Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Beauty and the Beast

When I was four I was given a book of fairy tales for my birthday. This book came from my grandmother, and it was the first book I ever had that was mine and mine alone. It was lavishly illustrated (none of those insipid Disneyfied drawings) and had three stories. The three stories were Hansel and Gretel, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, and Beauty and the Beast.

The first two stories I read over and over, and I loved them. I still remember the picture of Hansel pushing the wicked witch into the smoking fire, and Aladdin's genie appearing out of the lamp looking dangerously pissed off. The stories thrilled me every time I read them, and I always read them before bedtime.

But I had a problem with Beauty and the Beast. Somewhere near the end I would get so upset I couldn't continue reading, and finally I asked my mother to read it to me instead. She tried, but when she got to the ending I was in tears. My mother was baffled. It was a happy ending, she said, but I couldn't explain.

Night after night I tried to read it myself. I think I expected it to change, but every time I read it the wrong thing happened in the story. I had nightmares. Finally my mother, probably tired of being woken by my crying, suggested that we tape the pages together so the story wouldn't bother me anymore. I agreed, and we negotiated a time limit. We agreed that when I was five I would be old enough and the pages could be separated again. We taped the pages together, and the story vanished from my consciousness and from my dreams. (Mothers have some powerful magic.)

Fast forward twenty five years or so, and I was thinking about this incident. Why did Beauty and the Beast upset me so much? Why were the other stories all right? I thought about it, and finally I understood. The ending did not make sense.

So I sat down and rewrote the story with an ending that did make sense.

You will have to excuse some liberties I have taken with the story. I haven't seen the Disney version, and haven't read it since I was a child. But I looked it up on the web just now, and have included a link which gives the history of the story, and as you can see liberties are always taken with fairy tales. They change all the time. This is my version, for grown-up children who like endings that make sense. (Ending that make sense are not necessarily happy endings. You have been warned.)

Beauty and the Beast (The Badaunt Version)

Once upon a time there was a Beast. He was so ugly and scary-looking that people were afraid of him, and treated him like a monster. He was not a monster. He was a kind and gentle Beast, and the fear he caused wherever he went distressed him, so he locked himself away in a castle with huge gardens and became a rose gardener. He grew the most beautiful roses in the world, and tended them carefully. Roses didn't care whether he was good-looking or not. Roses were beautiful and appreciated his care, and bloomed regardless of what he looked like.

One day a merchant was passing his castle grounds. This merchant had three daughters, and he had been away for a while on a business trip. He'd bought gifts for his two older daughters, but being a forgetful and rather stupid man had forgotten to get anything for his youngest and least demanding daughter, Beauty. As he was passing the castle he spotted the roses and, suddenly remembering, had an attack of guilt.

"Oh, what the heck," he mumbled to himself. "She won't care if I forgot to bring her diamonds and gold. She'll be happy with a rose."

And he picked a rose.

As it happened, the Beast had been working in his garden and overheard the merchant talking to himself, and saw him pick the rose. A little indignant at this blatant thievery, he confronted the merchant.

"Excuse me, but why are you picking my rose?" he asked.

It was a polite question, but the merchant (like most people) judged people he met by their appearances and took it as a threat.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," he whimpered. "I didn't know it was yours."

He babbled his story about Beauty and the forgotten present.

The Beast thought the whole thing was pretty amazing. The merchant was going to give his older daughters, who were in his own words "demanding and selfish", diamonds and gold, but give his youngest daughter a stolen rose? He didn't think that was right, and the merchant should at least pay for the rose.

"I understand," he said, thoughtfully. "So, how are you going to pay me for my flower?"

(The Beast was expecting a few pennies, perhaps even a dollar.)

"I don't have any money left," lied the merchant, who thought the Beast wanted to take all his money. "But... please don't kill me!" (The Beast wondered why people always thought he wanted to kill them.) "How about if I... I... give you my youngest daughter, for a year! She's a very good hostess for business dinners, and she works hard."

The Beast thought about it.

Well, he thought, it certainly gets a bit lonely in my garden sometimes. And since he's offering, and obviously doesn't appreciate her himself... well, why not give it a whirl?

So he agreed to the trade, and eventually Beauty turned up at the castle for her year with the Beast.

At first Beauty was afraid of him, for really he was quite frightening, particularly because he was dirty and his mane was tangled and smelly. But his beautiful voice reassured her, and after a very short time she got used to his looks and even grew to like them. He was always polite, and always considerate and kind, and they had a lot of interesting conversations. She never had to do housework because the Beast had magic powers and could cause the vacuuming, washing, and so on to be done with a wave of his hand. He had a huge library, and ordered extra books if she wanted them. She could have anything she asked for, and soon developed a daily routine which the Beast never interrupted without asking first. He only asked that she keep him company over dinner. She discovered she enjoyed living with somebody who appreciated her intelligence and conversation, and she liked not having to worry about which fork to use. He didn't even mind if she felt like climbing a tree - in fact he would help her up to that first tricky branch - and she pretty much had the run of the castle and grounds. He didn't mind that the only tunes she could play on the piano were Fur Elise and Chopsticks, and listened to them over and over. In return she offered to comb the Beast's mane and shampoo him occasionally when he got dirty. Their conversations became longer and longer. He thrived on the attention and discovered the art of purring.

But then one day she got a letter from her sisters saying that her father was ill and needed her. She asked the Beast if she could go back to take care of him. The Beast thought about it and, being a kind Beast, told her to go ahead, but asked her to promise to come back within two weeks. He was used to having company by this time and found shampooing his mane tricky on his own.

Beauty promised, and off she went.

Her father turned out to be not very sick after all; it was just that her sisters were useless at taking care of him. With Beauty's care he soon got better. But he pretended to still be sick, because he didn't want her to leave. He had missed her intelligent company, thoughtful care, and help with his business. He thought he could trick her into staying. He wanted a gracious hostess for his business dinners, somebody who would impress his associates, and his other daughters were too uncultured and rude. He thought if he kept Beauty really, really busy she would forget the Beast and her promise. So he asked her to keep business appointments for him and charm his rivals and negotiate deals and have dinner parties and so on, so she was busy every day and most evenings as well.

It almost worked. Back at the castle the two weeks passed, and when Beauty didn't come back the Beast went into a decline. He was heartbroken. He'd become accustomed to Beauty's company, and now he missed it. He went off his food. He had terrible nightmares. He lost weight and became very, very depressed. Without anybody to take care of him he was soon a shadow of his former self, and took to wandering around the gardens calling Beauty's name and weeping. He neglected his roses, didn't eat his vegetables, developed scurvy and started having strange, hallucinogenic dreams. He stopped washing, got a nasty infestation of fleas and itched terribly. Eventually he lost the will to live and lay down in the garden with his wilting roses to die.

But Beauty had a dream that night, and in the dream she saw the Beast, filthy and thin and weeping in his garden, and suddenly remembered her promise. She looked at the calendar. "Good grief!" she exclaimed, "I'm late! I have to go back! Quickly!"

And back she went.

Beauty's reappearance at the castle cheered the Beast enormously, and he perked up right away. Beauty found some medicated shampoo and got rid of the fleas. She cleaned him up and made him eat his vegetables, played Fur Elise and Chopsticks until the castle vibrated with his purring, and pretty soon he was his normal self and things were back as they were.

But then one day, after a good dinner and a couple of bottles of wine the two of them became overemotional. They were sitting in front of the fire, and the Beast had his head in Beauty's lap while she combed his mane.

"Beauty," purred the Beast. "You are a wonderful woman. You are intelligent and funny and great company, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you."

"Me, too," said Beauty. "Life here is pretty damned good, if you ask me. I'm particularly fond of the magical housekeeping." She thought for a moment. "It would be nice to get out sometimes, though. Go to the beach or something."

"We can do that," said the Beast. "Just as long as I don't get my feet wet. I hate getting my feet wet." His paws twitched, thinking about it.

They sat quietly for a moment, contemplating their perfect life together.

Eventually the Beast said, "So... um... will you marry me?"

Now, he'd asked this question before, and Beauty had always said no. She was way too sensible for that kind of nonsense, she said. But this time she'd had rather too much wine and was feeling sentimental.

So she said yes.

They kissed.

There was a crack of thunder, a flash of lightning, and a huge puff of smoke appeared around the Beast. When the smoke cleared the Beast was gone, and in his place there stood a handsome Prince. It was altogether a shocking transformation.

"Who the hell are you?" demanded the surprised Beauty. "And where is my Beast?"

But it was too late.

Poor Beauty. She had to pay the rest of her life for that one, stupid mistake. The Prince didn't have any of the magic powers the Beast had had. She had to do the housekeeping herself. He wouldn't let her climb trees. (Princesses don't climb trees, he said.) He had formal dinners all the time, and insisted that she learn to use the right fork. He was so good looking he didn't think he needed to be intelligent or considerate. As a merchant's daughter she was supposed to be satisfied just to have made such a fabulous catch. After her fifth child in five years she lost her figure and several of her teeth fell out. Her hair lost its sheen. Her love for wine became a passion. The Prince told her she was a disgrace, divorced her, kept the children, got a nanny and found a younger wife. Beauty was banished to the forest where she became a witch and spent the rest of her days boring passers-by with stories of her past and experimenting unsuccessfully with magic spells.

But she never did find the spell to restore her beloved Beast.

The End.


Paula said...

Oh, excellent! You should rewrite more fairy tales.

tinyhands said...

Realistic fairy tales, how novel. Of course, in real life the prince turns into a beast, but that's just detail. Glad to see someone else has far too much time on his/her hands.

Badaunt said...

Paula: I think that one was it. The others are OK, as far as I can remember, although I never trusted the handsome princes.

Tinyhands: It's not supposed to be realistic, it's supposed to MAKE SENSE. How would you feel if you'd become great friends with this scary, INTERESTING Beast and suddenly he disappeared and you were left with some simpering handsome Prince? What a huge betrayal. She agreed to marry the Beast, and look what she ended up with. If it was realistic she would have sued.

Anonymous said...

The new version is enough to make ME cry! ;^) Good story!

It's pretty realistic, though. Only in real life, girls don't get to meet a magical beast before they have to deal with Prince Jackass.


Faerunner said...

I like your version but somehow I was always enchanted by the Disney-ized version as well. Leave it to Disney.

I must say though that I'm rather content with the Prince that my "Beast" has become. I think in his case the exterior was only a facade that he put up in the first place. It makes a difference who's creating the beast, doesn't it?

melinama said...

This reminds me of the wonderful story, "The Paperbag Princess," have you read it? (But it has a happy ending)

Cheryl said...

Brilliant, love it.
I rewrote The Princess and The Pea. The silly, woossy, sappy, useless princess died in childbirth and the prince got an attack of intelligence and married a real woman instead.
We need new stories, we cant tell this sexist ^&&**( to our little girls anymore!

Cheryl said...

Since you nearly asked, you can nearly answer, if you like :-)

Your five interview questions are:
1. Moving from New Zealand to Japan must have been quite a culture shock, what were your first impressions?

2. What was your first experience of being away from home, and how old were you?

3. If you went for a fry-up at a new cafe, which part of the meal would you most expect to be cooked/served badly, and why?

4. When you were little, where did the monsters hide?

5. Sapporo or sake?

Not too bad, I hope

Badaunt said...

Cheryl: I TOLD you, I'm FRIGHTENED!


Oh, never mind. Keep your eyes peeled. Answers will arrive. (Eventually.)

Anonymous said...

What a fun story (except the end, of course). I am obsessed with fairy tales and love to find re-written versions. I love the sense of humor in it, though I feel sorry for poor Beauty.

Carrie (www.queenoframbles.com)