Today is the last day I’ll be taking a look at Beauty and the Beast‘s origins as I am changing gears for my next book, book 3 of King Arthur and Her Knights. So for my last topic I wanted to discuss the Beast or Severin as he is called in my version of the story.
In my previous post I discussed the different ways the Beast was cursed, and how I combined the stories to give homage to Villeneuve and Beaumont–the original writers of Beauty and the Beast. Lots of stories follow the general layout of Villeneuve and Beaumont’s tale. However, the one thing that varies from story to story is Beast’s exterior. Why? That’s because Villeneuve and Beaumont are pretty abstract in their descriptions of the Beast. In fact they use no concrete adjectives to describe him at all. He is reported to be beastly, ugly, horrid, etc. You can tell by Beauty’s reaction (and by her father’s) that the Beast is excessively hideous and frighting because it is described how she shakes in terror and almost faints. (As a side note it is worth noting that Beauty is also described abstractly as well. It is only said that she is beautiful, there are no specifics given to her looks.)
Chances are the storytellers were vague because it allowed their audience to use their imagination, and decide for themselves exactly what made Beauty beautiful and why Beast was so frightening.
Looking at older illustrated versions of the story, most illustrators went with a clothed creature who walked upright on hind legs. Most commonly the beast resembles: a boar, a lion, a goblin, a bear, or a wolf. Typically the beast wears nice clothes–the original Brothers Grimm version of the story mentions that the beast wears splendid clothes which might have started the fad–but beyond that the beast’s looks vary.
So why did I go with a beast who greatly resembles a black jaguar? For starters I wanted something that would be frightening and exotic to the people of Loire. Loire’s climate and ecosystem isn’t made for large cats. Wolves and bears yes, but jaguars? No. A black bear they would be familiar with, but a large cat they wouldn’t be, making Severin that much more frightening. Additionally, my reasons for picking a cat as a beast goes deeper than Loire’s geography. Before I even had Elle and Severin designed, long ago I decided if I did a retelling of Beauty and the Beast I wanted my beast to look like a cat. Large cats are a beautiful example of savage beauty. I didn’t want the beast to look repulsive, I wanted him to give off the feeling that he could rip a person’s throat out. He needed to be potentially dangers, but why? Because ugliness typically doesn’t make people swoon and tremble like Beauty did in the original story. (If you don’t get what I mean go to a zoo and sit by the tiger exhibit. Then picture yourself inside the cage with the tiger as you observe the tiger’s pretty teeth.)
Severin’s dangerous exterior highlighted the requirement that Elle would need to trust him in order to love him. As a pathological liar, trusting Severin with her life was a revelation. And, yes, I will admit it. I also made Severin a cat because then Elle could make an abundance of cat related inquiries and jokes.
Thanks for reading, Champions. I will see you all next year!