Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Beauty and the Beast, The Originals, and a Few Retellings

Recently, before reading a few Beauty and the Beast retellings, I re-read a couple versions of the original tale.

Madame Le Prince de Beaumont

Charles Perrault

After reading the version by Madame Le Prince de Beaumont, and gagging over Beauty’s saintliness, I read the Perrault version. They were just about identical, which I found interesting.

I identified twelve story elements:

1. The Curse
2. A Reversal of Fortune
3. A Daughter Nicknamed Beauty
4. Beauty Requests a Rose
5. The Father Loses His Way
6. The Beast Drives a Hard Bargain
7. Beauty Makes a Willing Sacrifice
8. Beauty Has a Dream
9. The Magic Mirror
10. Beast Sets Beauty Free
11. Beauty is Tested
12. Beauty’s Love is Awakened by Beast’s Absence
13. Beast’s Final Transformation

The five retellings I read were:

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey, which used or twisted all of the elements from the original.
Pentimento by Cameron Jace, a science fiction retelling, went in a totally different direction with aliens and other planets.
Lenore by Alyne deWinter, a gothic short story, used several elements from the original with some clever twists.
Beauty's Beast by Amanda Ashley, a bodice ripper, used a lesser number of elements from the original tale.
Little Bird of Heaven by Joyce Carol Oates, although not described as retelling of Beauty in the Beast in the synopsis, one of the reviewers suggested that it was so I included it here.

(Note: I use Beauty and Beast to refer to the main female and male character in each tale.)
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

In The Fire RoseThe Curse is self-inflicted, a spell gone awry. Beauty is (most actively) Tested in this retelling by an earthquake and the Beast’s enemies. As for Beast’s Final Transformation, there isn't one, but they live happily ever after anyway!

In Pentimento, The Curse is global. Radioactivity has destroyed the beauty of the earth and everyone on it. This retelling had by for the most striking use of The Rose, as Beauty uses a red rose as a symbol of hope and remembering.

In Lenore, Beauty is male and Beast is female, which was refreshing. The Magic Mirror is crucial here as the source of The Curse.

In Beauty's Beast, The Curse is front and center, with the witch re-entering the story for several key scenes throughout the book. Mirrors are used to force the Beast to view his beastliness.

Is Little Bird of Heaven a Beauty and Beast retelling? Perhaps. If so, The Curse is mundane but tragic. As a young boy, “Beast” discovers his mother’s body after a sordid murder. “Beauty’s” father becomes the murder suspect. The Father Loses His Way in an exhaustive downward spiral in which he involves his daughter. Throughout the story, the question of identity is a subtext. The father’s Reversal of Fortune subsumes the daughter’s identity, even extending to her choice of career. If Beauty’s Love is Awakened by Beast’s Absence in the original, Beauty’s love is inflamed by Beast’s distance in Little Bird of Heaven. At the end of this tale, the transformation is also mundane, a release from the illusions which The Curse has spawned.

But then again, that’s the crux of Beauty and Beast … illusions and their effects.