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Illustration by Walter Crane

Beauty And The Beast is an old French Fairy Tale which was, at the time, basically propaganda for Arranged Marriage using Rags to Royalty. Over time it has lost that meaning and become more romanticized. The original literary version of the story was written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, and was a sprawling and convoluted affair of contrived coincidences and last-minute exposition, in which the Beast and Beauty were revealed to be first cousins, half-fairy (on their mothers' side), and royalty (on their fathers' side). In 1756, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont condensed it to the version which is best known today (excepting Disney's). While presumably based on older tales, de Villeneuve's version is the first to use the Beauty and The Beast title.

In Leprince de Beaumont's version, Beauty is the daughter of a rich merchant who is suddenly plunged into poverty. When one of his ships comes in unexpectedly, the merchant asks his three daughters what they would like him to bring them for presents. The two eldest ask for jewelry and dresses, but Beauty only wants a rose.

The ship turns out not to be profitable, and the merchant turns back, empty-handed. There is a winter storm, and he takes shelter in a mysterious but hospitable castle, where, finding a magically summer garden, he picks a rose for his daughter. Immediately, a monstrous beast appears and threatens his life. The merchant pleads on his daughters' behalf, and the Beast allows the merchant to go home to say goodbye to his daughters, or persuade one of them to come in his place.

The daughters succeed in learning the father's adventures, and Beauty insists on going in his place. She soon finds that the Beast is gentle and polite, in spite of his appearance, and that he wishes her to marry him. She refuses to do so, although she grows increasingly fond of him. One day, on learning that her father is ill, she asks the Beast to let her go home and visit her family. He does so, reluctantly, asking her to come back within a week.

Once she is home, her jealous sisters conspire to keep her longer, in the hopes of making the Beast angry with her. Their ploy succeeds, and Beauty remains at home until she has a dream of the dying Beast. Returning to the castle, she finds him in the garden, having lost his will to live. She tearfully agrees to marry him, which breaks the curse that had made him ugly. He is magically restored into a handsome prince, and they live happily ever after.

It is Aarne-Thompson type 425C, which has a good number of variants (some found here and here), but in folklore it is less common than tales of 425A, such as "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" -- which it has nevertheless engulfed in popular culture.

The tale has been widely adapted in many media as a Twice-Told Tale. These include:

Obviously, the Trope Namers and Trope Maker for Beast and Beauty and Beauty to Beast. Probably more significant in terms of trope theory for giving us True Beauty Is on the Inside, which is one of the more common Aesops.

The archetypical Beauty and the Beast fairy tale contains the following tropes:

  • An Aesop: Inner beauty is more important than appearance. Some consider this a Broken Aesop since the Beast becomes handsome, but this fades away after seeing that the Prince returning to human form is his reward - he recovers the good looks that he USED to have before being punished by having them taken away.
    • In some versions, especially the Disney one, there's also "be kind to those less fortunate". The reason the Prince was cursed as a beast was that he cruelly sneered and turned away a beggar woman who came to his door. She was a fairy (in some versions a witch) in disguise, and cursed him to wear the form of the beast he had showed her until he could get someone to love him despite that.
  • And I Must Scream: In some versions, the two older sisters are punished in the end by being turned into statues by a good fairy. They still retain their ability to see and feel Beauty's happiness.
    • In some versions, the Prince/Beast is a victim of this as well: part of the curse is that he retains all his intelligence, eloquence, et cetera, but will be physically unable to speak as he normally does or tell anyone about the curse.
  • Animorphism: The Beast is cursed into his monstrous form, and eventually changed back.
  • Beast and Beauty: Trope Namer
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Beauty is the most attractive of her sisters, and, of course, the Beast doesn't stay ugly.
  • Beauty to Beast: Trope Namer
  • Curse
  • Curse Escape Clause: A girl (specifically a virginal one in some versions) must agree to marry the Beast in spite of his monstrous appearance for him to be restored to his human form.
  • Daddy's Girl: Beauty is often stated to be her father's favorite.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: The Beast keeps on asking Beauty to marry her every night even when she keeps on refusing, and it's Beauty's realization that he really is a kind and caring man underneath his monstrous exterior that induces her to finally agree to marry him.
  • Dumb Is Good: One version portrays Beast as rather lacking of intellect. This is a virtue in this telling, and at the end of the story, she even meets the fairy who cast the spell who tells her that a "true heart" is better than good looks or "clever brains". Beaumont praises Beauty for choosing virtue over "wit or beauty".
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: In de Villeneuve's version, Beauty turns out to have been a princess Switched At Birth.
    • Another Broken Aesop, because even after the curse breaks, the Prince is nearly denied being able to marry her because of her low birth and even Beauty refuses to marry him rather than shame him by her lower class. While the fairy that protected the prince tries to shame the Queen into dismissing Beauty like this, her revelation that she had personally chosen Beauty because of her Royal Blood pretty much borks that moral.
  • The Fair Folk: Depending on the telling, the curse is actually placed on the Beast by a fairy.
  • Fairy Tale
  • Girl of My Dreams: In de Villeneuve's, adding to her problems, Beauty is dreaming of a handsome young man begging her to help him. The man turns out to be Beast.
  • Happily Ever After
  • Horned Humanoid: The Beast in some versions.
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: This is the eponymous beast's desire after being transformed from a handsome prince into a hideous beast.
  • Laser-Guided Karma
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Early versions of the tale give Beauty a handful of brothers as well as the two sisters (see Rule of Three below).
  • Missing Mom
  • No Name Given: The Beast.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: One version of the tale notes that along with his appearance, the Beast was also required to act witless and stupid, thus ensuring that he would be judged only on the pureness of his heart and nothing else.
  • Prince Charming Wannabe: Not a traditional part of the story, but modern adaptations often include a villainous suitor who is beautiful on the outside and ugly on the inside, contrasting with the Beast who is ugly on the outside and beautiful on the inside. Jean Cocteau's 1946 film version may or may not be the first to include this character, naming him Avenant, but it's certainly the codifier. And, of course, Disney codified it further with Gaston, the Big Bad of the story.
  • Rags to Royalty
  • The Renaissance Age of Animation
  • Rule of Three: Mme. Leprince de Beaumont condensed the merchant's original family (six boys and six girls) to three of each. Other versions make Belle either an only child (Disney) or only have her and her sisters (Grimm's Fairytale Classics)
  • Sacred Hospitality: In some versions, Beast imprisons Beauty's dad because he broke this rule when he tried to get the roses that Beauty wanted by cutting them from the garden. Beast, who had left him to his own devices until then, believes him to be an Ungrateful Bastard via trying to "steal" the roses.
    • In the Disney version, it's Beast who breaks it via telling off the beggar woman who is actually an enchantress in disguise. She replies via revealing herself as such and enchanting him AND his servants.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: The Beast, in spite of his appearance, is kind to Beauty which causes her to eventually fall in love with him. (In contrast, Disney's version goes the Love Redeems route -- but even then, it's the Beast's inner goodness that Belle falls in love with, as she's straight-up defiant to him until he saves her life and she sees that there IS a kind heart underneath.)
  • Stockholm Syndrome: The story is very difficult to tell right, and often sounds like this. It's averted in the Disney version, however, as Belle and the Beast only warm up to one another when he rescues her from wolves AND she dresses his wounds.
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: She gets her handsome prince as soon as she decides that she doesn't care what the beast looks like.
  • Switched At Birth: See above.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: In the oldest version, a handsome prince appears in her dreams, begging her to save him. In due course, he proves to be the Beast.
  • Taken for Granite: The two older sisters are turned into statues in the end.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: de Villeneuve's version, Beauty feels conflicted between the dream prince and the flesh-and-blood Beast.
  • Youngest Child Wins
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