Beauty and the Beast is an old French Fairy Tale that was, at the time, basically propaganda for Arranged Marriage using Rags to Royalty. Over time it has lost that meaning and become more romanticized. The original literary version of the story was written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve, and was a sprawling and convoluted affair of contrived coincidences and last-minute exposition, in which the Beast and Beauty were revealed to be double first cousins, half-fairy (on their mothers' side), and royalty (on their fathers' side). In 1756, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont condensed it to the version which is best known today (excepting Disney's). While using tropes found in older folk fairy tales, de Villeneuve's version is the first to use the title "Beauty and the Beast", and the psychological plot — revolving around Beauty's mental conflict — is not found in folk tales prior to this one.
In Leprince de Beaumont's version, Beauty is the daughter of a rich merchant who is suddenly plunged into poverty. When one of his ships comes in unexpectedly, the merchant asks his three daughters what they would like him to bring them for presents. The two eldest ask for jewelry and dresses, but Beauty only wants a rose.
The ship turns out not to be profitable, and the merchant turns back, empty-handed. There is a winter storm, and he takes shelter in a mysterious but hospitable castle, where, finding a magically summer garden, he picks a rose for his daughter. Immediately, a monstrous beast appears and threatens his life. The merchant pleads on his daughters' behalf, and the Beast allows the merchant to go home to say goodbye to his daughters, or persuade one of them to come in his place.
The daughters succeed in learning the father's adventures, and Beauty insists on going in his place. She soon finds that the Beast is gentle and polite, in spite of his appearance, and that he wishes her to marry him. She refuses to do so, although she grows increasingly fond of him. One day, on learning that her father is ill, she asks the Beast to let her go home and visit her family. He does so, reluctantly, asking her to come back within a week.
Once she is home, her jealous sisters conspire to keep her longer, in the hopes of making the Beast angry with her. Their ploy succeeds, and Beauty remains at home until she has a dream of the dying Beast. Returning to the castle, she finds him in the garden, having lost his will to live. She tearfully agrees to marry him, which breaks the curse that had made him ugly. He is magically restored into a handsome prince, and they live happily ever after.
It is Aarne-Thompson type 425C, which has a good number of variants (some found here and here), but in folklore it is less common than tales of 425A, such as "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" — which it has nevertheless engulfed in popular culture. Also compare The Feather of Finist the Falcon.
The tale has been widely adapted in many media as a Twice-Told Tale. These include:
- Beauty and the Beast (1946 French film by Jean Cocteau)
- Panna a netvor (1978 Czech adaptation, the title means Beauty and The Beast in Czech)
- La Bête (a 1975 adaptation that is very pornographic and very French)
- Beauty and the Beast (1987-90 drama series on CBS)
- Beauty and the Beast (the 1991 Disney Animated Canon adaptation, later a stage musical)
- La Belle et la Bête (2014 French film by Christophe Gans)
- Beauty And The Beast (2017, Live-Action Adaptation of the Disney Animated Canon film)
- Beauty, Rose Daughter (books by Robin McKinley)
- Beast (young adult novel by Donna Jo Napoli)
- Beastly (a book by Alex Flinn, filmed in 2011)
- Cruel Beauty (a book by Rosamund Hodge, filmed in 2014)
- Bronze (a work of Interactive Fiction by Emily Short)
- Beauty and the Werewolf (one of Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms novels)
- The Fire Rose (another one by Mercedes Lackey, this one doesn't start with the Beauty being called in so she can break the curse by falling in love with the Beast: the Beast is a magician and he needs her help to find a magical answer since she's skilled in the languages he needs her to decipher)
- "Helena and the Beast" (a short story in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe book Time Lord Fairy Tales, by Justin Richards)
- Beauty and the Beast, the 1992 Golden Films version of the Fairy Tale.
- Beauty and the Beast the second Golden Films version of the Fairy Tale made in 1999.
- Megan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast a webcomic adaption using the original de Villeneuve's version.
Obviously, the Trope Namer and Trope Maker for Beast and Beauty and Beauty to Beast. Probably more significant in terms of trope theory for giving us True Beauty Is on the Inside, which is one of the more common Aesops.
The archetypical Beauty and the Beast fairy tale contains the following tropes:
- Adaptation Species Change: Beauty is actually a half fairy in the original version, while most versions made her a full human.
- Adaptational Villainy: Beauty's sisters get this treatment in Beaumont's version, going from somewhat self-centered and envious of Beauty in Villeneuve's original story to flat-out evil sisters who plot to stop Beauty from returning to the Beast in the hope that it will cause him to get angry and devour her (even though in Villeneuve's story, they were actually more than happy to see her return to the Beast if only because their suitors were getting too enamored of her and it was her well-meaning father and brothers who begged her to stay longer). Ironically, they often undergo Adaptational Heroism in modern retellings, being portrayed as completely supportive and loving of Beauty in Robin McKinley's Beauty, Rose Daughter, and several other retellings.
- An Aesop: Inner beauty is more important than appearance. Considering that Beauty's "reward" for following this aesop is that the Beast becomes handsome at the end, though, this might be considered a Broken Aesop, unless you're one of the people who believe the Prince returning to human form is his reward.
- Also, depending on what version you're reading, "be good to those less fortunate" (or just "don't turn away a traveler.") Several variants (most famously the Disney film) portray the Beast's predicament as a result of refusing to allow a fairy to take shelter in his castle and getting cursed as punishment. However many of them provide no explanation or explain that the fairy was just evil and his punishment was undeserved. Traditionally, it was often the result of refusing to marry a witch or evil fairy.
- Aesop Enforcer: Whoever is responsible for turning the Prince into a Beast usually intends for the Prince to learn the Aesop as well as the audience.
- Alliterative Title: Beauty and the Beast. Also in the original language, French: La Belle et la Bête.
- And I Must Scream: In some versions, the two older sisters are punished in the end by being turned into statues by a good fairy. They still retain their ability to see and feel Beauty's happiness.
- In some versions, the Prince/Beast is a victim of this as well: part of the curse is that he retains all his intelligence, eloquence, et cetera, but will be physically unable to speak as he normally does or tell anyone about the curse.
- Animorphism: The Beast is cursed into his monstrous form, and eventually changed back.
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Beauty is the most attractive of her sisters, and, of course, the Beast doesn't stay ugly.
- de Villeneuve's version takes it even further with the fairies: the fairy who cursed the prince is said to be old and ugly and is clearly intended to be unsympathetic, whereas the fairy who helps the prince is said to be beautiful and good-hearted.
- Beauty to Beast: The Beast used to be a handsome prince.
- Berserk Button: Despite his monstrous appearance, the Beast is a kind individual and a gracious host... but for your own sake, don't pick one of his roses.
- The Chessmaster: In one of the most virtuous examples, the good fairy moves many things to make sure both curses are ended and that Beauty and Beast are perfect for one another. She wasn't kidding when she said it wasn't going to be easy.
- Curse: The cause for Beast's hideous outward appearance.
- Curse Escape Clause: A girl (specifically a virginal one in some versions) must fall in love with and/or agree to marry the Beast in spite of his monstrous appearance for him to be restored to his human form.
- Daddy's Girl: Beauty is often stated to be her father's favorite.
- Death by Despair: In several versions, the Beast begins dying out of sheer misery when Beauty doesn't return by the scheduled time he gave her.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The poor merchant didn't even know that taking a single flower would lead to either his death or the loss of his beloved daughter.
- The Beast himself is always the victim of an angry fairy, and sometimes it's not even his fault - in the Villeneuve version, he rejected an evil old fairy who was supposed to be his guardian.
- The fairy in some versions curses everyone in the kingdom as well as the ruler - if it's karmic, it's because she blames them for letting him getting so bad. But really, what servant would want to speak up to a selfish violent royal that would probably just kick them out, banish them, or even kill them (and probably also their families) for calling him on his behavior?
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: It's the tale of a young woman who's forced to move into the home of a wealthy older gentleman because of an arrangement that he made with her father. Considering the time period, it's extremely likely that this was intended as a metaphor for arranged marriage, with the story serving to prepare young girls for the day when they would be sent away to live with unfamiliar older men.
- Dogged Nice Guy: The Beast keeps on asking Beauty to marry him every night even when she keeps on refusing, and it's Beauty's realization that he really is a kind and caring man underneath his monstrous exterior that induces her to finally agree to marry him.
- Dumb Is Good: One version portrays Beast as rather lacking of intellect. This is a virtue in this telling, and at the end of the story, she even meets the fairy who cast the spell who tells her that a "true heart" is better than good looks or "clever brains". Beaumont praises Beauty for choosing virtue over "wit or beauty".
- Everything's Better with Princesses: In de Villeneuve's version, Beauty turns out to have been a princess Switched at Birth.
- Another Broken Aesop, because even after the curse breaks, the Prince is nearly denied being able to marry her because of her low birth and even Beauty refuses to marry him rather than shame him by her lower class. While the fairy that protected the prince tries to shame the Queen out of dismissing Beauty like this, her revelation that she had personally chosen Beauty because of her Royal Blood pretty much borks that moral.
- The Fair Folk: Depending on the telling, the curse is actually placed on the Beast by a fairy. This pretty much explains the Disproportionate Retribution.
- Gilded Cage: In every version, though there are variations, Beauty's father was to be killed by the beast. When she takes her father's place in the castle, she is waited on hand and foot by the castle's servants, on the condition she can never leave and the Beast asks for her hand in marriage.
- Girl of My Dreams: In de Villeneuve and Beaumont's versions, Beauty dreams of a handsome young man begging her to help him which adds to her reluctance to agree to marry the Beast.
- Happily Ever After: No matter what the journey to get there, the Beast turns back into a handsome princenote and Beauty always gets a fairy tale wedding.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: Many versions of the story have the Beast constantly mocking and belittling himself and his appearance in his conversations with Beauty. Beauty is constantly arguing that he's better than that.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: The Beast.
- Horned Humanoid: The Beast in some versions.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: This is the eponymous Beast's desire after being transformed from a handsome prince into a hideous beast.
- Informed Attribute: The reader is told that the Beast has a heart of gold, but considering that his first action was to threaten Beauty's father with either death or enslavement of a family member for picking a rose, he only shows kindness to Beauty because he expects her to eventually marry him, and does not have any major character development, many readers are skeptical of that assertion.
- Also a case of Aluminum Christmas Trees. At the time the story was written down, the old laws still held power, including that stealing from a noble estate was punishable by death. Moreover, roses were massively expensive, especially if you had a unique cultivar; in essence, Beauty's father had just tried to steal something worth almost as much as the palace itself. True, Beast might have handled it better, but he was cursed to be stupid...
- Laser-Guided Karma
- Massive Numbered Siblings: Early versions of the tale give Beauty a handful of brothers as well as the two sisters (see Rule of Three below).
- Meaningful Name: The heroine is given a name that means "beauty" or "rose" in nearly all adaptations.
- Missing Mom: It's rare that Beauty's mom is ever mentioned at all.
- No Name Given: The Beast.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: One version of the tale notes that along with his appearance, the Beast was also required to act witless and stupid, thus ensuring that he would be judged only on the pureness of his heart and nothing else.
- Parental Marriage Veto: The queen tries this in the original.
- Prince Charming Wannabe: Not a traditional part of the story, but modern adaptations often include a villainous suitor who is beautiful on the outside and ugly on the inside as a foil to the Beast who is ugly on the outside and beautiful on the inside. Jean Cocteau's 1946 film version may or may not be the first to include this character, naming him Avenant, but it's certainly the codifier. And, of course, Disney codified it further with Gaston.
- The George C. Scott adaptation also has a similar character named Anthony, predating the Disney version. Notably, he ends up marrying one of the evil sisters!
- The Punishment Is the Crime: In contrast to the harsher punishments in the long original versions, some of the condensed versions of this story simply have the two older sisters' crime be that they are constantly envious of Beauty for both her good looks and how well she bears up under her various misfortunes; then, after everything works out so well for her, their punishment... is to go on being jealous of her for the rest of their miserable lives, which are only miserable because their envy keeps them from enjoying how well they've done for themselves.
- Rags to Royalty: Beauty in almost every version (save for the Everything's Better with Princesses variant).
- Rule of Three: Mme. Leprince de Beaumont condensed the merchant's original family (six boys and six girls) to three of each. Most later versions further condense the merchant's children to three daughters.
- Sacred Hospitality: A number of versions explained that the Prince became the Beast for violating this.
- The Simple Gesture Wins: In some tellings, Beauty has greedy, grasping sisters. Beauty ends up the favorite to their father, and thus the one he is most devoted to because her sisters demand expensive gifts from his travels, but Beauty makes the same request every time: come home safe and if you happen to run across a rose, that would be lovely. This backfires because her father is willing to go to extremes for her simple request and that's what gets him in trouble with the Beast.
- Single Woman Seeks Good Man: The Beast, in spite of his appearance, is kind to Beauty which causes her to eventually fall in love with him. (In contrast, Disney's version goes the Love Redeems route — but even then, it's the Beast's inner goodness that Belle falls in love with.)
- Stockholm Syndrome: The story is very difficult to tell right, and often sounds like this since there's almost never a variant where the Beast doesn't trap the Beauty in his castle with the intent of eventually convincing her to marry him through sheer effort.
- Sweet and Sour Grapes: She gets her handsome prince as soon as she decides that she doesn't care what the beast looks like.
- Switched at Birth: In Villeneuve's version, this turns out to have happened to Beauty.
- Talking in Your Dreams: In the oldest version, a handsome prince appears in her dreams, begging her to save him. In due course, he proves to be the Beast.
- Taken for Granite: In some versions, Beauty's two older sisters are turned into statues in the ending.
- Two-Person Love Triangle: In de Villeneuve's version, Beauty feels conflicted between the dream prince and the flesh-and-blood Beast.
- Additionally, the Queen tries to veto the marriage. After the explanation, she says, by way of apology, that she had recently learned of her niece and had thought that a more suitable match than a merchant's daughter — but now, of course, Beauty is the niece.
- Wife Husbandry: In de Villeneuve's version, the fairy had been his nurse before demanding he marry her.
- Woman Scorned: The first version had the Beast cursed for refusing the hand of a fairy — contrary to fairy law, at that.
- Youngest Child Wins: Beauty is always the youngest daughter.