Friday, June 19, 2015

Tale as Old as Time

The timeless appeal of an enchanted dude with an awesome library . . .


It's a truth to be universally acknowledged- we love Beauty and the Beast - whether it's the Disney movie or a retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth. 

Even at its most subversive, the story is still powerful. And it really is a "tale as old as time," with hundreds of similar stories found in cultures all over the world.* Sometimes, the story is even found in the real world (it's certainly more common than Cinderella!)



I was thinking about this as I finished my latest read, the (excellent) Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodges. I had finished numerous novels in the past three months, and [at least] four of them were basically retellings of Beauty and the Beast. 



I decided to look at my Goodreads page and see just how many distinct retellings I had read, and came up with over thirty. There were the straight up retellings, and the ones that were too close to leave out. There were also stories that were basically the same thing, just hidden under other plot threads (i.e. Jane Eyre).** If you think about it, Pride and Prejudice could even fall into this category ("beastly" guy, spirited and intelligent heroine who has to make personal sacrifices/lose everything before she wins his hand, etc.)

In its most basic form, the "Beauty and the Beast" story is this: 


1. We have a girl who is smart and principled (but not always physically beautiful or moral, per se. The 'Beauty' can refer to her mind or strength of spirit).
2. And whether she is naturally so (or forced by circumstances), she sacrifices herself for a lapse in judgement (hers, her parents, etc), and gives herself as a "bride" or a "gift/sacrifice" to a Beast.
3. The Beast is often a prince in animal form, but he might be a god or minor deity. The reason for his "Beast" form is one of two: either he was "beastly" in nature and offended a powerful woman, or he (or someone close to him) is testing his bride.
4. How it pans out here is always a little different, but either the girl fails the test and gets to go through trials to reclaim the beast (that she has grown to love), or she leaves and comes back at some personal loss (there always has to be a sacrifice) and her love restores his human form/proves she's worthy to be his wife.

Somehow the story never gets boring.

So here are a few standouts:

Favorite Retelling: This is hard! Probably Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis, with Robin McKinley's Beauty as a very close second.

Worst Retelling: Beastly, by Alex Flinn

With Scottish Highlands and a Werewolf: By These Ten Bones by Claire Dunkle

When the Beast Doesn't Get the Girl: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

More Like Tam Lin (basically the same story): The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Where the Girl is the One Under a Curse, and the Guy is Beastly Anyway: Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Needless to say, there are a bunch of retellings that I've never read. And I will probably never get sick of them (and I've written a few of my own!). If you're interested in the more scholarly look at Cupid and Psyche, there are some good essays here.

So do you have a favorite Beauty and the Beast/Cupid & Psyche retelling? Do you think the library scene (in Disney's B & B) is basically the best Disney scene ever? Sound off in the comments, and brownie points for retellings that I've never heard of.


Footnotes:
*SurLaLune Fairy Tale Blog has a nice list of variations here.
**There is a huge list of B & B retellings on Goodreads.