As Old as Time: A Twisted Tale is the Beauty and the Beast entry in the A Twisted Tale series from Disney Press. Like A Whole New World, this retelling pretty quickly veers off from the familiar plot of both movies, reimagining characters and adding lots of new characters and plot twists. If you’re familiar with the movies, particularly the 1991 animated film, a lot of the issues that may have nagged at you are addressed. (Really? It’s ok to curse an 11 year old child and everyone in the castle because he acted like, I dunno, a somewhat snotty but pretty normal tween? That plot point always really bothered me.) I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the book, as I have with other Disney reimaginings. But I find myself more and more wishing that the books in this particular series stuck closer to the plots we know, adding depth and context to admittedly thin plots and, to some extent, characters, rather than creating almost completely different stories.
Like A Whole New World, this is aimed at an older audience than other tie-ins tend to be. It goes dark from page one. I found the violence and torture in As Old as Time to be a bit more gratuitous than it was in A Whole New World. I’m not sure it added as much to the plot as I’d have preferred and it definitely limits the audience that this is appropriate for. I love Beauty and the Beast—both movies and the history of the fairy tale in general (don’t get me started unless you’re ready for a major discussion!)—so I also enjoyed this book. But I felt like there were some missed opportunities that would have made this novel more insightful.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
The main difference in the setting is that magic people explicitly exist as a part of society in As Old as Time. The enchantress who curses the young prince is Belle’s mother. But, as in many of the more interesting superhero stories, the people without magic both fear and value the people with magic. It develops into prejudice, wanting to control those who have powers, and destroying them if they don’t fall in line. And sometimes even if they do.
Those who fear magic start to view people who have magic as inhuman, as animals, as something that should be exterminated. The magical people aren’t saints, so sometimes they make mistakes and hurt non-magical people. And as they are driven from their homes, hunted, and “disappeared,” it’s not shocking that they start to distrust and push back against the non-magical people.
There are many possible metaphors for this in our own world (so many metaphors!), and it’s a good introduction to the concept for older tweens. This prejudice is the core of all the conflicts in the story.
The asylum run by Monsieur D’Arque figures much more prominently, and D’Arque is the villain and mastermind more than Gaston. He captures, kidnaps, tortures, and experiments on people who have magic. And he eventually gets his hands on Belle as well. The descriptions are somewhat graphic and quite disturbing. When my daughter was younger (12 or 13) this would have been a deal breaker for her.
Due to a forget spell, Belle doesn’t remember her mother at all. She imagined the perfect mother, although that sometimes conflicted with the idea that her mother abandoned her and her father. This lack of a mother is a major theme, and one the Beast can identify with as he lost both of his parents when he was 10. As the story goes on, they both learn more about their parents and realize that parents are people who are really complicated. They can make the wrong choices with major far-reaching implications. They may make misguided choices with good intentions. They might be loving and selfish and impetuous all at the same time.
Violence and Death
Maurice gets beaten up. So does Belle. So does the Beast. There are several murders, one in the past, one on screen, and quite a few hinted at. A magical inmate of the asylum committed suicide rather than face a future there, and apparently that was fairly common. In the flashbacks, a plague ravages the kingdom, killing many people including the king and queen.
The castle is really creepy. Like, really creepy. It gives Belle panic attacks. As the curse takes hold, statues that only move when you aren’t looking start coming in from the courtyard. Icy webs are covering the whole castle, trapping everyone inside the gates. And those are just the things that freaked me out personally.
As mentioned before, the parents are all complex. Gaston is…interesting. And frequently referred to as a boy, too young and stupid to really understand what he’s doing. The villagers nearly become a brainless mob, but we get to see what motivates them and how they change their minds in the face of danger.
Being inside Belle’s head, we see her thought process as she deals with everything. How she eventually becomes friends with the Beast, although “you took my father and me prisoner” is a thing for quite a while. How she solves problems, and learns from the Beast how to tackle things head on sometimes. How the Beast never fully stops freaking her out, even as she grows to like and then love him. How, even with all of that, she starts to love aspects of his Beastliness. As in the original fairy tale, Belle has to change and grow up for the story to progress (I find this much less true in the movies, but that’s a discussion to have over coffee sometime).
The Beast is, of course, dealing with all kinds of issues after being orphaned and then cursed as a child and locked in a magical castle that everyone has forgotten. And these are viewed as justifiable things to not be happy about. He needs to develop a less self-centered view of the world—due to his privilege as royalty and because his moral and emotional development past age 11 were kind of interrupted—and he needs to fight the beastly instincts that are taking him over. He is “transformed” when he allows Belle to talk him down from a beastly murderous rage and his human side takes control again. He isn’t physically transformed in the book at all. For that to happen, he will have to go out and travel the world with Belle. (And yet he’s still physically a beast…I think they all underestimate how hard that’s going to be for him to do!)
Of course people in the pub are drinking and some are drunk. Belle is given and drinks something strong to calm her nerves.
For older fans of Beauty and the Beast (probably ages 11 or 12 up through adult, if torture isn’t a trigger), this is a thought-provoking read. It addresses a lot of the issues you may have glossed over when watching the movies, especially the 1991 version. If you and your reader are up for it, it would fantastic for a comparative literature approach—watch the movie(s) together, then both read the book, and finally discuss it over hot chocolate.