I don't know when I first read Beauty and the Beast, but the first filmed version I saw was Jean Cocteau's dreamy, surreal version of the fairy tale. I remember the disembodied candelabra lighting the Beaast's home. And I remember thinking that the Beast was much more interesting than the bland man he transformed into.
Since then I've read a lot of variations on the theme, and seen a lot of the movies too--from Disney's rollicking musical version to Beastly, with Mary-Kate Olsen as the witch who curses pretty-boy Alex Pettyfer.
Today, when I got my daily slew of newsletters offering free and almost free books for the kindle, I noticed one called The Beast of Bath, a Regency Fairytale. I thought it looked interesting and I started thinking about how many versions of the B&B I've read in the last few years, wtih their widely diverse settings. Christine Pope, for example, kicked off her popular Gaia Consortium series with a novella called Breath of Life, her version of the story.
Why is Beauty and the Beast so popular?
I think one of the reasons is that the heroine is really likable in any of the versions you read. Unlike her sisters, she isn't selfish and vain or greedy.
She is not a shallow person. One of the things I remember most about Robin McKinley's lovely version of the story (Beauty) is that she delights in the Beast's library, which has all the books ever written, as well as those that have yet to be written. I thought that was a most wonderful thing the first time I read it and I still do.
But the Beauty is also someone who makes a moral choice. I'm not a fairy tale scholar, but I remember when I read the tale of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady" that it was a Beauty and the Beast story with a gender change. My favorite moment in the story comes when the Lady asks the Knight which he would prefer--being able to see her as the beauty she is at night, when it's just them, or during the day, when the court can see he didn't marry a "beast." And he tells her to choose for herself, thus breaking the spell. This story is one of the subplots of a truly godawful movie called Merlin and the Sword (Candice Bergen as Morgan le Fay, Rupert Everett as Lancelot and a young Liam Neeson playing a character called Grak), and Patrick Ryecart (currently in Poldark) as Gawain. Ryecart was terrific (you might have seen him in the BBC Romeo & Juliet), and I wish the movie as a whole had been even a little better because who doesn't like King Arthur movies?
But I digress.
I was trolling through Amazon.com looking for other Beauty and the Beast stories and I found a ton of tales that looked interesting. The one that intrigued me most of all was Depravity by M.J. Haag.
It's the first in a trilogy, and it's got a 4.8 rating. It sounds like it's got a darker edge to it and that works completely because at its heart, B&B is a psychologically complex tale. I can't wait to read it.