Modern Perspectives on a Tale As Old As Time
There’s been a lot of discussion around the live action Beauty and the Beast [BB] film re: Stockholm Syndrome and whether Belle is a role model figure or not. I’m not going to go into that here – I think there’s lots of ways retellings can go wrong, so thinking of these writing prompts was actually really hard!
It’s one of those Losing Your [Firstborn] Child type stories like Rapunzel, although in some versions Belle is the youngest of her siblings and therefore, by fairytale/folktale logic, the favourite and/or most virtuous. The father’s ‘theft’ triggers the main thrust of the story, and this is often lost in modern retellings because it makes the woman into her father’s property, or nothing more than collateral on a debt.
In some versions of the Scottish traditional ballad, Tam Lin, the lady herself pulls a rose and must give Tam Lin her maidenhead in return. She gets pregnant and so to rescue him from his fairy curse (the Queen of the Fairies is going to use him to pay her tithe to Hell by offering him up to the devil – see also the demonisation of fairies as discussed briefly in my post on Sleeping Beauty), she has to perform a ritual and hold on to him regardless of what evil and ugly form the fairies turn him into.
My own favourite retellings are Angela Carter’s two short stories in The Bloody Chamber anthology, particularly The Tiger’s Bride and The Courtship of Mr Lyon, which work as a pair. Of the pair, The Tiger’s Bride has my favourite ending.
I also like the ‘loathely lady’ variants, such as Gawain’s bride in the Arthurian myths, or the Scottish folk song about the mythical ‘King Henry’.
A natural pairing to the BB story is the Bluebeard or Bluebeard-type story, of which there are many variants: a tale of a girl who marries a mysterious man who seems to be the perfect husband, except that it turns out he kills his brides and keeps their severed heads in a locked room as trophies.
It is such an enduring tale that elements of it show up in the Classics, too: Jane Eyre‘s romance is, arguably, a BB tale, where neither Jane nor Rochester are conventionally attractive – she is ‘plain’ and he is ‘ugly’ – with a Bluebeard-esque twist, except that his wife is not decapitated in a locked cupboard but very much alive and locked the attic.
Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera is essentially Beauty and the Beast meets Bluebeard, although the more obvious thing to do with BB plots is mashups with Little Red Riding Hood, and then milk the werewolf/vampire romance theme for all it’s worth, even if the Scary-Sexy Love Interest does eat Granny.
Olivia Goldhill’s article on how the 2016 film is not feminist and remains problematic;
Abby Olcese on how the updated version of the tale remains both enchanted and problematic;
Elizabeth Logan’s more optimistic assessment of the tale which discusses the older versions and their messages for child-brides in arranged marriages.
Claire Fallon has written an interesting article on the dark and twisted tales that the Disney versions are based on, and Pook Press has an history of the tale on their site, too.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but where the Beast is actually a metaphor for the Protagonist’s own struggles with mental health and self-esteem, and they have to learn to love themselves and live their best life without being ‘cured’ at the end.
[Bonus: work in the Rose as a metaphor for the Protagonist’s coping strategies or a way for the Protagonist to understand what’s going on with them; rose petals instead of spoons, the fear of the last petal falling, petals as life stages, etc.]
SPEC-FIC BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but the castle is a spaceship and the Beast is an outcast alien on his last warning trying to rescue the Protagonist, a 1970s flower-child, from their alien abductors.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but in an alternate universe where Designer Babies are the norm. Both were designed with a specific purpose in mind, but both are considered “defective” by their society in some way.
SPEC-FIC/HIST-FIC BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but gender-flipped. A gentle, humble, bookish young man is sent to live with a female ‘monster’ in a castle and perform domestic chores for her.
SPEC-FIC BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but with a gender-flipped Bluebeard twist/subplot