What is the required reading/viewing before one sets out on writing ones own version of Beauty and the Beast? I have had something swimming around in my head for a long time, but I feel like I don't know enough of the variations and I am probably far too informed by Disney…
Oh, Baby! Start this and I’ll go on for hours!!
There are dozens upon dozens of Beauty and the Beast variants, all with something slightly different at their heart. This is a bit of a double-edged sword..on one hand, you have a veritable garden of options, on the other, it becomes easy to be over-influenced by one version, or to feel that what you had to say has already been said. Figuring out what it is you want to say with the story seems to be the key to making something new.
It’s good to know the early seed from which the story came –I recommend reading Beaumont, since most modern variations are based on her simplified formula. Villeneuve is a longer, more nuanced story, but offers layers that Beamont doesn’t. These two, along with the story of Cupid and Psyche, are, to me at least, the foundations of a BATB story.
The original stories have the benefit of being quite sparse in characterization. They give you a sequence of events without too much emotion or personality laid on, so it’s easy to see them through new lenses – is Beauty sassy, or frightened or confident or haughty? What is her relationship with her family like? Is the Beast perverse or sensual or presumptuous or shy? What if this happened in today’s New York (Alex Flynn’s Beastly)? The dirty thirties (Angela Carter’s The Courtship of Mister Lion)? Ancient Persia (Donna Jo Napoli’s Beast)?
As for films, I suggest seeing as many as you can. While many are clumsy and don’t delve deep, there’s usually some little gem buried somewhere in them. And There are a few that deliver much more than I expected. If you see nothing else, be sure to watch Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete , Juraj Herz’s Panna a Netvor (The Virgin and The Monster) and, of course, the Disney version.
In novels, I have to give the prize to Robin McKinley, who took the story on twice in two unrelated works, Beauty and Rose Daughter. There are others, including Cameron Dokey’s Belle andDonna Jo Napoli’s Beast, but most of them don’t bring much new to the table.
There are many wonderful short stories and picture books that do Beauty and the Beast a service – my favourites are Angela Carter’s two stories, the gentle love-story of The Courtship of Mister Lion, and the much more erotic Tiger’s Bride. In picture books, I very much like Max Eisenberg, Nancy Willard, and Marianna Meyer’s versions.
Betsy Hearne has written two great resource books, Beauty and The Beast: visions and revisions of an old tale and Beauties and Beasts, a collection of versions of the story from around the world. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales is also one of the most useful sites I’ve ever found.
Don’t get stuck in just reading Beauty and The Beast retellings, though…Read widely, and you’ll have more material and ideas to weave into the story, and it’ll grow into something really new!
There are so many other books I’d love to list here, but that should give you a start! If anyone else has favourites I glossed over, weigh in!