Thursday, March 23, 2017

Beauty and The Beast Are Actually First Cousins

Beauty and the Beast
The original story of "Beauty and the Beast" comes directly from a novel by French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, first published in 1740. La Belle et la BĂȘte inspired both the 1991 Disney film and the 2017 remake, which pays homage to the original writer by naming Belle’s village "Villeneuve."

As always, Disney has taken some major liberties with the source material — which may be for the best, as Villeneuve's story goes in some pretty twisted directions. Gwynne Watkins from Yahoo Movies looked at the original novel to see which parts of the story survived intact, and which details (including some very un-Disney incest and seduction subplots) have fallen by the wayside over the past two-and-half centuries.

The Disney version showed that when she returned to the castle from her home, Beauty finds that the Beast has fallen sick, and her concern makes her realize that she does feel affection for her captor. She says "yes" to his proposal, the sky magically lights up with "twenty thousand fireworks, which continued rising for three hours," and Beauty prepares to say goodbye to her prince. But the prince vanishes from her dreams, and when she awakens the next morning, the transformed Beast is lying beside her.

And that's about where the Disney version ends. But it's only half the book. For the remaining four chapters, Villeneuve delves into the extremely convoluted backstory of the Beast's enchantment.

As it turns out, the prince in the novel wasn’t cursed as punishment for his own sins; the spell was cast by an evil fairy who essentially kidnapped the prince as a boy, then tried to seduce him as a youth. When he rejected her advances, she transformed him into the Beast.

However, a good fairy took pity on the prince, and created the provision that love could reverse the spell. The good fairy also secretly arranged for Beauty and the Beast to meet, as if by chance, through elaborate, years-long manipulation of their families. For example, the good fairy brought Beauty to her merchant father for adoption, in order to disguise Beauty's true parentage as the daughter of a king and a fairy.

Which leads to the book's most shocking twist: Beauty and the Beast are first cousins. Beauty is revealed to be the secret daughter of the King of the Fortunate Island, who is the brother of the Queen, the prince's widowed mother.

By the conventions of 18th-century Europe, this relationship makes Beauty and the Prince a perfect match: They come from the same aristocratic class, and when they marry, their respective kingdoms will remain in the family. By modern conventions, however, it’s much easier to accept that Beauty falls in love with a hairy elephant than it is to accept that she and the Prince are pretty closely related.

There's one more significant detail that Disney changed, something that seems small, but actually makes a world of difference.

In the novel, the Prince is forbidden from showing his true self to Beauty. Under penalty of death from the evil fairy, he must pretend that he is "coarse and stupid" as well as ugly, and not try to win over his captive with words or gestures of love. This means that when Beauty falls for him, she's doing so purely out of gratitude for his kindness and generosity. Disney’s version — that she gets to know the Beast, and senses in him a soulmate — is much more romantic.

Furthermore, by making Beauty a secret member of the royal family, Villeneuve’s book misses a large part of the Disney story’s appeal: The idea that a humble girl from a tiny village could transform the life of a powerful prince simply by loving him. Fun as it is to read all the scandalous fairy intrigue in La Belle et la BĂȘte, the Disney version makes for a much simpler plot.

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