“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?

Beastly by Alex Flinn

beastlyInformation

Goodreads: Beastly
Series: Beastly #1
Source: Library
Published: 2007

Official Summary

I am a beast.

A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright—a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.

You think I’m talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It’s no deformity, no disease. And I’ll stay this way forever—ruined—unless I can break the spell.

Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I’ll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.

Review

I’m a huge fan of retold fairy tales, and Alex Flinn is a well-known name in retellings, so I was excited to finally get around to Beastly and check out what “Beauty and the Beast” would look like set in modern-day New York.  While the book does have some good moments, I was ultimately disappointed.  The story has one main theme it harps on, to the detriment of character development, engaging romance, and so forth. Add awkwardly choppy prose, and there just isn’t much for me to love here.

The prose irritated me from the start, but I decided to stick out the book and see if the plot would redeem it. The book opens in a chat room, with our protagonist the Beast talking to others who have gotten on the bad side of a witch’s transformation. Parts of this are actually clever. The characters here have distinct voices, and the frog is terrible at typing due to his webbed feet. However, chat speak isn’t my thing, and I was happy to see the whole book isn’t written this way.  However, the prose of the “regular” narration is still short and choppy, the sort of thing I imagine adults write when they think “I need to write in a simple style that will appeal to teens.”    I tried to ignore it, as I’m afraid to say I think most contemporary literature isn’t interested in beautiful prose anyway.

Unfortunately, I never got on board with the story either.  There’s having a theme and then there’s repeatedly throwing the theme in reader’s faces.  In Beastly,  we learn that outer beauty is meaningless; inner beauty counts.  Fair enough, but the Beast (before transformation) talks about nothing but outer beauty.  I understand. He’s shallow. He’s vain.  It’s why he gets cursed.  But even someone obsessed with his looks and who judges other people based on their looks must have other interests, right?  Maybe sports? Or expensive cheeses? Or networking for future career opportunities?  There are a million ways a character can be “a shallow rich kid,” but the Beast only talks about how ugly or beautiful people are.  It gets old really fast.  And then, of course, the theme continues to come up throughout the novel.

I might have dealt with all of this if the romance were able to save it.  After all, romance is a main draw of the fairy tale, right?  However, I felt that the pacing was off, and I never became invested in the relationship.  The girl who plays Belle in this retelling is nice, but I didn’t feel sparks between her and Beast.  And there were not a lot of cute moments of their budding romance.  I simply wasn’t interested in any of it.

Flinn does a good job of imagining how it would be possible for “Beauty and the Beast” to occur in modern-day New York, but that isn’t enough for me to buy into the story.  With flat characters, rushed romance, and irritating prose, the book just doesn’t appeal to me.  I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else by Alex Flinn in the near future.

2 stars Briana

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

ACOTARInformation

Goodreads: A Court of Thorns and Roses
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
Source: Giveaway
Published: May 5, 2015

Official Summary

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it… or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Review

I wasn’t a huge fan of Maas’s debut, Throne of Glass, but this was in large part because I thought the book still read like something the author had started writing at the age of sixteen, even after extensive revisions before publication.  With this in mind, I decided to give Maas’s new series a chance; after all, fans everywhere are obsessively swooning over the book, and Maas has garnered a lot more writing experience finishing the Throne of Glass series..

As an amalgamation of “Beauty and the Beast” and Faerie lore, A Court of Thorns and Roses isn’t offering something spectacularly original. but it’s still wildly fun and engrossing to read.  The main draw is really the romance–steamy, enthralling, and tantalizingly forbidden.  That is to say, I’m not sure anyone is here for the plot, which for a long while features protagonist Feyre living it up in her captor’s mansion, doing little while pretending she’s a badass (an unconvincing characterization, in my opinion, which I did my best to ignore).  The true attraction are the unfathomably handsome and off-limits Faeries, who do their best to provoke Feyre and reader’s hearts into submission.

However, the plot excels in one particular point.  I always hate the part of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings where Beauty goes away and bad things happen to the Beast and “Oh, no, will she go back to save him?”  We know she’s going back to save him, and it can seem like a tired and unnecessary plot tangent in uninspired retellings.  Maas makes it work, though.  This isn’t a pit stop in her plot; it’s when the plot really gets going and Feyre begins to show more of her character.  I enjoyed this section more than I would ever have anticipated.

The downside to this section of the book, however, is that love interest Tamlin entirely disappears while Feyre takes center stage.  Readers are then introduced to a different male character very much in depth, who quickly becomes far more interesting than Tamlin.  When Beauty and the Beast are finally reunited…I found myself not really caring.  I wanted the other guy.  It looks as if I’ll be getting my wish in the second book to see more of the new guy, but that doesn’t satisfy me.  I can’t help docking stars from a book that drops its own love interest and makes the ending super anti-climatic, no matter how much I liked the rest of the book.

4 stars Briana