Once upon a time there was a distinguished salon of noblewomen who to pass the time in a pleasing and creative manner invented stories and tales of fairies. One such woman came up the fable “Beauty and the Beast,” which was to be the most popular of all the salon’s offerings.
Those familiar with the story will wonder what fairies have to do with it, but the mystery is soon revealed: the version known to all was shortened and simplified over time. Originally, it is true, the main character Belle was a graceful and virtuous girl, but she was also the secret daughter of a king and a fairy.
An exceptional woman, she knew to look beyond the appearance of things, and with her purity could break the spell that held the Prince captive inside the body of a beast.
As in any self-respecting fairy tale, Belle and the Prince crowned their tempestuous relationship with marriage and all rejoiced in the union: never before had anyone seen two such beautiful beings, they seemed made for one another.
The two avoided any talk of when the Prince was the Beast, like a couple that tries to dodge puddles during a storm. It was unpleasant for either to be reminded that Belle had been the genteel prisoner of a monster, or of the curse he harbored in his past. They swore eternal love and clearly could live but happily ever after.
However, as the daughter of a fairy, Belle was suspicious by nature. No more would she let her eyes be deceived when she had glimpsed the Beast’s qualities than she would allow herself to be blinded by the appearance of a Prince endowed with great physical beauty and elegant manners. She feared that she perceived a certain change in her husband’s demeanor, as if perhaps the affections he had displayed for her when he was under the spell had diminished now that he was once again his youthful self.
Being attracted to a beast is unusual, forbidden, thought Belle. Whereas now she had that handsome man in the flesh and blood. For a young girl awakening to love and sensuality, details are important and how romantic those magical excursions were that the Beast dreamt up to stave off her boredom: winding through the rooms of the enchanted palace, Belle was transported to the theatre, the fair, the circus… Each day was a new experience, not unlike what we do today with channel and internet surfing.
The young woman was restless, and said: “So, now that all is normal, that the fear has passed, the Prince no longer has to win my trust and affections. He is sure of himself, of his beauty, but I do admit that I mourn a little for the Beast, who was so loving to me.”
Belle was a learned girl, she had studied the Ancient Greek theories of “the good and the beautiful” and was acquainted with the ideal that those who possess aesthetic beauty also possess moral worth. Therefore, her Prince, who as in every self-respecting fairy tale had no name, being to-die-for handsome, should also have been good. Alas, she was not at all confident that this was so and had matured an opinion all her own: “If when he was horrible to behold he had a generous and kind soul, now that he is irresistible to the eyes perhaps he has something rotten inside…”
But Belle was first and foremost the daughter of a fairy. Since discovering this – after the Prince had regained his human form – she had not yet reflected upon her unique nature. Moving hastily and so lightly as to seem floating on air, the maiden went to her room and looked at herself in the magical mirror in which, while a prisoner, she saw the merchant she had believed to be her father. This time in the reflection there appeared her real mother, the Fairy. “Dearest mother, I suspect that the Prince, having now obtained my genuine love, which he needed to break the spell of the Beast, has changed in his feelings for me. What can I do to confirm his intentions?”
“My child, you are half fairy. You have magical powers that you can now wield with the wand I will give you. Look, it’s there behind the comb, in the jewelry box. Use it wisely and good luck!”
Encouraged by the words of her fairy mother, Belle thought to test her husband’s purity and sincerity. She transformed herself into a vile beast and came up behind the Prince. She spoke to him: “Dearest, if you truly love me as you say, you will mind my semblance not at all.” The young man spun around and was horrified to see how his Beauty now appeared. With a hand he covered his eyes and shouted: “Stop this, return at once to your real self! I cannot spend my life with a monster. Stop! No more of these silly jokes…”
His reaction did not at all please her, so Belle devised more magic. She made the wand spin seven times in the air and took on the form of a striking and provocative woman. She had herself announced to the castle as a thespian traveling with her company of actors and the curious Prince immediately received her. In just moments, won over by her pulchritude, he was unabashedly courting her, ignorant to the fact that she was in fact his wife.
“Alas, I had reason to fear,” thought Belle after she dispelled the magic and returned to her room. “The Prince’s behavior is not at all acceptable. As long as he needed me when he was the Beast he presented himself as full of virtue. Now that the evil spell is lifted he no longer appears genuinely in love. I am in danger of being repudiated, one day or another. Why do princes behave thusly? They are all the same… I am beginning to understand why they have no names in fairy tales, they are interchangeable! And all untrustworthy!”
Belle’s reasoning was precisely that of a fairy. The docile and sensible girl had in her soul a strength that made her fight for justice. So, for a third time, the maiden used the powers of the magic wand. In a flash, she was transformed into a Beast far more fearsome than the Beast in which had beat the heart of the Prince. All the palace inhabitants were at once petrified, darkness fell in the gardens and the gates were bolted shut.
The oblivious Prince, who was playing soccer with some courtiers, found himself alone, enshrouded in a strange atmosphere. In a flying cart pulled by crows, there glided before the castle entrance a new Beast, terrifying to behold, monstrous in speech, ungainly in movement.
“What is the meaning of all this?” shrieked the Prince whinily. “Help!”
Unbeknownst to him, Belle decided to take him captive and maintain her beastly form until he proved to feel affection and compassion for that being, as she had previously done, with modesty and love.
“I am in no hurry,” said the Beast who was once Belle. “For fairies, one year and one century are not so dissimilar…”
Which is why “Beauty and the Beast” should be considered, for all intents and purposes, a fairy tale.
Once upon a time a little girl became a heroine to all. She was, in fact, a special girl, a very lucky girl. First deceived then devoured – along with her grandmother – by a ferocious wolf with whom she should never have spoken, she was quickly freed by a hunter and resumed her normal life as if nothing had happened. You have surely caught on that I am speaking about Little Red Riding Hood.
After the incident, the girl returned to her regular routine: going to school, helping her mother and crossing the wood every so often to visit her elderly grandmother. But she had learned her lesson and was very careful with all those who were strangers to her: she was no longer distracted to pick flowers and walked straight forward when any wolf tried to bother her.
It could be said that everything was as it once was for Little Red Riding Hood. Except that she felt peculiar.
Ever since the day of her terrible encounter with the wolf, the girl was not herself. “What is it with this c…cape that is so t…tight and bothersome?” she wondered. But she knew very well that the problem lay not with her clothing.
“Maybe it’s all g…g…gone to my head?” Her case had, in fact, been much discussed: so much notoriety could play ugly tricks and of late she had seen many little girls, dressed just like her, wandering in the wood. Though, of course, blonde curls and a red cape were not enough to be Little Red Riding Hood!
The girl sometimes had trouble falling asleep, or would wake up in the middle of the night, breathless and yearning to be outdoors.
One night the full moon disrupted her slumber. Sitting up wide awake in her bed, she decided to open the window, to breathe in lungfuls of air. Then the unthinkable happened: Little Red Riding Hood felt the urge to open her mouth wide so as to breathe better but from her throat came a noise that sounded like the howl of a wolf.
“What? That could not have b…b…been me! What is happening to me?” Aghast, she clasped her hands over her mouth while her tongue, which seemed longer than usual, licked something that felt more like fangs than teeth.
The girl could never have imagined what had happened. The fact that she had been devoured, entirely, by the astute and voracious wolf had left its mark on her. Little Red Riding Hood had been sullied by the beast and was now turned into a werewolf. On the nights of the full moon, the nature of the wolf overtook and transformed her body.
But being too young to understand, she returned to bed, smoothing down the hairy tail that had cropped up at the base of her back.
The following morning the girl was once again her normal self. She remembered a few images of what had transpired the night before as if part of a nightmare.
Her mother asked her: “Little Red Riding Hood, will you do me a favor? I’ve prepared a focaccia and some sweets for grandma. There are also bottles of lemonade and wine for her. Will you go visit her?”
“There’s always more and more s…st…stuff to take to grandma!” exclaimed the little girl, who was even more on edge for not having reposed well.
“Go on, be a good girl…” her mother insisted.
So Little Red Riding Hood put on her infamous cape and set out into the wood to her grandmother’s house.
Halfway there, the girl came across a wolf. At first it seemed the wolf wanted to speak to her, to bother her, but when the animal sniffed her, the color drained from its body and it quickly vanished into the trees. “How truly st…st…strange!” she observed.
When she arrived at her grandmother’s house, the girl knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” asked a feeble voice from inside.
“It’s Little Red Riding Hood!” said the girl, quite amazed by the tone of her own voice, more cavernous than usual.
As she ate the sweets with her grandmother, the girl said: “Do you know that lately I have f…f…felt different? My ears are bigger, my nose is l…l…longer, my teeth are stronger…”
Her grandmother smiled at her as she polished off the last slice of cake from the plate. “You are growing, my dear. You have become a little lady.”
The girl was reassured and spent the entire day sewing and chatting with her grandmother.
It was evening when Little Red Riding Hood set out to return home to her mother. As soon as she left her grandmother’s house, she noticed a full moon shining in the sky. There was nothing left of her blonde curls as her body quickly mutated: it its stead was a gray wolf.
The beast became agitated and whimpered, ferociously scraping at the wooden door. Her grandmother, who had just taken to her bed, looked out the window and saw the wolf. She immediately thought of her granddaughter: “If the wolf is wandering about the house, at least it won’t give chase to Little Red Riding Hood!” She opened the window and summoned her friend the hunter, who ever since saving her life was always on alert in his cabin beyond the clearing.
The hunter arrived swiftly with his rifle already loaded, and settled into position to shoot the wolf. Naturally, he did not recognize Little Red Riding Hood: the animal had nothing of the sweet and delicate girl. No one had ever heard talk of werewolves in that wood.
The beast went down with two shots. The hunter slung the rifle on his shoulder as the grandmother opened her door and admired the wolf. “It has such a pretty, soft coat,” remarked the old woman to the man. “This must be a young one. Be so kind as to help me skin this beast.”
That night the grandmother fell asleep more serenely than usual. The soft, gray fur covered her perfectly and kept her warm. Before closing her eyes, the old woman noticed the full moon. Something made her think of her little granddaughter. “The next time she comes over,” said the grandmother, “I’ll show Little Red Riding Hood my new fur.”
Unaware that, in that moment, the girl was closer to her than ever.
Corrado Premuda è uno scrittore e giornalista italiano nato nel 1974. E’ autore di narrativa e saggi, di testi per il teatro e la radio, di cataloghi d’arte. Ha pubblicato i libri “Un racconto di frammenti” (2000), “Intrusioni” (2004), “Sazrijevanje” (2010), “Felici e contente” (2013), “Un pittore di nome Leonor” (2015) e ha tradotto e curato “Murmur. Fiaba per bambini pelosi” di Leonor Fini “(2014). Molti suoi racconti sono pubblicati in riviste e antologie. Il suo sito web è www.corradopremuda.com.
Italian writer and journalist Corrado Premuda (1974) has published fiction, essays, theatre and radio plays, and art catalogues. He has authored the books Un racconto di frammenti (2000), Intrusioni (2004), Sazrijevanje (2010), Felici e contente (2013) and Un pittore di nome Leonor (2015), and edited and translated Leonor Fini’s Murmur. Fiaba per bambini pelosi (2014). Many of his short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies. The stories published here – “Little Red Lycanthrope” and “Beauty after the Beast” – are from the collection Felici e contente. www.corradopremuda.com
A freelance journalist and translator, Natasha Senjanović spent 15 years in Rome, where she worked for Screen International (Italy correspondent, 1999-2002) and The Hollywood Reporter (Italy critic, 2007-2011), and as a Senior Editor at Cineruopa.org from 2005 to 2011. Former Assistant Director of the Pesaro Film Festival, her articles and features have appeared in numerous publications and she is an on-air correspondent for FRED Film Radio (fred.fm). As a translator, Natasha specializes in cinema, geopolitics and literature. Her published translations include Luca Visentini’s book of poetry Lost Translations and Antonia Tricarico’s Thoughts and Words, a collection of poetry and prose. (Click here for a selection from her translations of Luca Visentin’s poems, previously published in frankmatter.)
Thanks to Andrea Guerzoni for his illustrations from the volume of stories by Corrado Premuda, Felici e contente (2013).