Saturday, June 30, 2012

Beauty and the Beast Wrap Up

Beauty and the Beast Wrap Up

This month, we’ve looked at five different adaptations of Beauty and the Beast:

Belle by Cameron Dokey
Beast by Donna Jo Napoli
Beauty by Robin McKinley
Spirited by Nancy Holder
Beastly by Alex Flinn

Of those five novels, most hit most of the checkpoints pretty solidly – Beauty and the Beast, it seems, is hard to do poorly. Now, because the novels we looked at this month approach the story in such drastically different ways, this wrap up will be less of a comparison and ranking between the five and more a look at the similarities they share and what their individual strengths were.

It’s interesting to me that of the five novels, almost all of them (Spirited being the exception) are told in first person rather than third. This is an interesting choice because first person is the most limited perspective in a lot of ways. An author is confined to one person’s head and one person’s viewpoint. But that decision makes sense for this fairy tale. At its heart, Beauty and the Beast is really a pretty simple story, especially when we look at the number of characters. For the bulk of it, there’s only the two: Beauty, and the Beast. So it makes sense to put this story in first person – either through Beauty’s eyes to learn how she could come to love such a monster, or the beast’s to show his journey to self-awareness. And I think the fact that the one novel in third person is also the novel that brings in the most outside characters, speaks to this.
It’s also interesting to note that of the five, two chose to focus on Beauty, two chose to focus on the Beast, and the remaining novel focused on both about equally. I think that goes to show how multi-faceted a story this is – authors want to get inside everyone’s heads! As I said, this is a story with a lot of potential for improvement, and it was wonderful to read five novels this month that I enjoyed, as opposed to last month. Each of these books had a lot to offer the story, and they were all strong in different ways.

I love Belle’s relationship between Bella and the Beast, and the overall message that nothing is as it first appears and anything can change given time and the right circumstances. I love Beast’s willingness to divert from a lot of the iconic imagery of the original story, making Belle’s arrival and breaking of the curse almost an afterthought. I love Beauty’s timeless feel, the way it reads like an original fairy tale expanded. I adore the message of Spirited and the way the story was translated to real life history. And I love the modernization of Beastly, translating the story into our current society.

So where does each novel rank specifically?

Tied for first at Strongly Recommended are Spirited and Beastly. I just love the way that both of these novels took the original story and made it directly relevant to readers. I love the recontextualization, and I feel these two are the strongest of the bunch.

Belle, Beast, and Beauty follow pretty close behind, and are all recommended, but they each have some weak spots that keep them from being on par with the other two. I still really enjoyed them, though, and I do recommend reading them.

Other notable novels:

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey remains one of my favorite adaptations of this fairy tale. You may ask why I didn’t, then, add it to the list this month, and I’ll admit, once I had the one-word title thing doing, I was kinda hesitant to break it. Also, only so many weeks. But this is a great book if you like historical fiction with a fantasy twist (terribly specific genre, that).

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley is an interesting read as well, mainly because, yes, that’s the same author who wrote Beauty. Twenty years later, she decided to give it another go, not because she wasn’t happy with the first one, but because she thought she could do it a little bit better and make the story a bit more complex. Die hard romantics will likely hate the ending, but personally, I love it, and I applaud McKinley’s guts.

And that’s all for Beauty and the Beast. Join me in July for a look at Rumpelstiltskin!


  1. I don't know if it's so much that Beauty and the Beast is hard to do poorly as it is that the original story is so poor, it's hard NOT to improve upon it. (With a couple of notable exceptions.)

  2. As someone who has Beauty and the Beast as her favorite fairy tale, I think part of the reason for its adaptations being consistently strong overall is that it's one of the very few fairy tales that eschew "love at first sight" for a more realistic development of the relationship between the two leads. As stilted as Beauty's dinners with the Beast were to the point that she spent a lot more time exploring the castle than any actual interaction with him in the original fairy tale, she at least didn't instantly fall in love with him because of his beauty or nobility, which gives retellers a much stronger foundation to build on as opposed to, say, Cinderella where some versions don't even have the prince meet Cinderella before deciding that the girl who fits the lost slipper must be his One True Love. (I'm not saying that Cinderella hasn't received wonderful adaptations of its own because it has, but you get my point.)

    There's also how the original tale doesn't really have any bizarre or extremely specific elements other than the rose theft: it's a relatively simple story compared to others like Rumpelstiltskin (where the "spin straw into gold" and "firstborn child" plot points can become absurd if stuck too closely to), which gives retellers more scope for innovation.

    1. I completely agree with your assessment here -- BatB has always been one of my favorite fairy tales because it WASN'T a "love at first sight" story. I always hated that.

      Cinderella is coming up in the rotation, and yes, it has some wonderful adaptations, and my favorites tend to be those that, as you put it, eschew the love at first sight idea.