Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost GN 1

Once upon a time, a girl named Belle went into the forest to pick some red roses. Of course, you know who Belle is – the name, meaning “beauty” in French, became synonymous with the story of the young woman who eventually saw through the horrible exterior of an enchanted prince to the beautiful soul beneath, thanks to the Disney film Beauty and the Beast. Originally the name was merely a designation, a statement on the heroine’s most obvious feature, her physical beauty, much in the same way “Little Red Riding Hood” isn’t a name but a description of the girl’s favorite outerwear. That’s something creator Kaori Yuki seems to understand, because the Belle who stars in Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost is a composite of fairy tale heroines: her name references ATU425C, she wears a red hooded cloak like the girl of ATU333, and she has a fraught relationship with her father, like the protagonist of Donkeyskin, ATU510B. (ATU numbers are the formal academic system of classifying fairy tales.) What that means is that if you are a lover of fairy tales, this is the book for you.

Combining several well-known tale types, including some much less familiar to most readers like Fitcher’s Bird(ATU311) and Donkeyskin, Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost tells a literary fairy tale that feels like a natural offshoot of the fairy tale tradition. References to the aforementioned tales abound, from Belle’s red hooded cloak to the local legend that the Beast marries beautiful girls only to destroy them, which raises the specter of Bluebeard (ATU312). This last makes Cyril, the beast, a combination of fairy tale characters as well – Bluebeard is sometimes held up as the anti-Beauty and the Beast because his monstrous blue beard truly is an indication of his evil nature, unlike the beast, whose appearance hides a kind soul. In Cyril’s case, someone may be taking advantage of his cursed form to frame him as a Bluebeard, something he’s either tired of fighting or disinclined to fight. It certainly makes him a more caustic potential romantic hero – or even just potential ally for Belle – than we’d typically see in a fairy tale retelling, but what’s more interesting is the way that it works with the characters Belle represents. While Red Riding Hood is often portrayed as a more passive character (if not outright foolish; thanks, Charles Perrault), Beauty typically has more backbone, if only in the way that she stands by her promise to the Beast as best she can. Yuki’s Belle has the curiosity of Bluebeard’s wife to temper both of these other heroines, which makes her come across as more proactive than she might have had she been strictly a Beauty or a Red clone. Add to this the vulnerability of Donkeyskin and we have a heroine who is both a tribute to folkloric protagonists and a more well-rounded character in her own story than you might expect.

The Donkeyskin component is perhaps one of the most interesting. Officially known as Cinderella B, the tale type opens with a heroine under threat from her father. In folklore, he wants to marry her after her mother’s death and she runs away to escape him; here Yuki reframes it as Belle’s father being obsessed with the idea that Belle may not be his biological daughter because of her unusual, fey hair color. He locks her in her attic room following her mother’s disappearance (which Belle does not believe indicates her death), and when she eventually escapes, he chases after her. Belle is conflicted, because she desperately wants her father to love her, but his behavior indicates nothing remotely healthy in the way he feels about his child. It isn’t necessarily sexual, but you could absolutely read it with that edge if you were so inclined; he does say that he’s “the only man who could love [her].” Yuki goes a step farther in making it clear that Papa is a monster by playing with the idea of Cyril as a beast being taken advantage of – a mysterious woman known only as “La Médium” is almost certainly behind his monstrous reputation, if not his appearance. An expert manipulator of social opinion, she’s able to transform others’ outer forms, possibly in service of her own quest for life as the one who is always the fairest of them all.

Kaori Yuki has clearly done her research. Alongside the various tale types referenced, there’s some indication that she’s familiar with variants of the stories as well, such as the image of the beast beneath a full moon, which hearkens to the earliest European Little Red Riding Hood, where the wolf is specified to be a werewolf. The fact that La Médium hosts salons is also interesting, as it could be a reference to the 17th and 18th century gatherings where tales like the best-known versions of Beauty and the Beast originated, as well as other literary renditions of oral folktales. The art mostly relies on 18th century fashion and décor, but there’s a sense that the story takes place in a time-out-of-time, with only La Médium grounded in the 1700s. That works with the overall sensibility of the book, as well as Yuki’s dark, line-heavy artwork, which can be a bit confusing if you skim over it too quickly.

There’s more than enough meat in the title tale type to get a good dark fantasy, so by adding in elements of other fairy tales, Yuki is not only making this her own work, she’s also hiding little treasures like strawberries in the snow. Sure, that particular tale type hasn’t come in yet (The Kind and the Unkind Girls, ATU480), but this is a dark blend of enough recognizable elements to make it worth reading. It’s not self-consciously edgy, which some of Yuki’s works can be, and very much feels like a world built by the earlier versions of the fairy tales we know – the ones that tell us that monsters are, in fact, real…and that you can’t always tell who they are.