivotal moment of the story.

So all in all, I’m glad I saw La Belle et la Bête, but it’s never going to be a favorite, and I don’t quite understand the excitement over it.  After we watched it in my class, I went home and watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  The French film may be a landmark in cinematography and certainly is much closer to the original…but I enjoy Disney more, especially the characters.

I did very much like the opening of La Belle et la Bête, a written message from the director.  Translated, it reads in part: “Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us…They believe in a thousand simple things. I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity, and to bring us luck let me speak four truly magic words, childhood’s Open Sesame: Once upon a time…”