Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Beauty and the Beast by K.M. Shea

Browsing Kindle for classics you can download for free (you have to search for them, but they're there, even if you don't pay for Kindle Unlimited! Including several public domain fairy tale books!), I was surprised to find a novel version of Beauty and the Beast I haven't heard of before, by K.M. Shea.

Beauty and the Beast (Timeless Fairy Tales Book 1) is apparently only available on a kindle version, but it's only $2.99 and anyone without a kindle can read it on your computer.

From the reviews it doesn't look spectacular. It seems like a nice, light, fun read that pleased many people, although the biggest critics say the writing isn't that great and there are some big plot holes. The editing is also pretty poor, although I've found that to be true for any Kindle version of a book I read.

Book description: "Once upon a time Elle made a mistake. A small miscalculation sends her through the roof of an enchanted chateau. Stranded until her broken leg mends, Elle is forced to rely on the good will of the sour chateau owner --the cursed Prince Severin.

Prince Severin--the commanding general and staunch supporter of his brother the crown prince--is cursed to look like a beast until a maiden falls in love with him. However, he has given up all hope of shattering the curse after several painful and failed attempts to break it. As such he has only disdain for Elle, leaving her to the devices of his bossy servants. This suits Elle perfectly as she dislikes the entire royal family, Severin included.

Unfortunately for the unsuspecting pair, the chateau servants are determined to break the curse and spend the majority of their time pushing Elle and Severin together. After bonding over gardens, animals, and terrifying squirrels Elle and Severin show signs of friendship, and perhaps something more...

But not all love stories can end that easily. After all, Elle is not what she seems, and Severin's life is placed in danger when hostilities flare between his brother and the monarchs of a neighboring country.

If they really want the love of a lifetime Elle, a loyal liar, and Severin, an indifferent beast, will have to use every trick they know to survive.

Timeless Fairy Tales are loosely related stories that take place in
the same world. They can be read as a series, or as individual, stand
alone books."

Has anyone read this and have an opinion? Is it worth $2.99? One two-star review is entitled "Bah. Nothing like Robin McKinley's vastly superior work." Oh, Robin McKinley, you have ruined a generation of BATB loving book readers for life because NOTHING compares to that first adaptation...

Also, K.M. Shea has fairy tale adaptations of three other stories as well in the "Timeless Tales" series, including Wild Swans, Rumpelstiltskin, and Cinderella.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Evolution of the Beast

Our perceptions of the beastly will not only affect how we read the story of "Beauty and the Beast", but other fairy tales such as "Little Red Riding Hood" and numerous others that feature animals.
Dog fight illustration-1870

To audiences hundreds of years ago, animals such as a wolf in the forest or a Beast demanding your daughter would have been truly frightening. When much of the land people lived in still contained wild animals, attacks would have been a regular risk. We tend to only see wild animals contained in zoos or translated into cute, fluffy toys for children-even the teddy bear is a relatively recent invention, thanks to Teddy Roosevelt.
Replica of the original Teddy Bear

Older folk versions of Animal Bridegroom tales feature husbands that were clearly ugly and undesirable. They were not man/beast hybrids that were essentially more hairy and masculine men; they were straight up animals who could also talk and desire brides. The Beast has been everything from pig to frog to snake. This unusual husband was never meant to be attractive.
Eleanor Vere Boyle, 1875

In Villeneuve's 1740 story that sparked the "Beauty and the Beast" tradition as we know it, although she was possibly the first to make the Beast a hybrid creature; he was, if anything, a more horrifying combination of animals-a trunk like an elephant and a scaly covering that clanked when he moved.
Anne Anderson, 1935
Anonymous, for the Charles Lamb poem-1887

Beaumont's 1756 story, a shorter version of Villeneuve's, was directed towards young girls as part of their moral education. In hers, the Beast is never given a specific description. For years, illustrators had full range of imagination when creating the Beast, but he was still, in general, animalistic, and completely undesirable husband material.
W. Heath Robinson, 1921
Charles Robinson, 1911

It may seem disturbing to indicate bestiality, or imagine such a union. There are a couple explanations for why authors suggested such a marriage. I think some of the tellers of earlier tales may have been trying to communicate the horrors of arranged marriage-young girls being forced to marry older men, sometimes abusive or domineering, but with no other option. By the time Beaumont wrote her version, the moral was more along the lines of how an obedient wife could transform a beastly husband into a gentleman. But Villeneuve is clear about her message: the importance of marrying not for looks, money, or wit, but how kindness and character are the most important qualities to look for in a husband.  The moral is enforced even more in some versions (such as Eleanor Vere Boyle's 1875 story) by contrasting Beauty's happiness to her sisters, who married for looks and wealth and regretted their decisions when their husbands ceased to treat them well. This moral is still often attached to the story today, the idea of looking beneath the surface: "do not judge by appearances, for beauty is found within."
Edmund Dulac-1910
H.J. Ford, 1889

But the image of the Beast has changed drastically since the days of Villeneuve and Beaumont. Two main things have happened: he has become tamed, and sexualized.

The more man took control of animals, the less fearsome wild animals became. They were now exciting, something to see in a circus or zoo or take home as a pet. Some images of the Beast became downright cute and cloying.
My own plush Disney Beast doll
Jessie Wilcox Smith, 1911
A.L. Bowley, 1920
Margaret Evans Price, 1921

Over time, the Beast has also become more and more attractive. First he became more human, and now some versions of the "beast" aren't the least bit Beastly. You can think of the Phantom of the Opera as a modern version of BATB, and the Twilight series, to the men from the film "Beastly" and the CW show in which the men just have tattoos or, as one commentator said, "one tiny scar on his pretty pretty cheek."
Phantom of the Opera Film-2004 (Musical-1986, book-1909)
First Twilight book published 2005
The CW's Beauty and the Beast-2012-present
Once Upon a Time-Rumpelstiltskin/Beast-2011-present

These are the mainstream versions of BATB that most people are still familiar with. There are some more foward thinking authors who have taken the next step, which is to embrace the Beast's animal nature-he might not transform, he is considered atttractive the way he is; sometimes the Beauty character turns into an animal as well-in the writings of Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Francesca Lia Block, and Robin McKinley. With these stories, his animalistic nature is thought to represent his sexual nature, which we no longer suppress the way they did in Victorian times. 
Disney's Beast-1991

Yet these examples, while they might represent some of the most modern takes on BATB, are ones that are generally read only by people who actively search out versions of BATB and other fairy tales, not by the general population. For the masses, the Beast is still a Disney buffalo-like creature, or a series of storybook illustrations. We don't find him fearsome anymore, in fact, there's this idea that it's Beauty's role to find him attractive-yet there are virtually no examples in which men are rewarded for loving a less-than-attractive woman ("Shrek" is a parody; other examples, like Gail Carson Levine's "Fairest," will probably never be read by boys anyway-other older fairy tales, such as "Green Snake" or variants of "Frog Princess", are virtually unknown). Many women are intrigued by the idea of loving the brooding, misunderstood genius, but we've lost that element of horror associated with marriage to a Beast.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Fairy Tales and Elf

So, I was watching Elf with the commentary the other day (because no Christmas season is complete without watching "Elf" at least once...) and Will Farrell said something interesting. He was talking about the scene at the end where Buddy finds Santa in Central Park, the sleigh is broken, and they're being threatened by the fictitious Central Park Rangers. And he said that, in all the classic fairy tales, there's some element of danger and fear, and that that was their "dangerous" addition.
(Not a very good picture, but part of the idea was to keep the Central Park Rangers hidden and therefore more mysterious and ominous a force).

I appreciated his recognizing that fairy tales are actually rife with danger and scary parts, as opposed to the all-to-prevalent view that the fairy tale world is more like the North Pole of this movie, where things are so childlike and innocent that to call someone a "cotton-headed ninny muggins" is shocking. Of course, the Central Park Rangers are hardly even frightening, although the director Jon Favreau did say they were secretly an homage to the ringwraiths in Lord of the Rings.

Also: This Cinema Blend movie review of "Elf" claims that the story  "borrows heavily from other well known tales (most obviously “A Christmas Carol” and “The Ugly Duckling”)"but nowhere did either Favreau or Farrell ever mention those stories, although they did discuss their inspirations and the motivations behind plot elements and changes to the script. (One of them did, at one point, compare James Caan's character to Scrooge). I think it just goes to show how powerful the classic fairy tales are, that people assume any similar story is "borrowing" material. The concept of someone who feels like they don't belong is a very universal problem; all of us at times question our identity or purpose in life. But of course, we're all familiar with Andersen's fairy tale, so we can't really prove it doesn't subconsciously influence the stories we create...
Milo Winter

Merry Christmas!! I hope you are all able to spend time with friends and family, however you celebrate the holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Schonwerth Christmas Tales Part II

#99: The Dwarf's Treasure

"On Christmas Day, a woman went home through the forest from the town of Eslarn bearing a back carrier. She noticed a pile of moss on the snow, stirred around in it and found a big bumblebee nest. She placed it into her back carrier to take it home to her children; then a tiny little man clothed in green approached, and asked her what she was doing here and asked to be shown the nest in her basket. Immediately, he began to take everything out; on the stroke of twelve he disappeared. Thereupon the woman became scared and hastened home. 

In the basket she found a brand new silver coin. The Dwarf had left behind one bumblebee when he was surprised by the striking of the clock."

According to the notes provided by M. Charlotte Wolf, the Bavarians believed that long forgotten precious metals would end up in the ground over time. "Such a treasure sinks down nine fathoms deep and then rises every seven years one foot toward the surface. Arrived at the surface, it gives testimony of its whereabouts with a blue little flame that hovers above the place where it is to be found."

Also note the importance of the clock striking twelve, which is significant not only in Cinderella but in Christmas lore, as Santa is often thought to visit homes right at midnight (although in this story it appears to be twelve noon).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Fairy Holiday

This is from a couple years ago, but I just stumbled across this fairy tale themed holiday fashion shoot.
When I first saw the phrase "Fairy Holiday" I thought it would be the more general sense of "winter wonderland/magical," but I was excited to see that Free People's November catalogue was based on specific fairy tales, and the photos tell the story! More photos are on this site.

Twelve Dancing Princesses:


Snow Queen: (top image)

Snow White:

Princess and the Pea:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Schonwerth Christmas Tales: Part I

Many cultures believed that the changing of the seasons-Easter/spring, Halloween/fall, Christmas/New Year's/Winter Solstice, or Midsummer, were times when the veil between the spiritual world and our world was especially thin. There are many superstitions involving these holidays, some of which translated into our modern holiday traditions.
John Leech, for Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

The below tale from the collection by Franz Schonwerth is along the lines of a very creepy ghost story, which used to be more associated with Christmas (from the song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"-"There'll be scary ghost stories/and tales of the glories/of Christmases long, long ago). There is another Schonwerth tale set at Christmas that is less morbid, on the way :)

#31: Premonitions and Predictions of Death II

"On Thunder Mountain near the town Oberviechtach there lived a tailor. He once visited the Stehr farm and worked until late on Holy Christmas Eve, while everyone else was attending Midnight Mass.
Image from here

When he was finished, he set off for home just as Midnight Mass was underway, and after he had walked for some time, a glass barrel, polished like the finest crystal glass, rolled up to his feet. He became frightened and wanted to turn around; but again the barrel rolled up to his feet.

So he decided he better continue on his way home, and the barrel always rolled along before his feet, and he saw inside of it several coffins and men beside them, all of whom he knew very well, since presently they were still alive; also, he saw himself standing beside the last coffin.

At this he was seized by such terror that he fell to the ground senseless, and people returning from Midnight Mass had to help him home. He lay down in bed feeling sick, and all of those whom he had seen through the barrel died in the same year-the last to die was the tailor."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Black Swan Skirt

Black Swan Skirt-Sheinside
Here's a fairy tale print item that's pretty affordable, at $20.83!
As worn on style blogger TheClothesHorse