Note: Some spoilers if you do not know the story of “Beauty and the Beast.”
This is a retelling of the archetypical story of “girl meets bad boy with heart of gold,” i.e., “Beauty and the Beast.”
Yeva is the youngest of three daughters, and has always been called Beauty by her father. Her father, an excellent hunter, became a merchant to make a better living, and then lost his fortune. He was forced to return to a life of hunting, but seemed to go mad, claiming a mythical beast was tracking him and driving away all the game. And then one day he didn’t return.
Yeva was taught to hunt by her father when she was young, and had always felt drawn to the forest. Now living in the city, she harbors a dissatisfaction with her life the origins of which she cannot herself articulate. She is restless and doesn’t feel she belongs somehow. When her father disappeared and she returned to the forest to look for him, she felt herself getting renewed. But then her joy turned to dismay when she came upon his body, and nearby, a fearsome beast. She tried to kill it, but instead, it captured her.
Besides the narration of Yeva, there are also intermittent segments by The Beast, who is looking for a good hunter to help break the curse on him. Since he can no longer count on the father, he focuses his attention on the daughter. He finds he is fascinated by her: “She moves like an animal in a woman’s body. She moves like beauty.”
Beauty can’t see in the pitch-dark place she is being held, but thinks the man who communicates with her behind the door and who leaves her food is a sympathetic rescuer. She feels like she is going crazy from the isolation, and begins speaking through the door of anything and everything that came to her mind, “to fill the hungry silence.”
First she talks to her mysterious rescuer about her family, and then begins to relate to him the Russian fairy tales her father used to tell her.
The man behind the door agrees to let her out of the dark dungeon but only if she promises to keep on her blindfold; he threatens to kill her if she removes it.
The retelling of Beauty and the Beast most of us grew up with
With Beauty now outside the dungeon and in a warmer place, The Beast asks her to keep telling more stories. He seems particularly interested in the tale of Ivan, the young prince who tried to capture the Firebird. At one point though, Beauty manages to get the blindfold off, and realizes her “ally” is also her captor: he is The Beast. Since she believes The Beast killed her father, her feelings about him turn to hate, and to a desire for revenge.
The Beast observes that now:
“There is no animal in her. The way she speaks to us now, so full of fury, is more human than anything we have experienced in many long years. Animals don’t hate. That is the rightful domain of humanity.. . . . It is better this way, that she see us for what we are. We are pleased. She is strong still, despite her illness, and skilled. She will do what we require of her, and it will be done. We will be free.”
She agrees to stay with him as he insists (threatening to harm her family if she does not), but does not agree she won’t try to kill him again. He glowers, “If you try to kill us again, make certain you succeed.”
He does need her to kill someone, but he can’t say who it is, because that is part of the spell he is under. As Beauty observes, “In every fairy tale there were rules. Even monsters could not break them. And where, except in fairy tales, did there exist talking beasts?” She muses that “[s]he had never imagined the things her father told her might be reality.”
The Beast wants to satisfy her curiosity, but resolves:
“We will not break the terms of our sentence. We cannot explain, or we risk remaining trapped together for the rest of eternity.”
He makes her practice hunting every day. Then he trains her to see the magic in his forest and hear its music. She can hear the music that The Beast emits too.
He lets her see the castle where he lives as well, and to see more glimpses of his life there. She began to be less afraid of him, and at moments, to see his human side coming through.
Still, she is determined to avenge the death of her father. One night she creeps up on him when he is sleeping and is sure she has delivered a death blow. But as she discovers, he cannot be killed. And she also learns he wasn’t the one who killed her father. “Tell me,’ The Beast said softly. ‘If you had known, from the start, that I could not be killed, that you would never have your vengeance . . . would you have stayed?” And indeed, now that she has nothing more to keep her there with The Beast, she feels she must leave to go back to her family.
Recent adaptation of this very popular fairy tale
After she returns to them though, she apprehends – through her dreams – that the part of The Beast that is human is beginning to recede. Yeva decides she must go to The Beast again, and rescue him. She now realizes that “Her Beast was Prince Ivan,” and that, as per the fairy tale about the prince, she needs to find the Firebird to save him. But when she finds it, she learns another truth: the Firebird is the manifestation of an idea: it is the goal; the reward at the end of the quest; what everyone is looking for. As the Firebird explains, “I am the conclusion of your journey. All you’ve ever wanted. Magic. The music of the forest.”
Yeva is trapped by the Firebird, with little hope of escape. Then The Beast arrives, but not necessarily to save her. He is more wolf than man now, and somehow Yeva must bring him back to humanity before he kills her. In the process, they both discover what the curse really is, and what it would actually take to break it.
Evaluation: This retelling is well done, and quite romantic. I loved the slow simmering of the feelings for one another between Beauty and The Beast, and the self-awareness in each of them that these feelings induced. And of course like any fairy tale, this one is replete with thought-provoking metaphors – from the dual nature of humans, to the source of worth in a person, to the difficulties in identifying what you really want in life.
Published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2017