Beastly Thoughts

(Cupid & Psyche at the Louvre)

Heh heh, yes I should more properly call this post “Thoughts on Alex Flinn’s
novel, Beastly,” but what would be the fun in that? (Plus maybe the search
engines will generate a few interesting page views of my blog this way… 🙂 )

It’s an old story, Beauty and the Beast, which is itself a very, very old story
if you were to choose to go all the way back to the Cupid & Psyche myth in
classical mythology. My first exposure to it was the Classics Illustrated
“Junior” comic of the same name.

These comics comprised a significant share of my early reading and – there being a finite number of them in the house – were
read over and over by me. (I can still picture some of the frames even as I’m
typing this today) Then later, in Junior High School, we were forced to read
Bullfinch’s Mythology and along with it the Cupid (Eros) and Psyche myth. Then
in my college years I discovered C.S. Lewis and his take on the story, Til We
Have Faces.

In the late ’80s the story appeared again in the somewhat cheesy,
Phantom of the Opera-esque television series, Beauty and the Beast, with Ron
Perlman and Linda Hamilton (of Terminator movies fame) in the title roles.
Disney checked in with it’s big budget animated film in 1991.

I’m sure there are
other instances but these are the ones I remember.

It was last spring, however – shortly after I entered the blogosphere – that I
began to read and hear about this new novel via other bloggers. Even though it
was a YA novel, it sounded like fun so I read it. (and can I just reiterate here
that, although I’m a middle aged guy, I feel no compunction about indulging in
some good, fun YA Lit every now and then. Condemn me if you will!). I found it
quite enjoyable and recommended it to a few other adult reading friends and they
all liked it too.  So, when it was picked by a member of my book club as our
February book for 2011, I read it again (it’s only 200 pages and a quick read)
to refresh my memory.

In this retelling of the story, the “beast” is a high school student, Kyle
Kingsbury, who is quite full of himself. A member of the elite crowd at an upper
crust private school, he is certainly ripe for his comeuppance, and that’s
exactly what he gets when he angers a young witch by pretending he is going to
take her to a dance. She curses him and turns him into some kind of furry beast,
giving him two years to find to find someone he loves AND who will love him back
enough to kiss him and break the curse. When Kyle’s father is unable to find a
“cure” for him that money can buy, he sets him up in a nice apartment with the
family maid, Magda, and a tutor to look after him (i.e. washing his hands of his
“embarrassing” son).

The story is essentially one of redemption, as Kyle’s forced isolation begins to
lead him to see things – and life – quite differently. Many members of my book
club commented on how predictable the book was, and I agree – with one notable
exception of a plot twist (you’ll have to read the book yourself to learn what
it was). I also enjoyed the several homages paid to the more classical versions
of the story. Kyle grows a garden and greenhouse and cultivates roses, for
example, and when an intruder trespasses there he thunders, “Who has dared to
disturb my roses?” immediately afterward thinking to himself in italics, “Why
did I say that?” this little touch of levity was, to me, a bit of a reassurance
that the book wasn’t taking itself too seriously. I found that refreshing.

The author has also written a ‘modern version’ of Sleeping Beauty as well. (Alex is a “she” by the way)

Alex Flinn’s website may be found here.

There is a movie adaptation coming out next month.  A trailer may be viewed here.