This is not another fun re-write of an old fairy tale. As much as I enjoyed giving Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid a new story, I didn’t change Beauty’s fate. The original is a dark story about coercive control – and so is my version. 

All variations of Beauty and the Beast share some similarities with the story written down by Gabrielle- Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740. In her version, a man who was once rich loses his wealth and goes on a journey to recover some of what he lost. His older daughters send him on his way with requests for jewels and sumptuous dresses. The youngest daughter is too sweet and unselfish to ask for material goods; she wants a simple flower. The rich man’s quest is unsuccessful, but on his way home he finds an empty manor, filled with warm beds and good food. He stays the night and takes a flower from the garden on his way out to give to his deserving youngest daughter. The Beast appears and threatens to kill him, not for taking the food and shelter but for taking the flower he could not possibly have known was forbidden to him. The man begs for his life and the Beast asks for one of his daughters as restitution. The man offers his youngest and most beautiful daughter, and she is brought to the Beast’s castle. Her older sisters, jealous of the wealth the Beast gives her, persecute her in various ways, proving they are unworthy of the love of a Handsome Prince. During the day, The Beast frightens her and asks her to marry him. She refuses and each night she dreams about a Handsome Prince. She asks the Beast if she can visit her family and he is heartbroken that she wants to see anyone other than him, but he gives her permission to go. While she is at home being happy, she dreams again of the Handsome Prince, who is crying and says he will die because she left him. She returns to the Beast and agrees to marry him. Her unselfishly steadfast love breaks the enchantment, and the beast is revealed to be a Handsome Prince. 

This story has been teaching little girls throughout history and all over the world that love can transform frightening men into the man of your dreams. That you will get your Happy Ever After if you are good enough and love him enough. That if he continues to be beastly, it is only because you do not deserve anything else. Try harder! 

As much as I wanted to free Beauty from this trap, I think it’s more useful to tell the story of a young woman trapped in a relationship with a controlling man because we all need to remember that every man is as good or bad as he chooses to be. 

Beauty and the Beast: Part 1 A Tale As Old As Time

Once upon a time there lived a Merchant who had three daughters. He was very rich. He was proud that he had never needed help to become so, all he started with was his father’s wealth, his grandfather’s land, and his brother’s friends. “I earned my success,” he said, “and I do not deserve to fail.” 

One day, after many years of success without failure, he foolishly sent all his ships out into a storm, and none came back. In a very short time all father’s wealth and his grandfather’s land were sold to pay his debts and his brother’s friends refused to remember a man who reminded them that they too could fail. The Merchant wailed for his lost riches and berated his daughters for the profligacy he had taught them. But a few weeks later, a messenger came with news that one single ship might have survived the storm. 

The Merchant went to say farewell to his daughters. “My last ship may come in,” he told them. “What shall I bring you if it does?” 

“Jewels,” said the oldest. 

“Silks,” said the next. 

The youngest and most beautiful daughter asked for nothing but a rose, because she was not like other girls. 

The Merchant walked and walked and walked to the port, but it was all for nothing. His last ship had not come in. He had nothing left of his father’s wealth or his grandfather’s land. His brother’s friends gave him only pity and, in exchange, took comfort that they had been too clever to lose all their ships in the storm. 

Alone, bereft, he walked and walked and walked towards home and the daughters who needed jewels and silks to be beautiful and the beautiful daughter who needed only a rose because she was not like other girls. 

“What do I do?” he asked himself. “The night is getting colder and I am getting older and there is no money or work. Who am I if I am not man enough to do a man’s work and have a man’s wealth?” 

Shining through the darkness, he saw lights from a castle. “Shelter!” he said. “Perhaps there is someone in the castle who will take comfort from my poverty and give me food in exchange.” 

The castle was full of light and luxury and echoes, but there was no one there. The Merchant found a table laden with food and ate his fill. He found a soft bed with clean sheets and took his rest upon it. In the morning, as he ate his fill again, he wondered why so much was given to an empty castle full of empty rooms. 

“This castle should not be empty,” he said. “I, who was born to wealth and lands, who earned my success and did not deserve my failure, I have a right to take this for myself. It would not be stealing to take this because I know how to be a man of wealth and taste. I will bring my daughters here and put them in these rooms where they will look beautiful, and I will have all that I deserve once more.” 

Happy with his choice to be wealthy again, The Merchant wandered out to the garden. He found a rose bush and remembered that his youngest, most beautiful daughter had asked only for a flower. So he picked a perfect rose, perfect for a girl who, unlike other girls, did not ask for perfection. 

As he picked it, a man appeared before him. A towering, angry man, beast-like in his rage. “How dare you?” the beast-like man thundered. “My food you took because you did not think I was here, and I said nothing! My bed you took because you did not think I was here, and I said nothing. Now you take my perfect rose because you did not think I was here, and you expect me to say nothing? Nothing? I will kill you for this!” 

The Beast advanced on The Merchant, his hands clawed in rage. “Beg me for your life!” he said. The Merchant begged and The Beast laughed. “Begging will not give you your life. Plead on your knees for your life.” The Merchant fell to his knees and pleaded for his life. 

The Beast laughed and wrapped his hands around the Merchant’s neck. “Pleading will not give you your life. Tell me why you wanted my rose. Such a weak and womanly thing for a man to want.” 

“I am a man. I did not want your rose. It’s for my daughter. She is young and beautiful, she is not like other girls and all she asked for was one perfect rose,” The Merchant wept. 

The Beast paused. “A beautiful girl who is not like other girls? I am a man and like all men, I want such a girl. Give her to me and I will give you your life.” 

The Merchant knew a girl’s life, even a girl who is not like other girls, is not a valuable thing. Not like the life of a man who earned his success and did not deserve his failure. So he agreed to give his daughter to The Beast. 

The Beast smiled a hideous smile and released him. 

They returned to the castle where The Beast piled jewels and silks in the back of gleaming horses. “Give these to your oldest daughters,” he said. “Give the rose to your youngest daughter. Make sure she knows that if she does not come to me, I will come to you. I will take the jewels and silks and horses, then I will take your life. I will do it while she watches. Do not forget. She must know the price you will all pay if you do not give her to me.” 

The Merchant promised to tell his youngest, most beautiful daughter all these things and hurried home. 

His oldest daughters, who were just like other girls, were delighted to see the horses laden with jewels and silks. 

The youngest daughter took her perfect rose and hugged her father. “I am so glad you are home safely,” she said. 

“Do not be glad,” The Merchant told her. “I am here with a terrible choice for you. I met a man, a beast of a man, who gave me the jewels, the silks, the horses, the rose, and my life. In return he asked only for you. If you do not go to him, he will come here. He will take everything we have left and kill me horribly while you watch. He wants you to know he can and will do this. I am a good man, not a beast, so even though I have promised to give you to him, I will give you a choice. Do you want your sisters who, like other girls, care only for jewels and silks, to lose everything? Do you want your father who does not deserve to fail, to be killed horribly as you watch? Or will you freely choose to give yourself to The Beast?” 

His youngest daughter, who was too young and beautiful and unselfish to be like other girls, made her choice that was no choice and agreed to live with The Beast. 

When she arrived at the castle, The Beast was delighted to see her. 

“You are indeed the most beautiful girl!” he crowed. “So young! Such skin! Such eyes! I will call you Beauty because that is the only thing about you that matters. I will buy you a new dress because that one you wear is not good enough. You will grow your hair long because your hair is too short and that is the only flaw I can see in you. I will tell you everything about me, all the things I have never told anyone because I was waiting for you to know the real me and be the only person who can love me enough that I no longer need to be such a beast. Come. Let me show you how much I love you.” 

The Beast swept Beauty up in his arms and carried her up the stairs to show her how much he loved her. 

Beauty and the Beast lived together in the castle for months. The Beast taught her to wear the clothes he liked so she would be the beauty he knew she could be. He knew she did not know how to manage money for herself, so kept money away from her. 

Beauty learned that her laugh was too loud and her tears caused him pain, so she did not laugh or cry. The Beast taught her that her ideas were too silly and her dreams were too much, and he gave her all of his to hold instead of her own. He taught her to value how much she was not like other girls, those vain, selfish, silly other girls who wanted for themselves instead of others, and she knew she was special because she wanted only for him. 

As he made her cut away all the pieces of herself and replace them with pieces of him, Beauty kept only one desire of her own. She wanted to see her family again. 

“But why?” asked The Beast. “Your father gave you to me. Do you think he would do that if he wanted you? Your sisters are like all the other girls. They are cruel and shallow and selfish. They don’t understand love like you do. They won’t understand us. You know how much I need you. Why do you want to leave me alone? Do you not care how much you hurt me?” 

Beauty did care about The Beast. She did not want to hurt him and so she stayed with him even when he hurt her. She hid her pain from him because he told her it would hurt him to see it. She hid her pain from everyone else because he told her that everything of her, even her pain, belonged to him. 

Her sisters, though, did not know how much it hurt the Beast when Beauty cared about other people. They were too silly and selfish to care only about the Beast and they wanted to see Beauty. They wrote letters she could not answer lest it hurt the Beast. They knocked at the door she could not open lest it hurt the Beast. Worst of all, they visited the local village and asked questions about the Beast and how he treated Beauty. 

Every day the Beast told Beauty that he could not stand to be away from her for even a minute. She could not sleep unless he was there. She could not read, she could not sing, she could not even look at the art on the wall because it hurt the Beast to see her ignore him so. 

Once a week, however, the Beast had to go to the village to do business with traders who met at the tavern. Sometimes this meant he had to leave Beauty alone for days at a time and he taught her to feel sad for him that he had to be away from her so long. 

The village traders were clever and important men. In their pride and delight that such a great lord would descend from his castle to make merry with the Butcher, the Baker, and the Candlestick Maker, they saw only the man and not the Beast. 

One day the Beast returned from the village full of rage. “Why are your sisters saying terrible things about me? Why are women in the village listening to them? Why are they asking questions about you? What did you do? You must have told them something. Why do you tell lies about me?” 

The Beast’s rage was a terrible thing. Beauty wept and bled and wept some more. 

“How could I tell them anything about you? I do not speak to them. I love you. I only talk to you because I know it hurts you when I need anyone else.” 

The Beast raged on. “Liar! Faithless whore!” he screamed. Overwhelmed by betrayal, he lost himself in his fury. 

Beauty wept and bled and grieved for him. 

The next day the Beast held her tenderly in his arms. “I love you”, he crooned, “You know how I love you. You’re The One I waited for. The only one who could know me and love me. I want you to see your sisters. Even if being without you hurts me until I want to die, I want you to go to them. Don’t try to explain us to them. They see the Beast. You’re the only one who knows I could be the Handsome Prince of your dreams. Keep that for us alone. Don’t profane it by trying to show it to those others who can never understand our perfect love.” 

Beauty understood. She wasn’t like the other girls who had hurt the Beast and made him into a man who hurt her. She was special. She would keep his love for herself alone. 

Want more? Read more extracts here or buy your copy now ($24.99 – including postage within Australia).

Books by Jane Gilmore

Fairy Tale Princesses Will Kill Your Children

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