Beauty and the Beast: A Christian Fairy Tale
Updated: Nov 1, 2019
There are many versions and re-tellings of the basic story of The Beauty and the Beast. This summary is based on the version of the story by Charles Perrault, which is also the version that Disney used and adapted for their animated version. There are definitely differences between them, so it needs to be kept in mind that this summary is not based on Disney’s story, but the story by Charles Perrault.
Beauty is one of the beloved daughters of a wealthy merchant, who—through no fault of his own—suffers the loss of all of his wealth and worldly goods in the beginning of the story.
When he leaves on a trip to support his family, all of his children ask for gifts, but Beauty asks only for his safe return. Her father is very touched, but tells her to ask for more, so she asks for a single rose.
And, of course he gets it for her when he takes shelter from the storm in the Beast’s castle. He’s given rest, shelter, and lots of food, but the castle itself seems to be devoid of life. He’s planning on bringing his family there, when he plucks the rose for his daughter Beauty, and is immediately confronted by the Beast!
Even at this first introduction, Perrault is showing us that the Beast is not really beastly. Of course he’s angry, because he has been very generous in his hospitality towards Beauty’s father.
Instead of recognizing and being thankful for that generosity and hospitality, he looks at the Beast and is horrified because of his appearance. The father responds not to the goodness that’s been offered to him, but to the appearance of the host.
In some versions of this story, the character in that role is similar to a werewolf in that his appearance is horrific and animal-like because he’s acted more like an animal than a human being.
In this version, the reason for his appearance is different—he’s under a spell.
Spells in Fairy Tales
In fairy tales, spells can do a lot of things, but they can only change the appearance of things, they can’t change the nature of anything. Tables and chairs are still tables and chairs, and human beings remain human, even when they don’t look human.
In Perrault’s story, the Beast demands that the merchant be honest with his daughters, and that whichever daughter comes in her father’s place come of her own free will.
It’s interesting that the father leaves, because he could have stayed in the castle and lived a life of luxury.
So why didn’t he? Was it fear? Cowardice?
When the merchant allows his daughter Beauty to take his place, it’s a comment on the failure of the father to live up to his responsibility towards his children (similar to the father in Cinderella), and his failure to demonstrate virtue in the story.
That point is really brought home to us when he returns home, and his other children are all in favor of sending their sister Beauty off as the scapegoat to the Beast’s castle. They are imitating their father in their behavior.
Beauty’s response to the siblings who revile her, is love.
Yes, of course this is an idealized version of her, but that’s the point in fairy tales. We see the extremes of both good and evil so that we can see them more clearly, and learn how to recognize and respond to them.
Each version of the story has a different reason for Beauty’s presence in the home of the Beast, and some of the details of how the story plays out are different as well.
But many of them emphasize the virtue of the character of Beauty in the story. If she’s not virtuous from the beginning, the way she is in Perrault’s telling, then she becomes virtuous in the end.
In each story, it is Beauty’s love for the Beast that allows her to see him as he really is, breaks the spell, and allows him to appear human again. This is why G.K. Chesterton said:
There is the great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast”; that a thing must be loved BEFORE it is loveable.
Why does Beauty love the Beast?
Beauty is one of God’s attributes, just as love, truth and goodness are, so the perfection of beauty is found in God. Every other thing that we say is “beautiful” allows us to Him in some way.
True beauty has to have a sense of order and harmony, but it also must point to the truth and the truly good. This is why when people sometimes say that something is beautiful, what they really mean is that it’s something they like, or that it’s pretty.
True beauty is not based on what we like or want. Everyone can visit the Sistine Chapel and experience a sense of awe at the beauty of the works of art.
In Beauty and the Beast, Beauty sees the Beast for who he truly is, not just his outer appearance. This is why she is able to love him—because she loves who he truly is, not what he appears to be.
Just as God loves us, no matter what we do--or fail to do. It's only because He loves us that we're able to love anyone else. Babies are loved by their parents, which is why they are able to love others as they grow up, but that love is in response to being loved by another. That first act of love had to start somewhere, and it began with God's love.
This is why Chesterton commented that Beauty (named for one of God's attributes) is the God figure in the story: she loves him, and in response he chose to receive that love and return it.
This is how her love for him breaks the spell and saves him.
And then they all live happily ever after.
Free PDF on the Bible, Magic, and Fairy Tales
I created this free PDF to help Christian teachers and parents who are concerned about what their kids are learning, especially in Fairy tales and stories based on Fairy tales, sort out some of the issues that come up, so that they confidently make more informed choices about educating their children.
To download this free PDF, click here or directly on the image
List of Posts in the "Fairy Tale Fridays" Series:
Beauty and the Beast: A Christian Fairy Tale (This Post)