Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

Information

Goodreads: Hunted
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2017

Official Summary

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast? 

Star Divider

Review

Hunted by Meagan Spooner is a quick and satisfying retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” If you want a take on the classic fairy tale that mixes things up a little but is more comforting than completely novel, this is the book for you.

I’ve been sitting on writing this review for several days after I finished reading Hunted because, frankly, I can’t think of must to say about it. The story is different from the versions of “Beauty and the Beast” most readers are familiar with; for instance, the main character is a hunter more than an avid reader (though she does enjoy books), and her bonds with her sisters are emphasized over her relationship with her father. The story is set in Russia instead of France, and there are other fairy tales and bits of folklore woven in.

And yet…in spite of all these obvious differences…the book doesn’t actually come across as original.

But while the book didn’t wow me, I enjoyed it, and I appreciate it for what it is: a fun take on an old tale, perfect for readers who want a cozy fairy tale retelling and to watch Beauty come into her own and then find her true love. I enjoy YA books immensely and have for years, but there has been a definite shift towards books that are trying to make points rather than tell stories, books that are incredibly dark, and books that are rather convoluted (with varying degrees of success). All this is fine, depending on what you’re in the mood to read. Hunted reminded me less of recent YA books and more of the ones I read when I was actually a teen: it’s really just a fun spin on “Beauty and the Beast.”

If you like fairy tale retellings and “Beauty and the Beast,” check it out. If you want really original take on the story or a YA fantasy that’s epic and complex, this might not be for you.

Briana
3 Stars

Bookish and the Beast by Ashley Poston

Bookish and the Beast cover

Information

Goodreads: Bookish and the Beast
Series: Once Upon a Con #3
Source: Library
Published: August 4, 2020

Official Summary

In the third book in Ashley Poston’s Once Upon a Con series, Beauty and the Beast is retold in the beloved Starfield universe.

Rosie Thorne is feeling stuck—on her college application essays, in her small town, and on that mysterious General Sond cosplayer she met at ExcelsiCon. Most of all, she’s stuck in her grief over her mother’s death. Her only solace was her late mother’s library of rare Starfield novels, but even that disappeared when they sold it to pay off hospital bills.

On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.

Star Divider

Review

I enjoyed both Geekerella and The Princess and the Fan Girl, so it was only to be expected I’d pick up the third book in the Once Upon a Con series (though they’re really companion novels, and you could probably read them in any order and understand them). Yet after finishing Bookish and the Beast, which ought to have been a strong contender for my favorite book in the series since I LOVE “Beauty and the Beast” retellings…I find myself with little to say about it besides it was a perfectly enjoyable read.

Part of the fun of this series is how it revels in nerd/fan/con culture, and that’s certainly present in Bookish and the Beast, though the action not does occur at a con as it does in the first two books. References to Poston’s invented Starfield fandom abound, of course, but there are also nods to everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter to Avatar: The Last Airbender, as well as a general love of science fiction and fantasy. Readers who also love these fandoms will feeo right at home in this book.

In terms of actual plot…the book is fine. It’s obviously a looser interpretation of “Beauty and the Beast,” since the protagonist isn’t literally trapped with Vance Reigns. The set-up for how they end up spending together did feel contrived to me– both why Vance has ended up in this random town and why Rosie has to spend a bunch of time in his house.

Spoiler Warning This Paragraph: Basically I think it’s ridiculous that 1) anyone would assume Vance was cheating with Elle because they…happened to be in the same car together. She’s dating his coworker. Clearly they know each other and possibly hang out sometimes. 2) Rosie is paying off an expensive debt by organizing a home library, especially when no one has any idea whether she’s qualified to complete such a task.

I get that part of the appeal of retellings like this might be a suspension of disbelief, or just the fantasy that such wild things might come to be (hence the “falling in love with a famous person who never knew you existed before” plot), but I could have done with slightly more realism.

The book really is fun, and I had a good time reading it, but it didn’t stand up to the previous two books for me, either in plot or in romance. I’m looking forward to reading more of Poston’s work, but this does feel like a good close to the Once Upon a Con series because I’m not sure I would read more of this particular series.

Briana
3 Stars

Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book by Jennifer Donnelly

Information

Goodreads: Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2017

SummarY

Imprisoned in the Beast’s castle, Belle finds a mysterious book in the library that, upon opening, allows her to enter its pages and take part in its story.  There she meets a handsome duke and an enchanting duchess who assure her that she can stay with them forever.  But are they truly who they seem?  And, when the story tries to claim her, will Belle be able to find her way back home?

Star Divider

Review

I am always hesitant to read movie tie-ins, but my love for Jennifer Donnelly’s Stepsister convinced me  to give this one a try.  However, while I do think Lost in a Book is better written than the average movie tie-in, the most engrossing parts prove to be the framing story Donnelly creates, in which the sisters Love and Death compete to win a wager over whether the Beast can change.  The main story featuring Belle, the Beast, and a few of the castle servants, is disappointing in contrast, with the characters never fully seeming to come alive.  Ultimately, Lost in a Book will appeal to die-hard Disney fans, but probably not engage the average reader of YA fantasy.

In Lost in a Book, Donnelly employs a similar framing story to that in Stepsister (released two years after).  Love and Death have a wager as to whether the Beast will fall in love or die first, leading Death to find a way to stack the odds in her favor.  Understanding that Belle feels alone and isolated, she has her servants sneak an enchanted book into the library–a book that Belle can enter, one where she can attend balls, travel to Paris, and make friends.  The catch?  If Belle is not careful, she will be trapped in the book forever, causing Love to lose.

This framing device is extremely compelling, despite its familiarity (in Stepsister, Fate and Chance make a wager on the life of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters), so it is highly disappointing that the story fails to come to life when it focuses on Belle.  Belle somehow comes across as flat and lifeless–and even somewhat annoying and stupid.  The main impetus for her journeys into the enchanted book are that she is upset the Beast fails to tell her everything she wants to know (like she can really expect the poor guy to have superior interpersonal skills after everything that has happened to him).  She gets angry at his reticence, fails to recognize how hard he is trying in other areas (like helping her clean, setting up a skating party even though he doesn’t skate, participating in a surprise birthday party, etc.), and so retreats into a book where she readily makes friends with strangers who also tell her nothing and whom she receives warnings against.

Ultimately, I think many readers will be disappointed by Belle’s characterization and by how lifeless the “Beauty and the Beast” sections of the book feel when compared with the framing story.  Donnelly excels where she has the most latitude for originality, but feels stifled when she has to write a story set in an already-defined world with already-created characters.  This, combined with how the story feels half-finished–since it is only an interlude in the tale and does not bring readers to the resolution, the Beast’s transformation–makes for a somewhat lackluster read.  Disney fans will probably pick this one up regardless, but Lost in a Book never creates an experience that lives up to its own title.

4 Spellbinding Retellings of “Beauty and the Beast”

cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Seventeen years ago, Nyx’s father made a bargain with the demon lord who rules their land.  Now Nyx must become his wife, but she is not going willingly.  She has a plan that will end his reign once and for all.  But what happens when she falls in love with the person she wants to destroy?

A dark romance focused largely on Nyx’s feelings for the demon lord and his shadow.  Readers who enjoy steamy reads will likely find this to their taste, but fans of fantasy may also enjoy the unique worldbuilding.

smaller star divider

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and LonelyPrince Rhen is cursed to relive his eighteenth year over and over again until a girl falls in love with him.  Unfortunately, they never do–not when they see the beast he becomes.  Then Harper, a girl from D.C. enters his world and, suddenly, Rhen thinks he might have a chance.  But war approaches his borders and Harper fears for the family she left behind.  Can Rhen save both his kingdom and his heart?

A gripping retelling that goes beyond the romance to tell a story about political machinations and impending war.  Readers who enjoy high fantasy and war stories will delight in this expanded version of an old story. There’s even a sequel!

smaller star divider

Ogre Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Evie enjoys working on her healing remedies along with her best friend Wormy.  But then Wormy has to ruin everything by proposing.  Even worse, the fairy Lucinda does not agree with Evie that she is too young to think of marrying anyone.  As punishment for rejecting Wormy, Lucinda transforms Evie into an ogre.  Now, she only has a few weeks to accept a proposal–or she will be an ogre forever.  A prequel to Ella Enchanted that can be read as a standalone.

Readers expecting a second Ella Enchanted may find themselves disappointed by this prequel.  Readers who judge the book on its own, however, will likely be delighted at the opportunity to return to Ella’s world, learn more about ogres, and immerse themselves in the lives of characters who played pivotal roles in Ella Enchanted.  Evie is a spunky heroine whose kindness will cause readers to sympathize with her and cheer her on her journey.

smaller star divider

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Scarred by a wolf when she is seven years old, Echo Alkaev leads a lonely existence, shunned by the villagers who think she is cursed. Years later, she meets the wolf again and he strikes a bargain: he will save her father’s life is she agrees to live with him for one year. In his house under the mountain, Echo finds an enchanted library and begins to fall in love with Hal, who seems trapped in the books. But an evil force is growing and the wolf, Echo, and Hal will all be lost at the end of the year, unless Echo can find a way to break the curse.

This enchanting fantasy blends elements from “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Tam Lin.”  Readers who love retellings with a classic feel will fall in love with Echo North, which captures the elusive spirit of Faerie.

Follow us: Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Facebook

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Information

Goodreads: Cruel Beauty
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

Seventeen-year-old Nyx’s father made a bargain with the demon lord Ignifex before she was born.  Now she must become Ignifex’s bride.  But she has a plan to kill him.  Then, unexpectedly, Nyx finds herself falling in love.  Can she save Ignifex?  Or will she lose him forever?

Star Divider

Review

Cruel Beauty is part fantasy, but mostly romance.  Focused on the forced marriage of seventeen-year-old Nyx to the demon lord who rules her world, the story is ostensibly about Nyx’s efforts to kill her husband, but ends up being about Nyx’s desire to kiss the demon lord, as well as his mysterious, animate shadow.  Readers who enjoy steamy romances will find this fairy tale retelling to their taste.

I always feel conflicted about books like Cruel Beauty because I personally feel a little uncomfortable spending my time reading about someone’s lustful feelings.  The worldbuilding here is fascinating, and that drew me in, as did the mystery behind the demon lord’s curse.  Yet, time and again, the story returns to Nyx’s sexual desires.  Indeed, a good portion of the story is based around the question of, “When will he ravish her?”  Nyx initially lives each night in fear, believing her husband will claim his marital rights. Later, she begins to wish he would.  The result is almost like a weird kind of voyeurism where readers are supposed to start hoping that the climactic moment will finally arrive.  (There’s nothing graphic shown, though.)

So, yeah, the focus on Nyx’s sexual desires is a little uncomfortable and made me wonder if reading Cruel Beauty was a beneficial use of my time.   However, I found myself really drawn into the world Rosamund Hodges creates.  Nyx lives in a land sundered from our world.  The sky is paper and demons lurk in the shadows.  Generations of scholars have sought ways to kill the demon lord and, hopefully, undo the sundering.  This is a delightfully original premise and, combined with Nyx’s explorations through the demon lord’s magic house, ultimately made the book worth reading.  (Though it’s worth noting that the constant Greek references add nothing significant to the worldbuilding, except perhaps a sense of confusion about why Hodge included them at all.)

I also enjoyed Nyx as a character.  As she constantly tells us, she is not very nice.  She has hatred in her heart and she is determined to kill the demon lord, even as she finds herself drawn to him.  This makes her feel vivid and refreshing.  Readers do not have to feel compelled to like her because, frankly, I am not sure she is likeable.  However, she is interesting.  And I wanted to know how her story would end.

Cruel Beauty is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in an original fantasy world, but focused a good deal on the romance.  Fans of fantasy and retold fairy tales will find a lot to like about the book.  But readers should also know that the romance takes center stage.

4 stars

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

Information

Goodreads: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely #1
Source: Library
Published: January 29, 2019

Official Summary

Fall in love, break the curse. 

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom. 

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Star Divider

Review

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is an enchanting, romantic tale perfect for fans of fairy tale retellings who want a slow-burn, swoonworthy romance combined with a more active, political take on “Beauty and the Beast.”  The novel introduces readers to protagonist Harper Lacy, who must fall in love with Crown Prince Rhen of Emberfall in order to break the curse that has consigned him to turning into a violent beast at the end of each season–but it takes readers beyond this classic love story and asks how Harper and Rhen can help the kingdom outside the castle doors, what steps they can take to protect the people of Emberfall, even if the curse is never broke.  The result isn’t perfect, as intricate political machinations do not seem to be the novel’s strength, but the ambition of making a “Beauty and the Beast” story more than a romance staged in an isolated palace and the the passion and complexity of the characters help make the story shine even through its small flaws.

The romance–and the two characters in it–is really the high point of A Curse So Dark and Lonely. It’s been a while since I read a novel where I was so invested in the romance, captivated as I watched the two characters come closer together slowly but surely, hesitant to trust each other but hoping they could–and then that the trust would turn into something more. This is a lovely, slow burn romance that builds over the course of the novel and brings the readers right along with it.

The characters themselves, however, are also wonderful as individuals. Harper is a bit rough around the edges, understandable since her mother has cancer, her father has run out, and her brother is apparently involved with the Mafia.  She’s no-nonsense and straightforward, but she is also kind and does what’s right even when it’s hard and even when it seems foolish. Rhen is equally complex, a man struggling with a curse that has lasted seemingly forever, tired of his fate but also hoping to do what he can for his people.  (A lot of readers prefer the guard commander Grey as the most interesting character; I like him, as well, and he is complex, but I actually think his real time to shine will be in the companion novel Kemmerer has planned.)

I had just a couple small issues with the book. First, the enchantress who has cursed Rhen doesn’t seem to have a plausible motivation.  There’s an explanation, but it seems flimsy. It doesn’t explain her desire to torture Rhen, Grey, and really anyone else any chance she gets or her apparent desire to see Emberfall as a whole burn to the ground. She’s a bit flighty and actually reminded me of Lucinda from Ella Enchanted the way she randomly pops in and out of places and causes unasked-for havoc, but inexplicably more sadistic than Lucinda. She makes sense as a plot-mover, not so much as a character, which is a shame considering how complex the rest of the characterization in the book is.

Second, I didn’t really understand all the political maneuverings in the novel.  I understand Kemmerer has written contemporary YA before, so maybe “how to run a country” is not her area of expertise, but I was a bit lost when things like “closing the borders and stopping all trade” were presented as “initially wise” moves that “protected the country.”  I also was not 100% clear on why all the royal guard was gone, why the prince was no longer communicating with his army or…anyone, etc. I think there are some obvious solutions to their problems that were never taken or addressed.

These questions did not ruin my enjoyment of the book, however.  I loved reading this take on “Beauty and the Beast” and meeting a cast of fantastic characters who all had to find ways to overcome their doubts and past mistakes to do what they could for other people. In many ways, the book isn’t so much about romance or even saving a kingdom as it is about personal sacrifice and finding strength in unlikely places. Highly recommended.

4 stars Briana

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Information

Goodreads: Echo North
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 2019

Summary

Scarred by a wolf when she is seven years old, Echo Alkaev leads a lonely existence, shunned by the villagers who think she is cursed.  Years later, she meets the wolf again and he strikes a bargain: he will save her father’s life is she agrees to live with him for one year.  In his house under the mountain, Echo finds an enchanted library and begins to fall in love with Hal, who seems trapped in the books.  But an evil force is growing and the wolf, Echo, and Hal will all be lost at the end of the year, unless Echo can find a way to break the curse.

Star Divider

Review

Echo North is a haunting fairy tale retelling that melds elements of “Beauty and the Beast,” “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and “Tam Lin.”  At its heart is the journey of young Echo Alkaev, scarred in her childhood by a wolf, and ostracized by the villagers as a result.  She doubts her own self-worth and fears no one will ever see past her face.  But her agreement to stay in the house of an enchanted wolf for one year (in exchange for the life of her father) provides her an opportunity for reflection.  There she must come to terms with the life she lost, the life she could have had, and the life she now has the ability to choose for herself.  Echo North is a love story, yes, but it is also the story of a young woman discovering her own strength and forging her own path.

Perhaps fittingly for a fairy tale retelling, Echo North celebrates the power, not of feats of arms, but of love.  Echo may not think highly of herself, but she quietly shapes the world around her by consistently choosing to help others.  This generosity is such a part of her that it seems instinctual and it is almost possible to miss the changes she effects. She makes it seem natural.  But her true test, of course, comes at the very end.  Readers of fairy tales will know that.  But Joanna Ruth Meyer provides an original twist, one that asks readers to think more deeply about what love is, what love can endure, even what love should endure.

And that is true magic.  Meyer has written a retelling so effortless that it feels like it could be the original tale–even while adding her own editions.  Her story lives and breathes on the page, inviting readers in, wrapping them in enchantment.  Echo North is a rare, beautiful thing.  A story that you don’t want to end.

Some people seem to think that fairy tale retellings have gone out of style.  But readers searching for the old magic will recognize it when they see it.  If you like fairy tales, I am pretty certain you will love Echo North.

5 stars

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanee Barbot de Villeneuve, Illustrated by MinaLima

INFORMATION

Goodreads: Beauty and the Beast
Series:  None
Source: Gift
Published: 1740 (text), 2017 (illustrated by MinaLima)

SUMMARY

A hapless merchant finds himself in an enchanted castle after getting lost in the woods.  There he picks a single rose for the youngest of his daughters, but the owner of the castle, a hideous Beast, claims his life or one of the merchant’s daughters, for the theft.  But is there any girl so virtuous that she would give up her life in exchange for her father’s?  And is there any girl so virtuous that she could learn to look past appearances and give her hand in marriage to a beast?

Illustrated with interactive elements and pop-ups by MinaLima.

REVIEW

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s The Beauty and the Beast is the earliest known version of the tale–and it is probably very different from what you might expect.  The length of a novel, it covers the fortunes of the merchant and his six sons and six daughters, the backstory of the Beast and his kingdom, the histories of a few neighboring kingdoms, and the politics and magic of the Fairies who travel the world doing good deeds.  At times it feels convoluted and at other times a little dated.  Still, fans of the story will enjoy reading its first appearance.

Perhaps most remarkable in this tale is the emphasis on Beauty’s virtue in rewarding generosity against her personal inclinations.  In dreams she sees a handsome prince who begs her to save him by looking beyond appearance.  She imagines the Beast imprisons him and longs to rescue him.  Each night, however, the beast, who is also rather stupid, asks her to marry him.  But because the beast tries to satisfy all her desires by giving her access to every room in the palace, birds to sing to her and monkeys to wait to her, and a glass that allows her to attend operas and plays around the world, Beauty feels the beast must not be as mean as he appears.  She longs to please him and to reward his generosity.  A very different story from Disney’s version!

Added to this are a few chapters of convoluted backstory that do not, I feel, add much to the story besides [spoiler] playing into the idea that virtue often comes with class.  Were you wondering why Beauty is so kind and generous while her sisters are spoiled, greedy, envious ,and mean?  It’s because she’s really the offspring of royalty!  And thus a fitting bride for the prince.  Yes, there’s a lot of talk about how you don’t need to be well-born to be worthy, but having Beauty be well-born after all undercuts that message pretty thoroughly. [End spoilers.]  However, I think that readers will be fascinated by the differences in this tale from more familiar versions, and may even find themselves interested in the politics described in the final chapters.

The illustrated version by MinaLina and published by HarperDesign adds to the magic and beauty of the tale with the gorgeous images as well as the “interactive elements” that include fold-out maps, pop-up scenery, a ring like Beauty’s to turn, and more.  The edition is really quite well-done, appearing very handsome on the shelf with a cover reminiscent of imitation leather, embossed text and designs, and some gold accents.  The inside is full of illustrations from little designs by each page number to illuminated letters at the start of chapters to a number of full-page illustrations.  It’s the type of book you’ll love to hold and look at, even when not reading it.

This version of “Beauty and the Beast” has quite a few surprises in store for readers.  Not only is the story very different, but the prose is very much a product of its time.  Readers who dislike unfamiliar syntax or an emphasis on promoting virtue might not find the story to their taste.  However, those interested in fairy tales or even in a beautiful and fantastic tale will find much to enjoy.

4 stars

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The trailers for Beauty and the Beast (starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens) indicated that this would mostly be a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated Disney film, but I suspect few movie goers have a problem with that.  When you combine a beloved story, excellent songs, gorgeous visuals, and the star power of Emma Watson, you are surely heading for cinematic gold.  Beauty and the Beast may not surprise, but it delights–and that’s all it needs to do.

The film does flesh out a few parts of the story, adding motivations for the protectiveness of Belle’s father, showing why Belle is such an outcast in her village, and elaborating a little on the Beast’s past.  Some moments in the original story that may have puzzled viewers are explained or modified.  For instance, in the original it’s unclear how a bookseller says in business in a village where the only reader borrows and does not buy books.  This version gives a nod to viewers’ questions by creating a more realistic scenario for Belle to borrow books.

Questions of feminism and how this version would address it and the potential of Stockholm Syndrome surrounded the film before release.  Belle’s character is fleshed out more so that her strength, kindness, and fearlessness are highlighted.  And there is at least one extended scene where viewers can see the Beast’s kindness and the connection he and Belle forge.  Belle also directly addresses her status as a prisoner.  These moments are few and short, however, so that the bulk of the story focuses on the familiar scenes, with a few dialogue changes to keep things fresh or add humor.

However, the story really does not need many changes to be strong.  The makers seem to recognize that the relationships are what really drive the story.  By focusing on the bonds between individuals, whether it’s a father-daughter relationship, a romance, or a friendship, the film finds its heart.  Love in all its forms is supportive and powerful and transformative.  The message may be as old as time, but it is a message that continues to resonate.  No modifications needed.

“Beauty and the Beast”: A Story of True Love or a Problematic Relationship?

Beauty and the Beast Discussion- True Love or Problematic Relationship_

With the anticipated release of Disney’s live-remake of Beauty and the Beast, discussions have been renewed about the potentially problematic nature of the plot.  Critics worry that the story celebrates Stockholm Syndrome and that it teaches girls and women to forgive the men who hurt them, because the message is that if they only love a  man enough, the man will change.  Others however, bristle at the thought that a beloved classic should be read this way.  The story is, in their eyes, about the transformative nature of love.

To be fair to the critics who read Stockholm Syndrome into the plot, Disney’s version does make changes to the fairy tale that make Belle into more of a prisoner than a guest.  The version told by Andrew Lang in his Blue Fairy Book features a Belle who willingly goes to the Beast’s palace because it was her request for a rose that got her father into trouble there.  She is treated respectfully by the Beast, roams freely about the palace, and enjoys talking with the Beast.  She understands him as kind and argues that his ugly appearance is not his fault and does not reflect his personality.  When she requests a visit home, he immediately agrees, though sadly.  She returns willingly because she is worried about him and his well-being.

In contrast, Disney’s Belle is at first locked in a cell, then understood to be a prisoner of the palace with limited movement.  She does not initially like the Beast because he is angry and rude (though, to her credit, she does not put up with his behavior but rather calls him out on it.)  She seems, on the whole, to be more at the mercy of the Beast in terms of her physical agency, though she is not a passive character and makes small resistances throughout the film from refusing to dine with the Beast to arguing her way home.  In trying to make their story more dramatic, Disney does in fact introduce elements that viewers can find troubling and that complicate the narrative of the transformative power of love.

These changes illustrate the challenge inherent in determining what kind of story Beauty and the Beast is, and whether it is productive to think of the story in terms of frames such as Stockholm Syndrome.  The source text for Disney’s version focuses on Belle’s learning to recognize how kind the Beast is, despite his appearance.  Because it is shorter and somewhat sparser (and because Lang’s version at least contains a good amount of dialogue about learning to see past appearances, just in case readers missed the memo), it lends itself  much more readily to the somewhat allegorical interpretation favored by those who defend it.  (An attitude that mirrors that of G. K. Chesterton, who writes in Orthodoxy that: “There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”)  But that message can be lost in translation once Disney makes changes to the story.

In a way, the debate about the possible ramifications of romanticizing Stockholm Syndrome seems to be about two distinctly different texts–one argument is focusing on Disney’s very specific adaptation and the other argument is recognizing the embedded message that is carried over into Disney’s version from the source text.  However, I would go farther and suggest that Disney’s version ultimately does not romanticize Stockholm Syndrome for the simple reason that Belle does not begin to love the Beast until he begins to show he is capable of change.  That is, she does not commit herself emotionally or begin to fall in love until he stops throwing tantrums and shouting and generally being awful and uncouth.

Yes, she is still a prisoner in his castle and, yes, that is a problem.  However, she does not fall in love with the Beast simply because he is there or because she sympathizes with him or his reasons for doing what he does.  She does not  make excuses for his actions or wave aside his anger management issues because he is just “misunderstood” or had a hard childhood or just has some things going on emotionally because it’s difficult being a hideous monster.  She falls in love because he shows himself capable of gentleness and heroism, and because he is willing to learn and to grow.

It’s not a perfect story and if I were to retell it, I would hesitate to make the Beast imprison Belle as he does in the Disney version–not without a more in-depth exploration of how this could impact Belle as she tries to decipher her feelings towards the Beast.  However, I do not think fairy tales are really meant to be taken literally.  They operate on an allegorical level through their sparsity--and the short run time of Disney films mimics that sparsity to an extent.  These movies are not psychological explorations.  They assume that their viewers will take away, in good faith, the idea that qualities such as kindness, caring, and sacrifice are noble things that can make positive impacts on the world.  That’s a message I still believe–and so I can still love Beauty and the Beast after all these years.

What do you think?  Is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast dangerous for children or a positive story about the power of love and looking beyond appearances?