I adore fairy tales and am constantly reading (and watching) adaptations of them, so it’s probably not going to surprise anybody that I have recommendations when it comes to interesting fairy tale retellings! Today’s story is “Beauty and the Beast”.
If you want a pretty classic version of the story with lush illustrations you have lots of good options. My favorite is Jan Brett’s version because I love the tapestries reflecting what should be reality in the backgrounds of the images filled with enchanted animals and the beast. It’s a gorgeous detail and just adds to the otherwise beautiful illustrations (amazing Georgian gowns!). Marianna Mayer has a lovely version illustrated by Mercer Mayer as well and of course you can’t beat K. Y. Craft for amazingly lush and elaborate illustrations (her version is written by Mahlon Craft).
But now lets get into some of the adaptations where you can find intriguing new twists on this familiar story!
One of my favorite adaptations is Merrie Haskell’s The Princess Curse. This book is actually adapting at least two stories with some old fairy lore thrown in, but “Beauty and the Beast” is one of the major elements of the book. It’s about a kingdom where the king is offering a reward for figuring out why his princesses disappear every night (starting with the other major story at the core of the book – “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”). But instead of a soldier or gardener figuring it out, it’s a clever girl who finds herself in the role of Beauty and the story turns into a fascinating “Beauty and the Beast” tale. It’s got a great heroine and is a really interesting version of the story!
One of the most famous and beloved retellings of “Beauty and the Beast” is Robin McKinley’s Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. McKinley actually wrote two novelizations of this tale, but this one is definitely my favorite of them. It’s a sweet and very human version of the story that sticks fairly close to the original French version of the tale, but adding lots of depth, character development, and emotion to the story. It’s a fun read, especially if what you want is a pretty straightforward retelling without too many new changes.
If you want changes, though, there are some great options for you! One of my favorites for sheer amusement factor is Beastly by Alex Flinn. This is a modern day reimagining of the story with one of my favorite quirky fairy characters. It really explores what the story would be like happening in modern day, but it keeps the magic and drama. I love the combination and find the idea that you might want to be nice to everyone because you never know if the weird girl in your school is really a fairy to be extremely in keeping with so many classic fairy tales! The heroine is modern and spunky and the hero brooding and sympathetic without being too perfect.
The Scandinavian version of “Beauty and the Beast” is “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” and there are several beautiful adaptions of it as well. Maybe someday I will write a whole post about that one, but for now, I’m going to include my favorite here. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George is a fantastic version of the story that explores the emotional complexity of the situation as well as highlighting the resilience and strength of the heroine. It’s a fantastic story with a great adventure and she definitely makes the reader feel exactly how high the stakes are. This one is one of my favorite fairy tale retellings in general and well worth reading! George is amazing at fairy tale retellings, so if you like them in general, she’s one to look for.
A new favorite of mine is A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer. It’s the first in a series, but I haven’t gotten to read the second book yet (it just recently came out). The first book stands alone beautifully, though, and it explores the story in a fascinating new way. It asks what makes a beast and what makes a beauty? How does the curse affect everyone – the prince, the heroine, and even the people who live nearby the castle? It’s a bit of a portal fantasy, since the heroine is a modern day teen who is transported to the fantasy realm where the Beast’s castle is, but that element actually only adds to the story and the moral complexity of it. This one is unique!
Sometimes you just want a cozy, fun retelling to bury yourself in. For that, my favorite recent version is Beauty by Caroline Lee. It’s part of the “Everland Ever After” series, but each book totally stands alone (you’ll see the heroes of previous books in the background, but don’t need to have read any of them to know what’s going on). This is a retelling set in a fictional wild west town that leans heavily into the development of the romance. It’s got some fun twists that make the story not entirely what you expect, but it’s also simply a fun romance with surprisingly well drawn and fun versions of the characters.
Those are some of my favorite book retellings of this classic story, but of course there are numerous film versions well worth watching as well. This was actually a tough one for me to decide on a favorite for. I adore the 1990 animated Disney version and the 1980s television show is one I really enjoy, but if what you want is a gorgeous, lush version of this fairy tale, I can’t recommend a better one than the 1946 French film “La Belle et la Bête” directed by Jean Cocteau. It’s got a perfect gothic setting, absolutely gorgeous costumes and hair (I want to know how to do Beauty’s braided hair style!!!), and absolutely beautiful cinematography. The original is in French, but there are subtitled and dubbed versions. It’s so worth watching!
And those are my recommendations for exploring the gorgeous and emotionally complex story “Beauty and the Beast”. Somehow I didn’t end up with any versions of “Psyche and Eros” (the Greek version) or the Middle Eastern version where the beast is a snake, but they are both fantastic as well. Look for them in collections of stories from those traditions if you are interested!