Disney’s Beauty And The Beast reboot begins impatiently, making immediately clear the connection between inner and outer beauty (a book version was published in 1991, and is filed in the Lennoxville Library in C-134): A rich prince, visited by an ugly woman, orders her away: “Be gone, you foul beggar, and look not at my mirrors on the way out, lest they crack in horror!”
“My lord,” the woman says, “do not be fooled by my outward appearance. For beauty is found within all things.”
“I see,” replies the prince. “Then find beauty within someone else’s house.” He turns to his servants. “Take this old bag of bones away, I say!”
The woman responds with a curse: “I have seen that there is no love in your heart. That makes you no better than a beast — so you shall become a beast! ….The only way to break it is to love another person, and earn that person’s love in return.”
Disney published a French version, as well (La Belle Et La Bête, 1993, in C-44): “Les années passèrent, et la Bête sombra dans le désespoir. Elle ne croyait pas que quelqu’un puissent l’aimer un jour.”
The modern original was given to us by the French writer Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, in 1740. It’s different in the details, beginning with a rich merchant suddenly falling into desperate poverty.
One day, lost, the merchant enters what appears to be an enchanted castle. This version is from yet another French writer a few decades later, who liked it so much she snagged it for her own: « Il y trouva un bon feu et une table servie où il n’y avait qu’un couvert. Il s’approcha du feu, sécha ses vêtements, puis, pressé par la faim, se mit à table et fit honneur au souper. Devenu plus hardi, il sortit de la salle et traversa plusieurs grands appartements magnifiquement meublés. A la fin, il trouva une chambre où il y avait un bon lit, et, comme il était minuit passé et qu’il était las, il prit le parti de fermer la porte et de se coucher. »
Come morning, the merchant recalls that his youngest daughter, Beauty asked for a rose when he returned from his travels.
Seeing a bush, he steals a rose.
A monster appears.
Writer Marilyn Helmer takes up the tale: “Ungrateful wretch!” thunders the Beast. “I gave you food and shelter and you thank me by stealing the thing I love most.”
Terrified, the merchant beggs for forgiveness. “I took the rose for my daughter, Beauty. In all the world, there is nothing I love more than her.”
“Since you have taken what I love, you must give me what you love,” growls the Beast. Helmer’s version is also marvelously illustrated (by Kasia Charko), and can be found in Three Tales Of Enchantment (2001, in C-134).
It is agreed that the merchant’s daughter must live in the castle. Otherwise, the merchant pays with his life.
Beauty agrees to the bargain. But after many months of conversation and courting, she truthfully tells the Beast that she does not love him, and he allows her to leave.
Carol Heyer writes and illustrates Beauty And The Beast in yet another lovely retelling (1989, in C-66): After spending many days with her family, Beauty dreams that Beast is dying. “Even though his looks are frightening, he is a kind and gentle creature. I would never forgive myself if he died because of me.”
She returns to the castle. “Beauty knelt beside Beast and gently touched his heart. It was still beating. ‘Oh Beast,’ she cried, ‘can you ever forgive me?’”
Beast whispers: “Remember, I told you I would surely die without you.”
“I am here now,” she said, “and I will never leave you again.”
Walter Wick is an artist who offers a powerful portrait of the two together, in an artwork titled “Beast at peace in Beauty’s arms.”
Inspired by 11 classics, Wick and his team build dioramas, 3-D creations of wood, paper, paint and toys, fabulous little sets filled with unexpected detail. Shorts poems point out the carefully placed objects snuck into each work, as with Beauty and Beast: “Can you see what I see? A pelican, three ships, a whale, a lizard with a curly tail…” All this in Can You See What I See? Once Upon A Time: Picture Puzzles To Search And Solve (2006, C-138, with thanks to Lilian Rider, who bought this book as part of the library’s annual Adopt A Book campaign).
Beauty’s love, freely offered, breaks the curse and returns Beast to his human form.
And who has not, through love, watched a face transform?
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The Lennoxville Library hosts a special English-language telling of Beauty And The Beast on Saturday, October 31, at 10:30 a.m. It’s free, and aimed at children aged 5 to 11. Costumes are encouraged!
In the meantime, the Bishop’s University’s Drama Department offers a family-friendly Beauty And The Beast on stage at the Turner Studio Theatre through October 25 (call 819-822-9600 ext. 2223 for details). You can’t ever get too much of this fabulous fairy tale.
— Eleanor Brown, October 23, 2015