Monday, December 17, 2007

In Which We Now Have The Internet Again And I Finish A Young Adult Novel
It was gone.
Now it's back.
I borrowed Beast by Donna Jo Napoli from the public library because I not only enjoy reading young adult novels but because this is a version of one of my favorite fairy tales—Beauty and the Beast. I had seen Cocteau’s lavish and surreal movie as a child. I had shuddered when I learned that Disney was making an animated movie of the fairy tale only to be delighted by the results. And I have read other versions, including Francesca Lia Block’s The Rose and The Beast. In other words, I wanted to love this book and could have loved this book easily. And yet, I did not. I had to think about it and I realized that this book was missing the one essential ingredient for any good fairy tale—magic. Napoli does a nice job of giving the Prince cum Beast a history. Prince Orasmyn lives in Persia and is Islamic by faith. These details flavor the first part of the novel but still left me feeling unsatisfied. When the Prince is cursed and turned into a lion the gradual decline from human to beast is explored but not with any depth. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the writer to poetically show the change, using language to spotlight for the reader what is happening within this young man. And for someone who supposedly adores roses, his descriptions of the varieties is banal, plebian, and lacks any real passionate observation. If as a beast he cannot see the many hues he can still differentiate the aromas, number the petals, the textures between the various blooms. The opportunity to bring beauty into the prose was not evident. If this were not a story based on a fairy tale, I would have not begrudged this novel the absence of verbal magic, poetic transcendence, the elevation through prose into mystical experience. These are the elements I assume I will find in a fairy tale and a book or movie based on a fairy tale. A for effort but I will not recommend this book to anyone but the die hard Beauty and the Beast fans who merely have to be able to say that they have indeed read anything and everything they could. Otherwise, I would say pass, even if you are someone who love this particular fairy tale. In fact, perhaps especially if you love it and do not care to read anything and everything! Or those who do not care about the inspirational fairy tale.
However, I might have used parts of this book if I were in a class where I were teaching The Aeneid only because the Roman version of the the Trojan War figures slightly in part of the tale.
(I am reminded of a scene in Harold and Maude where Maude is showing Harold a field of daisies, praising the uniqueness of each flower. Here is the quote taken from
Maude: I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They're so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be? Harold: I don't know. One of these, maybe. Maude: Why do you say that? Harold: Because they're all alike. Maude: Oooh, but they're *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world's sorrow comes from people who are *this*, [she points to a daisy] Maude: yet allow themselves be treated as *that*. [she gestures to a field of daisies]
I still feel Napoli's Beast who so loves roses should have known how to recognize each one as beautiful and would know how to treat each rose as this rather than that and it is unfortunate that Napoli didn't have the passion to write his passion to its fullest potential.)

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