Beauty and the Beast

There is one story for Kitchen I’m working on called “When Beauty becomes the Beast”. It’s about the CBS Documents and their impact on weblogging (not to mention weblogging’s impact on the CBS investigations). For some reason this subject saddens me a bit–as if we’re seeing the end of something that once was and we won’t have again. Yet webloggers point to this event with pride; a shining moment of triumph, and vindication, for weblogging.

Oddly enough, I got the title for the story because the incident reminds me of an extremely well written article by Terri Windling about the tale of Beauty and the Beast. In the article, Ms. Windling traces the history of the story and its various incarnations, as well as the influences of society on the story over time–in writing that’s lucid and entertaining.

One phenomena of the story she notes is how sympathetic the Beast was made; to the point that readers experience disappointment when the Beast turns into the Prince at the end of the story. Windling wrote about a play that actually focused on this disappointment:

In the 20th century the story was subtly altered again. In 1909, French playright Fernand Nozier wrote and produced an adult version of Beauty and the Beast with a fashionable Oriental flavor. Nozier’s rendition is humorous, yet beneath its light surface the play explores a distinctly sexual subtext, and the duality of body and spirit. In this version, all three sisters find themselves powerfully attracted to the Beast. When Beauty’s kiss turns him into a man, she complains: “You should have warned me! Here I was smitten by an exceptional being, and all of a sudden my fiancé becomes an ordinary, distinguished young man!”

This play was created in 1909 but, oh, I would wish that this version be staged today. I would pay money–real money– to see it, just to hear that last line said within the ambiance mentioned in the writing.

Windling discusses the Disney version of the film, which she liked and had many favorable things to say on it; but she also thought that much of the strength of the original tale was lost in Disney’s effort to make the tale safe. At the end of her article she asked, whether it mattered:

In Disney’s beautiful animated version of Beauty and the Beast, we take one step forward with the creation of a literate and courageous heroine, and two steps backwards as the heart of the tale is lost in the musical razzle-dazzle. But hey, the film is entertaining and fun. Young Lillian and I enjoyed it thoroughly. So should we care about what’s been lost in the process?

In my opinion, you bet we should. It does no service to lie to children, to present the world as simpler than it is. Villains rarely appear with convenient black hats, good people are rarely perfect. Beauty has gone to Hollywood now. Poor Beauty. Poor Beast. Poor us.

Something to remember, as I write my post on webloggers and the CBS Documents, and how beauty can turn beastly: good people are rarely perfect, and good intentions less so.

Windling also pointed to a poem about Beauty and the Beast by Jane Yolen, called “Beauty and the Beast: An Anniversary” that I rather liked. It made me think of growing old with someone, and how nice it sounded:

It is winter now, and the roses are blooming again, their petals bright against the snow. My father died last April; my sisters no longer write, except at the turning of the year, content with their fine houses and their grandchildren. Beast and I putter in the gardens and walk slowly on the forest paths. He is graying around the muzzle and I have silver combs to match my hair. I have no regrets. None. Though sometimes I do wonder what sounds children might have made running across the marble halls, swinging from the birches over the roses in the snow.

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