A tale as old as time

Or at least as old as our literary history.

Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast is released today (in the UK for sure), so it’s only fitting for me to dive into the origins of the tale as old as time.

Let’s start with the chain of adaptation. The most recent live-action film is based on the 1991 animated musical. The similarities are so on the nose, I am wondering whether Disney saved on the script by re-using the 1991 one. But we shall see…

Moving on, Beauty and the Beast (1991) was based on  Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s La Belle et la Bete from the 18th century. This makes sense since the animated film was set in a provincial town where the people sang in a French accent.

There’s a clear connection, but where did the French fairy tale come from?

Well, there are many versions from the 18th century that survived in Europe, and most of those versions have been adapted into a novel or inspired other artwork. (My favourite one is Robin McKinley’s adaptation.) Yet, there is an even older version of Beauty and the Beast that survived but it is lesser known and it’s not something you might come across in school.

Cupid and Psyche’s story by Apuleius reaches back to Rome and Greece. Psyche is not the hero that is as well remembered as Heracles (Hercules) or Achilles, but her tale is one of the oldest surviving accounts of Beauty and the Beast.

There are uncanny parallels between Psyche’s tale and Belle’s pop culture revival. But the messages of Cupid and Psyche have been forever transformed by later versions. Today, Beauty and the Beast is associated with the notion that beauty comes from within and that love conquers all. (It’s also associated with the glamorisation of Stockholm syndrome, but that’s kinda present in the older versions, too.)

But how exactly does love conquer it all?

So the great showdown in Beauty and the Beast (1991) happened when Gaston finally reaches the Beast and their fight starts. The Beast gave up before Gaston even started to assault him, but Belle came back, and magically everything turned out fine.

How did this happen? Today’s versions lost that important message. (Although I admit, the “beauty comes from within” moral is probably more applicable to today’s society, but let’s not give up on the original.) Love conquers all, but only because (at least) one of the parties was willing to fight for it with everything s/he had.

Cupid, representing (physical) love, couldn’t have lasted without Psyche, the enduring spirit that saved their union (which is why I’m still in a relationship that did not fail 3 weeks in). So the thing I took away from this is that being with someone takes hard work, especially in the bad times. Stick around, you never know, it might be worth it. Here’s what I mean:

I’m sure that when you first saw Beauty and the Beast (1991) you’ve had your own morals drawn from it. What were they?

Maybe this year’s Beauty and the Beast will have surprises up its sleeve, too. Have you seen it? Let me know what you think.


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