I decided to read The Beauty and the Beast by Madame de Villeneuve, originally published in 1740.
I suppose my background is different than average for my age, because instead of growing up on Disney movies, I had a complete collection of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, and I spent a lot of time pouring over the book and rereading my favorites. They were a far bigger influence on me than any movie.
Heck, one of the reasons why I hate Disney so much is because they took these wonderful, complex stories, and turned them into shallow caricatures with a marketing scheme that led most people to believe they were the original source. Nowadays when people say “fairy tales,” they’re referring to the Disney movies, not the original texts.
Anyway, The Beauty and the Beast is one that I’ve never read before, so I figured, “Why not?” Call it research.
The initial characterization of Beauty is charming. She belonged to a large and wealthy family, but after some spectacularly bad luck, they end up losing everything — Beauty is the only one who handles the change in fortune with grace, and she is clearly intended to be just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
Then, her father travels in an attempt to regain some of his lost wealth, discovers that it was a fruitless expedition, and is caught in a nasty blizzard while returning home. He stumbles across the Beast’s enchanted palace, and consequently gets himself in trouble after picking a rose from the garden. Beauty sacrifices herself to save her father’s life, and goes to live in the Beast’s palace instead.
In my opinion, this was the weakest part of the story. The descriptions of the sheer materialistic opulence of Beauty’s life in the enchanted palace really cheapened her character. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a difference in generations, given that this was originally published in the 1700’s, but c’mon … surely there was more to life fulfillment than clothing and jewelry, even back then?
The part that I outright hated was when Beauty went back to visit her family, and the suitors of her five older sisters were all immediately smitten with her and promptly abandoned their original girlfriends. I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic towards the jilted sisters, while Beauty was reduced down to nothing more than a Mary-Sue.
Then, as we all know, Beauty breaks the curse on the Beast by professing her love for him, and he turns back into a handsome prince.
Interestingly enough, this happens only halfway through the book, despite the fact that this is where all the movie versions of the story end.
The second half was the part that I genuinely enjoyed the most, and definitely made the book worth reading. I can’t help but feel like I’ve been let in on a little secret, since even wikipedia failed to summarize the second half. Tee hee, how fun.
And by the way, the Disney version doesn’t even come close.