Beauty and the Beast: the Real Story

10 things you never knew about Beauty and the Beast, storytime magazine, magazine subscriptions for kidsYou probably haven’t been able to avoid the excitement surrounding Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson. But what do you know of the original story that inspired it?

Like most famous fairy tales given the Disney treatment, it’s hard to imagine that it had a life before Hollywood. Not least a life without singing clocks, candlesticks, teapots, bad guys like Gaston and 3D animation.

But the original story (a version of which is in our latest issue of Storytime) is a different beast indeed. For fairytale fans everywhere, here are 10 things you never knew about Beauty and the Beast.

10 Things You Never Knew about Beauty and the Beast


Beauty and the Beast, Storytime magazine, kids magazine subscriptions

Beauty and her magic mirror in Storytime Issue 31. Illustration by Letizia Rizzo.

1. The original printed version of Beauty and the Beast is credited to a French writer called Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. She included it in a 1740 story collection called The Young American or Tales of the Sea. She claimed that a chambermaid told it to a young lady, while on board a ship to America.

2. Villeneuve’s telling is over one hundred pages long. In it, Beauty is the daughter of a king and a wicked fairy – the very same fairy who turns the prince into a dumb and pitiful Beast.

3. A highlight of Villeneuve’s version include Beauty chatting with birds. She also dreams every night of a dashing prince (who is actually the Beast). Even better, she is able to watch any theatrical performance of her choice through a magic mirror. As this version is from 1740, that’s a pretty cool concept. A wise fairy also visited her in her in dreams.

4. Villeneuve might be most famous for Beauty and the Beast, but in her lifetime, she was best known for her novels. Interestingly, her own story is one of riches to rags. Sadly, she married a man who wasted her family’s fortune and she was widowed at the age of 26. It’s thought she found love later in life with a Parisian playwright.

5. Villeneuve’s story didn’t stay the course. Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont rewrote it several years later, creating the adaptation we know best today. She also got rid of the rather long ending. Beaumont wrote the story for governesses to share with gifted young girls.

6. In Beaumont’s version, a fairy turns the two mean sisters into statues at the end – statues that are conscious. “You shall stand before your sister’s palace gate, and be it your punishment to behold her happiness; and it will not be in your power to return to your former state, until you own your faults, but I am very much afraid that you will always remain statues,” says the fairy.

7. Neither of the two versions above actually describe how Beast looks, other than saying he is ugly, furry, fierce and frightful. The Beast we imagine today is the creation of clever illustrators, animators and special effects supremos.

8. Anthropologists believe the story is actually over 4,000 years old. Indeed, elements of Beauty and the Beast appear in tales from many different cultures. In Cupid and Psyche (Storytime Issue 17) – a myth from Ancient Rome – Psyche is transported to a magical palace, where she is served by invisible servants and not allowed to see Cupid’s true form. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Storytime Issue 2) – an old Norwegian fairy tale – a young girl is taken to a castle hidden in a mountain, served by invisible servants and not allowed to see the bear by night. Also, in The Singing, Springing Lark from the Brothers Grimm, the enchanted prince is disguised as a lion. Perhaps Cupid and Psyche inspired Villeneuve’s tale.

9. Disney weren’t the first to make a Beauty and the Beast film. That accolade belongs to French director, Jean Cocteau, whose 1946 movie is considered to be a romantic, fantasy classic.

10. For some reason, the original French title, La Belle et la Bete, sounds so much more “fairy tale” than Beauty and the Beast, don’t you think?


I love delving into the origins of well-known fairy tales and can’t help thinking there’s an interesting story to be told about Ms Villeneuve. I wonder whether she ever met Beaumont, who was 26 years her junior? Furthermore, what would she have thought of Beaumont’s adaptation? And what would they both think of Disney’s latest reimagining of the story? Would they approve? What do you think?

The story may well be thousands of years old, but like the Brothers Grimm, you have to admire Villeneuve for getting it down on paper and ensuring it would never be forgotten.


Long live fairy tales!