Fairy tales and stories are something that has been around since the beginning of time. Tales were passed down from generation to generation, and in the case of fairy tales, these stories were not at first geared towards any age group, but instead for anyone, for entertainment purposes. Growing up, one of my favorite tales was Beauty and the Beast. If you ask children if they know this story, I would guarantee almost one hundred percent of them would. However, I’m sure the story they would know is that of the Disney version.
In my lifetime, the majority of fairy tales I know are the Disney version. There is more than just Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast, for example, the original by Le Prince de Beaumont, which will be discussed as well. To simply compare and contrast the two versions would not suffice in really understanding the underlying tones and meanings of the two stories. Instead, an excerpt from Bruno Bettleheim’s, The Uses of Enchantment will be used to delve deeper into the meaning of stories and how they affect children. ’Safe” stories mention neither death nor aging, the limits to our existence, nor the wish for eternal life; the fairy tale by contrast, confronts the child squarely with the basic human predicaments” (Bettleheim 8). In this case, Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” is a more effective one for children, unlike the always sunny, sugar coated Disney version. When you read the two stories, it is very obvious to see how children were perceived. With Beaumont, stories were created for everyone and children were looked at as just miniature adults.
You can see this in the emotions the story portrays. It deals with some very adult things,, when Disney kind of just scrapes the top layer of emotions, not really going past good, evil, and happy, and sad. However, the two stories do have aspects in common. If we look at the setting, both contain the Beast’s castle, the family’s cottage and the forest. One difference is the palace Beauty’s family lives in at the beginning when the family was wealthy, unlike Disney’s version where they were never wealthy. This brings me to another point, the characters.
The main character is Belle in Disney, yet is simply called Beauty with Beaumont and also has brothers and sisters. In fact, the father is also not given a name, just simply the merchant. I kind of look like at the characters of the Beast and the girl as almost the same. In Beaumont, their names are given based on their outer appearance. People look at the Beast as this hideous creature, the girl as this beautiful human, and just by judging a book by its cover their names are coined. With Disney, Belle is given a name, however, even if you look at that name, it means “beauty” in some cultures.
So, the story really never shies away from outer appearance and how important people feel this is. When we take a deeper look into these two characters, we find that they are more than their names. The girl is a sensitive, hard working, intellect, who doesn’t really think of her beauty. The beast, once handsome, was transformed into ugliness, which I believe has humbled him and made him gentle and appreciative. Also, I could see Disney creating names for some of the characters as a way to personalize them. However, Beaumont’s idea of not personalizing them gives them a broader audience to apply to.
A character simply named Beauty, or Beast, can relate to a child how they might feel on the inside. One big difference in characters is the addition of live objects of the castle with Disney and just of a magical presence with Beaumont. Disney envelopes you in the involvement of the castle’s live objects that were once human’s before the Beast was condemned. Why does Disney make these characters such a big part of the story? I have noticed that is it a running theme for Disney to add or embellish characters to their version of fairy tales.
Disney adds the magical, live castle objects to spike a better liking from children. I also think Gaston and the villagers are put in the story to add a greater appeal to the Beast. Beaumont does not mention these characters and we find Beauty not falling in love and liking him as quickly as in Disney. Both stories invoke a child’s imagination, either with the addition of these live castle objects or merely the presence of something magical which the child can then come up with their own images. “By doing this, the child fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which then enable him to deal with that content.
It is here that fairy tales have unequaled value, because they offer new dimensions to the child’s imagination which would be impossible for him to discover as truly on his own. Even more important, the form and structure of fairy tales suggest images to the child by which he can structure his daydreams and with them give better direction to his life” (Bettleheim 7). In another area, the differences in characters add to some differences in the plot. With the Disney version, which people mostly relate to, the Prince is turned into the Beast by an enchantress when he shows his selfishness.
It is said that “if the Prince could learn to love and be loved in return before the last enchanted rose petal fell,” then the castle’s spell would be gone (Disney 2). The difference in the roses in both stories was that Beaumont’s Beast had a garden of roses in which he told the merchant, “I value more than anything I possess” (Beaumont 24). In Disney, the Beast has one rose, in a glass case in which its petals shed and then the last one falls, the spell will either be broken or stay forever depending on the advancement of the Beast’s love life. In both stories, the girl gives herself to the Beast in place of her father.
Both stories also have the girl and the Beast getting to know one another, becoming friends, and eventually falling in love, however, the context in which this occurs is a little different. When the girl is allowed to go back and see her father/family, Disney’s tale has the village on a hunt for the Beast where Belle finds him almost dead from a stab wound and kisses him which then transforms him into the Prince. With Beaumont, Beauty goes home and in order to come back home to the Beast, she just needs to put her ring on her nightstand when she goes to bed.
In doing so, Beauty returns to the castle to find the Beast dying among the rose bushes from being lonely and lovesick, thinking Beauty would never return. All Beauty had to do was say she would marry him and the spell was broken. The endings are the same, in that the girl and the transformed Prince live happily ever after. Anyone can read the two versions and decipher the similarities and differences, but what are the true meanings behind these stories and what are they trying to get the reader to think about? Does Beaumont’s “Beauty and the Beast” show characteristics of what a fairy tale should consist of according to Bettleheim?
Disney encompasses what Bettleheim discusses that children need to deal with problems instead of have them sugar coated. Bettleheim suggests that “many parents believe that only conscious reality or pleasant and wish-fulfilling images should be presented to the child-that he should be exposed only to the sunny side of things. But such one-sided fare nourishes the mind only in a one-sided way, and real life is not all sunny” (Bettleheim 7). I look at society and the reasoning behind why children are taught that everything is happily ever after. The truth is life is riddled with struggles and many times, there is no succeeding.
Fairy tales, however, paint a picture of characters a child can relate to in different aspects. Bettleheim suggests that “a child’s choices are based, not so much on right versus wrong, as on who arouses his sympathy and who his antipathy” (Bettleheim 9). As far as what fairy tales provide for a child to understand struggles in life, Bettleheim relays “that a struggle against severs difficulties in life is unavoidable, in an intrinsic part of human existence but that if one does not shy away, but steadfastly meets unexpected and often unjust hardships, one masters all obstacles and at the end emerges victorious? Bettleheim 8). Although some fairy tales end in a morbid way, with the struggle being relentless, fairy tales in general, as in both versions of Beauty and the Beast, hold true to Bettleheim’s ideas.
Furthermore, Beauty and the Beast ultimately delves into the power of love and how it can transform something hideous into something beautiful. I think in many fairy tales, love reigns over all. When I look at real life, I almost see the same thing. Love conquers all, is a valid statement. Love makes you do crazy things. Love can be the best and worst thing a person can experience. The fairy tale, by contrast, takes these existential anxieties and dilemmas very seriously and addresses itself directly to them: the need to be loved and the fear that one is thought worthless; the love of life, and the fear of death” (Bettleheim 10). Moreover, Bettleheim suggests that the power of fairy tales is astounding. A child can comprehend and grasp ideas and the light at the end of the tunnel with the help of fairy tales. When comparing Beaumont and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, one must consider what Bettleheim discusses.
I must say I firmly agree with what he has to say. In doing so, I can say that Disney provides a superficial story of a tale that Beaumont originally writes. Although both stories end happy for the Beauty and the Beast, the context throughout the story is more whimsical and magical with Disney, instead of portraying and diving deep into human emotion as Beaumont does. Although both stories have their likes and differences, they both tell a story of an unlikely character befriending a beautiful girl and ultimately falling in love.
A child can relate to many of the characters in both versions, which is a wonderful way for a child to express their creativity. Beauty and the Beast is just one fairy tale that has stood the test of time, and will continue to be passed down.
Beaumont, Le Prince de. “Beauty and the Beast. ” Classics of Children’s Literature. 6th ed. Ed. John W. Griffith and Charles H. Frey. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2005. Bettleheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. NY: Knopf, 1976. Disney, Walt. Beauty and the Beast. NY: Random House, 2002.