Beloved Books: The Art of Beauty and the Beast

Do you have a beloved book? Maybe it’s perfectly preserved and regularly dusted, or maybe it’s held together with Scotch Tape. Maybe you have a whole armful of beloved books, shelved together on a designated bookcase painted purple!

Both Brittany and I have a few armfuls of beloved books. (And yeah, my copy of Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is literally held together with liberal amounts of tape.) And today I want to share one of them with you…

One of my earliest memories is a visit to the St. Louis County Library. My grandmother lived in St. Louis, and we were always visiting her, especially in the summer. And dragging a million books and toys for toddlers back and forth on a plane conflicted with airline weight limits, so my mom would take me to the library.

I was so little that I couldn’t read much on my own yet. But I remember sitting with my mom on the carpet in a patch of sunlight while she read me Beauty and the Beast.

This was pre-Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast film, but I’d probably heard the story somewhere else before this fateful day. But this time, it really stuck. Because of this particular book:

Beauty and the Beast, edited by Cooper Edens

Usually, I’d try to read along with my mom, following her finger as it moved across the page. But this time, I was hypnotized by the illustrations.

The book was bursting with pictures of all different styles and colors. I’d later realized that the editor, Cooper Edens, had collected and curated some of the most famous illustrations of Beauty and the Beast, mostly from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

They made me see – and believe in – the story in a way I never had before.

Edmund Dulac, 1910

This one blew my mind. Largely because it looked like me!

Lancelot Speed, 1913

Honestly? This one just made me burst out laughing. The Beast looks like a tiny werewolf?!

Eleanor Vere Boyle, 1875

Beast as walrus. Sure, why not? Also, both Beauty’s hat and expression are A+.

Walter Crane

There’s a whole handful of Walter Crane illustrations, but I think this is the most iconic. There’s so much to take in! And I love that they’re just having tea on a sofa?

Arthur Rackham, 1915

Arthur Rackham would have a Beast that just looks like a goblin.

Anonymous, 1897

The expressions in this one are everything. Especially the Beast’s new human prince face and the old monstrous face evanescing with its tongue out.

Edmund Dulac, 1910

I had to throw a second Dulac into this post because his are my favorites. The dusty, moody colors! The fabrics!

Warwick Goble, 1913

Because this was a library book, I obviously couldn’t keep it. But I checked it out again and again from the library whenever we were in St. Louis.

Over twenty years later, when I was writing my MA thesis on Beauty and the Beast tales, I started thinking about this book a lot. I couldn’t remember the name of the editor or publisher, just that it was a picture book version of Beauty and the Beast.

So, of course, I began to diligently procrastinate on writing said thesis to look for this book online instead.

Reader, I found it. On Etsy. I still can’t believe it.

And then I had to go finishing writing my thesis (but with renewed enthusiasm!)

What are some of your most beloved books? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Comments

  1. Abby Wynne

    I loved this post. Thank you for going to all that trouble. I had a book of Grimms Fairy Tales that I loved, and a book of Greek Mythology. Right now it’s the book of squashed fairies that I love! And my own hardback book of prayers, poems and fairy tales. A few books that I read and re-read to my children as they were babies – Go Dog Go and 5 Apples up on Top. And the Velveteen Rabbit. Thanks again!

  2. Terri Maracle

    The Snow Queen! I always thought she was misunderstood and maligned. My next favourite is also, Beauty and the Beast.

  3. Terri Maracle

    Oh, oh, also The Little Lost Angel! To this day, I can’t read my little golden book without shedding tears.

  4. Lu Lynne Streeter

    So many of course , but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe stands out 70 years later and for some reason Snow White and Rose Red.

    Later, Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series and The Mists of Avalon.

    My first library was an old sea captain’s house on a bluff over looking the Gulf of Mexico with a widows walk and a grand ballroom!

  5. Dayle

    Such a great post and beautiful pictures. I do absolutely have some of my old beloved books but the one which I still remember reading in bed at night, and which has ever since kept me tied firmly into the world of fairy tales, actually belonged to my father. It was his childhood copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in which I see I have written my own name, diligently ticked off each story in pencil as I read it and decorated the page edges with zigzags in pen. It has a smattering of black and white line drawings and the pages are now foxed and fragile. Great memories. Thanks for stirring them up.

  6. Caryn

    Thank you! My favourite was a book from Scholastic called Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell. Like you, I found a copy years later and still love it. Not quite a portal fantasy, a bit like Narnia, a bit like a ghost story.

    (I have three copies of Sunshine, including one that stays in my car!)

  7. Jody Helme-Day

    Oh I loved this post. Thank you for sharing!
    I had a collection of fairy tales my mother bought for me before I could even walk, and I loved the heck out of it. The illustrations, much like those in your Beauty and the Beast book, were what fascinated me. When I was able to read, the tales themselves wove their spell, so much so that over time the hardcover fell off, and some pages from the last story, The Goose Girl, were lost. I still have this tattered book on my bookshelf, and I still love it. When my daughter was born, I decided I needed to gift her the same one if I could find it, and I did! I bought an intact copy on eBay and she still has it.
    That book and the copy of D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths my uncle gifted me as a child set me on the path to loving mythology and folklore, and I am eternally grateful for them.

  8. Steve Aultman

    This post sent me on a search for a distant memory. I was the first-born kid among my siblings, and I had my mother’s full attention for about 4 years. During that time, or perhaps once upon it, I was lavished with stories read aloud, and surrounded by books. There was this one two-volume set, large format, nicely bound in leather, one volume red and one yellow, containing a collection of retellings of well-known bedtime stories. It might have been a different edition of the Family Treasury of Classic Tales, though my searching did not find an exact match with what I remember. Just remembering these books, and the wonderful way the smelled, and the hours of being read to, gives me a warm feeling.

    And yep, that Dulac illustration is clearly your likeness. Have you been time-travelling again, Sara?

  9. Karen Tucker

    My favourite book for many years was given to me by my infant school teacher when I was about 7. She gave all the rest of the class Topsy & Tim books (very early readers), but because my reading age was higher, she gave me The Land of Green Ginger by Noel Langley. Check out the 1971 version if you can find a copy, as they ‘politically corrected’ it for the second edition. It was a huge favourite with all six of us, and was read to each child in turn as they became old enough to sit still for a whole chapter. I still have it and it is falling apart, but still one of the best children’s books out there. It’s a magical story of Aladdin’s son, Abu Ali, and his quest to rescue the fair maiden Rose Bud and save a magician from the effects of a spell gone wrong. Lyrical, magical and different, I’m pretty sure it was what made me want to be a writer.

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