The Beauty and the Beast

by Tolovaj

Beauty and the Beast has many versions, interesting interpretations and has been adapted to all existing media. Here are a few interesting facts.

The story of Beauty and the Beast is popular for several hundred years already and it's still going strong. We know it in dozens of versions, yet French one seems to be the most influential of all. We are dealing with one of the best-researched fairy tales and an inspiration for numerous artists in every generation.

(all used images are in Publlc Domain)

Let's check 10 interesting facts abut the story about the Beauty and the Beast!

01. Authorship

This fairy tale was written by French writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (1685-1755) in a form of a novel. It was first published in 1740. Another French writer Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780) had significantly shortened and simplify it.

This version, published in 1756 is the one, from which majority of later versions were developed. While both versions fall into the category of fairy tales, only Leprince Beaumont's is considered as the version for kids.


But there are also much older versions of the same story. The most well-known is a myth about Cupid and Psyche written by Apuleius in 2nd century AD. While both French ladies were familiar with this myth, they were probably drawn inspiration from The Pig King, written by Giovanni Francesco Straparola and published in his famous The Facetious Nights around 1550.

02. Versions

Considering we are dealing with a story of more than two thousand years of history we can expect many variations and it seems every writer with five minutes of time to spare made his or her own variation. Some of the tales spend a lot of time on introduction, we hear more about the merchant (and in some cases his wife) and especially we are informed about the enchanted prince who was transformed into the Beast in more detail.

Merchant's family was not formed of daughters only. In older versions, we are dealing with six brothers and six sisters altogether. Yet, the Beauty is always called the same and she is always the youngest. And, by the way, she doesn't have a real name. She is rather called by some specific characteristic, like Snow White, Red Cap, Goose Girl, etc.

The look and the character of the Beast are changing from version to version as well. His look is sometimes resembling an elephant, sometimes a snake, sometimes a bear, a pig, ... In most cases, illustrators have their own interpretations of the Beast. In older versions, he is not handicapped by his look only. He is far from being smart and charming as he becomes later.

This tradition of changing his behavior is still alive. In the animated movie by Disney, he has problems with fits of bad temper, for instance, what is in tune with one of the most popular interpretations: The Beauty and the Beast is a story of cultivating and civilization.


03. Themes

Some theoretics likes to point out the important difference from the majority of fairy tales. We are dealing with middle class, not nobility like in Snow White or Cinderella or really poor people like in Hansel and Gretel or Puss in Boots.

I disagree with them. It's very like the majority of other fairy tales. It's about changes - from rich to rags to riches, like in The Cinderella or in The Snow White. It's not the only well-known fairy tale with the major character from the middle class (miller in Rumpelstiltskin is middle class too and Valiant Little Tailor is far from being a pood peasant as well). Anyway, in all mentioned cases we are not dealing with social classes, but with changes in society. The Beauty and the Beast is actually typical from this point of view.

There is also a popular theme of sacrificing a child for parent's life or paying for his (her) mistakes. Very similar situations are present in The Rapunzel, The Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, ...

Less known yet still obvious is a theme of baptism. The Beast represents paganism and is portrayed as, well, The Beast. Everything The Beast represents can be defeated with faith, religion, holy water. When he is dying in the end scene in the garden Beauty is desperately trying to find some water. After she sprays some on his face, he returns to life, just like Red Riding Hood returns from the dark world of death, when she is rescued from the wolf's stomach.


In newer versions of The Beauty and the Beast, she rescues him with a kiss. A kiss is a relatively new addition to fairy tales. Older versions of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty were able to sort things out without kissing too. We all know the kiss has strong symbolic meaning in several religions. Thus we can conclude this fairy tale tells us how old pagan primitive world where magic ruled is being defeated by new civilized and reason-driven world too.


04. Consent

She must decide on her own. She must understand what a marriage with a beast means. The Beast demands from her father to describe him as he is before she decides if she is willing to take her father's place. Again he asks her if she came willingly to the castle or by force. He is asking her every night to marry him, giving her a chance to say no again and again. In the end, when she finally accepts his proposition, he asks her once more.

She must be absolutely positively 100% sure.

It's very important to understand her true power. She said yes only after he frees her. In the moment of consent, it was Beauty, not the Beast in the position of power. This situation tells a lot about the changes in society and the new position of women, at least among ladies with higher social status who definitely had their own will and were willing to use it to their own advantage.

05. Symbolism

The Beauty and the Beast is loaded with symbols. We have fairy tale numbers three and seven (in older versions twelve too), we have a very powerful symbol of the forest as a manifestation of unconscious and wilderness (among many other things) in a colorful contrast with a garden (consciousness, but also soul and safety). There are birds, a rose, even snow and of course gold, mirrors and a magic ring, all well-known and often used symbols in literature. I intend to make a special article about symbols in The Beauty and the Beast to have the ability to spend more time and place on each one of them.


06. Mythological background

This fairy tale shares numerous elements, not mentioning the major plot, with the well-known myth about Cupid and Psyche. This myth and its echoes in The Beauty and the Beast has been already covered in detail here:

07. Interpretations

We have already mentioned one of the most popular interpretations. He is an example of wilderness and she came to tame him. It can be understood as a tale of socialization and this possibility is one of the major reasons everybody can relate to this particular fairy tale. After all - we all like to fit in the society at a certain level, don't we?

08. The animal bridegroom, a beast to tame

The motif of the animal bride or groom is very popular in the world of fairy tales. An older version of Puss in Boots has a cat, not a tomcat in the role of helper. In the end, we are informed she is an enchanted princess. Another obvious example is The Frog Prince and as we can see The Beast needs similar transformation. This kind of change seems pretty much in demand in societies with arranged marriages where one or both partners don't have a positive perception of the other partner.

Such stories are sending a message of patience. In time your partner won't look so strange, ugly, disgusting, ... Maybe he or she can even transform into a true prince or princess!

09. Some fairy tales similar to Beauty and the Beast

Zelinda and the Monster (Crane, Italy)

The White Wolf (Cosquin, France)

The singing Rose (Ignaz & Joseph Zingerle, Austria)

The Maiden and the Beast (Pedroso, Portugal)

The Snake Prince (Lang, India)

The Little Nut Twig (Bechstein, Germany)


The Singing, Springing Lark (Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm, Germany)

East of the Sun and West of the Moon (Asbjornsen & Moe, Norway)

The Three Daughters of King O'Hara (Jeremiah Curtin, Ireland)

The Scarlet Flower (Aksakov, Russia)

10. Other media

Beauty and the Beast inspired thousands of artists all over the world. They portrayed the most characteristics scenes in paintings.

Alan Moore made a screenplay and a graphic novel from it. It's titled Fashion Beast.

Above mentioned Scarlet Flower was adapted to the animated movie.

One of the classic movies is Jean Cocteau's vision of Beauty and the Beast

It's also filmed as a musical with John Savage (how appropriate name) and Rebecca de Mornay.

Disney produced animated musical and live-action versions.

There were also numerous adaptations for television, computer games, and music pieces.

Updated: 03/13/2024, Tolovaj
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What are your thoughts on The Beauty and the Beast?

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Tolovaj on 03/16/2024

No, not yet.

Tolovaj on 03/16/2024

Artist is Nikolai Bogatov (1854-1935)

DerdriuMarriner on 03/15/2024

Again many thanks for the black-and-white-and-more blogging link that led me to such a lively, lovely look at the fairy-tale author.

Additionally, the scarlet-flower cartoon may be the best cartoon ever, what with nice action -- apart insulting and kicking the feline sentient -- and nice colors and sound.

English Wikipedia mentions two filmed versions: "The Scarlet Flower (1952 film), Soviet animated film directed by Lev Atamanov and based on Aksakov's fairy tale" and "The Scarlet Flower (1977 film), Soviet live action film directed by Irina Povolotskaya and based on Aksakov's fairy tale."

Might you have seen the latter, live-action film?

DerdriuMarriner on 03/15/2024

Thank you for the web-archive link to black-and-white-and-more blogging.

The Aksakov article acts educationally entertaining, entertainingly educational. In particular, the family history with the Norwegian connection and the review designating the Aksakov-version differences fascinate me.

Who is the artist of all those lovely images?

Tolovaj on 03/15/2024

No problem.

Tolovaj on 03/15/2024

It's hard to say. If I should pick yes or no, I would be more inclined to no. I believe similar myths (both stories are backed by myths) were created independently in different areas of the world. But there are no documents to prove something like that.

Tolovaj on 03/15/2024

We all have out methods. Mine works for me, your for you.

Tolovaj on 03/15/2024
DerdriuMarriner on 03/14/2024

Please accept my apologies if I ask this question twice in very quick order even as the computer acted as if I asked my question already signed out ;-{!

English Wikipedia associates The snake prince with the Panchatantra (from Sanskrit पञ्चतन्त्र, from पञ्च, “five” and तन्त्र, "treatises").

That collection from 200 BCE drew upon ancienter, earlier oral traditions.

Might this nudge The snake prince into first place as oldest beauty and the beast-type fairy tale?

DerdriuMarriner on 03/14/2024

Thank you!

English Wikipedia associates The snake prince with a similar story conserved in the Panchatantra (from Sanskrit पञ्चतन्त्र, from पञ्च, “five” and तन्त्र, "treatises") from 200 BCE.

The aforementioned collection drew upon earlier oral traditions.

Might The snake prince be the earliest known version of a beauty and beast-type fairy tale?

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