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Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World Paperback – March 7, 2017
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“[This] new book from Penguin . . . provides some historical context [to the Disney film]. . . . Most of the stories about young women and animal grooms follow a predictable pattern. . . . But the Penguin book also includes plenty of stories in which the genders are flipped, pairing young men with animal brides.” —The New Yorker
“Superb . . . Each story is basically an expression of anxiety about marriage and relationships—about the animalistic nature of sex, and the fundamental strangeness of men and women to each other. . . . Tatar points out, too, that every generation of monsters speaks to the anxieties of its time.” —The Atlantic
“The tales in Tatar’s compilation swing from vicious to romantic, from comedy to horror. . . . Tatar’s book alone contains stories from almost two dozen countries.” —NPR.org
“A rich, intriguing volume highly recommended for fairy-tale fans.” —Booklist
“Maria Tatar’s new collection for Penguin Classics . . . ventur[es] deeper into the rich universe of animal bridegroom stories. . . . There is also the parallel tradition of animal bride stories—swan maidens and selkies with a much sharper edge than The Little Mermaid. . . . The source material here is much richer in possibilities than turning Belle into a crusader for women’s literacy.” —Jezebel
“Thought-provoking . . . It’s fun to encounter new stories but also to revisit childhood favorites with adult eyes.” —PopMatters
“Maria Tatar rounded up stories about animal brides and grooms from around the world in this new Penguin Classics collection, and while I am a certified fairy tale nerd, there was plenty in this book that was new to me.” —Constance Grady, Vox
About the Author
Maria Tatar (editor) is the John L. Loeb Professor of Folklore and Mythology and Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. She is the author of many acclaimed books, as well as the editor and translator of The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, The Classic Fairy Tales: A Norton Critical Edition, The Grimm Reader, and The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Top customer reviews
I hate when publishers do this. Everything about the description for this book and even the big gold seal on it saying "Now a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE" (capital letters theirs) makes it seem like this is the story of Beauty and the Beast, made for a younger audience. But nothing is further from the truth. This is a scholarly review of the many fables around the world of the Animal Bride / Animal Groom set of stories. Many of these stories are *horrific* (true to their roots) and end in brutal death. Sure, yes, ONE Of those is Beauty and the Beast from its original French version. But that's not what the book is about! It's about much more than that, and it's written with an adult audience in mind.
We have phrases like:
"Are the animals reminders of our fundamentally primitive nature? Are they proxies for the 'beastliness' of sex? Are they remnants of a totemic purpose that once captured the spirit of a clan, family, or tribe?'
We have discussions of:
"the two embody the mind/body problem, along with the many other binaries that shadow it, including the hierarchy that sets zoe over bios, instinct over intellect ..."
"a world that today is not merely anthorpocentric but also biocentered with an ecophilosophical orientation."
The book seems to come from the point of view that the only exposure the reader has had to any sort of fables is to the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, which hopefully is not true at all. It then says, "What is not to love about the romance in 'Beauty and the Beast' - what?? There is a LOT not to love about a story where a father allows his young daughter to put herself wholly under the power of a dangerous complete stranger instead of going himself. Where the woman stays and endures abuse (in the Disney version) in the hopes that maybe her abuser might someday change. No, no, no.
The book makes good points that, when these tales were written, the animals were fearsome realities in peoples' lives. There was actual danger involved. Nowadays few of us have ever seen a wolf in the wild, never mind been attacked by one. If we were to create a proper analog it would be more like imagining a new neighbor moved in next door who was a sex offender, who loves guns, and who started stalking us. *That* would give the same sense of real, tangible fear that could happen. In comparison, our modern relationship with "beasts" is more likely to be that they are noble, handsome, endangered creatures who we respect and honor. The entire mindset has changed.
I take issue when the book states: "We define animals by their lack of a soul" - really? I think many people would have an argument against this statement. They wouldn't want an afterlife where their beloved animals are barred at the gates as not being worthy.
In any case, then we get into the collection of historic stories. Let me make clear that I don't have an issue with the *stories*. These are real, important glimpses into our past and about how adults entertained each other. But the book should make that clear from the onset, without presenting the book as being a Beauty and the Beast presentation that younger children might find fascinating.
So what stories are included here?
There is Zeus and Europa, where she's raped by a bull. One from India, where a snake hooks up with a beautiful, kind, gentle woman. She has all sorts of stunning traits - he's just a snake, period. And of course he becomes handsome and therefore they're happy.
Yes, there is the classic original French story for Beauty and the Beast, which is found online all over the place and hopefully anybody with even a remote interest in this story has read.
A tale from Norway where the guy falls for a beautiful maiden - but he's already engaged and, tragedy of tragedy, that woman he's engaged to has a long nose. So the Norway girl repeatedly climbs into bed with him until he remembers her and takes her instead.
A pig-prince who wants to marry one of three sisters. He kills her. He marries the second. Kills her. And the third sister agrees to marry him anyway!! While he's threatening his own mother, too! Just what was the appeal here? Is this like people who watch Jerry Springer and think, "Heck, my own life isn't that bad, if this is what other people do!"
The frog-prince who follows an obnoxious (but beautiful!) princess around until she **slams him into a wall** to kill him and poof he's now a prince and they're happy. The heroine who cuts the heads off the stepmother and stepsister. The boar-hog husband who gets slain. The monkey husband who the wife kills! The older sister who's self-assured (and, granted, a bit rude) and so her potential husband kills her. The woman who sleeps with a dog and then decides to abuse the dog and kill her own puppies (she changes her mind).
We've got fathers abusing their daughters-in-law. Men forcing their women to 'stay beautiful' or be killed. A man raping a cow who is stuck in the mud. A father killing off two of his son's wives just because the third is prettier. A snake-woman who adores her husband and children - right up until she changes back and slaughters them all.
These are all of course fascinating as stories. After all, people sit around campfires telling stories of "the man with a claw" who chases the poor teenagers screaming through the forest. We can often be drawn to stories that are scary or unusual. And if the book was being presented as that, it would be another thing. But it's being presented as a telling of Disney's Beauty and the Beast which it absolutely is not.
These are for the most part *not* romantic stories in the modern sense that the couple both live happily ever after. In many cases the guy gets his hand on a sexy, hot, docile woman who is under his control. In many cases, the woman is abused, taken advantage of, and her family members are abandoned or slain. These are great stories to examine to get a sense of just what types of cultures existed not that long ago. With how women were indoctrinated into accepting arranged marriages with men who were abusive. With how cultures warned their own to stay away from 'strangers' because they were dangerous. All sorts of things. I have studied fairy tales fairly extensively and there is a lot to be learned from them.
But this is NOT a Beauty and the Beast book.
In a pleasingly readable introduction, readers are asked to ponder why these stories are so popular—animals used to portray human love; that longing for natural freedom fighting with cultural civilization; the tragedy of breaking from the norm; and, yes, the power of sexuality. “[A] curved mirror ... that distorts and takes us into the fun house, is always more compelling—and often more true—than a purely reflective one,” the author muses. And the legends of beauties and beasts are surely curved.
Gods and monsters, soulmates and soul destroyers, all are found in these pages. Lovers charismatic and fearsome, animal brides and grooms from around the world, all are gathered here and told beautifully, taken from different translations and collections, well-ordered, well-presented, and fun to read. Much more intriguing and enthralling than the movie!
Disclosure: I won a copy and I really enjoyed it.
I loved reading this anthology of folklore and mythology and seeing how Beauty and the Beast shaped the stories after it. How each culture and country (from Japan to South Africa to Italy) has replicated the story in their own way. Each story magical and filled with lessons for its readers. But it has others stories, too; fairy tales the likes of which we’ve come to adore like Cinderella and Zeus and Europa.
All of these stories have a connection, a common theme, with a love story involving some sort of animal. The editor who compiled all of these tales, Maria Tatar, goes into depth about the mythology of love stories involving animals and the origin of our main story, something which I found very fascinating. Each story, none very long, began with a foreword from Tatar, explaining the story to us. Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World isn’t a story just for adults who wish to relive the beauty of folklore, but it can be shared with their children, too. With the upcoming movie, I think this novel is a great pairing to what lies beneath the surface of the tale, and how love can transcend everything.