Saturday, March 3, 2012

Alex Flynn's Beastly: Of Orchids and Roses the power of transformation

One thing those who know me can say is I don't always take to adaptaions of stories well. However, when it comes to fairy tales and other archtyple stories its a different matter entirely. Anyone who has studied fairy tales, folk lore and myth know that you can find similar tales all over the world in many differnt forms. So you can find a form of Beauty and the Beast or even of cinderella in many different forms.

The beast/animal husband tales would be the category in the case of beauty and the beast whose form in America we know best from a french version of the tale. However, the oldest form of the tale actually comes from the tale of Cupid and Psyche. I haven't read this story in years so I can't recall all the details but Psyche not knowing she was given to the god Cupid for she is forbidden to look upon him. Her jealous sisters convince her shes married to a monster and so she sneaks a peak to see of course her gorgous husband and ends up having to go on a quest in order to get to be with him again. A really intresting version of that tale I would recommend would be C. S. Lewis's Until We have Faces which is told from the sisters perspective.

Now Beastly is a retelling of the beauty and the beast story told from the perspective of the beast, an arrogant cocky young man by the name of Kyle Kingsbury. The novel is very different from the movie version, which I felt was lacking and very dark and choppy. The novel has more of that fairy tale charm to it but with modern trappings. While reading it you could tell that the author did indeed read many many many versions of the tale and understood the heart of the beast. In the letter from the author at the end of the book Alex Flynn stated that she had wanted to deal with the issues that had bothered her most about all the versions of the story: the fact that Beauties father gives his daughter away to save himself. She also goes on to say how she contemplated the feelings of the beast as well as how basically the story is a story of two abandonned young people who fall in love. I feel that her novel did adress all there things and well.

You see how both Kyle and Lindy--aka Beauty--are abandonned by their fathers. Kyle because he can't deal with the curse and was afraid it would make him look bad; and Lindy because her father valued drugs and himself more. In both cases the fathers are selfish and do self serving things at the expense of their children. You can see both are lonley having lived in loveless family situations.

However, the most important issue in these types of stories is transformation. The charachter developement is very good. Truely Kyle is transformed as the story progresses; not just physically but inwardly. In the begining he was physically beautiful but ugly on the inside. However, the beast isn't the only transformation in the story. The witch, Kendra, when she first appears to him is in an unattractive form. And kyle decides to be cruel to her without knowing who she really is. When she places the curse on him though she transforms into a more beautiful form and he's like "wow your hot." Another intresting thing is that other tales of transformation are adressed through this online support group. There's The Little Mermaid, the Frog Prince, and the Tale of Red Rose and Snow White (not the snow white and the seven dwarfs one) You can read the last tale here: . Funny enough the leader of the support groups for transformed persons name is Chris Anderson.

There are lots of literary refrences in this book as well. The charachters discuss Jane Eyre, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and many many other great literary works that have similar themes of someone hiding away from the world because they are ugly, or love overcoming all. There is definetly a theme in the books mentioned of what is true ugliness and what is true beauty. You see the beautiful people taking advantage becaue they are and those who are not marginalized. And Beastly itself is about what is true beauty.

Which brings me to Orchids and Roses as symbols. Both happen to be my favorite flowers. Funny enough both have culinary uses. Vanilla beans come from Orchids while roses you can eat the blossoms as well as the rose hip. But as symbols in the story they are intresting. The Orchid is described as being "a proud flower." And yes orchids are expensive and exoctic looking. Their scent sometimes you have to be at the right angle to catch and they are very delicate and in some ways unreal looking. And it is the snobbish girlfriend Slone who is stuck on appearances who desires an orchid at the begining. Kendra, the witch, when invited to the dance requests a simple plain white rose. Roses have a simple beauty and a lovely calming scent. A white rose symbolizes purity. When Kyle is given the rose by his maid Magda he is angry. His date even shuns it. And thats how he meets Lindy and gives her the rose. And that one act of kindness is why the witch takes pity on him. The whole novel is filled with the symbolism of roses. In a way its the roses that make the story move and transform Kyle. Two petels that fall from the flower are his time to find true love. He builds a rose garden and finds something to love in their beauty. As he looks after them he becomes kinder. In fact the roses bring him and Lindy together: firstly at the dance he gave her the shunned rose; her father broke into his rose gardern hurting some roses; the roses in the garden bring them closer to each other. When discussing the sonnets, I believe Shakespheres 54, they discuss how the roses symbolized truth. And in the story I believe this is true. In fact in the end when they profess their love and his true form is returned the room was filled with the scent of roses and an abundance of flower petals surrounded him. So in a way it was the truth, purity, and beauty of the roses that striped away the ugliness of Kyles heart and soul and lead him to love.

I really enjoyed this book and would like to try a few more of the moderen versions of fairy tale Alex Flynn has written. The only issue I had was that in a book written for young adults there are a few perverted places and an implied sex scene. I could have really done without Slone groping Kyle at the school dance. But if you can get past those few scenes which are just a little worse then what i saw when I read Balzac's The Ass's Skin then you should be fine and its worth the time.