10 August 2009

Revisiting Fairy-Tale Beauties

I've been reading Mordena Babich's story "Beautiful Beast" at the Hunger Mountain literary magazine website, set up by the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

In this rewrite of "Beauty and the Beast," the Beauty and the Beast are one--this version switches the genders in the traditional tale. Thus, the protagonist is a young man forced to live in the castle of a female monster who asks him to marry her each night. Mordena, another of my writing-group colleagues, is well read in fairy tales both old and new, and her reversal produces new themes from an old tale.

Another quality of "Beautiful Beast" that struck me was the description of rich physical detail:

Roland followed his battered luggage as it floated up the stairs, through gorgeous, gilded hallways and into a vast bedroom with thick crimson carpet on the floor and velvet drapes. The bedposts were polished gold, as were the frames that surrounded some of the most magnificent artwork Roland had ever seen—land- and seascapes painted by a master. Roland sat down on the edge of the gold-embroidered bedspread and looked around.
Of course we'd expect to find such sumptuous furnishings in an enchanted castle. I was a tad surprised to see them here just because Mordena's early drafts are very spare when it comes to such visual detail and descriptions; she adds them later. Yet another useful reminder that everyone has his or her own writing process, and there are many routes from an idea to a published story.

"Beautiful Beast" makes an interesting match with Tahlia Merrill's "The Prince with Good Manners," a rewrite of "Sleeping Beauty" invited by the Diamonds and Toads blog. Both stories follow young men into enchanted castles where they meet enchanted young women. Both depend on our knowledge of the traditional tales while upending the old outcome, for more contemporary comfort.

(Photo of possibly enchanted garden courtesy of TeecNosPos via Flickr.)


Fuse #8 said...

It might also pair well with Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady a fellow pretty man/ugly gal under a spell tale. My favorite has illustrations by Juan Wijngaard too.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the reading suggestions -- I love twists on fairy tales.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it took me almost a year to realize that you mentioned my story (the magic of googling yourself)! Thank you! I am a big Oz fan myself, although kind of rusty since it's been years since I read the books. I used to live really near Chittenango, NY and loved the Oz Fest as a kid, too :).