November 13, 2012

The Beast

        In the classic fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast," the Beast is not very specifically described.  He's monstrous, he's scary, and he's a beast… but exactly what sort of beast isn't defined.  This means that illustrators get to use their imaginations freely, and it's quite interesting to see all the different ways they've imagined the Beast.  In fact, the range of Beasts is so marvelously broad that it betrays just how little free imagination illustrators get to use most of the time!  There are hundreds of versions of Beauty and the Beast, many of them gorgeous (a few of them atrocious), and I can't possibly represent them all here.  But I've chosen a sampling that shows some of
the wide diversity of Beasts, as well as, of course, giving preference to block prints whenever possible.
        I'll start with the earliest illustration I found, from an anonymous artist in 1813, showing the Beast as a pretty straightforward boar.  The boar version was popularized by Walter Crane in his 1874 edition, but Crane has made his boar much more anthropomorphic - bipedal and sporting extravagant sartorial splendor.
        Another popular animal for the Beast to resemble is a wolf.  Lancelot Speed made him wolfish in 1913 (in an illustration that I think looks a lot like Maurice Sendak's style!), while Gordon Browne gave his lupine Beast delightful bird feet, taking advantage of the fun fact that there's no reason the Beast has to look like any real creature.  That's why W. Heath Robinson can add horns to his very surreptitious-looking lion-like Beast, and Anne Anderson, breaking with the dominance of mammals, can make her Beast some sort of reptile-fish hybrid.

        Some of my favorite choices for sheer goofiness, however, are H.J. Ford's mammoth-based Beast from 1889, and
Eleanor Vere Boyle's walrus from 1875.  A walrus?  Really?  I mean, it's one thing to imagine an enchanted prince living in a palace in lion form, but a noble enchanted walrus?

        But not all Beasts are so clearly animals.  Some are more humanoid monsters, like this ogre-ish version from 1840 (clearly a cheaper woodcut production than some of the others!)  Among other
human-like monsters there's also Edmund Dulac's goblin from 1910, and my most recent version, by Barry Moser in 1992.  His deformed portrait is more disturbing than many of the rather lovable beasts portrayed by other artists, and may give a better sense of the horror Beauty felt on first being consigned to live with the monster.
        Those artists who shy away from scary parts in fairy tales have chosen such retchingly adorable Beasts that the story rather loses its point.  Where's the moral in a cute little girl's ability to see the good in a cute little teddy bear cub?  If you'd like to see the Beast as a darling lion, a huggable bear, or, worst of all, a cutesy chimpanzee, visit SurLaLune's excellent collection of illustrations.  (There are others there, too, including the Dulac Beast mentioned above.)
        Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales, and although I haven't done any illustrations of it myself, I certainly empathize with the fun of having free rein to imagine the Beast without restraint.  I'm sure everyone has their own favorite versions, but the breadth and diversity of options is fun for all of us.

[Pictures: "The absence of Beauty lamented," engraving by unknown artist from Beauty and the Beast, or A Rough Outside with a Gentle Heart, 1813 (image from NYPL Digital Gallery);
"Beauty and the Beast," color wood block print by Walter Crane from Beauty and the Beast, 1874;
"The Beast and the Merchant," illustration by Lancelot Speed in Fairy Tale Plays, 1913 (image from Beauty and the Beast with illustrations selected and arranged by Cooper Edens, 1989);
"The merchant begging forgiveness for taking a rose," engraving by Gordon Browne from book by Laura E. Richards, 1886 (image from The Classic Fairy Tales by Iona and Peter Opie, 1974);
"The Beast," W. Heath Robinson from Old-Time Stories by Charles Perrault, translated by A.E. Johnson, 1921 (image from SurLaLune);
"Beauty and the Beast," illustration by Anne Anderson from Anne Anderson's Old, Old Fairy Tales, 1935 (image from SurLaLune);
H.J. Ford, from The Blue Fairy Book ed. by Andrew Lang, 1889 (image from SurLaLune);
"Beauty finds the Beast," illustration by Eleanor Vere Boyle from Beauty and the Beast: an Old Tale New-Told, 1875 (image from Beauty and the Beast, Edens, 1989);
"The Beast proposes," woodcut by unknown artist from The Popular Tales of Olden Time, c. 1840 (image from The Classic Fairy Tales by Opie, 1974);
"The Beast," wood engraving by Barry Moser from Beauty and the Beast by Nancy Willard, 1992.]

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