I am attending Sirens, a conference on women in fantasy. For the benefit of anyone who wishes they were there or just is curious, I'm trying to write up some panel notes.

Cora Anderson did a presentation on Robin McKinley's use of "Beauty and the Beast," most obviously in her straight-up retellings Beauty and Rose Daughter, but also in Chalice, "Touk's House," "Buttercups," and arguably Sunshine.

She said that many similar tales, of women promised to monsters and animals, exist in many cultures, but she's primarily discussing the European versions which McKinley was drawing on. Earlier precursors include "Cupid and Psyche" and "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," in which a girl is wedded to a polar bear!

She discussed and showed slides from various versions of the original fairy-tale, depicting the Beast as everything from a ridiculous-looking sad boxer dog to a giant clothed badger to Disney and Cocteau's sexy beast. The original fairy-tail "Beauty and the Beast," by Madame Villeneuve, has a beast who was cursed to not only be ugly, but also stupid and mean. Halfway through the story, the curse breaks and he is transformed... but then the story continues, featuring a fairy war, a country of shepherds, and Beauty discovering that she was switched at birth! I am now curious to read this.

In subsequent versions, only the first part of the Villeneuve story was picked up. They tend to either have Beauty be shallow and the Beast be a decent person, so the story is about Beauty needing to change and learn to see past surface appearances, or else Beauty is great and the Beast is a jerk (or feral, or crude, etc) and the story is about him changing.

Robin McKinley doesn't take either route. Her characters are usually good people from the get-go, and her Beauty retellings (especially the first) have very little overt conflict. And yet they're enthralling (especially the first). They often have a lot of focus on mundane details, like gardening or baking. Cora said that they are not about individuals changing and learning to be better people, but about the process of falling in love and creating a relationship. Growing a garden or tending a beehive is a metaphor for that process: something new and beautiful is being made.

I suggested that stories don't necessarily need conflict, and that process - showing something being made - can be substituted. Nonfiction is often about process rather than conflict.

I also suggested that the reason Sunshine feels odd in this context is that both Con and Sunshine embody both Beauty and Beast. Con is the Beast because he's inhuman and frightening. But Sunshine is also the Beast because she think's she a monster, (in Cora's words) an unexploded thermonuclear device that could kill everyone she loves at any moment. She takes the role of the Beast dying and being healed by Beauty's love when Con saves her from dying of a poisoned wound by giving her some of his blood.

There was then some ribald discussion of the fact that while it's a joke to say, "I tripped while I was naked and fell on his dick," this literally happens in Sunshine.

Andrea Horbinsky, in a more serious context, then mentioned that Chalice is "the first honey chalice." I womanfully refrained from saying, "That's a nice euphemism!"

Cora said that McKinley really downplays the lack of consent/forced marriage, and dispenses with it altogether in several stories.

Shveta Thakrar said she'd like to see a story which explores the darker aspect of the fairy tale - the Stockholm syndrome and kidnapping - where Beauty does not get together with the Beast.

I suggested that people who wanted to tell that story typically use "Bluebeard," which is a very similar story in which the Beast really is a monster, and his wife either dies at his hand, kills him, or escapes him.

Another audience member mentioned that in Beauty, the country and castle are a place where people can be free from stifling social norms and express their true selves.

Discussion of how many readers like the Beast as a Beast, and are disappointed when he turns into a bland prince. The Beast was the one they fell in love with. Possibly apocryphal tale of Marlene Dietrich crying out at a showing of the Cocteau film, "Give me back my Beast!"
minxy: a dark-skinned woman in a white dress holds a bouquet of wildflowers (Default)

From: [personal profile] minxy

Oooh, neat. Thanks for writing up your notes! Sunshine in the context of this conversation is very interesting.
gwyneira: Rosa gallica "officinalis" (officinalis)

From: [personal profile] gwyneira

Oh, I like your point about Sunshine and both of them being both Beauty and the Beast! I thought there might be hints of "Beauty and the Beast" in her latest (Shadows), too, for spoilery reasons. And I love Beauty more than Rose Daughter, but I do really like the ending of the latter because the Beast gets to stay that way.

Thank you for writing this up, by the way -- I went to a different panel but regretted missing Cora's talk. I have notes from the Heyer panel (which was great), but I doubt I'll get them written up before I get home tomorrow.
londonkds: (Default)

From: [personal profile] londonkds

Dark versions of "Beauty and the Beast" which don't have the characters getting together - Elizabeth Bourne's "Beasts" from Interzone #240 last year is a version of it specifically set in revolutionary France and with heavy class-conflict elements as much as gender.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

I wish I had seen this! Great writeup.
nestra: (Default)

From: [personal profile] nestra

I just reread Rose Daughter (and Chalice), and the thing with Beauty and Rose Daughter is that as much as I enjoy them, I find myself wanting to live in the world before the Beast appears.

From: [identity profile] lorataprose.livejournal.com

Just randomly, I enjoy Robin McKinley, but when I read her BEAUTY, it made me so mind-frothingly angry that I left a 1-star review, promised to come back to explain why, and then actually PURGED IT FROM MY MIND. I don't remember why I hated it, only that it left me so angry I was shaking.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com

Are you sure you're not thinking of Sheri Tepper's Beauty? That book often provokes outrage - it's bizarre agitprop with tons of rape, violence, and strange but vociferously expressed political opinions.

Robin McKinley's Beauty is a gentle, sweet love story. If it really is the one that outraged you, I would be very curious to know why.

From: [identity profile] lorataprose.livejournal.com

Oh lord, I got really mad at Sheri Tepper's The Fresco so I wouldn't be surprised.

I'm ..... pretty sure it was Robin McKinley's, though, unless somehow I managed to get my Goodreads status updates wrong. If I recall, it was a personal kneejerk reaction to Beauty not being beautiful and how that was handled, since I'm not pretty myself.

here are my reactions as I read, I should probably skim through it again to see if anything pings.

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com

I remember the dress scene pretty vividly, so I'm pretty sure it's McKinley and not Tepper.

(I liked McKinley's Beauty, but I read it years and years ago now.)

From: [identity profile] lorataprose.livejournal.com

........ ah.

Well I reread the last few pages and the "oh look she's conventionally beautiful now after all so it's okay for her to marry the handsome prince" thing made my ears steam even without remembering the rest of the book, so, ah, yeah. That's the one.

I realize "she's beautiful now/all along!!!!" might be a satisfying ending for some people, but for me it just causes raw, pulsing fury.

From: [identity profile] anglerfish07.livejournal.com

Thanks for the interesting notes on Beauty and the Beast! :)

My favourite version of the story is the Italian one of Bluebeard/Silver Nose, where the wife outwits the Bluebeard/Beast and rescues her sister. It's so fun and clever.

*laughs* Yeah, many people were disappointed when the Beast transformed back into the Prince (myself included). That reminds of the Disney fanart I saw on Deviant Art with the following exchange:

Beast: Belle! it's me!

Belle: *pissed off* CHANGE BACK.

From: [identity profile] londonkds.livejournal.com

It wasn't the Beast changing that annoyed me so much when I watched the Disney version as the architecture.

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com

I have nothing to say about the panel (other than it sounds interesting) since I haven't read anything that was discussed. However, I wanted to note that Roz Kaveney coincidentally (I assume) posted a poem on this very subject today.

From: [identity profile] calepin.livejournal.com

Ooh, please keep the updates coming! I've spoken with a few people about this convention-- it sounds like big fun.

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com

You've made me very curious with your remark about Sunshine being an unexploded thermonuclear device--that is an awesome premise.

And, re: the possibly apocryphal tale of Marlene Dietrich--don't things like that make you wish the person was still alive so you could ask them about it?


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