November Discussion: Beast

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November Discussion: Beast

MsMegan
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This month's book is the 1999 YA novel, Beast, by Donna Jo Napoli. I'm reading from the 2004 Simon Pulse paperback edition.

As before, I'm going to toss a few seed questions out to start discussion, and from there we'll let it evolve naturally...I'll chime in with my own opinions a little later on!

1) How does Napoli's choice of historical setting affect the story? Does she do Persian culture justice in her depiction of Prince Orasmyn? Does the setting add to or detract from the tale?

2) Religion, morality and sexuality play significant roles in Napoli's story. How are these themes handled in relation to one another?

3) Unlike many adaptations of Beauty and The Beast, Orasmyn is completely transformed into an animal. How does this affect the rest of the narrative?

4) Traditionally, we readers are more privy to Belle's experience than the Beast's. How does her role function in Napoli's tale?


I've got my own thoughts on this book, but I wanna hear you guys get started first >)
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: November Discussion: Beast

Tevokkia
Before I go into this one, I have to say that while I find Beast an alright book, it's nowhere near one of my favorites. The story is well-crafted in many respects, but there's a lot I find grating about it.

On each reading of this one, I've found Napoli's treatment of language in her Persian setting very distracting. While in some context, knowing the Arabic names for things might make for better immersion, speaking the word in context and the pausing the sentence to give the translation in the first person narrative felt less immersive and more like an Arabic version of Handy Manny. Much of the rest of the description and details of the Persian setting are lovely, though. I did some research on Persia a number of years ago for a project, and while most of mine focused on a different century than this takes place in, it feels authentic and lends the right feeling of opulence to the beginning of the story.

While I appreciate her attempt at sexual overtones in some places (like when Orasmyn met the girl who was actually the fairy), and I'm certainly in the "say yes to smut" camp given the right circumstances, the lion mating scene felt strange and awkward to me. I've never been able to put my fingers on exactly why. Perhaps because I can only recall once where it's ever mentioned again, and I would have expected such a thoroughly religious character to beat himself up over what he could easily have considered bestiality, especially since we're seeing everything through his eyes. In a third person narrative, glossing over something like that may have been more forgivable, but it seems a little odd not to go into that beside an offhanded "oh, I guess I'm unclean now" as he remembered it several chapters later. The whole thing could have easily been either dropped or described in less detail.

The whole field trip to India felt unnecessary, even though I know it was important for the storyline. (I mean, c'mon, why in the world would he dash off to France first thing?)  Despite the need for it, reading this section (and a lot of the traveling montage before and after) felt like wasted time. If he wants to break the curse on him, trying to integrate into the lion community seems counterproductive. I hate giving non-constructive crit, but this is one of those plot things that I really don't like and can't think of how to fix.

The one part of the book I really enjoyed was Orasmyn's attempts to get the castle ready for the little girl he thought he was getting. It shows his clever side and I found it endearing (and a bit funny, really, that he expected a child of indeterminate age to know what to do with the things he was collecting ... he could have been getting a toddler, for all he knew). I never did warm up to this version of Belle, though. Even after she started warming up to him, there were still a lot of times where it seemed like she still really didn't like him. While this is totally understandable in context of the story, it's a little odd seeing how she ended up loving him in a way that would break the spell: whatever affection she had for him seemed like it was directed more toward a sentient pet.

Normally, we see the Beast as either the genuinely frightening monster or the tragic genteel character, while Beauty is that sweet, brave, lovely character with few flaws. I don't feel like either of them fit the mold this time ... Orasmyn's personality didn't seem to change much between the beginning and end, as the whole thing was an "Oops, I knew I shouldn't have done that and now I'm paying for it", while Belle seems actively hostile in many of her interactions with the beast, lacking that perfect, benevolent fairy-tale sweetness, and not showing a great deal of personality beyond that anger because we don't get to see much of what's in her head. She seems more human for it, in a way, but in a limited way: the apparent feelings she puts forth in her actions are what many of us would probably feel in her shoes, but there doesn't seem to be enough of a transition to justify the ending.
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Re: November Discussion: Beast

Rosengeist
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In reply to this post by MsMegan
I don't have a whole lot of time to elaborate on this T_T.  (Wrapping up a thesis right now, two more weeks until freedom!!!)

When I first found this book, I was pretty in love with it, but that really had more to do with the fact that it started out in a non-European setting more than anything else...also I was young and just jonesing for BatB that wasn't Disney.  You crave new flavors enough and sometimes you're excited for anything new!

I do feel the biggest problem with the story, for me, is that it essentially is fanfiction at the end.  There are moments of dialogue lifted directly from Cocteau, and some scenes that are, strictly speaking, Cocteau...I don't feel like fairy tales have to "stick to a story cannon" per se, but it does bother me that the beginning goes for this more unique take on things, and then the ending is essentially lifted from another work.  

(want to comment so much more...almost done with school...pray for soul...)
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Re: November Discussion: Beast

MsMegan
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In reply to this post by MsMegan
I'm gonna confess right now that I'm posting a tiny little writeup I did over two years ago, back when I was thinking I would blog alongside the comic, and before I discovered tumblr, so it's got a wee little summary tucked in there, but it still sums up most of my feelings on "Beast" and Napoli in general.



"Beast" has the dubious honour of being a book that, when brought up in conversation inevitably leads one or more person to say "Isn't that the one where the girl has sex with a lion?" (This doesn't actually happen. But, for whatever reason,  everyone thinks it does.)

The story goes that a young Prince of Persia, Orasmyn, angers a volatile djinn by making an inappropriate animal sacrifice, and as punishment she transforms him into a lion. Fearing that his own father will kill him, lion-Orasmyn flees. Torn between the desire to break his curse and the much easier route of simply being a lion, he journeys across Asia, ultimately winding up in France, where he obtains the company of a young woman named Belle.

The book struggles with some awkward elements. As a lion, Orasmyn mates with the lionesses kept in his father's park. When he arrives in Africa, he realizes that wild lionesses find him pathetic, and seeks to steal a cub to raise as his mate -- a ploy he later thinks to enact with Belle, whom he assumes will be a young child. As a lion, Orasmyn cannot speak, only use his massive paws to awkwardly scrawl in the sand -- this element especially is difficult to believe. Our Belle is literally living with an animal, one with whom she can barely communicate. That love might blossom here is a stretch --especially after Orasmyn jealously maims her pet fox.

I found the characters remote and unrelatable.  Orasmyn struggles with his faith to Islam and his animal lusts, which should be engrossing, but instead comes across as lofty and entitled on one hand and a little repellent on the other. Belle is not a very inspiring heroine. There's little to like about her, except perhaps her gumption. Her family is cold, and she may really be better off living among the ruins with a  sentient lion. The ending of the book is abrupt, and could have used some denouement (a charge I level against most of Napoli's books) and its wording may  have something to do with the Lady-on-Lion assumption that keeps cropping up.

I really want to like this book, but I just…don't. That's how I feel about a lot of Donna Jo Napoli's work, actually. Beast is almost TOO logical. All the magic has been stripped away. It isn't bad, per se. There's nothing really wrong with it. But somehow it leaves me with a feeling of distaste, and a sense of something lacking.
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: November Discussion: Beast

MsMegan
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also, you guys, we all have 21 posts right now. Cuh-raaaazy coincidence?
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: November Discussion: Beast

Tevokkia
Awww,  you broke the number series. XD (Psssst! Rose! Now you gotta post so we all have 22!)

I felt like the ending was really abrupt too, but didn't want to continue complaining in the one post. XD My memory of it, rather than "and this girl has sex with a lion" was more along the lines of "and this lion somehow got this Catholic girl to convert to Islam for no reason."

Yeah, Belle wasn't very well-developed, so little so that I never remember the contents of her diary without a reminder ... I just wasn't that interested in them, I guess, so they didn't stick, and I had honestly forgotten her family was even mentioned. The journal itself feels like a half-hearted attempt at doing something with the character.
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Re: November Discussion: Beast

Stitchlingbelle
In reply to this post by MsMegan
Soooooo late to this party, but I felt too bad to just a skip a month, so here's my two cents (and I promise to be more on it in December!)...

I'm a minority opinion here, simply because I actually really like Beast. This may be because I read it young (ish), it was the first book I came across from the Beast's POV, and I'm a sucker for foreign cultures, so that carried me over a lot of flaws.

While the cultural chauvinism always rubbed me the wrong way, I'm of a somewhat religious bent myself, so I really loved that aspect of Orasmyn, and the "Only one God" scene makes me want to hug the characters. Of course, as Tevokkia referenced, it must have been pretty awkward when they got over the "omg you're not a lion!" thing and she figured out that he's Muslim-- not to mention how his parents and countrymen probably dealt with him showing up with his Catholic wife. (Seriously, I want a sequel.)

I also loved the use of roses and classical literature as plot points.

But as a girl who's used to identifying with Beauty, the complete lack of understanding we have of her-- mostly because of Orasmyn's complete lack of understanding of her, as well as their inability to have full conversations-- gets more and more frustrating on rereads. You get more of a sense of personality from Ger in McKinley's Beauty, for cryin' out loud.

Overall, though, especially for how short it is, I actually do enjoy it.