Book Talk Tuesday – Beyond the Flesh: A Discussion of Beauty in A.A. Milne and Marianna Mayer’s Images of Beauty

Images of Beauty by A.A. Milne and Marianna Mayer

Fats here.

My copy of Images of Beauty was one of the last few books I bought from the dollar bookstore that closed down for business a couple of months ago. The cover shows a beautiful artwork of a lady who appeared to be a princess carrying a small treasure chest. Underneath the main title were the subtitles, The Ugly Duckling & Beauty and the Beast.

Instantly, I was transported to a time when leisure consisted of reading fairy tales and watching Disney animated films. The images of a beautiful swan and of Lumiere and Cogsworth floated in my head, and I found myself humming, “Tale as old as time, true as it can be…

Seeing Winnie-the-Pooh-author’s name on the cover was already an indication that these were fractured versions of the classic tales. After all, the original story of The Ugly Duckling came from the imagination of Hans Christian Andersen, while that of The Beauty and the Beast was a product of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s (called La Belle et la Bete in French).

The Ugly Duckling

Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Euphemisms in The Ugly Duckling. A.A. Milne provides an entertaining and humorous interpretation of Andersen’s fairy tale. Presented in a play format, readers are introduced to a series of memorable characters: the King, the Queen, the Chancellor, Princess Camilla, Dulcibella, Prince Simon, and Carlo.

It begins with a conversation between the King and the Chancellor. The following lines would demonstrate just how silly and funny the story is:

Chancellor: Let me put it this way: Prince Simon will naturally assume that Her Royal Highness has the customary – so customary as to be, in my own poor opinion, slightly monotonous – has what one might call the inevitable – so inevitable as to be, in my opinion again, almost mechanical – will assume, that she has the, as I think of it, faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly –
King: What you are trying to say in the fewest words possible is that my daughter is not beautiful.
Chancellor: Her beauty is certainly elusive, Your Majesty.
King: It is. It has eluded you; it has eluded me; it has eluded everybody who has seen her. It even eluded the Court Painter. His last words were, “Well, I did my best.” His successor is now painting the view across the water-meadows from the west turret. He says that his doctor has advised him to keep to landscape.

We are pulled further into the story as the King and the Chancellor continue –

Chancellor: Looking at the bright side, although Her Royal Highness is not, strictly speaking, beautiful –
King: Is not, truthfully speaking, beautiful –
Chancellor: Yet she has great beauty of character.
King: My dear Chancellor, we are not considering Her Royal Highness’s character but her chances of getting married. You observe that there is a distinction.
Chancellor: Yes, Your Majesty.
King: Look at it from a suitor’s point of view. If a girl is beautiful, it is easy to assume that she has, tucked away inside her, an equally beautiful character. But it is impossible to assume that an unattractive girl, however elevated in character, has, tucked away inside her, and equally beautiful face. That is, so to speak, not where you want it – tucked away.

Of course, as with other fairy tales, the King is compelled to think of a solution to this dilemma that he is facing. (Odd, isn’t it, that the King feels more troubled than Princess Camilla herself? Oh, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.) So he comes up with this –

King: The point is that it doesn’t matter how you marry or who you marry as long as you get married. Because you’ll be happy ever after in any case. Do you follow me so far?
Princess: Yes, Father.
King: Well, your mother and I have a little plan… It is our plan that at the first meeting (your waiting maid) should pass herself off as the princess – a harmless ruse of which you will find frequent record in the history books – and allure Prince Simon to his – that is to say, bring him up to the – In other words the wedding will take place immediately afterwards and as quietly as possible…
Princess: I was wondering why you needed to tell me.
King: Just a precautionary measure, in case you happened to meet the prince or his attendant before the ceremony; in which case, of course, you would pass yourself off as the maid –
Princess: A harmless ruse, of which, also, you will find frequent record in the history books.
King: Exactly. But the occasion need not arise. (LOL on all of these.)

And so, dear readers, you have the basic storyline: the King is beset with the problem of his only daughter finding her Prince Charming – as we will all find frequent record in fairy tale books. (Wink.) The rest of the story I leave up to you to discover, for A.A. Milne’s version of The Ugly Duckling is indeed a gem to add to your collection.

Needless to say, I fell in love with the book just reading this first story. Princess Camilla’s story is as plain as her beauty, but teeming with insights (or assumptions, to be more precise) on the nature of beauty, on royalty and marriage, and on prince charmings and happy endings.

He’s Just Not That Into You

The conversation between the King and Princess Camilla reminded me of the opening sequence in one of my favorite “chick flicks” of all time – He’s Just Not That Into You. Gigi, played by adorable Ginnifer Goodwin, said, “We are all programmed to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk that means he likes you.” Similarly, in fairy tales, as well as with the King’s perception, we are all led to believe that physical beauty equates to beauty of character. Do you agree?

In addition, while I do not take his side, I liked how the King made that comment on living happily ever after regardless of how or who one decides to marry. Again, A.A. Milne illustrates the ill-conceived notion that princesses are bound to live happily ever after – yes, as frequently recorded in history books.

Some of you may take pity on Princess Camilla, for being thought of so plainly by her own father. However, as the story progresses, readers will see how her wit and charm surpass her physical attributes, thus making her more beautiful than your average Barbie-doll beauties you see on TV. If you were to put yourself in Prince Simon’s shoes, would you marry someone as beautiful as she is naïve, or someone whose character exudes her beauty?

Beauty and the Beast. The shift in the mood of the story is easily noticeable, not only in narrative form but also in artwork. Mercer Mayer’s illustrations in Beauty and the Beast, compared to Robert Oliver’s The Ugly Duckling, sets a more serious tone, characterized by more details and darker hues.

The second story, written by Marianna Mayer, differs only slightly from Disney’s version of the classic fairy tale. Unlike the animated film that most of us have grown up with, Beauty and the Beast introduces readers to a family of seven – a wealthy merchant who lived with his three daughters and three sons. They had to move to the country because the merchant’s ships and cargo were destroyed by a terrible storm.

While there was no Gaston in Mayer’s version, or servants turned into clock, candleholder, chinaware, and so on and so forth, the rest of the story follows the same pattern as the film – Beauty’s father getting lost in the woods and stumbling upon the Beast’s castle; Beauty trading places with her father in the castle; the Beast falling in love with Beauty; the magic mirror, the spell that had fallen upon the Beast, and the only way to break the enchantment. (Which, I assume, you know by heart.)

Beauty In Its Fractured Form. Surely you have heard the expressions, do not judge a book by its cover, and beauty is only skin deep, countless of times. Both fairy tales presented in this book wonderfully illustrate the images of beauty. While both make the point that we should not judge others by their appearance, I think that, of the two, Beauty and the Beast makes the point better. This is not to say that The Ugly Duckling does not. Because of the seriousness of story, there was more weight placed upon beauty and character in Beauty and the Beast than in The Ugly Duckling.

In the first story, you have Princess Camilla who, even though she was inaccurately depicted as being plain, still looks attractive, as seen through the artwork. In the second story, the Beast was, well, a beast.

“The beast was dressed in clothes fit for a prince, but his face was that of a wild animal.” – Beauty and the Beast, p. 48

I don’t think there’s anything crueler than being referred to as a beast, as opposed to being described simply as “not beautiful.” In addition, the Beast faces greater dilemma than the King – who, indeed, would marry someone like him? Would you? In addition, the idea of character was out of the question. Even if the Beast learned his lesson well, and he was nice and generous, nobody would marry him, let alone fall in love with him.

So many things can be said and discussed in this fractured versions of two classic fairy tales. But I leave the rest to you, dear readers. Feel free to join us here at GatheringBooks as we continue to unravel the images – and mystery – of beauty. With this, I leave you this delightful animated film I accidentally came upon a few days ago:

Book Talk Tuesday is hosted every week by Rock Star Librarian Kelly Butcher at the Lemme Library. Head on over to see the round-up post for today.

Picture Book Challenge Update: 91 of 120

2 Comments on Book Talk Tuesday – Beyond the Flesh: A Discussion of Beauty in A.A. Milne and Marianna Mayer’s Images of Beauty

  1. Awesome post. I think you would enjoy the class I just took on myths in children’s literature. 🙂 This post reminded me of the things we read. I think you would enjoy Maria Tartar’s The Classic Fairy Tales: Text, Criticism from Norton. It traces the origins of the tales and presents various version. http://www.worldcat.org/title/classic-fairy-tales-texts-criticism/oclc/38520170&referer=brief_results

    Like

    • Thank you, Ms Books4Learning! =)

      I was delighted to find out that you are taking graduate classes in children’s literature, and that you are as passionate in kidlit as we are here at GatheringBooks. I checked the link and the book does seem interesting. I have read somewhere that The Three Little Pigs alone has over hundreds of variations, so imagine what it would be like to collect fractured fairy tales across the globe!! And to do content analysis on such rich data. Fun, fun, fun.

      Well, we hope that you continue to join us with our Fractured Fairy Tales theme this month. =)

      Like

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