Thursday, June 4, 2015

Carter's "The Tiger's Bride" vs. Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"

Many of us know how the story goes in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. A young maiden by the name of Belle trades her freedom for her father's freedom after her father gets lost, discovers the Beast's castle, and the Beast kidnaps her father and holds him captive. During the time Belle is a prisoner, she slowly draws the Beast out of his isolation and teaches him what it means to love another and to be loved in return. Because the Beast learned to love another person and accept the love they offer him in return, his spell is broken and he turns back into a really hot prince. So cute, and very Disney.

Angela Carter's version of the story is a bit different. Upon losing everything in a bet, a young girl's father bets his daughter to a tiger disguised as a man (as if his daughter is his property). The tiger takes her back to his castle and locks her away in a jail cell. The tiger's valet, another animal, tells the girl that she can return to her father as soon as she exposes her naked body to the tiger because she is a virgin. She is appalled and laughs at his request. A few days pass, the tiger gives her jewelry, and she throws it across the room in disgust. Such is her attitude for a decent portion of the story. Then one day, the servant enters and tells the girl that his master wants to take her horseback riding. At first, the girl is hesitant, but she finally accepts the tiger's offer. As they are riding, the girl thinks to herself how odd it is that no one in her company is believed to have a soul. She says, "If I could not see one single soul in that wilderness of desolation all around me, the the six of us -- mounts and riders, both -- could boast among us not one soul, either, since all the best religions in the world state categorically that not beasts nor women were equipped with the flimsy, insubstantial things when the good Lord opened the gates of Eden and let Eve and her familiars tumble out." With this thought, she directly links herself to the tiger because they are both 'soul-less' creatures, which signifies a major shift in her attitude towards the tiger. After again refusing the tiger's request that she expose herself to him, the tiger decides to reveal himself to her. Once he shows himself to her, with no mask or wig to hide what he truly was, the girl decides to reveal herself to him as well. Afterwards, they ride back to the castle and the girl dresses in the finest clothes for her return to her father, just as the tiger said she could. The girl put on the jewelry the tiger had given her and was all set to leave, before realizing that she could not return to her father as the same girl who had left him. She went to the tiger's room and submitted to him as she bent down in front of him and let her approach him with no fear. He began to lick her skin, and eventually he licks her skin until it is replaced by fur.

So, in Angela Carter's version of this classic story, it is the captive girl who turns into a beast instead of the beast who turns into a human. Angela Carter's story represents a shift from the anthropocentric storyline many people are familiar with (thanks, Disney) and sheds light on the idea that maybe both the girl and the beast are better off living together as animals rather than as people. The prince doesn't have to be attractive, and the girl doesn't have to be the force that "civilizes" the beast; Carter's story shows a version where the girl is admired because she has not been with a man and the story doesn't close with two beautiful people living out the rest of their days in a beautiful castle but with two animals returning to their natural ways.

For reference (and a good ol' 90s throwback!), here's the trailer for Disney's Beauty and the Beast!

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