ABeauty and the Beast may be a classic and seem like a 'tale as old as time', but, the first written version was not actually published until 1740, by the French author, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. That makes it quite modern compared to many other fairytales.
Since Villeneuve's original, there have been many versions retold across the world, and even though it is probably the most far removed, the Disney film adaptation is probably also the most well known.
As well as the Disney movie, there are two other versions that I know; first is by the Brothers Grimm, who stay true to the original text, and the second is by Max Eilenberg. Eilenberg says that Beauty and the Beast is a strange, magical story about learning to love; but what makes it especially fascinating is that it is also about fear and loss. I thought it would be interesting to set it in the nineteenth century - when money convention and appearance meant perhaps even more than they do now - and to see what happens to a family who lose everything.'
Published in 2006, Beauty and the Beast is classed as a children's picture book, but I beg to differ. There may be a lot of pictures, but there is also a proportionate amount of text. Not to mention the fact that the illustrations by Angela Barrett are highly sophisticated works of art that are far more likely to be appreciated by an adult. Barrett says, 'I was most inspired by pity for the beast's most awful loneliness and self-disgust. His tragedy is to know all about beauty and how to create it in everything around him, but to miss it in himself.'
The story of Beauty and the Beast is universal, and can be enjoyed by all cultures, and all ages. What makes it particularly accessible to children, however, is the use of repetition and adjectives:
'Once upon a time there was an extremely wealthy merchant who lived in an extremely splendid house with his extremely beloved daughters.'
Eilenberg picks his words very carefully, and his names are a fusion of Shakespeare and Dickens: Ernest Fortune, Gertrude, and Hermione, for example.
When Ernest asks his daughters what they would like as a present, Gertrude and Hermione ask for silk and pearls. His youngest daughter, Beauty, however, asks for nothing. Only persistence from her father finally gets her to request a rose.
Such a simple thing or natural beauty, and far less expensive than the other gifts - yet it costs the family far more dearly than she could have imagined.
Ernest could not have chosen a worst place to pick a rose, for it was one that belonged to a hideous beast. It was going to cost Ernest his life, but Beauty selflessly agrees to stay with the Beast in exchange.
From there on the story about the struggle to overcome the prejudice of appearance, and the struggle to trust.
Beauty and the Beast is one of the best princess fairytales there are. Usually the handsome prince comes to the rescue of the damsel in distress, and the two marry despite barely knowing one another. Here, it is the (future) princess that saves the prince from himself, and it is only after months of learning, and finding out about each other that they fall in love.