The Opposite of Popular

The online home of alleged author Victoria Leybourne

belle and the beast dance in a room full of candles


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I saw Beauty and the Beast and I have THOUGHTS

Firstly: HERE BE SPOILERS.

Guys, I am so serious, if you haven’t seen the new Beauty and the Beast movie yet and you think spoilers might, well, spoil it for you, DO NOT READ THIS POST. I do not want that on my conscience. I’m going to count to five and then I want you gone, okay? Ready?

One…

Two…

Three…

Four…

FIVE.

the cartoon Beast yells at belle to get out of the west wing

GET OUUUUUUUUUT

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belle and the beast dance in a room full of candles


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The new Beauty and the Beast trailer: ANALYSED!

Alternate title: MY OPINIONS, LET ME SHOW YOU THEM.

Okay, full disclosure before we get into this: Beauty and the Beast – both the fairytale in general and the Disney movie in particular – has been my main fandom since I was 14. That’s 11 years, if you’re keeping score. I’ve written fanfiction. I own a collection of novelisations and movie adaptations. (I’m also gearing up to publish my own novelisation, as you’ll know if you’ve been anywhere near this blog before!) I thinned out my collection of Disney merchandise a while back and I still have, like, ten Disney Store Beauty and the Beast mugs. I’m a fan, is what I’m saying. So this is probably not going to be the most accessible reaction to this trailer that you’ll see.

All right, you’ve been warned. Let’s do this.

0:15 – Scratched portrait! Of a child!

screencap from the 2016 trailer. portrait of a man, woman and child in regal clothes. several scratches across the child's face.

As anyone who’s memorised the entire movie and applied maths to it will know (wait, is that not a normal thing to do?), despite the portrait of the prince looking like this in the cartoon…

screencap from the 1991 movie, a portrait of a young (teenage to early 20s?) prince

… subtracting the “ten years we’ve been rusting” bemoaned by Lumiere in ‘Be Our Guest’ from the “until his twenty-first year” from the Prologue leaves you with a prince who was either ten or eleven when he gets cursed, depending on whether you think “his twenty-first year” means his twentieth birthday or his twenty-first. (I think twentieth, thanks for asking.) (Yes, this is really the sort of thing I have opinions about.) I am excited that Disney has finally also done the maths and can’t wait to see what implications his being cursed so young will have for his character, if any.

0:23 – do I see a father stealing a rose?

2016 trailer: Belle's father picking a white rose

This is a feature of the fairytale that Disney notably did away with: Beauty’s father steals a rose from the Beast’s garden as a gift for her and the Beast threatens to kill him unless Beauty comes to live with him.

Here he is gettin’ his thief on in 1946:

screencap from the 1946 french adaptation of Beauty's father stealing a rose

And in 1987:

screencap of Beauty's father stealing a rose in the 1987 movie adaptation

In the Disney movie, of course, Belle comes to the castle looking for her father and makes that deal herself. I like that, because it gives the character more agency – something I think the team behind the 1991 movie were quite keen on. I’m really interested to see if they’ve changed it back for this one – or if this is just a shot of Maurice and a rose to call back to that aspect of the original, without it actually affecting the plot.

0:38 – I just like how much it looks like Emma Watson is holding a broom or a wand in some of these shots.

screenshot from the trailer, Belle is seen from behind holding some sort of stick

I have to admit to some griping on my part about Emma Watson as Belle, just because she’s so very Hermione to me and I’d have preferred an unknown, but I’m used to the idea now and she does look great in this trailer!

0:45 – and there he is!

screencap of the Beast from the 2016 trailer

Disney kept the design of the Beast under wraps for quite a while. I was disappointed when a few stills got released a week or two ago, because he looked really computer-generated. Not that I was surprised that CGI was involved, obviously, but I don’t think I expected it to be quite as obvious as it is. Some of the older adaptations have done pretty cool things with make-up…

Here’s the Beast/an emotional cat in 1946:

the catlike beast from the 1946 version

And here he is in 1987, auditioning for a boy band:

the beast from the 1987 version points dramatically off-camera

And, of course, here’s the 1991 Disney Beast. I chose this screencap because it’s from the same scene as the one from the trailer, but I’ll admit he’s not looking his best here:

the Beast from the 1991 movie

I guess I sort of hoped they’d be able to build on the earlier live-action adaptations – like, use really good makeup and then perhaps a touch of CGI to achieve what makeup can’t. Maybe I’m wrong, but, in the trailer, he looks completely computer-generated to me, and I feel like that’s going to make it harder for me to get into the romance. I mean, the 1991 cartoon is proof (to me, anyway!) that you can make a romance work between two cartoon characters. And, despite some fairly clunky acting, the fact that you can see the real eyes of the actors in the live-action adaptations I’ve seen lends at least a little realism to the romance in those. But a romance between Emma Watson and a Beast they drew in afterwards? I feel like that’s not going to work for me. I hope I’m wrong, though!

0:53 – Lumiere and Cogsworth!

screencap of lumiere and cogsworth from the trailer

I’ve been sold on Cogsworth’s new look ever since the first pictures were released. Lumiere I’m not so sure about – I think maybe because he looks a little too human? Like, he’s a man turned into a candlestick that’s shaped like a man? I mean, I think what was clever about the objects in the cartoon was how the animators made faces out of things that shouldn’t be faces – like Lumiere’s mouth being the split where his candle head met his metal candle-holder jaw.

lumiere and cogsworth from the 1991 cartoon

I feel like just putting a face on a candlestick is cheating.

Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, though? Two thumbs way up from me!

1:07 – ugh, this movie is disgustingly pretty. I’m getting kind of a Phantom of the Opera vibe from all the candles.

belle and mrs potts walk (well, mrs potts is on a trolley) through a candle-filled hallway

1:08 – but I have a lot of questions about Mrs Potts’ accent. It sounds like someone trying to fake a British accent, only… Emma Thompson is actually British?

mrs potts from the trailer

And also, while I’m being petty… why is her face on the side, not using the spout as a nose like in the cartoon…

mrs potts and chip in the 1991 cartoon

…but Chip’s nose is still a handle?

chip from the trailer. his face is painted on apart from his nose, which is the cup's handle

RIDDLE ME THIS.

(No, I’m serious, I really care about these things.)(Please send help.)

1:19 – as we already knew from the posters and stills that have been released, there’s still a magic rose in a glass case. So even if the Beast is going to demand daughters in restitution for the rose Maurice might be going to steal, there’s obviously still a special one:

screencap from the trailer, Belle approaches the glass rose

1:20 – For some reason, I’m really into Luke Evans as Gaston. My early prediction is that he completely steals the movie.

gaston from the trailer

1:23 – Okay, this is new – at least to Disney. Here’s Belle, the Beast and a horse. This was hard to screencap from the trailer but, basically, Belle guides the Beast’s hand onto a horse and then he looks at her with EMOTION in his eyes.

Belle, Beast and the horse seen from above

the beast looking EMOTIONAL

I do not know what is happening here, but I was vividly reminded of Robin McKinley’s Beauty, where Beauty has her horse overcome his fear of the Beast and the Beast overcome his fear of the horse being afraid to make this nice moment happen:

The last step brought us to the bench; and with a gesture half of resignation and half of despair, Greatheart dropped his head till his muzzle touched the Beast’s knee. ‘Merciful God,’ murmured the Beast. Greatheart’s ears shot forwards at the sound of his voice, but he didn’t move.

[…]

‘I was fond of horses, once,’ said the Beast; and his words had a distant sound, as if they echoed down a cold corridor of centuries.

And, indeed, of Mercedes Lackey’s The Fire Rose, where Rose (the Beauty) makes basically the same thing happen between Jason (the Beast) and his horse:

Jason ran too, dropping Rose’s hand to sprint to the fence, where he met the horse, caught either side of the halter in his hands, and pulled Sunset’s head down to his chest. The stallion made little rumbling sounds that Rose assumed were noises of happiness and contentment, as Jason rubbed and scratched his head, ears and neck.

[…]

Then he turned to her with tears literally standing in his eyes.

“How can I ever thank you?” he asked. “You’ve given me back something I thought I would never have again”

Apparently Beastly HORSEFEELS are A Thing? Does this have roots in some version of the fairytale I’m not familiar with? Because I’m familiar with so many that I’m going to feel pretty stupid if I find out that it does.

1:26 – Belle’s near-tears expression in the library speaks for all of us, I think.

Belle in the library, from the trailer

1:45 – the rapid cuts and my slightly fractious relationship with the Windows snipping tool make it hard to make much out of the last few seconds of the trailer but, uh, here’s the Beast and Gaston squabbling over a stick?

beast and gaston fight on the roof - screencap from the trailer

1:47 – The ballroom scene looks just beautiful – which is a relief, since it’s such a huge focal point for the movie.

belle and the beast dance in a room full of candles

And there you have it!

Overall… I’m excited. I really wasn’t, at first – I went through a lot of “THEY’RE GOING TO RUIN MY FAVOURITE THING!” panics when this was first announced, even while grudgingly admitting that yes, OF COURSE I’m going to see it the SECOND it comes out. The stills and the teaser trailer certainly looked pretty, but it was impossible to make any guesses about the characters or any changes Disney might have made. Now that I’ve seen this, I’m just really looking forward to watching it. My guess is that I’ll love some of the changes they’ve made to the original and hate others – but, I mean, I’ll still have the original. I’ll just have this as well.

That’s all for now. My inner Disney/fairytales geek needs a stiff drink and a lie-down!

Image sources:

Screencaps from the 1991 Disney cartoon from here.

Screencaps from the 1987 Cannon movie and the 1946 Jean Cocteau movie taken from my DVDs while I was livetweeting them.

Screencaps from the trailer for the new Disney version taken from YouTube.


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2016 Week Twenty-Eight: The Naughty Princess

It’s been very hot this week and when it’s hot my brain tends to overheat and turn to sludge so I thought we’d have a look at something from my bookshelf.

a book with a plain green cover: the naughty princess by anthony armstrong

I found The Naughty Princess by Anthony Armstrong at a book fair when I was a teenager and paid 75p for it, which was a bit of a steal because it’s one of the best books ever. First published in 1945, it’s a collection of almost Wodehousian humorous re-interpretations of fairytales, so it falls pretty squarely at the cross-section of two of my interests.

The illustrations are by A K Macdonald and they’re quite lovely:

an illustration of a woman in a long white dress sitting beneath an archway overlooking a garden. Caption: “She was not really bad-looking, her father decided – an understatement which, if openly expressed, would have resulted in challenges from at least half a dozen young knights.”

a fairy appears to some men wearing feathered hats and tights. Caption: “'Well boys, what can I do for you? Ask for anything! Old fairy custom and all that...!'”

But the real star here is the writing. The stories are funny both in terms of the beautifully cynical way Armstrong has looked at fairytales and in the style of his prose. In the first story, ‘The Pack of Pieces’, King Plimsoll of Waterline decides he has to marry off his daughter because she and her ladies-in-waiting keep hogging the bathroom in the mornings. He goes to discuss this with his Acting Vizier (the actual Vizier has been turned into a monkey puzzle tree and “even the Queen was forced to agree that in Affairs of State something more was required of a Vizier than a reputed ability to puzzle over-enterprising monkeys) and discovers him dictating to his “extremely pretty young stenographer”:

[He] was giving his mind to it so thoroughly that he had her sitting on his knee so as to miss nothing that fell from his lips.

He rose instantly in the presence of Royalty and the damsel a few seconds later gave a low curtsey – finding herself, indeed, in the best position for it in that she had been abruptly spilled on the floor.

“Really, Malan!” began the King mildly, for he was pretty easy-going as far as his very valuable Acting Vizier was concerned. “Must you start that sort of thing so early?”

“It is never too early for a loyal Vizier to start work,” countered Malan, swiftly, “and as Your Majesty observed, I was dictating a confidential letter which I did not want overheard.”

“Oh, I see… Well, let that business drop for a moment. I want to ask you something privately.”

The dropped business got up from the floor and retired with another but better-planned curtsey to her own office.

 

I laugh at “dropped business” every time.

Of course, I have to give a mention to Armstrong’s interpretation of Beauty and the Beast which appears here as ‘Presents for Princesses’. A king heads off on a journey and promises to get each of his three daughters a present. One asks for a husband, one for some underwear and the youngest (and most calculating) only for a rose and her father’s safe return , though she rather suspects he’ll pick her up some jewellery too. The king manages to get hold of a prince who’s been turned into a frog (he travels in a “Royal-Box-With-Holes-In-The-Lid”) and the underwear (though there’s some confusion over that and it transpires he’d asked for “braziers”) but the rose proves a bit tricky – until they happen to stumble on a beautiful garden full of them, of course.

a rose and a necklace. Caption: "the second gift: a rose"

The garden’s owner, naturally, turns out to be a strange and ugly creature, but unlike the Beasts of old he’s prepared to hand over the rose in return for being allowed to come with the king and watch him present it. On arrival, he proposes and, to everyone’s surprise is accepted:

For the previous evening [the princess] had found in an old history book the story of an ancestor of hers, a certain Great-great-aunt Beauty and her husband King Beast, and she guessed what no one else had, that Chunk was only a Prince in disguise who would resume his original handsome shape as soon as a Princess married him.

The frog turns into a prince, the sister who wanted the underwear is so keen to show it off that she attracts a prince (or several) of her own, and there’s a triple wedding.

Indeed, the only snag at the wedding was that nothing happened to Chunk. Fania had been too clever for once, for Chunk wasn’t suffering from a spell. He’d been like that from birth and nothing, it seemed, could be done. People continued to avoid him, and for once he couldn’t complain that even his best friends wouldn’t tell him why. A man’s best friend if his wife, and he was always hearing about it.

This book should be better-known! Although it’s not particularly rare, I don’t think, and there seem to be copies of it on Amazon UK and AbeBooks if anyone’s interested. I’m very glad that I stumbled across it and haven’t managed to lose it in any subsequent moves.

Well, that’s all from me for this week. I think I’ll go and melt quietly in a corner somewhere.


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Beauty and the Beast Retellings – Novelisations

I think I’ve had a page like this on every website I’ve had since my early teens (which is possibly more websites than you’d think, and certainly more than I really remember), so it was only a matter of time.

I love retellings of Beauty and the Beast. I guess on one level I know that I’m just reading (and writing) the same story over and over again, but there’s more to it than that. Putting a new spin on a fairytale is a really unique challenge: you have to find something fresh in the story, something that’s all you, while keeping all the elements that people will expect. Of course, I love reading original stories too, but I get just as much – and often more – enjoyment out of seeing someone reinterpret an old one.

Especially when it’s this old one.

Here’s my collection of novelisations. I’ll add some information and my own thoughts below. If you’re a Beauty and the Beast or fairytale fan too, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these or any others you’ve read! (If you’re not a BatB or fairytale fan, you will probably find this post unbearably geeky. Sorry-not-sorry!)

a photo of my copies of the books below

I might amend this post as I read new books and re-read old ones! Also, if you like Beauty and the Beast retellings, I’d love for you to check out Faustina, the one I’m working on at the moment.

Beauty by Robin McKinley

This is the first Beauty and the Beast novelisation I ever read. I vividly remember seeing it in a bookshop when I was 12 or 13 and in the first passionate throes of my BatB fandom. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would have written a whole novel about it (how little I knew!) and I went into full “shut up and take my money” mode. This copy is much-read and well-loved – if it doesn’t look it, it’s because for several years it was my precioussss.

Beauty is probably the “purest” retelling I’ve read, by which I mean that it very much maintains the feel of the Beaumont version of the fairytale, without adding or changing many aspects. The only exception I can think of is that Beauty’s sisters are nice, which is a change I really like – I feel like it would detract from the drama if Beauty’s sojourn in the castle could be seen as just a nice holiday from having to do everyone’s chores. As the title suggests, it’s really the story of Beauty, of which the Beast is only a part. Each scene in Beauty’s life is really richly drawn and it’s easy to get completely absorbed in the writing and become very attached to Beauty and her family. It’s told from Beauty’s point of view so the Beast remains a little distant and mysterious, perhaps more than you’d expect from the hero of a romance novel, but I think that’s part of his charm in this case. You’re left guessing about him alongside Beauty.

Robin McKinley wrote a second version of Beauty and the Beast called Rose Daughter. Unfortunately, I seem to have parted ways with my copy. As I recall (prompted, it has to be said, by Wikipedia), that made more of the rose from the original. Beauty has a special talent for gardening, and her revival of the Beast’s dying roses is linked to her saving and falling in love with him. I guess I’ll have to re-read it and update this post when I get a chance.

Belle by Cameron Dokey

One thing that turns up repeatedly in BatB retellings, despite not being in the original, is the idea of “Beauty” having a special skill that she can use to help break the curse. I like this idea a lot, partly because it takes some of the pressure off of “true love” to cure everything, which is an element of BatB that I’ve become pretty uncomfortable with. It can also give the character a bit more substance and add some depth to the curse, depending on how it’s used, and it’s something for the characters to focus on besides angst and marriage proposals.

In Belle, Belle’s skill is woodcarving. There’s a special branch, from the “Heartwood Tree” that, if carved properly, will reveal the face of one’s true love. This artefact replaces the rose in the role of “something for Beauty’s father to steal”. It’s a really sweet idea (and has a great and very fairytale backstory that I won’t spoil) and a nice twist. Other than that, Belle stays almost as close to the original as Beauty does, and also makes the sisters sympathetic. I wonder if that’s almost unavoidable, if the writer wants to keep the sisters at all, because otherwise the first third of the book would read like Cinderella. (That’s a particular problem if you’re also planning to do a Cinderella adaptation, which a swift Google shows me Dokey has.)

Overall, it’s a good read, with interesting ideas, good character development of Belle and some sweet scenes between the leads. If I have a complaint, it’s that I’d like to have had the romance drawn out a little more, so that there was more of it to enjoy, but I’d still recommend giving it a try!

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

I’m going to come right out and say it: this is my favourite. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was the best (I might give that to Heart’s Blood, below) but I re-read it more than any of the others and it delights me every time.

It’s set in San Francisco in 1905. I don’t know much about US History so I couldn’t tell you how accurate it is, but the setting feels very well-drawn. The Beast is Jason, a rail-baron-slash-wizard who is better at rail baroning than wizarding and has got himself stuck as a half-wolf, half-man. Beauty is Rose, whose superpower special Beauty skill is reading  – specifically, reading in various other languages, so that she can help Jason decipher some of the spellbooks that he thinks might help him out of his predicament. They start off by using a speaking tube but eventually meet face to hairy face and there’s angst and conflict and it’s great. The system of magic in this universe is interesting – I think this is part of a series set in the same universe, but I’ve never got round to reading the others – and is the focus of a good secondary plot.

I feel I should mention that there are problems with this book. Probably the biggest is the villain. He gets a lot of “screen” time considering that his impact on the plot is minimal (Beauty and the Beast doesn’t really need a villain) and he spends it being unrelentingly evil for no particular reason, except perhaps to expose some of the seedier elements of the setting. I would never say that romance writers shouldn’t explore dark themes but some of these scenes are very jarring against the fluffy romance and, since they barely influence the story, they seem pretty gratuitous. I actually skip all of that character’s scenes when re-reading and the book almost makes perfect sense without them.

Having said all that, I think the hallmark of a good book is that you think about it long after you’ve finished reading it, and I’m always being reminded about this one. I can see some of the scenes in my imagination so vividly and I know I can rely on it to distract me from real life if I want it to. In a way, I guess it’s reassuring to me, as a developing writer, that a reader can find flaws in a book and still love it.

Mercedes Lackey is another twofer, having also written Beauty and the Werewolf. I own that too, but now that I come to write about it I realise I can’t remember much about it, so I guess that’s another one to re-read! I do love The Fairy Godmother, though, which is another story from the same series. The overall premise of the series is that there is a force called the “Tradition” that forces people into story patterns, e.g. a girl with a wicked stepmother into marrying a prince. It’s a clever idea but I suppose Beauty and the Werewolf just didn’t grab me like The Fire Rose did. I’ll definitely give it another chance soon, though.

Beastly by Alex Flinn

I would have been hysterical with excitement over this if it had come out a few years earlier. As it was, I approached it with suspicion – and was pleasantly surprised. Set in a modern US high school, this is the story of Kyle:  a vain, popular teenager who gets turned into a Beast. (As opposed to just getting a lot of tattoos and scars like he does in the movie.) It does what it says on the tin, to be honest – it’s a sweet teen romance with characteristic BatB angst. I particularly like that Flinn really uses the differences thrown up by the modern setting, like having Kyle experiment with online dating. I also like that he roams the streets of New York at night – that alleviates some of the claustrophobia of having the characters trapped in one place.

One issue with this book: Kyle has a tutor, a geeky blind guy called Will. I probably didn’t think too much about that the first time I read it but, since I now have a boyfriend who is a geeky blind guy, I’m kind of attuned to the details of Will’s portrayal. On the whole, it’s pretty good – I mean, he’s basically there to teach Kyle something about inner beauty and on a fairly flimsy justification (Kyle’s dad is famous and doesn’t want people to find out what’s happened to his son, but the first thing Kyle does is to describe himself to Will who, in any case, has signed a non-disclosure agreement, which anyone could have done) – but he’s got a personality beyond “blind guy” and sets Kyle straight on some misconceptions. And any uncorrected misconceptions can perhaps be blamed on the fact that it’s told in Kyle’s voice. The problem is that (SPOILER AHEAD) Kyle makes a deal with the witch who cursed him that if he breaks the spell, Will will get his sight back. Obviously he does, and then there’s a page at the end where Will is all “Oh, hey, I can see.” Which is a bit… cheap, I think. Like, without it, Will would still have come out of the story much richer and with the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped a teenage Beast get a girlfriend. But it reads as though the author thought no one could possibly have a happy ending if they were still blind so she just tacked that on. (I’m not saying that’s what she actually thought, because of course I don’t know, but that’s how it reads to me.)

I didn’t mean to labour that point quite as much as I did but, as with my warning about The Fire Rose, I would have felt weird about leaving it out. To complete the criticism sandwich, though, I really like the fact that it’s written entirely in Kyle’s voice. It’s an unusual choice to write a romance solely from the hero’s perspective, especially with Beauty and the Beast, since the character starts out wildly unlikeable. Kyle’s evolution throughout the story is really well done, and I like that he still seems a little self-absorbed at the end. We’re in his thoughts, after all, and it would be unrealistic for him to change beyond recognition.

I’ve thought of another retelling from the Beast’s perspective, actually: Beast by Donna-Jo Napoli. Another one I seem to have mislaid somewhere along the way and should get hold of again.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

As I said above, I think this is the best retelling of Beauty and the Beast I’ve ever read. It’s also probably the longest, and it’s worth every page. Heart’s Blood is the story of Caitrin, a Beauty whose special skill is scribing. Amazingly enough, that’s just what Anluan, a mysterious chieftain who lives at the top of a haunted tor, is in need of: someone to organise and transcribe notes made by an ancestor of his who practised dark magic and brought a terrible curse down on his fortress and the surrounding area. The part of the rose is played by heart’s blood, a rare and expensive plant that’s used to make a particular ink.

That setup is superficially similar to The Fire Rose, but this is a much deeper story. There’s a magic-related subplot in The Fire Rose but it’s definitely supplementary to the romance. In Heart’s Blood, the curse is much more complicated than usual, taking in numerous ghosts who are characters in themselves, a Norman invasion, local politics and lengthy flashbacks. The curse is the story, making the love story more incidental. That said, the romance is still both sweet and powerful and you absolutely root for them as a couple. There’s just a lot more to it than that.

 

Boy, this ended up loooooong. I’m going to post it now, because I spend far too long writing blog posts and then losing confidence in them, but I hope to come back and edit and add to it in the future. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you think of these retellings, or if there are any others I should check out!