Why I Wrote “Before Beauty”

Before Kaitlin's Covers Copy

Click here to read the rough draft first chapter of my Beauty and the Beast retelling, Before Beauty.

I’ve stated before that I was an anxious child. Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful childhood. While other children were worried about not getting their favorite toys for their birthdays, or losing recess for behavior at school, I was worrying about electrical fires starting in the walls of my house, and my parents paying the mortgage. Obsessive-compulsive tendencies and chronic anxiety will do that to you, though. The world was a perilous place, I knew, and if I was negligent, it might all come crashing down.

I think that’s why fairy tales became such an important part of my life. The world was perilous in fairy tales, too. Evil kings and wicked witches, greedy dragons and foolish children could tip the balances that threatened the heroes and innocent. But in fairy tales, there was always a happy ending. And I desperately needed that happy ending.

I’ve written before about why I think anxious people need fairy tales, and I think G.K. Chesterton sums it up perfectly.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

I don’t know about you, but I still need this reminder as an adult. It’s so easy to become disillusioned as we watch the world collide around us. I think that’s really what got me started on this story.

It Began with the Lost Prince….

Believe it or not, when the story took off, I was stuck on the prince’s character, rather than Belle’s. Call me crazy (I won’t argue.), but I had the feeling that Prince Everard is so much more than a spoiled royal who disliked ugly people. Like so many of us today, he hits adulthood, and realizes he’s lost his place in the world. He’s forgotten truths he knew as a child, and unexpectedly has the crown of the most powerful kingdom in the land thrust upon him.

Everard’s struggles aren’t simple. Naturally a very caring person, part of him wants to do what’s right. Years of intense military training from his father, however, and unresolved mistakes from his past haunt him. The Fortress, the great citadel which has served as a source of power and protection for his people for a thousand years, finally has enough one night when Everard drunkenly orders his generals to kill the sick and crippled in a poor effort to weed the weakness from his kingdom. The Fortress darkens its own light and strips Everard of his extraordinary powers until he can find himself once more.

I wanted Everard to be relatable. His problems are not easy to solve, and his mental and spiritual wounds are not easy to heal. Healing will take time. I think that’s one of the things that drives me crazy in fairy tale retellings; when characters need to change, and their change happens overnight. I mean, how often to you and I wake up in the morning and realize we’ve been looking at the world in all the wrong ways? No, personal growth and maturity take time. Broken people take time to heal, particularly they don’t know yet that they’re broken.

For Everard to heal, he must first admit that he’s broken.

A Broken Beauty

The more I get to know Isa, the better I like her. Isa (Isabelle) Marchand has a loving family and a good home, but her life has been far from charmed. After a fateful run-in with the prince when they were young, she was left crippled and very much alone. Her friends, her passion for dance, and even her chance for a happy marriage disappear one-by-one the older she gets. Things begin to look up, however, when her one true friend, gives her what she thinks will be the ultimate healing.

And then breaks her heart again.

By the time Prince Everard demands Isa’s presence at the Fortress, she’s a mess. Years of being told she wasn’t good enough have taken their toll, and facing the man who has threatened her life on more than one occasion is the last thing she wants to do. Anger and heartbreak cloud Isa’s mind, making her job of breaking the curse even more difficult.

Isa is broken like Everard is, but her brokenness is different. Years of being told you’re not good enough will do that, particularly for those who don’t measure up to their world’s standards. Being the “wrong” weight, adhering to unpopular standards, or having a disorder or handicap can take its toll. It becomes easy to become the victim. Isa struggles with this victim mentality until she’s forced to face it at the Fortress, and there she must make the choice of staying beaten or accepting where she is in life and moving on. And only then can she begin to truly realize her true worth and purpose.

Why Everard and Isa Must Face Their Brokenness to Heal

Being the fairy tale fanatic that I am, one of the greatest challenges I’ve seen to fantasy characters is their lack of change. They either bulldoze through all the obstacles life places before them and emerge unscathed, or they have an overnight change of heart. And while this might work for children’s movies (which I love, don’t get me wrong), it steals from the realism many stories might have possessed.

  1. Experience changes us, so having a character who remains untouched by his surroundings is unrealistic. If a character does move through a situation that would be traumatic for the rest of us, and doesn’t change, I don’t feel like he’s that emotionally vested.
  2. Humans don’t just change overnight. We take time to acclimate, to move from one idea to the next. We must come to terms with the changes in our environments, and this essentially will change a part of who we are deep down, for better or for worse.

Beauty from Broken People in a Broken World

The beauty of a the fairy tale is that no matter how dark the tale gets, there will be a resolution to the problem, just as I’m guaranteed resolution with Christ. There’s going to be a happily ever after. That doesn’t mean, however, that the heroes won’t have tribulation. In fact, it’s not even considered a good story if the protagonist has an easy out to his or her problems.

I think this is why fairy tales bring us comfort. Life on this earth is hard. People all over the world are facing starvation, persecution, loss of loved ones, natural disasters, mental disorders, neurological disorders, financial ruin, and loneliness. It’s comforting to read about characters who, deep down, are facing the same emotional devastation that we do in our various trials. The situations are different (I mean, most of us haven’t been forced to live in a dark castle with an ill-tempered prince.), but the emotions are the same. We know what it feels like to feel loss and heartache. We want to see the characters defeat the problems that we’re facing. We want a reason to hope that we can also have a beautiful happy ending.

Are you a fairy tale fanatic? What do you enjoy most about these stories? If you’d like to get a sneak peek at Before Beauty,  I’d love to hear your comments and questions, so please post them in the Comment Box below. Also, don’t forget that if you sign up for my weekly newsletter, you’ll get extra resources on neurological disorders, as well as a gift in thanks for signing up. Thanks for reading!

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