Beauty and the Beast is a well known, well loved story, and as far as my Grisly Disney series goes, it’s probably the closest to its original source material. However, there are of course, a few somewhat sinister differences!
The story was originally published in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, but like the author’s name, it was a little lengthy and had been rewritten by two separate authors within the 150 years after it first surfaced. These abridged versions are closest to the version we know today, but variants of the story are known across Europe in particular, and researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon actually peg the story as being around 4,000 years old. Wow, a tale as old as time indeed!
This blog post looks at the original version from de Villeneuve.
Let’s recap: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Disney’s retelling starts off with a witch disguised as a beggar begging a handsome yet cruel prince for shelter in exchange for a rose. The prince turns her away, so she turns him into a beast, and his servants into household objects. She gives him a magic mirror and tells him that unless he learns to love and be loved in return by the time the rose’s last petal falls, he and his servants will remain stuck in that form and lose their humanity forever. (As if the servants didn’t have it bad enough running around after a stuck-up prince!)
10 years after this incident, Belle, a local bookworm, is being relentlessly pursued by Gaston, who fancies himself as a bit of a big deal and can’t understand why Belle isn’t swooning over his hairy chest and stomach-churning arrogance. In the meantime, Belle’s father ends up lost in the forest while on his way to a fair to present his latest invention. He ends up imprisoned at the Beast’s castle, and when Belle ventures out to find him, the Beast agrees to let her father go if Belle stays.
Crazy in-laws or crazy husband to be?!
Belle’s father tells the villagers what has happened to his daughter, and Gaston, peeved because Belle can resist his supposedly irresistible charm, convinces everyone to send Belle’s poor dad to an insane asylum if Belle refuses his proposal again. (Don’t think it’d go well if he asked for her father’s approval to marry her after that…)
Anyway, by this time Belle and the Beast are starting to like each other, and the Beast lets her go to save Maurice after she sees what’s happening in the magic mirror. However, Gaston, being the jealous man-baby that he is, realises that she likes the Beast, and throws her in a basement with her father whilst he leads a small army to go and kill the Beast.
Chip, an aptly named chipped teacup, manages to free Belle and her father, who rush back to help the Beast. When they arrive, Gaston is attacking the Beast, who’s too depressed to fight back until he sees Belle. Gaston stabs the Beast but loses his footing and falls to his death. As the last petal falls, Belle tell the Beast she loves him, and the curse is undone, returning the Beast and the servants to human form to live happily ever after.
The original story of Beauty and the Beast
Whilst the broad strokes of the story are the same, there are subtle differences. For a start, Belle is called Beauty, and has two sisters and three brothers in the original story. She’s still a bookworm and an all-round nice person, but her sisters are spoiled and vain, and bully her.
Moving onto the Beast, a witch didn’t turn him into a beast; an evil fairy did. He lost his father at a young age, and his mother went off to wage war to defend his kingdom, leaving him in the care of the fairy, who tried to seduce him when he became an adult. When he refused, she went full-Gaston and turned him into a beast so he couldn’t be happy.
Let’s run through the differences between the two:
Beauty’s father isn’t an inventor but a merchant who lost all his wealth when a storm hit his fleet. More than that though, Beauty isn’t biologically his daughter, but instead is the offspring of a king and a good fairy. After a wicked fairy tried to murder Beauty so she could become queen by marrying her father, the king gave Beauty to the merchant to live as his daughter in order to protect her.
Stumbling upon the castle
Instead of getting lost when going off to present his invention, Beauty’s “father” hears one of his trade ships survived the storm, so he goes to find it in hopes of regaining his former wealth, and gets lost on the way back. Before he goes, he asks his children if they would like any gifts upon his return. Beauty’s brothers ask for fancy weaponry, whilst her bratty sisters demand jewels and the finest dresses possible. Beauty, on the other hand, just asks for a single rose, as none grow near her home.
Unfortunately, when her father reaches his ship, he discovers it has been seized to pay his debts, leaving him once again penniless and unable to buy the gifts his children had requested.
Being imprisoned by the Beast
A hidden figure opens the door to the palace when Beauty’s father arrives, and silently invites him in. Instead of throwing him in the dungeon, the merchant enjoys copious amounts of food and drink before spending the night in a plush bed. In the morning, he sets off back home, but stops to take a rose from the palace’s garden for Beauty, remembering that was all she had asked for.
However, a hideous beast appears and tells him that he has stolen his most precious possession after accepting his hospitality, and to pay for his crimes, he must die. Beauty’s father begs for his life, explaining that he just wanted to make his daughter happy. The Beast agrees to let him give the rose to Beauty, but only if one of his daughters returns to live with him. Needless to say, Beauty’s father is upset about this, but sees no other way out. The Beast sends him back home with wealth, jewels and fine clothes for his family to disguise the fact his venture was unsuccessful, and makes him promise that Beauty will never learn of the deal. Beauty’s not convinced, and gets the truth from her father, agreeing to go to the castle since her brothers would not be able to take down such a horrendous beast on their own.
Beauty’s arrival at the castle
Unlike Disney’s retelling, when Beauty arrives, the Beast tells her she is mistress of the castle, and he is her servant. He gives her everything she desires, and they enjoy long and meaningful conversations all day. Every night, he asks her to marry him, and she friend zones him, then has a dream of a handsome prince asking why she has rejected him. Beauty doesn’t make the connection that Beast is the prince, and becomes convinced he’s holding him captive. She searches and searches, but can’t find the prince she dreams of. Even if the Beast were in prince form, Beauty wouldn’t have been able to find him, as the castle has elaborate magic to obscure vital pieces of it, and thus would have obscured him from her prying eyes.
Beauty’s father’s fate
Unlike the Disney version where her father’s potentially tragic fate forces her back home, this version simply sees Beauty get bored of living the high life and ask to visit her family as she’s so homesick. The Beast agrees to let her go home for a week. Beauty goes off on her way with an enchanted ring and mirror; the first allowing her to return to the castle immediately, and the second acting as a magical FaceTime device, allowing her to see what’s going on back at the castle, instead of the progress of the rose’s ever-falling petals, as the Disney version shows. When she gets home, her sisters are jealous of her expensive clothes; even moreso after Beauty tries to share and the dresses turns to rags when they touch them. Her sisters can’t stand that Beauty is living in luxury, and beg her to stay an extra day, even going so far as putting onions in their eyes to make it look like they’re weeping. Beauty is moved by their supposed love for her and agrees to stay, not realising they’re hoping to anger the Beast into eating her alive. Lovely!
The Beast’s fate
Beauty does feel a little guilty about breaking her promise to come back after exactly a week, and checks in on the Beast with the mirror. She is horrified to discover him lying half-dead from heartbreak by the rose bushes Beauty loved, and immediately returns by using the ring. She cries over the Beast and tells him she loves him, and when her tears strike him, the curse is broken, and they get married and live happily ever after.
The main differences, as you can see, lie in the smaller details, while the overarching story has pretty much stayed the same years and years later. There have been countless retellings, with one of my recent favourites being Belle and Rumpelstiltskin in Once Upon a Time (that version of Belle is the Funko pictured above).
However, apparently de Villeneuve’s version had a lot more fantasy elements in it, and the versions we’re most familiar with are majorly simplified in terms of the magic we see.
What do you think? Would you prefer a retelling of Beauty and the Beast as a fantasy novel with more focus on the magic? Which retelling do you prefer, or is the original your favourite? Let me know in the comments!