Long story short: this was inspired by Gehayi and Zelda Queen’s sporking of Barbara Walker’s “Ugly and the Beast” (from Walker’s Feminist Fairy Tales anthology) at the das-sporking comm. Walker’s version of the tale is AWFUL, and fails on every conceivable level, all while ignoring the point of the B&TB tale in the first place. (And even if your only exposure is the Disney version, you still know what that point IS.)
So, I took the one decent concept Walker’s version had–a Beauty who’s not outwardly attractive–and wrote my own version of the classic tale. Everything in this version (well, almost everything) is mine. Enjoy! 🙂
Once upon a time, there was a merchant who had four children: one was his only son, and thus his heir. The other three were daughters, all possessing beauty of a kind.
The first daughter was called Harmony, this name given for the rich beauty of her voice. Her speech was soft and pleasing to the ears, and she had a gift of song as sweet as the very birds of the wood.
The second daughter was called Comedy, bestowed upon her for her rich laughter. She enjoyed making others laugh, and could often be seen performing silly dances upon the great dining table in their little home, all for the enjoyment of her family.
The youngest daughter was named Prudence. Unlike her gifted sisters, she was not as lovely of voice nor as quick of wit. Her sisters were also far more comely than she. But she was greatly loved by her sisters, and guarded jealously by her young brother.
The townspeople were often cruel to dear Prudence, calling her ugly and mocking her plain face and heavy form. Comedy’s jokes about the stupidity of the townspeople did little to comfort the soft-hearted girl, though Harmony’s sweet songs did much to help take her away from the unpleasantness of the world.
Prudence’s brother was stern with her bullies, threatening bodily harm if they ever spoke ill of his sister in his presence again. But the townspeople still whispered, when he was not present to accompany the girls to town.
In the fullness of time, as these things often happen, unfortunate changes arose in the life of the merchant. His ships were lost at sea during a terrible storm, their cargo falling to the bottom of the deep waters. The merchant and his children were thus struck by the hand of poverty.
The merchant packed the items that remained in his shipping yard into a carriage and traveled by land to the next town, so that he could sell what remained of his inventory. It was the only hope the family had of surviving the winter to come.
However, on the journey, his carriage was accosted by highwaymen. The merchant was beaten, and the carriage steered away by the robbers, leaving him lying in pain in the dirt.
The merchant forced himself to his feet and, looking around him, saw a grand house in the distance. Hoping its inhabitants would take pity on a luckless traveler, he slowly made his way to the beautiful home.
When he knocked upon the door, it swung open of its own accord. Though he saw no one, he was not alone. There was a presence all around him. Invisible hands took his coat, lit candelabra so he might find his way through the halls, tended to his wounds in the sitting room, and lay a feast for him in the grand dining hall. He said his thank-yous, even though his only reply was silence.
He was then gently pushed by those invisible hands to a bedchamber, where he could lay his weary bones and rest off the indignities he had suffered for at least one night.
The next morning, he awoke to a beautiful sunlit day and saw a garden with the loveliest blooms below his chamber window.
He went into the garden and, remembering the indignities his dear Prudence had likewise suffered through her life, thought to cheer her by selecting a bloom from the garden. And so, he plucked a pink carnation from the garden bed.
“THIEF!” an angry voice roared. “YOU HAVE DESPOILED MY PRIVATE GARDENS!”
The merchant turned and beheld a ferocious beast before him. It stood on two feet, as a man would, but its face was a fearsome creature unlike anything that had ever been seen by any man. Such a terrifying visage defied all expression of language, and the merchant fell to his knees before the creature, trembling at the sight.
“Please, have mercy upon me!” the merchant cried. “I was only thinking to give the flower to my youngest daughter!”
“I shall spare you,” the Beast rumbled. “If you bring this daughter to me. For I am lonely, and wish for a companion.”
The merchant could not imagine forcing such unpleasant company upon his sweet daughter, but aloud he simply agreed.
The Beast let him go, reminding him again of their agreement. The merchant was provided with a hansom carriage, driven by one of the Beast’s invisible servants, to take him back to his family.
When the merchant returned to his home, he told his little family of the misfortune that had befallen him and of his bargain with the Beast.
“Of course I will go,” Prudence replied, over the protests of her siblings. “Ours is an honorable family, and we always pay our debts. And think of what the creature might do, should he suspect that you have deceived him and gone back on your word. No, Father, I will do this for all our sakes.”
So Prudence packed her belongings and entered the hansom carriage, whereupon she was delivered to the Beast’s grand home.
She looked upon the Beast and told him calmly, “I understand my father’s debt to you is paid with my companionship. I accept these terms, so long as you do not wish to treat me ill.”
The Beast nodded. “I agree with your conditions. My intentions are pure. I wish only to have the comfort of friendly speech, and a way to pass the time.” He regarded her with what seemed to be a growing admiration. “You are a shrewd young woman. What is your name?”
“I am called Prudence. And do you have a name, sir?”
“You may call me Malcolm.” He nodded to someone she could not see. “My servant will take your things to your room.”
Time passed, as it always does. Despite their arrangement, Prudence grew fond of Malcolm in her own way. Though he was possessed of rough mannerisms befitting a beast, he did not ever turn upon her. He was never too loud with her and, when angered, he never raised one of his clawed hands to her. When his temper became ill, he instead ran out of the house on all fours like an animal, wandering the woods for hours before returning in a fairer mood.
Prudence understood these things. After all, even the kindest soul had moments when their nerves were frayed. And Malcolm was nothing but kind to her.
He ensured that her every material desire was met. She was not an acquisitive sort, so it gave him great pleasure indeed to gift her with all manner of finery, knowing she did not ask for such things. It pleased him to care for her in such a way, and the baring of his sharp teeth in a smile was a comfort to her.
But the greatest prize he gave her was access to his library. It was there, after reading a volume of Chaucer together, that he revealed the source of his monstrous appearance.
He had once been a great sorcerer, having studied the magicks of many lands over his lifetime. But the vain, all too human lust for power had seized him, and he had foolishly begun to dabble in the darkest of such arts. The magic that he’d wielded then had contorted his appearance into the beastly visage she knew now. With great desperation, realizing the horror that he’d become, he had searched for a means to reverse the curse that had befallen him, but had no such good fortune.
He had then locked himself in his home, shamed by both his hubris and his hideous appearance. The invisible servants that aided him were simple beings of his own creation, and were not possessed of a mentality beyond the tasks they had been created for. He had spent many years now very much alone.
Prudence took pity upon him. Though she had once seen him as her captor, she realized he was as much of a prisoner as she.
Any ill-will that she might have once clung to faded to nothing with the revelation. She could not hate him anymore, and wondered why she ever had in the first place.
More time passed. Prudence grew to miss her family, and was taken over by melancholy.
Little brought her joy. She grew restless, pacing the halls of Malcolm’s home.
Malcolm, moved by her plight, brought to her an enchanted mirror so she could look upon the faces of those she loved so dearly.
She saw her sisters happily wed, having married well to merchants from other lands, and her brother was traveling to seek his fortune.
However, she saw her father was alone, save for a nurse tending to him. His face was pale with a great sickness, and she feared he might die.
“Please, Malcolm! You must let me be with my father!” she pleaded. “I cannot bear to see him suffer so, without aiding him!”
“You are a loyal daughter,” Malcolm said with immense sadness. “I shall miss you greatly.”
His words puzzled her.
He then said, “I release you from our bargain. Your father’s debt to me has been paid many times over.” He then gave her a small pouch. “These herbs, brewed into a tea, shall ease your father’s pain.”
She then kissed him upon his be-furred cheek. “Thank you. I will never forget this kindness.”
She tended to the merchant with all the love a daughter’s heart could hold for her father.
But she still felt melancholy slip into her being.
Once her father recovered from his illness, she realized the source of her sadness: she missed Malcolm greatly, and recalled his fierce yet noble countenance with great fondness.
“I must return to him,” she told her father. “I have grown accustomed to his ways, and I do not wish to be without him any longer.”
Her father smiled knowingly. “You love him.”
Prudence was stunned by his words, but then smiled shyly. “Yes, I believe I do.”
Prudence’s return to Malcolm’s abode was greeted with silence.
Several times she called his name, but was met with no answer.
Fear gripped her as surely as it had when she’d seen her father’s frail face. Prudence ran up the stairs to Malcolm’s bedchambers.
Throwing open the door, she saw his large form lying weakly in his bed. She ran to him, throwing her arms as best she could around his broad shoulders.
“I feared you would not return,” he said. “I have missed you so these many weeks of your absence. I could neither eat nor sleep. The halls have grown too silent without your footsteps there.”
“Malcolm,” she said, lovingly stroking his face. “I shall always return to you. In exchange for a flower, I have given you my heart.”
Without reservation, she placed her lips upon his. Warmth spread in his body, and his form rippled and changed.
He was a man once again.
Throwing his arms around her, he wept in gratitude. “You have wielded the greatest, purest magic of all. There is no magic so dark that cannot be undone by love.”
She smiled. “So you are human again. I fear I am not the beautiful princess of the faerie tales. I am not the Beauty you deserve.”
“You need not be a princess, my sweet. Yours is the greatest beauty there is, far deeper than mere skin.”
They were wed soon after, and Prudence’s family rejoiced in her happiness. She and Malcolm had many children, the daughters as beautiful as their mother.
Yes, the library and magic mirror are both a nod to the Disney version. The invisible servants (though not what they really ARE) are a nod to the classic version of the tale.
The basic plot? Also a variant on the classic tale, but not a direct copy.
The characters themselves and the specific situations they all go through? Mine.
And I changed the tale’s locale from Siècle des Lumières France to a vaguely Victorian-era England type of setting. If you couldn’t tell by my naming the beauty Prudence and the beast Malcolm, and by the use of a hansom carriage. 😛