BOOK REVIEW: Beauty and the Very Beastly Beast by Mark Sperring, illustrated by Barbara Bongini
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Picture Book / Fairytale Retelling
Beauty and the Very Beastly Beast is a particularly hard book to review.
As one who was raised on the Disney version of the story, there is immediately something a little off in that Beauty has two older sisters who demand expensive things like golf clubs and curling tongs, but Beauty asks for only a rose. From the first page those raised on the Disney version are bound to see similarities here to such classic tales as Cinderella, Diamonds and Toads, and likely a few others besides, and fewer things that recommend Beauty and the Beast, despite the title.
Upon further research and reading, one will discover that in the first incarnation of Beauty and the Beast, she had five other siblings, so perhaps this one isn’t so much breaking the mould as leaning back towards the original. In this story, as in the original, Beauty’s father is caught taking a rose, and the Beast allows him to take the rose, so long as he promises to send one of his daughters back.
- In the original, the beast tells Beauty’s father to either return or send one of his daughters in his place.
- In this retelling, Beauty’s father, Popsey, is allowed to return home so long as he sends back the first living thing to greet him at the gate.
Unfortunately, this seems to be where the similarities end.
This is a nicely illustrated, watered down version of the original that might do well with families who like their stories to be magic lite.
- In the original, Beauty is given a magical mirror that allows her to see anything she wishes, a ring that will teleport her anywhere when she spins it on her finger three times, and all manner or riches that sadly turn to dust when her sisters touch them.
- In the Disney version, the beast shows Belle a magic mirror that will show her anything she desires and there is a magical rose putting a deadline on their time to reverse the curse. And, of course, all the people who worked in the castle were turned into animated household items.
- In this retelling, the beast allows Beauty to return to her family, though he gives her a rose before she leaves. The rose doesn’t wilt, but she discovers it suddenly dead one day and has a feeling something has happened to the beast, so she rushes back to him. This, apart from the fact that the beast transforms back to a prince of course, is the only suggestion of magic in this story.
Unfortunately, with the loss of almost all of the magic, this story also loses a lot of the, well… magic.
While the illustrations show the beast gradually falling in love with Beauty quite well, when she returns to him at the end and kisses him on impulse, turning him back into a prince, the curse is revealed to her, and she says “seeing as it’s true love, I suppose I shall marry you…” It’s true, this could have been an attempt at banter, but with so little in the way of Beauty’s feelings for him progressing with the story.
All in all this isn’t a bad retelling, the cover has gorgeous gold foil details, and the illustrations are engaging, but there is just too much removed from this version of the tale for one who grew up with magic mirrors and dancing teapots.
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