Favorite Romances: Beauty and the Beast

First off, I feel I should let you know (I just discovered this a few years ago) that Disney did not invent the story behind their animated classic Beauty and the Beast. The movie is based on the classic French tale La Belle et La Bete. Granted, they changed it considerably, but they did not invent it any more than they invented Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, though they did an excellent job of presenting those stories visually. If you knew this, I apologize for being patronizing, but many people don’t know it, so I decided to mention it.

Since Jaz and I usually discuss the written story on one day and the movie versions on another, we’ll talk about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast later this week and the written stories today.

Beauty and the Beast: The story

Jaz on Beauty and the Beast:

When I was a little girl, I dreamed Belle married Gaston. I was Belle, of course, and as we both stepped into the wedding coach, I looked back and saw the Beast standing there, shoulders slumped and with the most sorrowful expression in his blue eyes. Remorse – or was it guilt? – flooded me for an instant. Then I laughed at him and settled into the coach.

Gaston’s character is only present in the Disney movie version, but what if she HAD married some other guy for his looks and rank? So many other fairy tale heroines did the same. No matter which version of Beauty and the Beast you read (and countless exist), one thing remains unchanged: Belle falls in love with the Beast – in spite of his repulsive exterior – over time as she learns more of his character. It’s what sets Belle apart; every other girl fell in love at first sight or kiss.

As for the father, I was never too fond of him. Growing up, I was taught never to pick someone else’s flowers without their express permission. And yet there he is, an older male, wandering into a stranger’s garden and picking the MOST BEAUTIFUL ROSE IN THERE. If I were the owner, I’d be angry too. And then to save his own skin (in some versions, anyway), he lets his daughter go live with a seemingly ferocious beast. Forever.

Of course, the Beast could have shown a little more kindness. But imagine what state you’d be in if you were transformed into a hideous creature and then cooped up in a spell-bound castle for decades. And then some stranger tramps into your garden and mangles your prized rose bushes. It’d be enough to turn anyone into a needy, demanding monster with anger management issues.

In spite of (or perhaps I should say because of) these character flaws, Belle ends up having it all: the handsome prince, her family, all the riches her selfless soul never desired, and – the best part – a garden full of roses she can pick whenever she wants.

So maybe it is a good idea to pick flowers from strangers’ gardens after all …

Note: If you’re looking for a handy website with different versions of the story, this is a good one: www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0425c.html

Liz on Beauty and the Beast:

I hate to reference Wikipedia, but they have a detailed article on Beauty and the Beast covering the different story versions, plays, and movies. It and the website Jaz mentioned are good places to start if you’re interested in learning more about the story. A translation of the most well-known version of the classic La Belle et La Bete  tale by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont is available here.  This story is essentially a fairy tale for governesses to tell their young female charges to encourage them to consider a man’s virtue and amiable temperament above his wit and physical attractiveness. It’s an entertaining story with a good lesson, but the main reason I like it is because of the longer adaptations it has spawned.

Beauty by Robin McKinely is an excellent retelling of the classic story. A merchant loses his fortune and moves with his three daughters to a small village in the mountains. He loses his way a business trip and finds himself at a castle inhabited by invisible servants who take care of his every need. He picks a rose for Belle as he leaves and is accosted by an angry Beast. Beast demands the man stay there forever or send his daughter to stay in exchange for stealing the rose. Belle insists on going and, of course, gradually and unwilling falls in love with Beast. As part of his curse, Beast must ask her to marry him every evening. With no Gaston character to cause trouble, Belle’s growing difficultly in refusing the evening proposals supplies a good bit of the romantic tension.

The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson: I just read this book and loved it! It is set in Medieval Europe. The daughter of a once wealthy merchant is forced, due to her family’s debts, to become a servant to Lord Ranulf, a temperamental man with a maimed arm, many scars—emotional and physical—and only one eye. He frightens Annabel as first, but she soon comes to admire him because he treats his servants fairly, he protects her from the lecherous man her brother tried to force her to marry, and he lets her read his Bible—a rare treasure in those days. The story’s not so much about Annabel overcoming her aversion to Lord Ranulf’s looks but about him overcoming his distrust of beautiful women and his fear that he could never be loved because of his scars.

Why do you think Beauty and the Beast is such a popular story? Is it because of the surprise happy ending? Or the fresh feel of a tale that’s not about a beautiful girl and a handsome guy? Or because—like Pride and Prejudice­—it’s about two people who had no intention of falling in love?

2 thoughts on “Favorite Romances: Beauty and the Beast

  1. One of the interesting things about this fairytale, is that unlike so many other leading-female characters Beauty seems to have an independent spirit. It doesn’t really matter which version you read, you can see her strong will, which contrasts against her father’s personality. She, unlike so many other women in fairytales, does not NEED a man. Nor does she need to be rescued. In fact, she does the rescuing.

  2. Pingback: Beauty and the Beast: the stories and the Disney movie | Elizabeth Jane Kitchens

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