Jul 5, 2009

Beast

by Donna Jo Napoli

This is Beauty and the Beast retold from the Beast's point of view. In Napoli's story, the Beast was originally a Muslim prince from Persia, who angered a fairy when he failed to make a ritual sacrifice properly. As punishment, he was turned into a lion, one of several recently brought from India so that his father the King could hunt and kill a lion the next day. The prince-turned-lion fled for his life, traveling through the wilds back to the lion's home in India, and then into France where he sought to lift the curse by making a woman fall in love with him. My favorite part of this book was the middle, which describes his efforts to live as a lion, fighting the bestial instincts of his new body, struggling to reconcile what he must do to survive- hunt and kill- with the tenants of his Islamic faith. The first part of the story, seeped in details of Persian culture (and full of unfamiliar words), just wasn't as interesting. And the final part of the book- when the Beast settled in France, built a rose garden, and wooed Beauty- felt too abrupt. I understand that the main focus of the story was how the prince overcame the lion's bestial nature to feel and act like a man again- and that when he had redeemed himself by gaining Beauty's love thus the story was over- but I didn't get any sense of a real relationship being formed between them, and wished there had been more depth about that part of the story. If you like original retellings of fairy tales, you should certainly read Beast, it's very different. Some of the parts about his life as a lion are rather brutal (not just killing, but also mating scenes of the lions are described), so it might not appeal to all readers.

Rating: 3/5                    272 pages, 2000

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8 comments:

Jenny said...

I read one of this author's fairy tale retellings - the Rapunzel one, I think? - and I wasn't overly impressed. It sounds like that one had a lot of the same problems as you found in Beast. I enjoyed Sirena more, as I recall, but it was years ago; I haven't read anything by her since then.

Eva said...

Having read Zel, Napoli definitely isn't one of my favourite fairy tale retellers.

Nymeth said...

I really enjoyed Zel, despite having problems with parts of it, so I've been looking forward to reading this. It's too bad it wasn't as good as it could have been, and that their relationship felt shallow. I really like the idea of making the Beast someone from a culture that is normally othered.

An Anonymous Child said...

Hm. I actually always liked Napoli's retellings. Perhaps it had to do with my age, reading the stories... it's easier to overlook faults when you're younger. "Beast" is one of the only retellings by Napoli that I haven't read. I'll have to get a hold of this (and reread the others) to see how the books appear today...

Caspette said...

This sounds like an interesting retelling of this story. I recently read a review of another retelling but this was set in New York in a preppy school. This was a good fair review.

carolsnotebook said...

I'venever read anything by Napoli, and I think I'll pass on this one. I like the cover, though.

Jeane said...

Jenny- I did like Sirena more; it was one of the first Napoli books I read but it's been a long time.

Eva- I do want to read Zel- even though I've read mixed opinions on it.

Nymeth- I think you still might like it. Some readers really liked the ending.

Anonymous Child- I also liked her books better when I was younger. I read Beast at a later moment, perhaps that's why I was a bit more critical towards it.

Caspette- New York prep school Beauty and Beast? That would be interesting- what's the title?

Carolsnotebook- Actually, I didn't care for the cover art on this one. I like the design, but think it could have been drawn better.

Janet said...

This sounds like a really intriguing concept.

I haven't read a lot of versions of the B&B tale, but now that you mention it they've all seemed to have that superficiality about the love story. Even Robin McKinley's. I'm not sure if it's the way they're written, or that I know what's coming and don't get into the story as much.