Sunday, August 29, 2010

Literary Animal Bridegroom Tales

The text below, from, includes some very interesting information not included in most histories of Beauty and the Beast. Straparola, Basile, and Perrault are known for having versions of other tales, but are rarely credited for being part of the Beauty and the Beast/Animal Bridegroom cycle.

"Numerous versions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ predated Mme Leprince de Beaumont's tale. Straparola's mid‐16th‐century ‘Re Porco’ (‘King Pig’) exhibits a swinish husband who delights in rooting in rotting filth and rolling in mud before climbing into bed with each of three successive wives. He murders the first two when they express their revulsion at his stinking habits, but makes the third his queen when she smilingly acquiesces in his muck.

Basile's Pentamerone (1634–6) included four ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale types. The first three—‘The Serpent’ (Day 2, Tale 5), ‘The Padlock’ (Day 2, Tale 9), and ‘Pinto Smalto’ (Day 5, Tale 3) resemble Apuleius' tale in that the husbands in each story are reputed, but not actual, monsters. However, in the fourth story, ‘The Golden Root’ (Day 5, Tale 4), the handsome husband simply trades his black skin for white at night.

Charles Perrault includes a highly ethicized conclusion in his ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale, ‘Riquet à la Houppe’ (1697), but leaves readers in doubt about whether the monstrously ugly hero Riquet actually becomes handsome, or whether he only appears so in the eyes of his besotted beloved.

In 1697 Mme d'Aulnoy also published ‘Le Mouton’ (‘The Ram’), but with a tragic ending: her heroine's dear Ram dies in her absence. Other ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale types in Mme d'Aulnoy's œuvre include ‘La Grenouille bienfaisante’ (‘The Beneficent Frog’), ‘Serpentin vert’ (‘The Green Serpent’), and ‘Le Prince Marcassin’."

And on the absence of female beasts (from the same source): "Beauty and the Beast’ tales, which all require a woman's patient tolerance of an ugly mate, have no companion tales in the modern period in which the obverse obtains, that is, a man who must love an ugly wife. In the medieval period, however, numerous companion stories circulated, the most famous of which is the Wife of Bath's story in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Another of the many now‐forgotten and similar medieval tales, Le Bel inconnu, tells of a handsome knight who kisses a lady who has been turned into a serpent. Such stories survived into Basile's 17th‐century collection, but between 1634 and the emergence of French fairy tales in print form in the 1690s, this trope largely disappeared from European storytelling."

Image by Arthur Rackham

*I have a summary of "The Ram" here. I will do a post on Green Serpent in the future, as it is a fascinating tale where both the male and female have beastly characteristics at some point.


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  2. Another medieval tale that features an ugly bride instead of an ugly bridegroom is Sir Gawain & the Loathly Lady.

  3. Another tale of a "beast-bride" is "The White Cat." Not necessarily an ugly bride, but the lady /is/ a beast in most senses. A white cat who eats mice/rats. Par Madame la Comtesse d'Aulnoy, found in Lang's "Blue Fairy Book"

    1. That is true, thanks for the comment! But even in stories of animal brides, they often tend to be beautiful animals, cats and swans, unlike the men who are turned into everything from pigs to snakes to hedgehogs