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Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book Review!

Joli Jondee here at the Beast’s castle,

Before the last petal falls, Beauty and the Beast still has a few showings at theaters, it’s time to delve deeper into the story. Beauty and the Beast: Lost in a Book is by Jennifer Donnelly who describes herself as “Nerdy Feminist Bookworm.” Donnelly is a young adult writer who was previously written A Northern Light (2003) which was based on the death of Grace Brown in 1906. The novel was released on January 31st before the opening of the film. I consider this book a companion to the film, it does not spoil the movie, I finished the book right before I headed to the cinema. The film’s story adds a new dimension to the story, it begins with a chess story between Love and Death. It is a fresh portrayal of these two personifications. Death cheats because she wants to win at any cost, but her sister is surprisingly vicious. They discuss Belle and the Beast and make a bet. Death sees a way to win and has a book, Nevermore, which she sends to Beast’s library with the help of her giant vulture. The clever Death wants to be the author of the story. So the novel slips into and out of the narrative of the film’s tale with added stakes.

Then, the story shifts to Belle cleaning up the library so about mid-point in the movie. What I found interesting was the expansion of characters like Cogsworth. He is depicted as an elderly former soldier rambling on about past battles like the Siege of Yorktown. This was something that I liked so much that I expected it in the movie! The library is of course the center of Belle’s story here and we get her love of books. There would be spoilers if you have not seen the animated film which I don’t think is possible if you are at reading age. Belle feels comfort with the books, but also trapped. The Beast is trying to find ways to make Belle happy. She discovers a hidden room and the Nevermore book. It starts to grow to room size, spills out words, and finds herself transformed in a beautiful dress in the book. She meets a young man, Henri, who takes her to the countess des Terres Morts which Belle translates as the “Land of the Dead.” Belle is introduced to the countess who knows all about her. Belle gets to show her Shakespeare knowledge trading lines with an actor until winning the contest. Beetles crawl on the dessert to form a warning to Belle. The premise is meta, it is a book about a character inside of a book, and that character is in a movie that was an animated film based on a book, a Neverending Story!

Book props from the Beauty and the Beast film at El Capitan. Photo by the author.

The Nevermore world is interesting, we know it is false, and the story ultimately has to return to the Beast’s castle, but Donnelly does draw in readers with the looming mystery. Belle returns and the servants try to cheer her up while the Beast has a surprise planned for her. A skating party at the pond set up by the servants. This scene was so charming that I hoped that it would be in the film. Belle later tells Chip a story about Remi, a man at her village of Villeneuve whose son died, and he is helped by the beggar woman, Agathe. She is an important character in the film. Belle takes Agathe’s example in having courage in love. She tries to get the Beast confident with the story of Androcles, but he rejects it. So there is added perspective to the movie in this book. Part of Death’s plan is for Belle to complete certain things in Nevermore. If this happens, she will trapped there forever! Belle is caught between what she sees as a sad life in the Beast’s castle or a world of wonder and travel in Nevermore. In a sense, the film doesn’t gel perfectly with the book where Belle is in it’s timeline, but this is minor. I half expected to see Nevermore on the book shelf of the library in the film. So Donnelly is able to make books a source of knowledge and imagination, but also a trap, you should go out and experience the world. This is an incredible book that stands on its own, connected to the film, and really makes me eager to read Donnelly’s other books!

Five Enchanted Mirrors out of Five!

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