Like my daughter, I was mesmerized by the paintings and retelling of the classic love story Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg and illustrated by Angela Barrett. This version of the fairy tale enthralled my daughter.
The story is closer to the original – La Belle et la Bete – written by the French author Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont and first published in 1756. But Eilenberg gives the tale his own embellishments and details while Barrett’s costumes and settings stage it in the 19th century.
This adaption is particularly remarkable due to the atmospheric illustrations painted by Angela Barrett. It feels like you’re entering scenes of magical realism when the story takes place in the Beast’s palace. Often the text is almost distracting as you can feel the emotion and tension of the characters simply by gazing at the painted scenes and vignettes. The acclaimed illustrator leads you dreamily into her vision of the fairy tale.
Forget the cast you met in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In this fairy tale you’ll watch how a family struggles and copes after losing everything in a social milieu where appearance and money seem all important. When a wealthy merchant, Ernest Fortune, loses his shipping fortune, he moves with his three beloved daughters from their grand town house to a humble cottage far out in the countryside. The two eldest are spoilt and egotistical and can’t hide their anger about losing their fine jewels, fashionable dresses, admirers and former dazzling social life. Beauty, the youngest, slowly adapts to their change of circumstances while still dreaming of being swept off her feet by a handsome young prince. Beauty agrees to willingly stand in for her father, when the ruined merchant steals a rose for her from the ‘Beast’ in an enchanted palace deep in the forest. The Beast, whose actions show both his despair and kindness, only seeks happiness for Beauty despite her daily turning down his marriage proposals.
There have been no further collaborations between Eilenberg and Barrett since Walker Books published Beauty and the Beast in 2006. Every time my daughter rereads it she asks me to double check if there’s a new fairy tale by them. But I’m planning to surprise her with some more books filled with Barrett’s allusive, delicate and realistic illustrations.