The History of Beauty and the Beast
            The 1991 retelling of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast is known the world over as a one of the classic, lauded examples of Disney storytelling. However, this movie did not emerge verbatim from a charming tale of dancing silverware and amorous candelabras. The progression this story made is surprisingly long and its origins merely hint at what the story is now.
Disney's Beauty and the Beast
The Early Stories
Italian Versions
French Versions
Film Adaptations

Once Upon A Time…
            The earliest folk tale that bears a similarity to our modern story is in The Golden Ass written by the Roman author Apuleius in the 2nd century C.E. In this version, the Greek mythical figures Psyche and Cupid are the ancient versions of Belle and the Beast. This myth is also cited as the origin of the fable East of the Sun and West of the Moon. In this story, Psyche is the youngest and most beautiful of three daughters  and, through Venus’s jealousy of her beauty is forced to marry a man (supposedly a monster) without ever seeing him. She lives in an enchanted palace where her only company is invisible servants who attend on her and play music for her and her husband who comes to her at night and leaves before the sun rises so she cannot see him. When her sisters discover her wealth and that is not allowed to see her husband, in their envy they convince her to light a lamp while he is asleep so that she will finally see who she is married to. As Psyche does this, she finds her husband is none other than the god Cupid himself and in her joy accidentally spills a drop of oil on his shoulder. Cupid is forced to flee and Psyche follows him until she reaches the house of Venus where Cupid is being kept from her. Finally the lovers are reunited, plead their case before Jupiter, and are allowed to live happily ever after.

"Psyche Revived By Cuipd's Kiss" by Antonio Canova

… In A Far Away Land…
            Centuries later in the 1500’s, an Italian folklorist, Giovanni Francesco, tells a tale of Re Porco, translated to English as King Pig. Once again, our Beauty figure is the youngest of three sisters, but the story changes as one by one they are married to a prince who was born in the form of a pig. The first daughter is in love with another man and kills herself before the wedding night. The second conspires to kill the prince, but is instead killed by him in the attempt. Finally, Beauty marries him with the intention of attempting to make the marriage work, only to find on the wedding night that he has transformed into a man. From this point in the tale’s history, it has completely separated itself from the East of the Sun and West of the Moon fable and the following tales bear much more of a resemblance to our modern version.
Beauty and the Beast Illustration by Walter Crane
… A Young Prince Lived In A Shining Castle…
            The first publication of the story under the title “Beauty and the Beast,” or in French, “La Belle et la Bete,” was in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. When it was published, it was over one hundred pages long and included detailed backgrounds of fairies as well as the backstory of Belle and the Beast. Belle, we find is the daughter of a king and a fairy who was given to a merchant in place of his youngest daughter that died to protect her from the malice of an evil fairy. The Beast is a prince whose father has died and mother has to battle to save the kingdom, so he is left in the care of the same evil fairy who would wish Belle harm. The fairy attempts to seduce the Beast and transforms him into a monster when he rejects her. This version was originally written to entertain adults.
            About a decade later, Jeanne-Marie le Prince de Beaumont wrote a simplified version that was aimed toward children. This version no longer had the background stories of the main characters or the history of fairies and had simplified the plot down to basic archetypical characters. This is the most commonly retold story and is what the Disney incarnation was largely based on.
"Beauty and the Beast" by Anne Anderson
… And They Lived Happily Ever After.
            As technology advanced, the film versions began to emerge. In 1946, a French film entitled La Belle et la Bete was produced which added in the element of an additional suitor for Belle. With this last alteration, all the main pieces for the Disney story were in place. After that, all the had to do was give physical form to the spirits of the castle, make Belle an only child and compose some of the Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s most memorable songs.
"La Belle et La Bete" 1946 Film Adaptation



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Origins of Beauty and the Beast: The Classis Fairy Tale Story has Ancient Roots. Davis, John K. 2 March, 2009. 5 November, 2011. <>.

Pictures of the Beauty and the Beast. 11 November, 2011. <>.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss. 11 November, 2011. <>.

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SurLaLune Fairy Tales: Illustrations of Beauty and the Beast. Anne Anderson. 11 November, 2011. <>.

“Tale as Old as Time”: The Literary Origins of Beauty and the Beast. 14 August, 2009. 5 November, 2011. <>.

Top 10 Gruesome Fairy Tale Origins. Frater, Jamie. 6 January, 2009. 5 November, 2011.<>.


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