Well, I managed to achieve my goal and I actually finished the first draft of my Beauty and the Beast retelling before the end of October! I also managed to prove to myself that I, in fact, can tell a complete story in less than 20,000 words (I was not convinced it was possible).
This is by far the very most rough rough draft I’ve ever completed. I haven’t done any editing on it yet at all… generally by the time I complete a draft, I have also sort of been editing-as-I-go and it’s more like a second or third draft by the time it’s finished. Not so with this story. It is extremely rough in its completion. The only editing I’ve done so far has been on the first scene.
Also, bear in mind, that I have a newborn, who at 5 weeks is still only giving me sleep in 2-3 hour stretches at a time. So, I’m very sleep-deprived.
All of this may mean that this story is complete rubbish. However, many of the “great” authors of the classics composed several of their works while high on opium (Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one popular example that springs to mind), thus, as I am not about to become a substance-abuser, perhaps sleep-deprivation is exactly what my writing career needs. Ha!
Anyway, now that it is finally finished, I feel I can talk about this story a bit more. Today, I’m going to focus on the inspiration behind the story… which came from the various different versions and the things I do NOT like about them!
I want to start by saying that I do like the story Beauty and the Beast. It’s not my absolute favorite fairy tale, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I even really like the Disney version quite a lot, and Belle has always been one of my favorite Disney Princesses.
However, this little re-telling of mine sprang from the various plot holes and issues that I have with both the Disney and other various versions of the story…. so, bear with me as I poke holes in them a bit.
First of all, speaking to the Disney version – the main issue I’ve always had with this movie is the beginning. Let me refresh your memory: A prince refuses to let an old woman into the castle on a dark and stormy night. She asks him several times, but he refuses (apparently his refusal is based mainly on her appearance). Finally, she transforms into a beautiful sorceress and curses him to spend the next ten years as a beast until he can learn to look past outward appearances (and hopefully find someone who can do likewise). Our tale then begins, nearly ten years later, around the time of the prince’s 21st birthday.
Um… let’s take a step back, shall we?
If Belle meets the Beast on or around his 21st birthday… ten years after the curse was laid upon this hapless prince…. then we are left to reason out that the prince was just 11 years old when a creepy old woman rapped on his door one dark and stormy night and demanded that he let her into his home.
Suddenly this story doesn’t seem quite so, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” as “Obeying your parents and not letting strangers into your home could have dire consequences.” I mean, where ARE this kid’s parents? Or his advisors? Or any adult whatsoever who can come to this kid’s defense and tell the old woman/beautiful sorceress that this is a rubbish test of character?
I also don’t love the idea of the prince/beast being this slobbering, uneducated buffoon. In the Disney version, for example, we are all supposed to laugh at his inability to eat with a spoon, and despise his ferocious temper… until Belle is attacked by wolves. Then… THEN… we’re all extremely grateful for the Beast’s strength and his ability to be truly ferocious. And, of course, we are expected to lament the Beast’s temper… but laud Belle’s display of temper when she is tending his wound and yells (ironically, in a fit of temper), “Maybe you should learn to control your temper!” Why are we being asked to see this as a fault in the male character, but a strength in the female character?
Moving away from Disney to other versions of the story, let’s look at Beauty and her family for a bit, shall we? Usually, we are met with a Beauty, several sisters, and a father who has fallen on hard times. Events far beyond his control have conspired against him and the family has lost everything: their wealth, their livelihood, their prestige, their home, everything is gone… until one day a long-supposed-lost ship arrives in the harbor some distance away. The father goes to secure the merchandise with lifted spirits. His daughters make extravagant requests of him for presents, but all Beauty asks for is a single rose… if he happens across one.
Well, depending on the version you read, sometimes the father’s quest is successful, most often it is not, and he gets lost in the snow on the way home and stumbles across the Beast’s home. He is invited in, welcomed, cared for, and sheltered throughout the night. Upon leaving the next day, he sees a rose bush in the garden, remembers Beauty’s request, and unthinkingly plucks the rose for her, at which time the Beast finally appears, berates his guest for being ungrateful, and only agrees to spare his life (or let him go free, again, version-dependent) if he sends Beauty to take his place as the Beast’s prisoner.
And so the story goes.
I kind of despise this version of the story. At least in the Disney version Belle has ventured out, found her father, and makes the deal against his wishes in order to save his life when she realizes he is ill. In the non-Disney versions, if the father was portrayed as evil or negligent from the start, it might be easier to swallow… but this is supposed to be a loving, well-meaning, kind, thoughtful man who is a good father and loves his daughters. It isn’t his fault that his business failed, or that storms wrecked all his ships. But he still makes this deal to send his youngest daughter to be the Beast’s prisoner?
I can’t buy that. It’s just far too contrived.
And that is why this opportunity to tell the story a different way caught my imagination and refused to let it go. But this post is becoming far too long, so you’ll have to tune in tomorrow to learn more about what I’ve done with this story!