Friday, August 27, 2010

With origins that can be traced back to Ninth Century China, Cinderella is probably the most enduring “princess” story of all time, Cinderella has become synonymous with happy endings. Whenever someone’s life takes an unexpected turn for the better, we call it a “Cinderella Story.” Elements of this story have become famous in their own right, such as spells breaking at midnight, fairy godmothers and glass slippers.

Most modern versions of this story are traceable to Charles Perrault, an unsung chronicler of fairy tales who predates the Brothers Grimm by about a hundred and twenty years.

As for my version, I have corrected one problem that I’ve always had with most versions of this story. It is established that Cinderella is a derogatory name given to the heroine by her steprelatives, but no one (that I’ve heard) has ever established what her real name is. I’ve decided to call her “Ella,” but that’s just my opinion. Most versions also never explain how Cinderella got her fairy godmother. If you believe Butch Hartman, creator of “The Fairly Odd Parents”, she got one just because she was hopelessly miserable, but I’ve come up with my own interpretation.

It might be worthwhile to spend a few moments talking about princesses. There is probably no theme more prevalent in fairy tales than princesses or otherwise beautiful girls and the heroes who ultimately marry them. But do you know why the hero gets the princess at the end of these stories? It’s not because she’s a princess, not because she’s rich and beautiful and powerful. It’s not because she has a glittering gown or a golden castle. It’s because she just happens to be the most wonderful girl in the story. It’s the same reason the prince gets to marry the peasant girl in stories like this one: You can be a Princess without being a princess.

nce upon a time and long ago, in a far away kingdom, there lived a wealthy man called Marcus and his wife, Elizabeth. They were kind, gentle and very happy. Elizabeth was fair and graceful and had a great love for all of nature. Most days she would wander the grounds for hours “talking” to the birds and enjoying the flora. The truth is that Elizabeth desperately wanted to have a baby, but was having trouble. But she never gave up hope and she kept smiling and stayed positive.

This is a long extinct practice known as “optimism.”

One day when she was walking through the gardens, she saw a couple of birds fighting over something. It looked like a firefly, which was odd because it was broad daylight, and also the wrong time of year for fireflies. Just the same, it seemed to be suffering, and Elizabeth wasn’t one to judge the choices of others, so she ran over to the birds and shouted “shoo!” and the birds flew away.

“Thank you for your kindness, my dear,” said a voice. Elizabeth spun around and saw that the firefly was gone. And in its place was a lovely old woman in a blue robe with shining blue eyes and a warm, friendly smile. “Those birds would have torn me apart if it weren’t for you.”

“Then you were the firefly?” asked Elizabeth.

“No, my dear. Not a firefly. I’m a fairy.”

“A fairy?”

“Yes. That’s how we travel, you see. By turning into points of light. I was just about to turn back into my usual form when those birds attacked me. Oh, but you rescued me. I must repay the favor. Is there anything you want? Anything at all?”

And of course there was only one thing Elizabeth wanted.

“I would love to have a child. Can you help me?”

“Of course I can,” said the fairy. “They don’t give these magic wands to just anybody, you know.” She waved her wand and touched the tip of it to Elizabeth’s belly. “Your baby will be very special. Blessed. Magical even.” But before Elizabeth could thank the fairy, she was gone.

Soon, Marcus and Elizabeth were blessed with a daughter. She was named after Elizabeth, but quickly nicknamed Ella. The family lived happily for several years, until tragedy struck. Ella’s mother got very sick and passed away. Ella’s father was grief-stricken, but lost himself in his daughter, who with every passing day looked more and more like her mother. Just as fair and graceful and optimistic in the face of adversity.

But as Ella grew up, her father became concerned that she needed a mother. So he soon was remarried to a woman with two daughters of her own, disconcertingly named Goneril and Regan. Ella did not get along with her stepsisters at all. For while she herself was a very good child, Goneril and Regan were spoiled and selfish. And they hated Ella for being so naturally beautiful while they were quite homely. But for her father’s sake, Ella kept smiling and remained happy and optimistic. Of course, this just made Goneril and Regan hate her that much more.

This was the way of things, until tragedy again struck poor Ella’s life. Her father passed away. Now she was all alone in the world except for her stepmother and stepsisters, who, now that Ella’s father was dead, were beginning to show their true colors. Within two days of his death, Ella’s Stepmother had seized control of the estate, and began recklessly spending her late husband’s wealth on clothes and frivolities for her two daughters, who only became more spoiled and horrible.

And poor Ella was forced to wear rags and work as a maid in her own home. She cleaned the floors, cooked the food, did the laundry, ran the errands, organized and alphabetized the library, dusted in placed that no one would ever look. They even took away her room, so she was forced to sleep on a cot in a corner by the fireplace where she would get cinders all over her beautiful face. So Goneril and Regan began to call her “Cinder-Ella” and before long, the name stuck, and Cinderella was who she was.

But even now, Cinderella remained positive. She remembered what her parents had taught her about being kind and gentle and that money was not the key to happiness. She knew that something good would come along some day and she just kept hoping every day. And every night, as she was drifting off to sleep, she would look through the tiny window she could see from her bed and a single tiny star would appear in the sky. Cinderella had seen this star every day for as long as she could remember and knew that it was her special star, looking after her. And as long as she saw that star, she could imagine her mother was still with her and she could stay optimistic.

It wasn’t easy, mind you. Her stepfamily seemed determined to crush her spirit. You see, since they were vain and selfish, they couldn’t understand the simple happiness that comes from, say, doing a hard day’s work. Getting things accomplished. Just being proud to be who you are. Some of the happiest people on this earth have nothing to show for it but dirty fingernails and worn out shoes, but good luck explaining that to the likes of Goneril and Regan. So they heaped chores on poor Cinderella and made sure she didn’t have time to clean herself. Not that it mattered, because her beauty shone even through the dirt on her face. And her optimism could not be stopped.

Now, it happened that the prince of this kingdom, who had been away for many years, was coming home. And His Father, The King decided to hold a great party to welcome him back. His Father, The King was getting along in years, and soon the prince would have to step in and take over the throne. Which meant he would need to get married and have a family so that his son could take over the throne…and so on and so forth, which is just one of the problems that comes with a monarchy.

The problem was that the prince, though very charming, tended to be shy sometimes, especially around girls. So His Father, The King felt the need to push him a little. He decreed that there would be a ball the likes of which had never been seen. And, by royal command, “every eligible maiden” was to attend so that the prince could choose his bride. His Father, The King didn’t even particularly care if he loved her; just so long as they got married and had a son.

Obviously, when this news got around, every young lady in the kingdom was ecstatic. Each one thinking that she could marry the prince and be a princess. You have to admit, it’s a pretty tempting fantasy. Maidens from one end of the kingdom to the other began tearing through their wardrobes and putting on makeup and having their hair done…every one except Cinderella.

Because, of course, Cinderella had to help her ugly stepsisters get ready. She had to iron their clothes, and lay out their accessories, and run to the store to buy more of whatever, and sew and mend and raise the hemline so that Regan could show off her legs and lower the neckline on Goneril’s dress and…actually, that’s pretty gross, isn’t it? The proclamation had said “EVERY” eligible maiden, but Cinderella would never find a free moment in which to get ready.

Finally the day of the ball came and Cinderella’s Stepmother and stepsisters left for the castle and Cinderella herself was alone. This was the last straw, she could take no more. She ran out into the garden through which her mother had walked so many times, collapsed onto a stone bench and began to cry. She cried the cry of her lifetime and with each tear she shed, a tiny drop of optimism left her. Because now it seemed as though there really was no hope for her life to get any better.

“Of course there’s hope, my dear.”

Cinderella looked up, but there was no one around. She must have imagined it. She looked to the sky and saw her star, shining bravely and hopefully as it always did, and it lifted Cinderella’s spirits. As she watched, however, the star moved. It left its place in the sky and came to earth, looking less like a star and more like a firefly. In a moment, the firefly was gone and Cinderella saw a kindly old woman in a blue robe, with blue eyes and a warm, friendly smile looking at her.

“Who are you?” asked Cinderella.

“Don’t you recognize me?” asked the fairy. “Your special star? I have been watching over you all your life, my child.”

“I don’t understand,” said Cinderella. And so the fairy told Cinderella the story of how her mother had rescued her from the birds and how, in return, the fairy had granted her wish.   

“You, Little Ella, are that wish,” said the fairy. “I am your fairy godmother.” Cinderella was moved. This was the first time in years that anyone had called her by her real name. But her fairy godmother didn’t stop there. “We’ve got to get you ready for the ball,” she said and with a wave of her wand, everything around Cinderella changed. A big orange pumpkin on a nearby vine became a beautiful carriage. Four passing field mice became four very confused white horses. Her father’s old hunting dog became her father’s old coachman and when she looked at herself, her rags had become a beautiful shimmering ballgown. On her head was a diamond tiara, and on her feet…glass slippers.

Which you really wouldn’t think would be very comfortable, but in this case they were the most comfortable shoes Cinderella had ever worn.

“Thank you for everything, Fairy Godmother,” said Cinderella.

“You’re most welcome, Ella. But remember, you must be home by midnight. Because at the stroke of twelve, my magic runs out and everything will be as it was.” Cinderella promised to be home by midnight and rode off for the castle.

By the time Cinderella arrived, the party was in full swing. There were lords and ladies, gentlemen and beautiful women all around but no sign of the Prince. She saw plenty of His Father, The King, however, and got the impression that he was looking for the Prince as well.

Cinderella walked all through the ballroom, looking for the Prince. She was so busy looking, that she didn’t notice the fact that as she passed every head turned in her direction. Men were neglecting their dance partners, guards were forgetting their duties and everyone was asking the same question:

“Who is that girl?”

Even the most beautiful woman at the party (Gladys Miller, three time pageant winner and spokeswoman for Hoffman’s Tooth Powder) had to concede her title when Cinderella entered. In fact, Goneril and Regan looked as well and wondered who she was themselves. You see, they were so used to seeing Cinderella dirty and unkempt, they didn’t even recognize her as their stepsister! Not that they paid that much attention to her anyway, of course.

After a lot of walking and no luck finding the Prince, Cinderella stepped outside on the terrace to get some air. From where she was standing she could see three things. A clock tower in the distance telling her that she had three more hours until midnight. A thrilling panoramic view of the kingdom (she tried, but she couldn’t see her house from there). And a very, very handsome man standing alone in the moonlight. He turned around when he he heard her delicate glass footfalls.

“I’m sorry,” he said, then stopped short when he saw how beautiful she was. “I, er…I didn’t know…didn’t know any-any-anyone else was…was…ya know, here.”

 “No, I’m sorry,” said Cinderella. “I was just looking for the…the…” but she couldn’t stop looking at this man and couldn’t remember who in the world she was looking for. All she knew is that she’d found someone far more worth finding than any old Prince. Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, this man was the Prince—hiding from the rest of the party due to his shyness—but Cinderella had no idea and really didn’t care.

As for the Prince, well, he felt the same way about her. “Would you care to dance?” he said. And dance they did. They danced the night away. Alone under the moonlight while the ball raged inside. The two most sought after people at the party waltzed not a hundred feet from a crowd of dancers all wondering where they were…and they didn’t care. Gazing into each other’s eyes; each one seeing something they had never even dared dream of until now.

And then Cinderella heard the clock start to chime midnight.

“I have to go,” she said.

“But wait,’ said her companion. “Who are you? How will I find you again?”

But Cinderella didn’t answer. She ran down the stairs to her carriage. So fast, in fact, that she lost one of her slippers. She didn’t even have time to go back and get it, she just jumped into her carriage and raced into the night. She got home, as it happens, just in the nick of time. The carriage, the gown, the coachman and the horses all vanished, the mice and the dog ran away, and there was Cinderella. All alone in her rags, surrounded by bits of pumpkin. But with the memory of a perfect evening to sustain her…and one glass slipper on her foot.

Which means, thought Cinderella, that the other slipper probably didn’t disappear either, so he has some clue to find me. Thank you, Fairy Godmother. Thank you for everything.

The next day, all anyone could talk about was the ball. Where had the Prince disappeared to? Who was he going to marry? What was in that punch that was so good? Mango? Maybe guava? What is guava, anyway? And, most of all, who was that mysterious woman who had so captured everyone’s attention? Well, their questions (except the ones about the punch, which was a closely guarded secret of the royal caterers) were answered very soon, for later that same day, His Father, The King issued another proclamation:

The good news was that the Prince had found the woman he wanted to marry. The bad news, of course, was that he had no idea who she was. All he had was a slipper she had left on the stairs on her way out. So he was riding through his kingdom trying the shoe on every maiden in the kingdom until he found the girl whose foot fit in the shoe. And that girl would be the princess. This led to some fairly unpleasant encounters with various ladies of the kingdom, all of whom were desperate to wear the slipper. Upon hearing a rumor that it was rather dainty, many desperate young women bound their feet tightly, trying to make them smaller, and one even cut off her own big toe and heel (ugh!) before learning that the shoe was made of glass and such deception would be easily detected. This young woman started therapy the very next day and eventually lived happily ever after in her own right, but now we should really get back to the story at hand.

As soon as they heard this, of course, Goneril and Regan realized that they had another chance to marry the prince. So they put Cinderella to work, trimming and cleaning their best dresses to wear when the Prince arrived. Cinderella, however, was distracted because she had finally realized that the Prince was who she had been dancing with all night! All she had to do was try on the slipper (which had literally been made just for her) and she could live happily ever after.

Later that day the Prince arrived with the glass slipper. Cinderella’s Stepmother presented Goneril and Regan to him as her “only two daughters,” and they both tried on the shoe. Of course, it didn’t fit either of them (despite Regan’s insistence that her foot had swelled overnight due to a bee sting) and the Prince thanked them for their time and prepared to leave.

It was just at that moment that Cinderella appeared. And when the Prince saw her, of course, he didn’t need to try the slipper on her foot because he knew at once who she was. But, he had promised that the maiden whose foot fit in the slipper would be his bride, and he had to follow through on his promise, or else His Father, The King would never forgive him. So he invited Cinderella to sit and asker for her foot, which she gave happily…but before he could slip it on, Cinderella’s Stepmother grabbed the slipper and threw it angrily to the ground where it shattered into a million pieces. “I will never let you become a princess before my real daughters!”

Cinderella was crestfallen, the Prince was devastated and Goneril, Regan and their mother were chuckling wickedly amongst themselves. All hope seemed lost, and it looked as though were were on our way to one of those unhappy endings until a tiny speck of light flew into the room. The same speck of light that had flown down from he heavens the night before and granted Cinderella’s dearest wish now flew to her ear as though it were whispering something.

“What?” said Cinderella as her fairy godmother spoke to her. “Why, you’re right! Excuse me, please,” she added to the Prince. She ran up to her bedroom and quickly returned, tightly clutching something wrapped in a towel. She walked up to the Prince and unwrapped the towel: inside was the other slipper! Of course, now there could be no doubt who that mysterious lady had been and Goneril, Regan and their mother just stood there, wide-eyed and open-mouthed with shock as the Prince, with great tenderness, took her foot in his hand, slid off her shoe and slid the glass slipper on. A perfect fit!

Cinderella and Her Prince married at once. Her hope and optimism had finally paid off (and it does, far more often than you probably think). Now she lived in the palace with the man she loved. Her face was no longer covered in cinders and, though she did some light cleaning from time to time, she never had to slave away sweeping the floors and polishing the silver anymore.

As for her steprelatives, Cinderella…sorry, Princess Ella took pity on them and, using her new clout as princess, had their house restored to its former glory, so that they could live comfortably…but far, far away from her! And that is why everyone involved lived happily ever after.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Cinderella (1950) Walt Disney’s enduring masterpiece which introduced the phrase “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” to Cinderella’s legacy and gave us the song “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”
  • “Hey, Cinderella!” (1969)(TV) An early Jim Henson special which featured Kermit’s first appearance as a frog (before that, the puppet was just a non-descript green…thing)
  • “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Jennifer Beals is the princess, Matthew Broderick is the prince and Jean Stapleton is the Fairy Godmother
  • “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Sapsorrow” (TV) This alternate version of the story depicts a young girl in disguise as a scullery maid who dresses up every night of a three night festival only to leave her slipper behind on the third night. British comedy duo French and Saunders are her sisters.
  • Cinderfella (1960) In this “gender-bended” version, Jerry Lewis is “Fella” a loveable goof who woos a beautiful princess with the help of his fairy godfather (Ed Wynn) and goes from a “people” to a “person.” In my opinion, Jerry’s best movie ever.
  • Ever After (1998) This version of the fairy tale jetisoned the traditional details of the story, but stays true to the spirit of the original. Starring Drew Barrymore, Anjelica Huston and Dougray Scott
  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (2002)(TV) Adapted from the novel by Gregory Maguire (who also wrote “Wicked”) it tells the story from the perspective of one of the stepsisters. Stockard Channing stars as the stepmother
  • The Slipper and the Rose (1976) Enchanting musical fable with songs by the legendary Sherman Brothers (“Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book,” “Winnie the Pooh” et al) features Gemma Craven and Richard Chamberlain as two soulmates on opposite ends of the social spectrum
  • “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” (1957)(TV) The great songwriting team adapted the story for this made-for-TV musical which originally starred Julie Andrews. It was remade in 1965 with Lesley Ann Warren in the lead, and again in 1997 for ABC’s ‘Wonderful World of Disney’ starring Brandy and Whitney Huston

NEXT WEEK: “The Bremen Town Musicians”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

Originally written by Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont, it has been adapted for the stage, made into a ballet, a television series and countless movies. Of course, the best known version of this story must be the animated musical from Walt Disney pictures with songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. In truth, Walt himself had been interested in the story for quite some time, but kept on hitting a wall in terms of story development. It was Howard Ashman who, twenty years after Walt passed away, uncovered the single element of the story which was being neglected by the film’s creators:

The Beast’s Humanity.

All versions of this story walk a fine line with the Beast. How human can be how and how beastly? He has to be frightening beyond belief when he is first introduced but when he softens at the end, we have to believe that it’s possible for Beauty to fall in love wth him. I only hope that my Beast comes across this way, and if he does, it’s only because of Mr. Ashman’s inspiration. We lost a great talent when he passed away, so it is to his memory that this story is humbly dedicated.

here was once a wealthy merchant who had six children. Three boys and three girls, to be precise. Now, the two older girls were very pretty, but very spoiled and selfish and stupid. They were cruel to the servants, disrespectful to their elders and fickle in their romantic affairs, as each had several boyfriends at any given moment. But the one person these two girls hated more than any other was their younger sister, Beauty.

Now her name wasn’t really Beauty, but ever since she was a baby, her father had called her “Little Beauty,” and now that she was quite a young woman, the name had stuck, so everyone knew her as Beauty. The name fit her better than any other could because in addition to being very fair of face and figure, she was beautiful on the inside. What does that mean? Well, for one thing she was very gentle and kind and good-natured. She always said “please” and “thank you,” even to the servants, she showed respect to others by calling them “sir” or “madam,” and her favorite pasttime was reading, so she was very clever.

Not surprising then that her sisters resented her so.

Well, things were going just fine for the family until, quite suddenly, the merchant lost everything. His entire fortune! Now he and his children would have to leave their vast estate and spend the rest of their days in a small farmhouse in the country, where they would have to work to feed themselves. Of course, Beauty’s sisters were outraged at the very thought of living like (ugh!) commoners and decided that they would instead marry one of their many suitors and…oh, right. It turns out that the only resaon the boys put up with the sisters’ cruelty and selfishness is because of how wealthy they were. Now that they were poor, they had no further offers of marriage and were doomed to the farmhouse with their father and brothers.

As for Beauty herself, at first, naturally, she was upset at the thought of losing her wealth. But, she dried her eyes and said to herself, “Crying won’t change anything. This is the way things are now and I might as well make the most of it. Besides, it might be an exciting new adventure for us all!”

It was saying things like this that made her sisters hate her the way they did.

So the merchant and his brood relocated to the country and, after a while, it must be said that they were getting along all right. The boys worked the fields and tended the animals and the girls kept house…and by “the girls” I of course mean “Beauty and no one else” because her sisters refused to do anything more strenuous than brushing their own hair. It’s fair to say they weren’t adjusting as well as Beauty. And, to make matters worse, Beauty’s positive attitude just made her sisters hate her even more. “She’s trying to make us look bad,” they would whisper just loud enough to be heard. But despite their disdain, Beauty was compassionate toward her sisters and loved them with all her heart, which was, of course, the most beautiful thing about her.

One day, the merchant had loaded up his cart to go into town to sell his wares. The path to the town led through the forest, but as the weather was clear and the sun was shining, he wasn’t afraid. He asked his children if there was any special present they would like him to pick up for them while he was in town. His boys asked for new farming implements so that they could do their work better (a fine trio of young gentlemen, these boys, which is why it’s too bad they don’t have more to do in this story). His two elder daughters wanted jewels and trinkets and new dresses and silks and satins and things.

But Beauty asked for nothing.

“I don’t need anything, Father, only come home as quick as you can,” she said when she was asked. Of course, her sisters thought she was trying to show them up again, so, more to appease them than anything, she said, “All right, if you must bring me something, let me have…a rose. They are scarce this time of year, and I do love roses.” And so saying, she waved goodbye to her father…never dreaming that her humble request would change the course of her entire life and the lives of her whole family!

This is called “foreshadowing” and it’s great for adding drama.

The merchant was in high spirits as he traveled through the forest to the market place where he was to sell his goods. The birds were singing, the sunlight streamed in through the branches of the trees and cute, furry little woodland creatures abounded, and all looked up as he passed, as if to say “Good morning!” It was, all in all, a most enchanting scene, such as one would expect to find in…well, in a fairy tale, I suppose.

The same, unfortunately, could not be said for his return trip. No sooner had he reached the city limits when he had been robbed of everything he owned! His money, his watch, his pencil (one of those really good ones, you know?) not to mention everything he was going to sell. They left him his horse, and nothing else, and that’s just because the horse was so old and run down that the robbers expected him to drop dead at any moment. Now the woods seemed an altogether more forboding sight for the merchant and his horse. For one thing, he had not planned to return home until the following morning. But, having nothing to keep him in town any longer, or even money to pay for loding, he had turned back that very day, and night was falling. Not only night, but a terrible storm was brewing. The wind blew so hard it nearly blew the poor old merchant off his horse. But when the wind finally died down, the merchant made a terrifying discovery:

He was hopelessly lost in the woods.

The storm had blinded him and he had missed his way. Now it was the dead of night, freezing cold, the merchant himself was soaking wet and he had no idea where he was or who, if anybody, could help him. He was beginning to fear he would die in that wood when all of a sudden he came upon a most unexpected sight.

For there, in a clearing in the middle of the forest, was a castle. A giant stone castle, with iron gates all around. It was an old castle, and not in very good condition, but it was shelter and that’s what the merchant needed. He entered the courtyard through the gate and looked around for somebody, anybody who might be able to help him. Finding no one, he took his horse around to the stable and tied him up while he himself went into the castle.

The castle was massive on the inside and almost as dark and cold as the forest he had just left. “Hello” he called out in all directions, “Is anybody home?” He called for quite some time but got no answer. Finally, he came upon a dining room and there, to his great surprise, was a dining table…well, no, that’s not what I mean. Of course there was a dining table, that wasn’t a great surprise, that’s what you expect to find in a dining room. I mean…sorry, I got a little excited. What was surprising was that the table was set up with food and wine. It was just as if he was expected. “They won’t object, I am sure,” thought the merchant, and he sat down and ate his fill. Then he continued to search the castle for someone who could tell him where he was. Instead, he found a bedroom which, like the dining room, had been made up as though he was expected. The bed was turned down there was a roaring fire in the fireplace. “I am very cold and tired,” he thought and, assuming that his host, whoever he was, wouldn’t object, he undressed, got into bed and went right to sleep…

The next morning, the merchant woke up to another surprise. His clothes had been cleaned and pressed and were laid out for him on a chair next to the bed. He dressed and continued to explore the castle. It was much less frightening in the daytime, he had to admit, and there were gold and jewels and riches everywhere he looked. The pantry was full of sumptuous food, the rooms were full of oppulent and luxurious furnishings, as a matter of fact the only thing there didn’t seem to be any of was people.

As he wandered through the rooms, the merchant’s eye fell upon an opened window which looked out on a flower garden below. At once he remembered his promise to Beauty to bring her a rose. So, he went outside, took a few roses in his hand and cut them from the bush to make a bouquet. But, as he finished cutting the stems, he perceived a shadow looming over him. He turned around and what he saw shocked him more than anything he had ever seen.

It was a beast! An enormous, eight-foot-tall monster covered in thick brown fur. His hands were giant paws which ended in razor sharp claws. His mouth was snarling and the merchant could see a row of terrifyingly sharp teeth. There was nothing remotely human about this monstrosity…except his eyes. But even these were twisted in an angry glare as they looked down on the merchant with raw hatred. Perhaps the humanity the merchant saw in the beast’s eyes made his visage all the more terrifying.

“I welcomed you into my home,” the Beast bellowed, and his deep, mighty voice seemed to emenate from deep within his hideous body, “I gave you food and rest. And this is how you repay my hospitality? Cutting my roses like a common thief? I should tear you limb from limb!”

The merchant fell to his knees, “Please, be merciful, Mr…er…Beast. I meant no harm. The roses were meant as a present for my daughter. Won’t you forgive me?”

“If what you say is true, I shall not begrudge you the roses. However, you have taken advantage of my good nature and for this you must pay.” The Beast seemed to consider things for a moment, and then said, “How many daughters do you have?” A curious question, but the merchant answered, three, and at this the Beast raised an eyebrow. “You may return home this very day. But one of your daughters must take your place. One of them must elect to come here of their own free will and arrive at my door within two days. If none of your daughters will do this, you must return yourself within two days. Do you understand?” The merchant said he did and thanked the Beast for his compassion. “There is a large, empty trunk in the room where you spent the night,” the Beast continued. “Fill it with anything you would like from my castle, shut it and lock it. Then take your horse and go home. The trunk will be waiting for you when you get back.” With that, the Beast turned and went back inside.

Well, the merchant was in a terrible predicament, but he reasoned that it would be best to do as the Beast commanded. He went upstairs and filled the turnk with golden candlesticks, satin pillows, diamonds, rubies, silks (new farm implements from the barn) and anything else he could fit inside, closed the lid and turned the lock. Then he went to the stable, untied his horse and rode home. Even though he was unsure where he was, the horse seemed to know the way.

Upon arriving at his home, however, the merchant was faced with the unpleasant task of explaining the situation to his children. He told them the whole story of what had transpired between himself and the Beast and, when he was done, reached into his coat pocket and held out the roses he had cut, handing them to Beauty. “Here, my child,” he said, sadly, “as I promised.”

“How dare you!” cried Beauty’s sisters. “You and your stupid roses! I hope you like them, because they’ve cost our dear father his very life!”

“They have done no such thing,” said Beauty. “The Beast said that if one of us would go to him of our own free will, that Father would be spared. It was my roses that started all this…so I shall go.”

“No, don’t say that,” said her father. “Don’t even think it. You are young and have years and years of life ahead of you. It is a father’s duty to lay down his life for his children, not the other way around. Now I’ll hear no more of this.” But that night, while everyone else slept, Beauty rose, dressed and climbed on her father’s horse, who, again, knew the way as if by magic. And when the merchant awoke the next morning, it was to find his youngest child gone into the woods to live with a monster.

The sun was just rising as Beauty had arrived at the Beast’s castle. Whereas her father had found the castle seemingly unoccupied, the Beast was standing at the gate waiting for Beauty.

“What is your name?” asked the Beast.

“Beauty, sir,” replied the girl.

“You understand what is happening?”

“Yes, sir. I am to be your prisoner in my father’s place.”

“You will have the freedom of the castle. Plenty to eat and drink, a warm bed, books to read, musical instruments to play…but you may never leave the castle as long as you live. Do you agree to this of your own free will?”

“I do,” replied Beauty, wiping a tear from her eye as she did so.

The Beast showed her to her room and gave her a brief tour of the castle. In spite of herself, Beauty had to admit that one could not wish for a better prison. It was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. Her bed was so warm and soft it was like sleeping on a cloud. The fireplace seemed to have a life of its own and would burn hotter when it was cold and die down when it was too warm. All the food she ate was so wonderfully delicious that it seemed to melt in her mouth. And the castle library was full of more books than Beauty could read in her whole life.

In fact, it would have been downright idyllic had it not been for the Beast himself. For though he had shown her nothing but politeness and consideration since her arrival, she was still very frightened of him. She fancied she heard him growling and roaring when she wasn’t around. Some nights she even had nightmares that the Beast had gone mad and was going to devour her alive! But frightened though she was, she would never let the Beast see her fear. When they were together at supper (one of the Beast’s rules was the Beauty had to dine with him every night), she was kind, respectful, and made a valiant effort to look him in the eye. But his face was so hideous and monstrous that it was not easy.

The Beast, for his part, sensed her discomfort and so made an extra effort to change for her. He gave her whatever she wanted, bowed when she passed, did everything he could to make her less afraid. And, over time, it began to work. Indeed, after only a few months, Beauty was able to look at him without a twinge of fear. In fact, when the Beast injured himself (broken wineglass, an unforseeable consequence of being a great, hulking behemoth trying to be polite and refined), she was even able to tend to his wound, even touching his hand without recoiling in terror. It was then that both Beauty and the Beast realized what had happened:

They had become friends.

And that evening, as they said good night to each other, the Beast asked the question he had been longing to ask for ages: “Beauty,” he asked, “do you love me?”

“I care for you as a dear friend,” said Beauty. “But, no. In my heart I do not love you.”

The Beast asked this question every night from then on. And every night Beauty gave the same answer. After a while, the Beast began to lose hope that she would ever love him.

“Beauty,” he asked one morning, “are you quite happy?”

“Yes, sir,” she replied. “I am very happy here. Except…”


“Well…I know I promised never to leave, and I will keep my promise. I just miss my family so much. My father, my brothers and…yes, even my sisters. I want so much to see them again.”

The Beast thought about this for a moment, then said with a sigh, “If that is what you wish, then you should go to them. I will release you from your promise for one week. But you must give me your solemn word that you will return to me within one week.”

Beauty gave her word and, as with her father before, she was allowed to fill a trunk with anything she liked before she left. This she did, closed it and locked it before saying a final farewell and thank you to the Beast and getting on her horse to go home.

And what a wonderful week it was. In the time she had been gone, her father’s hard work had paid off and they were all quite wealthy again. Not as wealthy as before, but they were no longer impoverished (of course the trunk from the Beast’s castle didn’t hurt). Everyone was delighted to see Beauty again, even her sisters who, since saying goodbye to Beauty so long ago had quite reformed and were much nicer people than they were before.

“However did you escape that terrible monster?” they all asked her.

“You don’t understand,” said Beauty. “He isn’t a terrible monster. He looks frightful and, I’ll admit, I was afraid of him for quite some time, but I have gotten to know him since then and I find him very kind, very gentle. The truth is we are quite good friends. Which is why I must be sure to return to him in a week’s time.”

Her family was disappointed at the thought of losing her again, but understood that she had given her solemn word. But, as the week came to an end, something terrible happened. Beauty was having such a good time with her father and her brothers and sisters that she completely lost track of the days and before she knew it, ten days had passed since she left the Beast’s castle. When she realized what she had done, she climbed up on her horse and rode full speed back into the forest to beg the Beast’s forgiveness.

When she got to the castle, however, the Beast was not waiting for her at the gate as he had been the last time. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen. She searched through the whole castle, before finally, she spotted him. She glanced through a window, which looked down on the flower garden, the very same window her father had looked through when he saw the roses he was going to give to Beauty. But instead of roses, Beauty saw the figure of her friend, the Beast, lying prone on the ground. She ran to his side and found he was very weak indeed.

“You did not return,” the Beast said, very weakly. “I thought…I thought you had forgotten me.”

“I meant to return, I did,” said Beauty. “And had I known what it has done to you, I never would have left you. And I never will again, I swear it.”

“Beauty,” said the Beast, struggling with every breath, “Do…do you…love me?”

“I care for you as a dear friend,” said Beauty. “And…yes. In my heart, I love you.”

Upon hearing this, the Beast rolled his head back and shut his eyes. Believing him to be dead, Beauty fell upon him and wept into his lifeless form. But as she wept, she felt the fur beneath her hands vanish. The body she clutched so desperately shrunk and changed shape, so that when she opened her eyes she saw, not a hideous monster…but a man. A beautiful young man, opening his eyes and looking around.

“I…I am changed!” the man cried. “Beauty, you have set me free.” But Beauty was confused and frightened and shyed away from the beautiful stranger. “Beauty, please. Look into my eyes. It’s me. Your dear friend, the Beast.”

“It is you,” she said when she had looked into his eyes. “But how?”

“Many years ago, a wicked witch cast a spell on me, turning me from the prince you see now into the beast you’ve come to know. The only way I could break the spell was for a young maiden to give herself to me freely and willingly. That is why you needed to come to me of your own free will and why I asked you every night if you loved me.”

“And I do,” said Beauty. “I love you with all my heart.”

“And I you,” said her prince and he took her in his arms and kissed her.

Well, you can probably guess the rest of the story. Beauty and her prince returned to the merchant’s home and explained the whole thing to the girl’s family. Then the whole family moved into the castle where Beauty and her prince were married and bore many fine children, children of inteligence, grace, compassion, honor and…of course…beauty.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  •  “Faerie Tale Theatre” (TV) Susan Sarandon as Beauty and Anglica Huston as one of her sisters
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991) The award-winning animated musical with Paige O’Hara and Robbie Benson in the title roles.
  • “Beauty and the Beast” (TV) Contemporized version of the tale which ran for three years on television starring Linda Hamilton as “Catherine” (Beauty) and Ron Perlman as “Vincent” (The Beast)

NEXT WEEK: “Cinderella”