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Litchfield MN 55355

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Tale as Old as Time, Almost

By Jan Pease, children's librarian at Litchfield library

I’m looking forward to this week’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” at our local high school. Elle Dinius, who plays Belle, is our page, shelving books in between classes and rehearsals.  Philip Hansen, who plays the Beast, is the son of staff member Mary Hansen.  We’re proud of “our” kids!  The story of "Beauty and the Beast" has been told in countless versions, and the Litchfield library is a great place to check out a few.

One of the first items I found was an interesting movie version, "Belle et la Bête," a French movie made 65 years ago.  The dvd also includes an opera composed by Philip Glass with a sound track of his rich and interesting music added to the original movie.  The movie is based on the version originally written in 1756 by French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont while she served as a governess in Scotland. Director Jean Cocteau created this masterpiece which is a fairy tale for adults rather than children. Be sure to read the booklet that accompanies the dvd, which is full of interesting information about the making of the movie, as well as the original story by de Beaumont.   Cocteau said “My aim would be to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.’”  He certainly was not making a movie for those children!

One of my favorite video versions of the story is an episode from Shelley Duvall's FaerieTale Theatre.   Susan Sarandon plays Belle and the great actor Klaus Kinski plays the beast.  This film was made in the mid-1980s but is timeless.

One of my favorite book versions of the story is “Beauty: a Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast” by Robin McKinley.  This is an older book, a young adult novel written more than 30 years ago.  Many of the elements of the Disney version are in this one, including the fantastic library. 

 A lovely version of the fairytale with art by the great Mercer Mayer was published in 1978.  The text was written by Marianna Mayer, who happened to be Mercer Mayer’s first wife.  I just learned of the connection today.  Anyway, the paintings in this version are breathtaking.

Author and illustrator Jan Brett published a version of the tale in 1989.  Again, the familiar story is told with illustrations in Brett’s unique style.  I looked for it on Amazon.com, and discovered that a new hardcover copy can be purchased for $137.00 to $237.00. Oh my.

 Donna Jo Napoli wrote an interesting version of the story, “Beast,” set in Persia and told from the point of view of the beast. Published in 2000, it gives a completely different look at the familiar story. 

In 2006, Max Eilenberg wrote and  Angela Barrett illustrated their version of the story, in which the beast is a grotesquely haunting creature.

In 2007, the book, "Beastly," by Alex Flinn, was published and then reprinted in 2011 with the release of the movie based on Flinn’s book.  Reviews were mixed.  It remains to be seen if it will stand the test of time like Cocteau’s master work.

Of course, the library has a copy of the Disney animated version of "Beauty and the Beast," which was followed by several animated sequels, each one going farther and farther from the basic structure of the story.  I wonder if, like Jean Cocteau, today’s fans are more interested in Belle’s life with the Beast than her life with her human prince.    These interesting versions of the classic story are waiting for you at the Litchfield library.  See you there!