Once upon a time there were two French writers who shared credit for a fairytale that has been adapted into books, films, TV series, theatre and even musicals. We are talking about Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (1695-1755) and Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (1711-1780) the two main responsible for The Beauty and the Beast. Madame de Villeneuve published her version with about 400 pages in 1740, while Beaumont did it in 1756 simplifying the novel into only 8 pages (and at the same time adding a different character for the main character’s sisters, which can be more related to Cinderella’s stepsisters), yet is this last version the most well-known one and from which have taken place most of the later adaptations. Anyway, as it happens with tales that come from the oral tradition, we could also search for the roots of this story in the Italian literature with one of the stories in Gianfrancesco Straparola da Caravaggio’s The Merry Nights (not to be mistaken with the painter, they only come from the same village).
On the other hand, literature, as any other form of art, is alive and drinks from itself for inspiration. Therefore it wouldn’t be strange to place the beginnings of this story in some myths of Greek’s traditional culture like the love between Eros and Psyche, in which as it happens in Beaumont’s tale the main character’s sisters create a harmful situation for the captor converted into lover; or the myth of Hades’ kidnapping of Persephone where the pomegranate plays the same role as the rose, signing the pact previous to the Stockholm symdrome. Both stories have some parts in common with the French tale like the kidnapping of a young lady by a monster (Hades is god of dead while Eros pure beauty, even being god of love, is unbearably extreme for human sight) for whom the lady will fall in love; but at the same time the youthful heroine will find herself divided between this new love and the affections for her family.
In that same way Beauty and the Beast has also inspired later authors, and we don’t mean just the 1991 Disney feature animated film, which will see soon a life action re-make starting Emma Watson. Long before, already in 1771, Zémit et Azor was one of the first adaptations of the French production, an opera composed by André Gértry with lyrics by Jean-François Marmontel. Even nowadays television and film have produced many adaptations like the Autralian Beauty and the Beast (2009), where Belle helps Beast to unmask the real author of the murders he has been accused; the 2011 film Beastly based on the homonym book which places the action in a typical American high school in Manhattan; the American TV series Beauty and the Beast (2012) re-make of the 1987 one where she is a detective and he an ex-military; the Franco-German production Belle et La Bête (2014), more faithful to Madame de Beaumont’s tale; or the most recent Spanish production: the modernized version for Antena 3 TV channel’s series Cuéntame un cuento (2014) with well known Spanish actors Michelle Jenner and Aitor Luna.
We could also distinguish influences of this popular story in the 2013 film Warm Bodies, although the book by Isaac Marion in which is based has been more linked to Shakespeares’ Romeo and Juliet insomuch as it is a love story between people from two enemy “clans”: human survivors and the zombie plague (in fact the main characters are called R and Julie). But what makes us think of Beauty and the Beast is the fact that the zombie (which in this case is the monster) kidnaps the young human for the good feelings she awakes in him and, despite gaining a strong connexion with her in the process, at the end he decides is best for her to go back with her family; showing again the dicothomy between kidnapper and family.
And talking about kidnappings we cant avoid to include one of the biggest London West End’s musicals. The Phantom of the Opera, based on the novel by Gaston Leroux (1868-1927), shows the peculiar relationship between a monster (the phantom) and a young dancer. The phantom takes the beautiful lady to his lair under Paris Opera house but decides to return her to civilization for her own good, although in this case the story adopts darker shades because instead of family she has a duke with whom she engages. That makes the phantom go mad and, besides some almost collateral deaths, kidnap the dancer a second time to make her his wife. We should remark here a little element that the musical and Antena 3 TV version of the story have in common: the mask. Both beasts hide their deformity with half a mask which at the same time represents a symbolic shield of the beast’s feelings. Only when their Belles have seen the man behind the mask can the relationship start to flow humanly.
So we can see how the history of literature and cinema not only show us a load of love stories but also that in those fields it is very possible to kidnap the loved one. With different characters, settings and outcomes all this stories show us how being good comes with good consequences and at the end true love always triumphs… or not?