Thursday, February 9, 2012

Grimm Legacies: “The Many Conclusions of ‘Beauty and the Beast’” by Jerry Griswold

Beauty and the Beast Boyle Image 9

Today has become a Beauty and the Beast day as I recap elements of Jerry Griswold's "The Many Conclusions of 'Beauty and the Beast'" presented at Grimm Legacies and highlight some of the vesions he discussed as well as his own book in different posts.

Griswold began his presentation with a play on Claude Levi-Strauss's statement that "Animals are good to think [with]." (See Levi-Strauss's books, Totemism and The Savage Mind, by the way to learn more about that phrase.) Griswold offered an alternative which the audience liked, "Fairy tales are good things to think with."

Part of Griswold's discussion compared the various types of endings to Beauty and the Beast tales:

(1) The traditional in which the beast is transformed, a majority of the versions.


(2) The "Shrek" conclusion  in which the heroine is transformed into a beast to join her mate with Angela Carter's short story "The Tiger's Bride"* given as an example.

(3) A final transformation that takes place in perception only, of which Ricky of the Tuft offers the closest example from traditional tales and Tanith Lee's short story "Beauty"* offers perhaps the best example of all.

Griswold also discussed the tales in which the transformation happens in the middle, such as in Cupid and Psyche and East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which are more "equal" as the heroine must prove herself through tasks, too. These were contrasted with the tales in which the transformation happens at the end and usually disappoint the audience to some degree. There is also the irony of the tales offering as a reward the exact thing they were trying to teach against. "You must look past appearances" and when you do, you are rewarded with something beautiful in appearance, the exact thing that is supposedly no longer important to you.


The Disney and Jean Cocteau versions of the tale were also discussed, especially as disappointments once the transformation has taken place. Disney offers an animated Fabio who is not nearly as exciting as the Beast. This version tries to compensate for the loss of the Beast by having Belle recognize her love's eyes after the shock of losing her beast in the transformation.

But perhaps one of the greatest examples of disappointment in the transformation, at least for the audience, comes in Cocteau's film version of the tale when we are presented with a dandified Jean Marais as the transformed beast. (A great history of this film, by the way, is available at TCM. And Griswold pointed out that Marais was Cocteau's lover which certainly had an impact on some of the director's choices.)  Reportedly, Greta Garbo, upon seeing the ending, said, "Give me back my Beast." Griswold believes this disappointing ending was a deliberate decision on Cocteau's part. Here is an edited version of the transformation scene:

There was some interesting Q&A about repulsion and disgust with the beast. Ideas were jumping around too much for me to capture them, but it was an interesting discussion with Griswold as well as David Elmer who had presented Apuleius's Cupid and Psyche and discussed its Beauty and the Beast motifs during the same session.

Also mentioned in connection to the repulsion, was Straparola's King Pork (also known as The Pig King) which is a more unusual Beast tale.
Here is a quick review of Linda Lee's tweets about this session, too:

lindajeanlee #GrimmLegacies next up: Jerry Griswold on the many conclusions of Beauty and the Beast. -12:15 PM Feb 4th, 2012

lindajeanlee #GrimmLegacies Jerry Griswold is really funny! -12:16 PM Feb 4th, 2012

lindajeanlee #GrimmLegacies Griswold: Diverse endings of ATU 425: transformation of beast at end (confusion, surprise), or in middle, or of heroine. -12:31 PM Feb 4th, 2012

lindajeanlee #GrimmLegacies Griswold: Or not at all, transformation only in eye of beholder, as in Tanith Lee's "Beauty." -12:32 PM Feb 4th, 2012

lindajeanlee #GrimmLegacies Griswold: For transformation-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder, fear must first subside. #necessarycondition#ATU425 -12:34 PM Feb 4th, 2012

lindajeanlee #GrimmLegacies Griswold: Awfulness becomes awe-full-ness. #ATU425 Love comes before transformation to beauty.-12:36 PM Feb 4th, 2012


And, no, before you ask, none of Robin McKinley's Beauty and the Beast versions were mentioned during the presentation or Q&A although a few audience members discussed them with me after the presentation. McKinley's Beauty and others have deeply impacted many readers over the years, too. It wasn't a slight but a limitation of time.

*Remember that both Carter's "The Tiger's Bride" and Lee's "Beauty" are also reprinted in Griswold's The Meanings of "Beauty & The Beast" A Handbook.


  1. And of course Marais also plays Belle's rejected human suitor Avenant, so it's a complete bait and switch when the Beast turns into him...

    Thank you for the excellent summary. My notes were less coherent (esp. what I wrote down about disgust and repulsion, which I can't quite make sense of), but they included Jerry's observation that the tales in which the transformation occurs in the middle are depicting one of the consequences of exogamous marriages, the fact that the couple has to deal with both tribes of in-laws at some point.

  2. My husband and I love the Jean Cocteau version! We have watched it so many times over the years. It is a bit creepy, but so original.

    Thanks for reminding me that we need to pull that out for a nice evening curled on the sofa!


  3. This is very interesting. I never realized there were so many versions of Beauty and the Beast. I mean I know there are to some extent, considering the story is so old, but now I really know!

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