Fairy Tale Romance

So you want to have a fairy tale romance in your life? Wonderful, you’ve come to the right place. We have several models on special right now.

First, we have the Cindy. You meet your man at an elaborate party given by his parents, where you attend in borrowed clothing which makes you appear to be of a much higher social standing than you actually are. He is attracted to you purely based on your looks, dances with you all night but never asks you your name or personal details such as where you live, and when you leave, he is unable to remember your face well enough to pick you out from a crowd. You will, however, be recognised by your shoe size, and the wedding will follow immediately.

Our second option is the Sleepy. You spend a long time in a coma. Your first meeting with your man is him kissing you, for which he does not obtain your prior consent because you are unconscious at the time. You marry immediately upon waking.

Third, there is the Belle. You move in with your man without having met him first; your family’s safety is at stake if you don’t. His appearance is quite repulsive to you. You spend your days alone, keeping yourself occupied in his mansion without another human being in sight. Every evening he visits with you over supper, and keeps asking you to let him go to bed with you; even though you say “no” every time, he asks again the next day. When you ask to visit your family, he pressures you to stay by threatening to die. When you finally come to care about him and accept him for who he is, he changes so drastically you barely recognise him for the same man, but you marry him anyway.

Finally, we have the Croaker. Your man, who has a repulsive appearance, bribes you to promise him a relationship by offering to do a service for you. When you physically remove yourself from this situation, he stalks you to your home and enlists the support of your family, who in turn pressure you to perform the extorted promises. He insists on sharing your food, even though his appearance is so unattractive it makes you lose your appetite, after which you are forced by your parents to take him to your bedroom. You are so disgusted by him you violently throw him against the wall. When this has the unexpected effect of changing his looks, you immediately go to bed with him; the marriage takes place the next day.

Take your pick, fairy tale romances for the choosing! Oh, what’s that you say? You want the kind of romance where you freely choose your man, spend time getting to know each other, and deeply fall in love before you head to the altar? True love, and true love’s kiss? I’m sorry, we don’t carry that model. Maybe try next door, the company with the round-eared mouse might have something along that line. But be warned, most of their romances involve excessive amounts of singing. Are you sure you don’t want to try one of our models? Guaranteed fairy-tale style, time-tested and proven, with lifetime warranty of happiness? No? Ah well, suit yourself. It’s your own love life, after all.



Beauty and the Beast Meets Pride and Prejudice

This just cracks me up: a mashup of Pride and Prejudice with Beauty and the Beast.

The best part about it is how well it works. The “Beast” voice is so much like Matthew McFadyen’s voice, especially when he says “I’ve never felt this way about anyone” – exactly the Darcy tone. I found this video when I was looking up P&P as a version of B&B – because it is, when you think about it, and apparently I’m not the only one with that opinion.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Beast in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a Beauty…

Cupid, Psyche and Lewis

Well, okay, so C. S. Lewis isn’t really part of that story. He just retold it. A couple of days ago, in the course of this study, I pulled out my copy of Till We Have Faces and started to reread it. It’s been years since I’d read it, if not decades, and mostly what I remembered of it was that I found it kind of confusing. I didn’t really know what was going on. This time that was much better. But then I’d just read Cupid and Psyche, which helps a lot.

Now why am I even going into that whole thing? Because Cupid and Psyche, a story written by the second-century Latin writer Apuleius, is the earliest prototype of the “Beauty and the Beast” type of tale. C&P is the story of a king who has three daughters, the youngest of which, Psyche, is extremely beautiful (sound familiar already?). The goddess Venus gets ticked off at her – purely jealous spite on her part because humans are saying Psyche is Venus walking the earth – and sends her son Cupid out to kill the girl. Meanwhile, Psyche’s father is told that she needs to be sacrificed to the gods, exposed on a mountain peak, so that’s what they do. But Cupid has by now developed a heavy crush on Psyche, pretty as she is (no, pardon me, stunningly beautiful as she is), and he gets the wind god Zephyr to carry her off the mountain to a secret palace, staffed by invisible servants (!). Psyche is a bit freaked out, but enjoys the luxuries of the palace, including some unseen musicians serenading her (hidden speakers in the walls is my guess – oh, wait, it’s a couple millennia too early for high-tech equipment). Come nightfall, IAMQUE ADERAT IGNOBILIS MARITUS ET TORUM INSCENDERAT ET UXOREM SIBI PSYCHEM FECERAT – oh, sorry, “there entered her unknown husband, mounted the bed and made her his wife” and then takes off again before daybreak (V.4.3). (Translation by one E. J. Kenney, of the University of Cambridge, from 1990. No, I can’t read the Latin myself; I barely recognize some of the words. But it amuses me to have the Latin text to look at next to the English.) So here’s the first big difference between Psyche and Beauty: Psyche never lays eyes on her husband (just hands), while Beauty won’t let him into her bed because she knows he’s ugly as sin. Okay, so after a while of this, Psyche’s sisters set out to look for her. Cupid, being of the divine persuasion, knows they’re on their way, and also has a strong hunch they’re bad news. He tells Psyche to stay away from them, but she starts whining and crying and threatening suicide (really!), until he reluctantly agrees to let her see them, knowing full well that their marriage is going to be in deep doodoo because of these chicks. Sure enough, once the sisters figure out that Psyche is not only not dead, but lives in the lap of luxury with a husband she loves (even though she’s never seen him), they get incredibly jealous and plot her downfall. Unfortunately, Psyche, being the gullible type, makes it easy for them. It doesn’t take much on their part to talk her into a belief that this husband of hers is actually a hideous monster, and for her own safety she needs to kill him. (The thing that gets me about this is that it specifically says that “by her hands and ears, though not by her eyes, his presence was completely felt” V.5.1 – in other words, she’s been feeling up this guy every night for weeks, and hasn’t figure out that what she’s got under her hands is a normal guy with wings, not some kind of serpent-like monster? She’s just a bit dense.) So in spite of Cupid’s stern prohibition, she smuggles a lamp into the bedroom and takes a look at him when he’s asleep, killer knife at the ready. Of course, once she sees how drop-dead gorgeous he is, wings and all, she repents of her silliness, but it’s too late: a drop of hot lamp oil lands on his shoulder and burns him badly. He wakes up, just a little upset, and tells her that’s it, now that she’s seen him he has to leave. Psyche is heartbroken. She leaves the palace, and begins wandering the earth in search of her husband. Interestingly enough, one of the first things she does in her wanderings is to go punish her sisters for getting her into this: first she finds one, then to the other, and tells them that the god kicked her out for what she did, and wants to marry the sister instead. Both sisters fall for it, run up the mountain, and end up falling off the mountain top to their death. Anyway, now Venus enters the picture again. Cupid has gone home to mama, and is quite ill with the burn that he got. Venus, for her part, is absolutely furious at her son’s betrayal of her, and has Psyche brought to her so she can take it out on the girl (because, you know, it’s all Psyche’s fault that she’s beautiful and Cupid fell for her). Venus is rather beastly to Psyche, hitting her and punching her (even though she’s pregnant!), and finally sets her some impossible tasks which are meant to kill her. But Psyche gets assistance from magical helpers – some ants, for example, help her sort out a big pile of grains – and completes all the tasks Venus gave her. Cupid has finally recovered from his burn, and is fed up enough with mama’s antics that he goes to the Big Guy Himself, Jupiter, enlisting his aid in getting his wife back. Jupiter obliges, tells Venus to lay off Psyche, and makes the girl immortal by means of a serving of ambrosia (the beverage, not that cool-whip-and-marshmallow concoction). They have a big wedding feast with a dance number by Venus, and eventually Psyche gives birth to a daughter, “whom we call Pleasure”. They live happily ever after (literally), the end.

So, pretty obvious where the parallels to “Beauty and the Beast” are. I find it interesting that Psyche takes revenge on her sisters (which only works because the sisters are selfish bitches); in Villeneuve, the jealous sisters get to live with Beauty at the Beast’s palace, in Beaumont, they’re turned into sentient statues at the palace gates by the good fairy, but Apuleius’ girl does her own punishing. Another major difference between B&B and almost all other “animal bridegroom” stories such as this one, and the Norwegian “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” (which is very similar to “Cupid and Psyche”) is that Beauty never gets the warning, never has that “forbidden thing” she must not do, such as look at her husband. In some B&B versions, he tells her to make sure she comes back in time, or he’ll die, and the sisters trick her into staying too long which almost kills the Beast. But never quite – as soon as she has the dream of him being sick, she runs back to him and the spell is broken. And of course the biggest difference is the interaction between the girl and the man/beast. Psyche is married to Cupid, and just thinks he’s a beast, while Beauty knows he is, and refuses to marry him because of it. “Beauty and the Beast” is a transformation story, while “Cupid and Psyche” and most of the other tales of this type are growing-up and quest stories – if anyone is transformed here, it’s Psyche, not her husband.

Lewis’ adaptation of Cupid and Psyche moves even further away from the “Beauty and the Beast” storyline. In Till We Have Faces, the “beast” aspect of Cupid is almost entirely dropped; the story is told from the perspective of Psyche’s oldest sister, whom he calls Orual, and who does, in fact, deeply love Psyche (which causes its own problems). Lewis’ story is a story of identity, love, and understanding of the supernatural; the one who is transformed is Orual. It’s been an interesting comparison.

“Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova

Adapting Beasts and Beauties

I have yet to check Youtube for old silent movie adaptations of “Beauty and the Beast”; I’m sure there are some. It being a French fairy tale, I’d be surprised if the great French filmmakers like Georges Méliès hadn’t tried their hand at it in the early days of the cinema. In fact, the French seem to rule B&B adaptations. There is a brand-new one in the theatres in Europe right now, a French/German one, which looks delicious. I so wish I could see it; but in all likelihood, it won’t be available around here, definitely not in a language I understand. (Why aren’t all those beautiful European live-action fairy tale films dubbed into English and broadcast over here? It’s a crying shame, not to mention a piece of arrogance in ignoring those amazing works of art in favour of, well, Disney. Over here, fairy tale films are cartoons or completely changed retellings [CoughMaleficentCough]. Hmph.) Anyway, according to the trailer and film clips, the Beast in this movie looks exactly like the one from the 1946 adaptation by Jean Cocteau, which could probably be considered the definitive B&B film. I watched the latter the other day (yes, in French, fortunately it’s subtitled in English), and was amazed to find that the 1991 Disney movie, which I’ll study for my paper, has taken quite a bit of inspiration from it, notably the character of a rejected suitor of Belle’s who then goes after the Beast in order to kill him. Avenant in the Cocteau film isn’t an obnoxious jerk like Gaston in the Disney movie, but seeing as the written tales have no rejected suitor or attempted killing of the Beast at all, it’s pretty clear where Disney got that idea.

The Disney movie isn’t the only adaptation which was inspired by Cocteau. Another instance is Alex Flinn’s 2007 novel Beastly, which was made into a movie by the same name in 2011. No, the Beast in the movie (a high school student by the name of Kyle, played by Alex Pettyfer) bears no resemblance to Jean Marais’ Beast in the Cocteau film, but Flinn said somewhere (and I can’t find where right now – it must have been someplace on her website) that the way she describes him in the book is from the 1946 movie, which is pretty much a Chewbacca with fangs. In the Beastly movie, they’ve gone right out the other side, and taken off all his hair. As “prince” (most popular guy in high school), he’s got a head of golden curls, as “beast”, he’s bald and covered in massive metallic tattoos and scars. For the most part, it makes him look badass rather than ugly, but as they set up his character at the beginning of the story to be very appearance-conscious and proud of his good looks while cruelly sneering at anyone else, this works. Beastly also bears a resemblance to the Disney movie, in that both those films portray the Beast’s beastliness as a punishment inflicted on him for his ugly temper and pride. None of the older stories have this aspect to it; in de Beaumont, which is the source text for the Cocteau film, no reason for his enchantment is given, while in de Villeneuve’s story he is the innocent victim of a sexual predator (a cougar of a fairy who wants to marry him for his position and youthful bod). In Disney’s and Flinn’s stories, the real ugliness is on the inside, and the outer form the Beast takes is only an expression of what is inside. The change that Belle (Lindy, in Beastly) brings about is as much of a change of the inner Beast as of the outer one.

With Beastly, I’m glad I watched the movie before I read the book. The movie is good, I really like it; but, as is so often the case, the book is better. Also, the book has a plot twist in the end which is left out of the movie; if I had read the book first, I would have looked at one particular character very differently throughout the film, expecting them to do what they did in the book, and then been disappointed that they don’t. As is, I was able to fully enjoy both the movie and the book – in fact, I liked the book so much I looked up other books by Alex Flinn. I thoroughly enjoyed Cloaked (a fairy tale mash-up with a shoemaker, a frog prince, a witch etc, all of it set in today’s Miami Beach), and I’m trying to get a hold of A Kiss in Time, which is a “Sleeping Beauty” adaptation.

Just to mention briefly, I can’t talk about B&B adaptations without mentioning the Grande Dame of fairy tale retellings, Angela Carter. In her 1979 book The Bloody Tower she has two short stories, “The Courtship of Mr Lyon” and “The Tiger’s Bride”, the former a fairly straight-forward retelling of the B&B story, the latter, not so much (it has a quite unexpected ending). They’re both beautifully written, of course. As is a newly-released picture book version of B&B by H. Chuku Lee, illustrated by Pat Cummings (who happens to be Lee’s wife), which puts the whole story into an African setting. That book is so gorgeous, I want a copy to keep, even though I don’t have young kids around to read it to right now.

And then just as I was typing this I got in my inbox an advertisement for an upcoming novel by an indie writer which makes the girl the beast, and the guy the one who has to take his mother’s place in the castle to save her life from the beast… Is there no end to “Beauty and the Beast” adaptations? No, I don’t think there is.

Beauty and the Beast

“Beauty and the Beast” holds a special place in the lineup of fairy tales I’m studying right now: my first introduction to it was the Disney movie. All the others – “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and “The Frog Prince” – were childhood favourites of mine (well, maybe not favourites, exactly, except for SB, but I knew them well), but this one I only got to know after I came to Canada. The same goes for “Bluebeard”, so it must be that we just didn’t have any books of French fairy tales around when I was growing up. We had Grimms, Andersen, Arabian Nights, Hauff (another German Romantic, contemporary with the Grimms), a collection of Animal Tales, and probably a few others, but apparently no Frenchmen. Or, as it were, Frenchwomen.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a woman’s tale, and is one of the prime examples of the genuine “literary fairy tale”. The first version was written in 1740 by one Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and it’s not your simple Grimms’ style five-page fairy tale. In the translation I’m reading, included in Jack Zipes’ Beauties, Beasts and Enchantment: Classic French Fairy Tales, it’s just under eighty pages long; I’ve heard it referred to as a “novel” and someplace it said it was 250 pages. Now, I don’t think Zipes abridged his translation, so maybe it was just smaller pages or larger print or something; but suffice to say, it’s a LONG story. The best-known version is a much shorter retelling by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont which came out in 1756 (the first English translation was done in 1757, according to the Wikipedia).

De Beaumont’s story is a lot like de Villeneuve’s, except that it only tells one half of the tale, the part that’s now known. Hmm, haven’t we heard that one before? Except that in the case of “La belle et la bête” the extended version is nowhere near as gruesome as in “Sleeping Beauty”. It’s just, kind of, boring, in the TMI sense. You see, the prince has a mother, and the mother has a brother, and there was a wicked babysitter who happened to be a fairy and a king who married a shepherdess, except she was a fairy too, and it’s all to do with what happened years ago when they were all really young, and… What’s it got to do with Beauty and the Beast? Not all that much, actually; or, more to the point, by the time it is told you really don’t care a whole lot because the real story, the one about the girl and the animal, is finished. I guess nobody told Mme de Villeneuve that you shouldn’t introduce people into the plot really late in the book; if they matter, they have to show up in the first few chapters. At least that’s what fiction writers are told today.

Anyway, quick recap of the story as we know it: there’s a merchant, and he’s got a passel of kids – even split, 50/50 between boys and girls (in Villeneuve it’s six each, in Beaumont three), whose mother seems to have gone to her eternal reward, she’s never mentioned. His business goes bad, and they become poor. The daughters are ticked off and don’t want to accept that fact, all but the youngest, who is, of course, the most beautiful and therefore called Beauty (d’uh). She’s also the nicest of the lot and the only one willing to do any work for the family. Now, daddy goes on a trip, hoping to recoup his business losses; the sisters ask for all kinds of fancy gifts, but all Beauty wants is a rose (yes, definite shades of the Grimms’ “Cinderella” here). On the way back from his unsuccessful business trip, he gets lost in the snowy woods, and ends up in an enchanted castle, where he is helped by invisible servants (Beast has his castle fully automated, apparently; rather ahead of his time there). The next morning, he picks a rose in the garden for Beauty, which brings down the Beast on him, breathing fire (well, okay, roaring) and threatening to kill him. On hearing that he has daughters, the Beast makes a deal that if one of the daughters comes along willingly to take the merchant’s place, his life will be spared. So, as we knew would happen, Beauty is the one who offers to come along; the bitchy sisters would never do such a thing. So, now Beauty is in the Beast’s castle, fully expecting to be eaten. But instead, she finds herself welcomed, and from there on lives in the lap of luxury, waited on by the invisible servants. There is no other human being there, so she hangs around the castle by herself except for every evening at dinnertime, when the Beast shows up and talks to her, always ending his visit by asking her to marry him. She refuses repeatedly. Then one day she asks to be allowed to visit her family again; the Beast reluctantly agrees and makes her promise to come back soon, else he’ll die. She goes, and lets herself be tricked or talked into staying a bit too long; but then she has a dream about the Beast dying, and she rushes back as quickly as she can. Sure enough, her dream was real; he’s lying about somewhere in the garden, expiring for lack of Beauty. When she sees him, she either cries or dumps water on him, and makes a passionate declaration of love (or at least the willingness to marry him), which perks him right up. Not only that, it de-beastifies and re-princefies him, with fireworks and fanfares. Hurrah, marriage, happily ever after!

Well, okay, that’s how it works in Beaumont. In Villeneuve, it’s pretty much the same up to the fireworks and fanfares, but then there’s a snag. You see, the prince’s mother shows up, in company of a fairy (whom Beauty has been talking to for a while in dreams, so she’s a known quantity). And Mama Queen is not at all in favour of her darling Prince marrying a commoner, no matter how many curses the girl has broken and how much the Prince swears he’d rather be a beast and married to Beauty than a pretty-boy without his girl. Well, mama’s a royal snob. But what do know – the fairy’s got some insider info up her fluttery sleeve, which she imparts to the reader in several indeterminable and convoluted backstories. It all turns out right, because, you see, Beauty actually isn’t the merchant’s daughter, she’s a princess! (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Not only that, she’s the queen’s own niece! And the fairy’s niece, too! [Blah blah blah – insert fast-forwarding noise – blah blah] And the prince was cursed by his guardian, who was an ugly old fairy and wanted to shack up with him, which he wasn’t into, but now we’ve got her sorted, and Beauty’s parents (the real ones, a fairy and a king) are back together, and her foster father and his offspring get to come live at the castle. So now everybody is happy (even though nobody is who we thought they were), and we can finally have the wedding and get on with the happily ever after.

Yeah. No surprise Mme de Beaumont chopped off that last half. So, incidentally, did Andrew Lang in the version he printed in The Blue Fairy Book in 1889. He says it’s after Mme de Villeneuve, which it is – he keeps quite a few of de Villeneuve’s details which aren’t in de Beaumont – but he ends it with the breaking of the curse and the wedding. All told, I think I like that version best. It’s got some charming details, for example, every night in the Beast’s castle Beauty dreams of this handsome prince whom she falls very much in love with, and who keeps telling her not to be deceived by appearances. Her feelings for this dream boy are one of the reasons she keeps turning down the Beast’s proposals, so when she finally agrees to marry Beast, that’s a major change of heart for her. Of course, dream boy is Beast himself in his human form, so the happily ever after at the end rings that much more true.

I just wish I knew French, so I could read these stories in the original. Apparently there are a few interesting tidbits, particularly in Villeneuve, that literally get lost in translation (see SurLaLune Fairy Tales and dettoldisney on the topic). Ah well, I have to make do with what I’ve got.

Single-sentence Fairy Tales

Once again this morning, in reading my daily dose of social media, news and blogs, I ran across the term “Wizard of Oz”, used as a pre-determined phrase, a metaphor, if you will. And it made me think of just how ubiquitous that story is in American society. We can use that term and everyone knows what we mean by it, because the Oz story is a meme in American culture – its meaning, or message, has become just about independent of Baum’s little novel from the year 1900. You just have to say “Wizard of Oz” or “Wicked Witch of the West” and people know what you mean, the whole story pops into their heads. There is a word for that – it’s a literary device, and I can’t think of what it’s called right now. Oh – here we go (thank you, Google): it’s synecdoche, which, as I just found out, is not pronounced SIN-eck-doak, but sin-ECK-do-kee. You learn something new every day.

And then I kept thinking about the fairy tales I’m studying, and how much this “the-part-represents-the-whole” thing is the case for them, too. Probably even more so than for Oz. We ALL know about Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty & the Beast, and the Frog Prince, right? Right. But what do we know about them? There is one core meme, one key part to each story that sticks with us. You can sum up each story in one sentence. Here, let me give it a try.

Cinderella: Girl is made to work as slave by her stepmother, but magically gets to go to the ball where she meets the prince.

Sleeping Beauty: Girl falls asleep for a hundred years in a rose-covered castle, and is kissed awake by the prince.

Beauty and the Beast: Girl hooks up with really ugly guy, who turns out to be a prince.

The Frog Prince: Girl kisses frog, who turns into a prince.

Okay, that’s just one key meme for each story. There are other, secondary ones – for Cinderella, in particular, there’s the lost & found slipper, of course, and the pumpkin coach, which are also used memetically; but for the most part, when we speak of someone “having a Cinderella experience”, we mean the rags-to-riches, ashes-to-ballroom transformation.

And then there’s the fact that not every version of every story contains exactly those elements I mentioned. Take the Grimm’s version of “The Frog Prince”, for example: no kissing whatsoever takes place in that on, froggy gets chucked against the wall (splat!), which very effectively unfroggifies him. I’m sure most enchanted princes are grateful that the meme which took hold of our imagination is the kissing one, not the Grimm’s version – can’t you just see all those princesses going around hurling innocent amphibians against the walls of their bedrooms? Uh, no, let’s stick with kissing. Much tidier, and less work for the chamber maids. (I haven’t found out yet where or at what point in the development of the story the kissing came in; I’m not getting to “The Frog Prince” for a while yet. But it’s definitely one of the things I’ll have to look into.)

So, one thing I’m wondering: what is it about those memes that made them memes? Why do they stick so hard in our minds? Lots of thinking to do yet.