So yesterday's rerelease of Beauty and the Beast got me thinking about my favorite fairy tale again which made me pick Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale by Betsy Hearne for today's library essential.
I'll admit right from the gate that this one isn't as essential if you are not a Beauty and the Beast fan. Or perhaps it is if you aren't because reading about the tale here will probably make you a fan despite yourself. Hearne, clearly a fan of the tale, approaches it with a scholarly approach that is both instructive and entertaining, highly readable all the way, too. Essentially, Hearne explores the history of the tale from oral to print to many print versions and some film although the book predates Disney's version. She also provides interpretations that you may or may not always agree with, but she gets you thinking about a complex tale with a rich history.
If every beloved fairy tale got this kind of attention, we'd all be happier fairy tale fans. It's no surprise that the book started out as Hearne's thesis. This book was also important to me at a young age in understanding that fairy tales are not "just kid stories" (although I adore "kid stories!"). I discovered it shortly after its publication in 1989 at the library and checked it out. I was distracted and didn't read or even understand all it had to offer at the time, but oh, I was thrilled with it all the same. I finally acquired my own copy several years later. I inadvertantly mirrored Hearne's career somewhat by getting a Master of Library Science, although it is technically Information Science now. And that degree has served me immeasurably in all areas of my life, not the least of which is SurLaLune which was born during that time of getting my degree.
Not many tales get this kind of book long exploration. Bluebeard and Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella are the only ones that come to mind although the books about them have used somewhat different approaches. Beauty and the Beast: Visions and Revisions of an Old Tale is a jewel to be treasured. I also wish this one would get a reprint and update with the Beauty and Beasts offered in the 20 years since its publication.