Beloved Books: The Art of Beauty and the Beast
June 8, 2021
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:
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.
This one blew my mind. Largely because it looked like me!
Honestly? This one just made me burst out laughing. The Beast looks like a tiny werewolf?!
Beast as walrus. Sure, why not? Also, both Beauty’s hat and expression are A+.
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 would have a Beast that just looks like a goblin.
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.
I had to throw a second Dulac into this post because his are my favorites. The dusty, moody colors! The fabrics!
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!