- The Meanings of “Beauty and the Beast”: A Handbook
Griswold confesses in the opening of this book that "Beauty and the Beast" has long been his favorite fairy tale and that this compilation is really the result of a very personal obsession. He further confesses that his method of examining the tale is much like "beating around the bush," and, I dare say, most readers will readily agree. Once we understand that, the work itself begins to make more sense. It is not a fully developed critical study or analysis, and Griswold has aptly subtitled this work "A Handbook." It is, indeed, a compilation of disparate materials, some only peripherally connected to the folktale itself. In addition to Griswold's own rendition of Mme. LePrince de Beaumont's tale, we find summaries of critical stances, lengthy renditions of presumed sources, going back to the Roman tale, Apuleius's "Cupid and Psyche," and Mme. de Villeneuve's "Beauty and the Beast" as redacted by Andrew Lang, a survey of illustrators, a quirky selection of modern adaptations, and a discussion of the two most famous film versions (Cocteau's and Disney's).
Given the diversity of this collection of material, it is difficult to get a handle on the intended audience. Although Griswold's casual style makes this an accessible book for the general reader, just how many general readers will want to know this much about "Beauty and the Beast" remains to be seen. With its wide-ranging sweep of a variety of perspectives—the tale's literary antecedents, its social implications, its psychological underpinnings, its continuing influence—the book is a potential text for a graduate folklore course.
But Griswold's purpose remains rather murky, and his unusual choices make for a lack of continuity in the text. Well over 100 of the book's 258 pages (nearly 40 percent) are consumed with the complete texts of various versions of "Beauty and the Beast" or other related stories. [End Page 154] Renditions of the Grimm's "Cinderella," as retold by Lucy Crane, and "The Frog King" seem unnecessary, given the rather minor point they make. Equally questionable are the 39 pages devoted to Tanith Lee's futuristic retelling, titled "Beauty." Much of this strikes us as filler—or, as suggested above, textbook material. Although today the tale is widely regarded as the property of children, Griswold does almost nothing with contemporary children's adaptations. He makes only a passing reference to Robin McKinley's Beauty and omits Nancy Willard's picture-book version set in nineteenth-century New York and illustrated by Barry Moser. His attention to children's versions is largely confined to discussions of Mercer Mayer and Walt Disney. Of course, "Beauty and the Beast" is a story to be read on many levels and is a children's story only in part. But it is too important a part to be so widely ignored.
Despite its glorious reproductions of art from children's picture books, the chapter on illustrators is one of the more disappointing. Griswold directs his attention primarily to two artists, Walter Crane and Mercer Mayer, ignoring virtually everyone else, including most of those represented in the color plates. Also, except for Mayer, whose work appeared in 1978, the plates provide no examples of illustrators after 1921. Among the more recent artists who might have been mentioned, in addition to Barry Moser, are Mordecai Gerstein, Jan Brett, and Ruth Sanderson, to name a few. Perhaps the fact that works of the Victorian and early twentieth-century illustrators are now in the public domain and free of copyright influenced the decision to omit more recent illustrations. More troubling than the limited choice of picture reproductions is Griswold's text in this chapter, which is regrettably scant—fewer than nine pages are devoted to the entire discussion of illustrators. This is in sharp contrast to the 39 pages occupied by reprinting in full Tanith Lee's "Beauty." The book is not particularly useful as a guide to illustrators of "Beauty and the Beast." Betsy Hearne's...