Tag Archives: Fantasy

Tale as Old as Time: Why ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a Favorite Fairy Tale

Ask me what my favorite Disney movie is, and I’ll tell you it’s Beauty and the Beast. Because it’s simply the best. “Beauty and the Beast,” “Belle,” and “Be Our Guest” are among my favorite Disney songs. Belle is my third-favorite Disney Princess after Aurora and Mira Nova, and Belle set the Disney trend for strong female heroines. Plus her golden ball gown is gorgeous. The movie has some of the most quotable lines (“You should learn to control your temper” and “if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it”) . There’s a million little things I like about Beauty and the Beast.

The recent live-action remake I think could have been handled differently, but it has some fun nuances to it. One of my biggest takeaways from the remake, even before I got around to seeing it, was the need to ask myself a question: why is ‘Beauty and the Beast’ a popular fairy tale and what is it about it that appeals to us, particularly the Disney version? In discussing this topic, I will wax very personal and, at times, spiritual.

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An Extraordinary Story

David Delbar, one of my BYU friends, once told me in passing that he liked to collect and compare different versions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. I asked him if he would share a few thoughts on the subject:

Pinning down a fairy tale’s appeal is no easy task, but one aspect of the story that has universal application is the union with the Other. Our version, which was transmitted through Leprince de Beaumont, was originally written for school girls, and it is possible that the tale was meant to prepare young women for their eventual marriage, a frightening event where the strange bridegroom no doubt seemed an unruly beast. Its modern appeal to men might be the contemporary story’s focus on awakening manhood, where the transition between boy to man is mediated through the angst and anger-filled teenage years. In either case, the idea of love mediated by magic, the hope to love and to be loved in return, is a basic human desire. That Belle and the Beast overcome insurmountable obstacles to obtain this precious relationship no doubt gives us a vicarious hope that we can do likewise.

That about summarizes it, but let me put it in my own words, in 2000 words or more.

The original fairy tale is a fable on the theme that kindness, goodness, and love are superior virtues to beauty and vanity. There are hundreds, thousands of other folktales the world over with similar messages, warning those who hear or read them to not be deceived by outward appearances. And it’s a theme that plays out a lot in real life, because what you see on the surface of something or someone can be vastly different from what is inside.

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‘Beauty and the Beast’ stands out because we have a heroine who simply likes books and wants to save her father, and a beast who lives in a castle filled with odd delights. Retelling ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is, for some, a chance to explore magic and worldbuilding—what kind of creature is the beast? Who are his servants? How were they enchanted? How is the maiden entertained in the castle? It also touches on the most tender, most desirable of human relationships, that of romantic love. Love is the theme of the archetypal test that the heroine faces: she can have whatever she wants if she lives in this palace with a hideous beast, and if she falls in love with him he will turn into a prince, and she will have achieved an ideal standard of living. It is a fantasy in every sense of the word that plays on human desire (material comforts and romantic love with an attractive partner) but at the same time makes us question what we would do to get them—or even if they’re important.

Retellings of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ can sometimes explore other themes as well. My mom’s absolute favorite book is Beauty by Robin McKinley, which is about a heroine who has to come to terms with her own self-worth while she stays in the castle. I, however, took a better liking to the weirdly amazing Rose Daughter by the same author, where Beauty gets on her hands and knees to save the Beast’s rose garden.

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Hypable

My friend, the author Jenni James, has written two novel versions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, one for her Faerie Tales series which she is in the process of adapting for a film, and Beauty is the Beast. She shares the following:

The most intriguing part about Beauty and the Beast is the growth and the ability to not just hope for love, but believe in it, feel it, and learn from it. I think we can all learn from the hard lessons the beast goes through. There are many times when we close ourselves off from the world, only to find it much more kind and forgiving than we imagined. My whole goal as an author is to leave the reader happier and with more hope than when they first picked up the book. It’s stories like Beauty and the Beast, that truly help bring magic to others and are the easiest and most fun to write.

The Disney Masterpiece

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out right before I was born. I grew up watching it on VHS. It was entertaining when I was a small child, but when I got into high school I fell in love with it because I absolutely related to it.

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I was just like Belle when I was in high school—well, maybe I wasn’t quite as assertive. But I was a girl who loved books and had big dreams stuck in a “provincial town” for school. I had barely been diagnosed with Autism. I didn’t have any close friends. I didn’t really fit in. (A couple of online personality quizzes I’ve taken recently suggest that I am still Belle in BOTH Disney versions!).

As I got a little older, wiser, and sadder, I started trying to teach myself to be social and to reach out to people around me. But it was difficult, and the results were not immediate. I assumed that because it was difficult for me to socialize that there was something wrong with me. I assumed because I had different interests from other people, because I didn’t know how to socialize normally, because of other obstacles in my personal life that made me feel terrible about myself, that I was a monster. In fact, I was accused at one point of being too arrogant to accept the friendship of those around me because I was too good for everyone else. And that wasn’t a complete falsehood.

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Not a human. Not a person. Not a part of the crowd.

In other words,

I was the Beast.

I did work to improve my social skills, and those efforts paid off, but there wasn’t really a clean-cut ending to my fairy tale, even though for a long time I pretended that there was. Because, ten years later, I’m still asking myself if I really learned the lessons that I needed to, and if I’m really “normal” after everything I went through.  In other words, have I really left the Beast—the dark side of my inadequacy—behind me?

I do know what changed though. I changed into a person who wanted to be able to love and respect others and to carry out friendships with people who were different from me. I learned that I was capable of becoming a better person. And I guess if you want to look at it in a better light, I am the Beast in the sense that I am learning to be more “human.”

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Rebloggy

I guess it doesn’t hurt to think of myself as both Beauty AND the Beast. In a way, the story kind of ties back to that conflict of feelings within each of us—light versus dark, peace versus anger. The Disney version is unique because Belle and the Beast both have to deal with their stubborn sides. They put aside their issues to show respect to each other. And then they connect because they realize they are both, in their own ways, different.

Lessons from a Legend

There are two major themes in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that I want to talk about. The first one is true love. There are many different kinds of love, but the truest, deepest love that one person can have for another person is the selfless kind, the kind that In the LDS Church we call Charity (see 1 Corinthians 13 and Moroni 7: 45-48). True love is loving someone without regard for their appearance or their flaws, and being willing to do whatever it takes to make that other person happy. It is a kind of love that can exist in any relationship.

Now, let me be clear: the moral of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is to not fall in love romantically with an undesirable person on purpose. People who are disadvantaged need to be lifted up. You don’t need to marry them or make them your best friend. But you do need to be kind and treat everyone with respect. And if someone you love needs help, let them know that you love them.

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And loving someone doesn’t mean that you approve of everything they do or you ignore the things they do wrong. You can invite them to change, and if they don’t you still love them. That’s the kind of love that Charity is.

The song “Beauty and the Beast” is about the miracle of finding romantic love. But it is also about the more important love that lies underneath, the change of heart that comes with getting to know another person and accepting them for who they are.  Relationships and friendships of every kind change us, some of them tremendously. And that process of developing love of any kind for another person has a strange beauty all its own. Learning to love, especially learning to love again after that feeling has been lost, is a miraculous, sometimes painful process. Acceptance in spite of the obstacles of human pride and frailty includes, but is not limited to, acceptance of oneself.

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Secondly, there is the theme of transformation, or more importantly redemption. No one is perfect, but there are some people who feel like their faults make them not as good as everyone else. What makes us imperfect can, in fact, make some people feel like monsters, and society often describes vice as being monstrous. People who sense their weakness want to change, to become better. Trying to change yourself can be difficult. We put in the effort, and it can seem like it isn’t working. But then suddenly doing things differently becomes easy. Our outlook is different. The burden is easier to carry. The force that creates this change is ultimately a power beyond our own. We do not control the change, we simply choose to allow it. 

‘Beauty and the Beast’ hints at the Christian awareness of human nature, the fact that our flaws make us “bestial” in the sight of God. Repentance and self-correction pave the way for Grace and forgiveness, affects that are very real but can be described as a supernatural and miraculous change that comes because of Love, especially Divine Love. And with becoming a different person, ironically, we discover our “true“ self. The change of heart and understanding is captured so beautifully by this story. It is through the actions of love—kindness to strangers, compassion to friends, the everyday patience between husband and wife, sacrifice and generosity, the mediation of Christ—that we do the things that change our nature. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is evidence of the truth in the statement, “Fairy Tales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” People who love this story see it as evidence of this truth, even if they don’t understand it.  You don’t have to be a beast. You CAN overcome.

The wonders of an enchanted castle are nothing in comparison to the real miracles that the story is about: coming to understand someone else, and having a change of heart. Wrongs can be righted, scars can be healed, opposition and pain can be removed. You think that change isn’t possible, and then suddenly you see the difference. It’s the reason I’m drawn to redemption stories, like that of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker, or The Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes, but by now I’ve given you an earful about both of them in my other posts. Simply put, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a metaphor for redemption. It is a story that encourages us to believe in the impossible, especially when it comes to seeing the good in others.

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In the Beauty and the Beast reboot, Mrs. Potts sings the following at the finale that I think describes what I am trying to share with you.

“Winter turns to spring

Famine turns to feast

Nature points the way

Nothing more to say

Beauty and the Beast”

Beauty and the Beast is a story about overcoming. It’s about the human hope for things that we think are impossible: acceptance in the face of opposition, love in spite of hate, and monstrosity being overcome by the beauty of goodness.

10 Reasons ‘Willow’ is an Underrated Movie

A unique stand-alone by George Lucas, ‘Willow’ is a rip-roaring fantasy about an everyday dad who finds an opportunity to save his world and become a magician.  It’s a good time for the Geeky Mormon to revisit this fantasy classic (and lowkey remind Mr. Farr and Mr. Brandenburg that we would really like Warwick Davis to come to Salt Lake Comic Con sometime, just sayin’).

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10 Ways a ‘Maleficent’ Sequel Could Be Awesome

Quick rant here: I really wish Disney’s live action team had some better ideas than to keep remaking classics as live-action films. They’re doing a good job with some of them—I loved Cinderella, remember?—but the previews for Pete’s Dragon and The Jungle Book actually turned me off. And the lineup for their future films isn’t very promising—with the notable exception, of course, of next year’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Bill Condon and starring Emma Watson as Belle.

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Of Villains and Victims

“It is our choices, Harry, that make us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.”  Over the last few years, I have come to realize that there is a lot of truth to this statement. Choices are what decide whether we’re good or bad, not what we’re capable of doing.  Choices also determine our character more than the bad things we put up with in life. There was a banner on the wall of my high school gym: attitude is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react. That is the difference between a villain and a victim.

WARNING: Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t want spoilers for Supergirl

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What Made Tolkien so Amazing

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The other day my family and I were at our local public library (if you don’t find yourself occasionally at a public library you need to examine your geekhood), and my wife was looking for a new book to read.  She is an avid reader, and has kind of taken an interesting turn in what she reads.  When she was growing up, she didn’t read any kind of fantasy or SciFi or anything like that.  If it couldn’t really happen, she wasn’t interested.  To the point that she refused, REFUSED, to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  In her mind there was no way that you could go to the back of a closet and end up in some fantastical land called Narnia.  She preferred historical fiction, grounded in reality and actual events.  Fast forward a few years, and somehow she ended up marrying the biggest geek she had ever met.  I only read fantasy and SciFi.  Ok, maybe not exclusively, but that is my first choice.  I have attempted to open up her world a little bit, and have made some promising progress.  I have gotten her to read the Narnia books, and she enjoyed them.  I think now that she’s older she understands more of the symbolism.  I also helped convince her to read the Harry Potter books, and she finished the sixth just in time to wait anxiously for number seven.  We almost had to buy two copies so we could read it at the same time.  Lately, she has been reading a lot of young fantasy- Fablehaven, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, etc.  I have been waiting for the right moment to try to get her into the hard stuff.  The good stuff.  I have been thinking a lot about that as I have been reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (I am only on the 4th book, which feels like an accomplishment, until I look at how far I still have to go). So, in this situation we find ourselves at the library and she is looking for a new book to read and she has no idea what to read. I jump at the chance and search high and low for the perfect book to introduce her into the world of Fantasy.  I know exactly what I am looking for, I just have to hope the have it and I can find it.  Don’t get me wrong, I can find my way in a library, but they try to classify everything so much nowadays.  At first I couldn’t find it, and I was disappointed, but then I looked in the “teen fiction” section, and bingo, there it was.  The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.  There is no better way to introduce someone to the world of Fantasy Literature than Tolkien, the man who practically invented the genre.  I felt like The Hobbit was a good place for her to start.  It is a small book, not intimidating at all.  It’s not part of some extremely long series and can stand alone if she decides she does not want to read further.  More than that, it is well written.  It wasn’t written to be a bestseller, appealing to the lowest common denominator of any given group.  It was written the only Tolkien could write, as a masterpiece.

As I suggested the book to her, I was almost envious of her reading it for the first time.  Experiencing Middle Earth for the very first time.  It would be an amazing thing to find a way to recapture that.  Amazing, but impossible for me, so I plan to live now vicariously through my wife.  As she began reading it, she read part of the introduction aloud to me.  It was discussing how there are spelling errors in the book, like the term dwarves.  At the time, the correct spelling was dwarfs and dwarfish, but when describing the dwarves in his book, Tolkien purposely used dwarves.  My wife was confused by that.  “Isn’t dwarves right?”  It is now, because of Tolkien.  Think about, the best example I have pre-Tolkien is the Disney masterpiece, Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. That’s the title. For your convenience, you can click here and go to the IMDB page and see for yourself.  I always thought that was funny to me.  Was Disney just trying to be cutesy?  Turns out, that was the correct spelling pre-Tolkien.  Now though, dwarves seems to be more common, if not more correct.  We say dwarfish, not dwarfish.  Was that all really started by Tolkien? Why not?  The man practically invented and cemented our modern images of dwarves, elves, orcs, hobbits, wizards, etc.  Where would we be without Tolkien?  I wouldn’t be in the middle of the Wheel of Time series, or really be interested in fantasy very much at all.  HBO wouldn’t have a huge hit with Game of Thrones, so they would have to find some other way spew forth gratuitous sex and violence (somehow, I think they’d manage).  Salt Lake would not have just had their first successful FantasyCon. Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom may still be waiting for their big breaks, while Elijah Wood and Sean Astin would be remembered only for the younger roles (like Huck Finn and Goonies respectively). No one would have ever heard of Peter Jackson or Weta or New Zealand.  I might even go so far as to say that the Fantasy Genre as we know it would not exist.

Why was Tolkien so amazing?  Why would his books be the first ones I run to in order to introduce my wife to Fantasy literature?  I think Tolkien did more than just tell a story.  He created a whole world.  A world full of history, full of ancient myths and stories, many of which have never been published, but he knew them.  A world full of languages.  Dwarvish, Elvish, the dark tongue or Mordor.  He created them all.  It wasn’t enough to just throw in an occasional word or rune here and there.  He made them real.  When you read his books, you find references to other stories and myths and characters and histories that may only be mentioned, but with such authority that you know that Tolkien has them written down somewhere.  He knows the legend or the myth or the story.  There is a completeness to his stories that aren’t found in many other series.  All of that makes Tolkien’s work superb and wonderful.

More than that, his stories were real.  Not real in a “they really happened” sort of way, but real in a “I really identify with what this character is feeling” sort of way.  That was the real genius of Tolkien.  I remember reading The Return of the King for the first time.  I remember the way I just felt hopeless, like there was just so much evil in the world and the men were so outnumbered, and Sam and Frodo were on their own, and there was just no way they would overcome everything and make it out.  How many of us feel that way personally sometimes?  How many of us can look at the world today and say, “there’s just too much, we can’t win.”  I heard once that that was the reason Tolkien set out to write what would become the Lord of the Rings series.  He wanted to define what evil was.  He and Lewis and others he associated with had all experienced darkness and evil firsthand as they survived WWII.  They all lived through the air raids and the constant fear.  The war that was fought in Britain was very different from what we experienced here in the U.S.  He wrote this story to come to terms with what he saw in the world.  I can imagine that there were times when it all seemed hopeless, like the light would never come.  Like Frodo and Sam would come so far, only to collapse at the foot of Mount Doom, and not make it any further.  But they did.  You feel the despair, but you feel the hope that is always there sometimes.  Even in the darkest of times, there is always a little bit of hope. And the hope wins out.  In the end, the darkness fails, light prevails.  I always loved Sam.  Merry and Pippin were funny and kept things light.  Frodo was all of us, the regular guy thrown into the middle of everything unexpectedly.  Aragorn was just really cool, and unattainable (he may have a little bit of a Messiah complex going on).  But Sam, Sam was my favorite.  He was the hope.  He was always there.  Even when he went away for a while, he was not really gone.  He is the embodiment of hope, and without him, Frodo would not have made it to the end.  I love the works of Tolkien, because I felt it all.  I know that we don’t live in a world of wizards and magic and giant eagles, but we do live in a world with Sams out there.  I want to be one.  That part was real, as real as anything else I have ever read.  Tolkien took this idea of Fantasy and elevated it above just fairy tales and made it real and deep and worth reading.

So I envy my wife.  I envy that she eta to experience all of that for the first time.  I hope she will understand why I love the realm of fantasy so much after she is done reading it.  I’m sure she will.  If Tolkien can’t win her over, no one can.