Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beauty and the Beast and ATU 425: The Search for the Lost Husband

Yesterday I began a series of posts about ATU tale typing of Animal Bridegroom tales. Today I will continue by focusing solely on ATU 425, the behemoth of the Animal Bridegroom tales. As I mentioned yesterday, Swahn and Thompson broke ATU 425 down into sixteen distinct subtypes. The new Uther revision has consolidated these into eight subtypes, combining several of the very small ones into the larger types.

ATU 425 The Search for the Lost Husband is the main title for the type and those tales which don't easily fall into one of the subtypes--the indeterminate ones which are still obvious 425--are kept at ATU 425 and are not further classified. ATU 425C is the subtype for Beauty and the Beast, considered the "short" version of the tale since it usually ends after the Beast's broken enchantment. These usually are obvious derivatives of the Villeneuve and Beaumont versions of the tale. It is a significant subset with its differences from the other types which are much longer and have a solid literary history with an overwhelming popularity in popular culture.

The largest groups, however, are ATU 425A: The Animal as Bridegroom and ATU 425B: Son of the Witch (previously The Disenchanted Husband: the Witch’s Tasks). These two have been switched around a few times and can be confusing.

From my introduction to Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World:

The most common subtypes are 425A and 425B, which are very similar and have had their defining elements switched back and forth across assorted studies. Uther clarified their differences with his revisions, stating, "Essential for Type 425A are the motifs 'wife's quest and gifts' and 'nights bought'" in which the heroine uses gifts she has received along her quest in trade to spend the night in her estranged husband's room. He also states for ATU 425B, "The essential feature of this type is the quest for the casket, which entails the visit to the second witch’s house. Usually the supernatural bridegroom is the witch’s son, and he helps his wife perform the tasks." In these tales, the heroine performs impossible tasks culminating in retrieving a box from a dangerous witch who is expected to kill her. In the updated system, Cupid and Psyche is in essence the original ATU 425B tale. A popular example of 425A can be found in the Norwegian "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" (1845) collected by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe although one of the earliest versions can be found in "Pinto-Smauto" by Giambattista Basile. Many examples of these tales are provided in this anthology for comparison and analysis.

ATU 425A is the largest of them all, rather surprising since it is apparently newer than ATU 425B's Cupid and Psyche. There are 34 examples of it in Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World. There are only 14 ATU 425B tales in the collection.

I will share more ATU 425 subsets tomorrow so stay tuned.


  1. I worked on the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast (check me out on IMDB), and while the film was in production we often referred to the French version from 1946, directed by Jean Cocteau. It still has compelling visuals and was an inspiration for the 2004 Phantom of the Opera.

  2. ATU 425C is the oldest version of ATU 425. It dates back at least 4000 years to Proto-Western-Indo-European, the ancestor of the Italic, Celtic, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic languages. ATU 500, which includes Rumpelstiltskin, is the same age. This article should explain what I just said: