beauty and beastliness

* Walter Crane illustration from the New York Public Library

In a bout of insomnia, I am currently (at past one o’clock in the morning) ruminating on the various versions of “Beauty and the Beast”:

* the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche (shadowy Cupid going against his mother’s edict and falling in love with Psyche, who has trust issues and is overly curious about the shy man she married);

* the French folk tale by Madame Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, and
* the Disney animation, (being pretty much similar in trope, except that the belle in the former had sisters, and in the latter Celine Dion);

* the teenybopper movie adaptation “Beastly” (you’d think image-conscious teenagers would best flesh out the tale, but not quite);

* the television series (I believe “Once Upon A Time” did something, then there’s the ’80s hit series with Linda Hamilton/Ron Perlman vs. the Kristin Kreuk/Jay Ryan B&B remake– let’s not get into this, I didn’t even remember the 1987 version until a friend brought it up);

* Jean Cocteau’s film “La Belle et La Bete” (1946, haven’t seen it either); and

*the weirdly fascinating if horrific re-imagining in the short story, “The Beast,” by Tanith Lee (frankly, I don’t know why this hasn’t become a movie yet).

Not to mention all the erotica that the “beauty” and “beast” coupling (harhar) has likely inspired (haven’t read any yet, but I’ve seen a couple listed).

The face that launched a thousand masks (Perlman channels a leonine Beast while Hamilton as a legal beauty hams it up) via TVRage

Admittedly, it’s the Lee story that still dominates my psyche, if only because of the deviation: not only is the beast portrayed as a beautiful man (similar to Cupid), his beastliness manifests via an obsession with collecting beautiful things — even if it meant taking them out of their “ugly setting” (e.g. a pair of eyes lifted from an ordinary face).

It’s a total departure from the original story; it has more in common with the Clarice Starling/Hannibal Lecter relationship.

What fascinates us so about this story though? The importance of a promise given, a bargain made, and self-sacrifice? The aesthetics of it all — a determination of what is ugly and beautiful? The moral responsibility of looking beneath the surface and redefining what has value — i.e. a treatise on discrimination and perception? This strange fascination with something “monstrous” coupled with a “gentling of the beast” (reformation/redemption)?

(In which case, if it’s all about monstrous attraction, we can lump “50 Shades of Grey” and “Twilight” into this, as well.)

I really don’t know. But apparently, we’re still buying what they’re selling.

* More illustrations in this blog

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