LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Tale as old as time

on January 15, 2013 10:33pm

A tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme.”Beauty and the Beast” does indeed seem to have been a part of human culture for hundreds of years, whether you’re looking at the ancient story of “Cupid and Psyche” or the beloved Disney film. But why has this story survived so long and in fact become an ingrained part of our culture? At its basis the story follows the path of having a lovely youth be taken into the possession of something Other. Then they are eventually married and depending on the version they either live happily ever after or the youth is in some way separated from their beloved. Not exactly a complicated plot but maybe its beauty lies in its simplicity. Every girl can imagine the horror of being forced to marry, or even just date, someone they don’t like and this lets the story become relatable by reflecting that fear and showing how it can be false. The story endears itself by allowing the reader to put themselves into the shoes of the beauty and have them overcome this fear alongside the beauty. At least on one front this may explain the continued success of “Beauty and the Beast” but is it still portrayed this way in popular culture?

The most widely recognized version of “Beauty and the Beast” is by far the animated film by Disney. This film features a plucky young girl who’s longing for adventure is only matched by her love for reading. Belle, through a series of mishaps, seeks out her father at the Beast’s castle and trades away her life for his, keeping with Mme. de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast”. There Belle and the Beast slowly build a friendship and to the hope of the cast of household furniture the beginnings of love. Let’s be honest though, a guy gives you sweet library like that, what can you do?

Seriously, sign me up.

So they start crushing on each other a bit when Belle is forced to leave to go to her sick father’s side. Then a few more mishaps occur to Belle, her father, and the Beast due to Disney’s addition of a villain, Gaston,  an arrogant man whom once spurned by Belle now seeks to… kill the beast and win Belle’s hand? Get more horns for decorating purposes? Oh well, what’s a fairy tale without a good villain? The Beast is stabbed by Gaston who then plummets to his death while Belle professes her love to the Beast. This love then saves him and allows him to transform back to human form. So Belle and the Prince formerly known as Beast are presumably married and live happily ever after.

“Beauty and the Beast” is also thriving on TV. The CW’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a crime drama where Beauty is a detective at the New York Police Department named Catherine and the beast is a soldier from Afghanistan named Vincent. Vincent is experimented on by the US government in their quest to create the super soldier. This experiment backfires and makes him beastly. You can find the trailer for this show here. Catherine witnessed her mother’s murder by criminals who then attempted to murder her but instead she is saved by what Catherine describes as a Beast. And so their relationship begins. Throughout the show’s first season Vincent and Catherine have a  tense relationship on the brink of romance while Catherine also solves crimes using the information Vincent gathers. The show doesn’t follow the classic Mme. de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” but it does involve a young beauty who looks past the monstrous qualities of a man to see his true self. As the show continues it will be interesting how they continue to handle the fairy tale concept.

This story has also been retold numerous times in books, such as Beastly by Alex Flinn and Robin Mckinley has done multiple retellings titled Rose Daughter and Beauty.  Beastly tells “Beauty and the Beast” through the eyes of the Beast from his cursing to his salvation. Beastly was also adapted into a movie. Robin McKinley’s novels tell the tale in a very similar way to Mme. de Beaumont with some modification and elaboration. McKinley really fleshes out the characters and I appreciated that the two sisters were more than an evil plot device and instead were individual women with pride and imperfections. Also her version of Beauty was no longer an annoyingly perfect girl with more virtue than anyone one person should have; she has a personality and ideas, no longer accepting her fate because that’s apparently how you prove your love in fairy tales. Personally I liked Rose Daughter the best of these three versions but they all provide an interesting take on the classic fairy tale.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

“Beauty and the Beast” is an extremely popular story that has been engraved on the hearts of hundreds and hundreds of people, whether it was their love for one of the original versions of the tale or that Belle and her Beast captured their hearts. It has been retold and re-imagined countless times. Here I barely even scratched the surface of influence in pop culture but it does give you some idea of how varied it’s reach is. I’ll leave you with the most recent reference to it that I can think of:  Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat”, a play on words that may not actually have anything to do with the fairy tale but I think it’s entertaining to see how these stories can be bent and changed to suit our society and culture.

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One response to “Tale as old as time

  1. azelinski2010 says:

    I really enjoyed your post about all of the different, modern variations of Madame de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast. I am most familiar with the Disney version, and while I agree that Disney always takes certain liberties (such as adding new characters) when adapting a fairy tale for an animated feature film, I think that one of their alterations you mentioned here (the addition of the villain Gaston) is more closely related to the original tale by Madame de Beaumont than at first meets the eye.
    In the original story, Beauty has two ungracious, spoiled, selfish sisters who are always jealous of her virtues and goodness. Through their sorry lives, Madame de Beaumont reveals to readers that beasts do not always have to be hairy, monstrous creatures, but can come disguised as charming men. She says, “The older one had married a remarkably handsome gentleman, but he was so enamored of his own looks that he spent all day in front of the mirror. The other one had married a man of great wit, but he used to infuriate everybody, first and foremost his wife” (Tartar 40). I see Gaston as being Disney’s nod to these sisters’ unfortunate husbands. There is no question that he is a handsome man. He is constantly being followed and pawed at by all of the frivolous village girls (an allusion to Beauty’s sisters, perhaps?) and other people aren’t the only ones who notice his impressive physique- he’s his own biggest fan! However, his personality leaves more than a little to be desired. He condescendingly asks Belle to marry him and paints a lovely picture for her of what their life together would be like: he would go out hunting all day while she stayed home, cooking and cleaning and caring for their “strapping boys” and then, at the end of the day, she could rub his large, disgusting feet. Hard to imagine how she had the gall to say no to that one, huh? But Belle realizes Gaston’s true nature; at one point in the movie, she even calls him a monster. So while she had the option of marrying the good-looking, charismatic ladies man in the village, Belle decides to stick with her hairy beast who has a good heart, just as Beauty chooses her beast over men that are more to her sisters’ liking, and it is she who ends up truly happy.

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