Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

So far, Beauty and the Beast is the only story that the Once Upon a Time series has covered twice. And with good reason--it's first effort was definitely not up to snuff.

Their first attempt was

Spirited Nancy Holder

Holder's other title in the series, The Rose Bride, was my least favorite so far. Until I read this one.

The basic premise in this one is that Isabella Stevens is captured and held hostage by Native Americans during the French and Indian Wars. She's the beauty, her captor, the tribe's shaman, is the beast. Do I even have to discuss how problematic it is to set up Native Americans as Beasts? I get the whole over-coming-prejudice-and-falling-in-love thing, but... there are several stories like that where the guy isn't actually an animal, and given the way we have treated Native Americans like animals, maybe this wasn't the best way to go.

Jennifer Mo has a most excellent review of this book and I kinda just want to be all "yeah, what she said" because she words it better than I can. I won't quote the entire review (I urge you to go read it yourselves) but I will quote this passage that I agree with whole-heartedly:

Holder has clearly done some research into Native American names and traditions, and Isabella's initial prejudice towards the natives as savages is understandable. However, the fairy-tale parallel that makes Wusamequin (the quintessential noble savage) the beast is a disheartening echo of colonial ideology. Holder's portrayal, while sympathetic, is not sensitive.

I have other problems beyond just that. Isabella is so helpless. I don't understand why anyone thinks she has spirit and is a fighter. All she really does is scream and faint. Actually, she reminds me a lot of another Isabella in the worst way possible--Bella Swan from Twilight. She's weak and whiny and always hurting herself for some reason people really like her and always come to her rescue. But look! She has such spirit and energy!

Excuse me while I go puke.

The fantasy elements were weird and unnecessary and felt like a complete perversion of Native American beliefs, even though I do not know enough about the tribes of upstate New York to say one way or another. At best, they seemed like an over-simplification of something more complex. Holder does admit in her author note that "I have put my own twist on the beliefs of the Algonquins in the afterlife." Ugh. Why?!

She does get credit for pointing out that despite her inspiration from the book and movie The Last of the Mohicans (which I haven't read or seen, so can't comment on parallels there) that the Mohican nation has NOT died out.

Luckily, to clean this taste from my mouth, the series released another version of the tale,

Belle Cameron Dokey

This is a more traditional telling of the tale. It sticks rather close to source material, and as such is sure to draw comparisons to the classic (and frankly, stronger title) Beauty by Robin McKinley. (I have heard some say that Belle is a rip-off of Beauty, but having gone back and read the early versions of Beauty and the Beast, they're just both really close to the source material.)

I do like how Belle's sisters in the this version weren't mean at all, especially once everyone adjusted to country life. They were the most complex characters in the book. I also liked Dokey's addition of the wood-carving and the Heartwood tree.

While it doesn't add anything really new to the story, it is a perfectly enjoyable retelling that fairy-tale fans will like.

The next 3 titles in the series are by the strongest writers, Cameron Dokey and Suzanne Weyn:

Wild Orchid: A Retelling of "The Ballad of Mulan" is out now, it's just still "in processing" at the library, so I don't have it yet

The Diamond Secret comes out in June--any guesses on why story this is? Based on the cover, I'm guessing Swan Maiden?

Winter's Child comes out in September. Again, any guesses? I'm thinking Snow Queen? Because really, that's the only one I can think of with winter. Unless it's Snow White? But they have done Snow White already. (I'll get to it eventually, I promise!)


Abby said...

According to Wikipedia (I looked it up to get a list of the titles in the series), Diamond Secret will be a retelling of Anastasia, and Winter's Child will be a retelling of The Snow Queen.

I haven't read any in this series yet, but you've convinced me to pick up a few of them!

Jennie said...

Oooo... look at Abby, using her librarian powers to find my answers! :)

I'm not sure how I feel about history becoming fairy tale (Anastasia, Pocahontas, etc) but I'll reserve judgment on Diamond Secret until I read it!

Jennie said...

Oh! And the strongest titles in the series are:

Storyteller's Daughter
Sunlight and Shadow
Night Dance

I haven't yet read Midnight Pearls, Snow, or Wild Orchid.