DID SNOW WHITE, RAPUNZEL, SLEEPING BEAUTY AND CINDERELLA REALLY LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER?
One day Pamela Ditchoff sat down to answer the age-old question of what happened to those famous fairy tale princesses after “Happily Ever After”. In her third novel, Mrs. Beast, award-winning writer Pamela Ditchoff unveils an enchantingly dark, but humorous and enlightened story about what became of the great fairy tale beauties after they said “I Do”.
Mrs. Beast begins with Beauty, who shortly after marrying the Prince realized she preferred her loving Beast to the vain and eccentric Prince. Leaving the comforts of the castle behind, she embarks on a quest to find Elora, the enchantress who changed the beast into a Prince, and convince her to change him back into the Beast. Her quest takes her through Grimm Land, a place where angst clings and spreads like lichen, and where she meets Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella and learns what became of them after they married their princes. Snow White lives in a commune deep in the woods with the seven dwarfs, their seven wives and many children. Rapunzel lives in the low end of Storyendburg and makes her living on the streets. Sleeping Beauty is an opium addict living in the Kingdom of Dreams, and Cinderella hides behind a veil refusing to accept the toll aging has taken. Ms. Ditchoff turns fairy tale beauty inside out and invites the reader to do the same in this delicious twist on these fairy tale classics.
Stewart O’Nan, author of Snow Angels, said: "Mrs. Beast riffs on the story of Beauty and the Beast in a funky, contemporary way, much like Anne Sexton's Transformations took on the fairy tale, or John Gardner in his children's books. Pamela is a writer of great talent, ambition, and accomplishment."
Pamela Ditchoff is the author of two earlier novels, Seven Days & Seven Sins, Shaye Areheart Books at Random, 2003, and The Mirror of Monsters and Prodigies, Coffee House Press, 1995. She won the Chicago Review Award for Fiction and she is the recipient of a John Ciardi Scholarship at the Bread Loaf Writing Conference, and The Walter Dakin Fellowship at the Sewanee Writer’s Conference. Ms. Ditchoff holds a Master’s Degree in English/Creative Writing from Michigan State University and lives in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada.
For those whose interest has been piqued, we have included Chapter One of Mrs. Beast, the inaugural offering from Stay Thirsty Press, as a tasty morsel to spice up your day.
Within the alabaster walls of Palace Fleur de Coeur, alone with her husband inside the Great Hall, Princess Beauty faces away from Prince Runyon, the back of her tulle and silk gown hiked up at the waist. Her cheeks are blushed with the modesty she surrendered to grant the Prince’s request. She imagines that at this moment her countrywomen are gazing out cottage windows wearing Bruegel grins of utter contentment on their broad, flat faces, a babe underfoot, another on the breast as their husbands sow spring fields. Beauty sighs wistfully and prays this embarrassment will be compensated by a child planted in her womb. Runyon, the Prince, has only twice bedded his wife since their wedding night three months ago.
He reclines on a brocade divan; a halo of wheat blonde hair frames his angular face. He yawns and exhales with exaggerated boredom. "Now, I want you to bend ovah."
Beauty hesitates and bites her cherry pink lip. She gazes about the hall as if she may find an answer in this room where she spent so many happy hours dining and dancing with her beloved Beast. But she finds neither comfort nor magic anywhere within the once-austere and elegant Great Hall. For now, hundreds of candles light dozens of chandeliers, Persian carpets lay wall to wall beneath red velvet love seats, and pots of scented civet fat vaporize in corners. Nude statues cast in lewd poses are staggered throughout the Great Hall, full-length mirrors line the walls, and a portrait of Prince Runyon hangs above each mirror. In the room's center is Runyon's divan swaged in yellow silk, from which he claps his hands and whines, “Well? How wong do you propose to keep me waiting?”
Beauty gathers her lustrous chestnut curls and obeys his request. She closes her eyes and pictures the last time they'd mated when he was still the Beast and they had rolled and growled on a secluded moss bed like two badgers: the scent of his musk bag stinging her nostrils, his coppery fur clutched in her fists, the exquisite moment his fangs gripped her clavicle muscle.
Beauty's back begins to ache, but she's determined to please her husband. After all, Runyon had granted her request to spend a day together without the company of his fawning entourage. Since his transformation occurred, Dukes, Countesses and royal-wanna-be's constantly drop by the palace, buttering up Runyon with the finesse of a patissier.
"I shall be gweatly pweased if you will try wiggwing that thing," Runyon says in the manner of speech affectation popular with vain and bored nobles.
Beauty has not been schooled in the art of seduction, and had no such need when Runyon was his beastly self. However, she did promise to love, honor, and obey, and although fairy tale beauties are modest, they're also blindly obedient to husbands and fathers. She swallows the lump of pride rising in her throat and does as her husband commands.
Muted waves of tittering and sniggering fill the Great Hall. A pair of mirthful eyes twinkles behind the holes in each of Runyon's portraits. They are not alone after all. Beauty snaps upright, then collapses in a faint.
* * *
Outside the walls of Palace Fleur de Coeur, northwest beyond the rose garden, is the last twenty miles of French fairy tale countryside that ends with the Deep Icy River bordering Grimm Land. In the dense forests of Grimm Land, angst clings and spreads like lichen. Roaming and skulking among the trees are animals capable of speaking, granting wishes, and swallowing children. The place is lousy with frogs, witches, giants, dwarfs, elves and goblins, but fairy tale beauties are rare as sixty carat diamonds. Sharp objects, to which beauties are particularly vulnerable, abound: knives, axes, spindles, and thorns.
Grimm peasants and gentry dwell in burgs and villages below hilltop castles where kings exact impossible promises, queens plot infanticide, princes await adventure, and princesses await princes. And in her Art Deco Palace atop Grimm Land's Glass Mountain, the highest and least accessible point in all of fairy tale domain, Elora the Enchantress is watching as Beauty falls to the floor.
* * *
"Bricklebrit!" Elora curses, and Croesus, the Ibizan hound curled at her feet, spits three gold coins from his mouth.
Elora woke at noon in a mean mood. Head fuzzy, tongue furry, she regretted that third goblet of punch. Last night was the Vernal Equinox and, as the most mystical enchantress of the realm, Elora had been obliged to entertain Grimm Land's magic minions. The Gingerbread Witch sat in Elora's Duncan Grant chair, stinking of singed flesh and fuming over Hansel and Gretel devouring each new candy cottage she built. Rumpelstiltskin crabbed on the shortage of nubile miller's daughters while nervously picking dog hair from the Velcro strip that bound his two halves together. Old Mother Gothel, a blonde braid big as an anaconda wrapped around her neck, climbed Elora's stainless-steel winding staircase chanting, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair." Godfather Death, reeking of cave dirt and candle wax, silenced her by drawing a lit taper from his trench coat, holding his fingers over the wick, and fixing her with a stony glare. The Nixie of the Mill Pond, her voice a saccharine breeze, insisted something be done about, "The goddamn fairies pissing in my pond." The Thirteenth Wise Woman still held a grudge over Sleeping Beauty, and the twelve others debated the definition of virtue. Is wealth a virtue, is beauty a virtue, is sweetness a virtue; can casting a spell be virtuous? If they hadn't all been whining and griping, Elora wouldn't have laced the punch with powdered toad skin. She told them if they spent more time on quality control and less time flapping their gums the answers would be plain as the wart on Mother Gothel's nose. When the punch kicked in, the Gingerbread Witch blew smoke rings from nine orifices. Mother Gothel tied the braid to the railing and swung around the room hooting like a Gibbon. Rumpelstiltskin unfastened his Velcro to show off his scars to the Pond Nixie. Godfather Death brought in the Bremen Town Musicians and led the Thirteen Wise Women in a conga line.
It was last night's debate over whether a spell could be virtuous that had prompted Elora to conjure up Palace Fleur de Coeur, witness the debasement of Beauty, and curse, "Bricklebrit."
Elora snaps up a cup of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, stares into the crystal ball, and a sneer curls her blackberry lips.
* * *
Unconscious on the Great Hall floor, Beauty dreams of roses, she can smell the Floribunda branch her father picked from the Beast's garden. She hears his voice: Beauty, take these roses; they will cost your poor father dearly. Then he sobs out the story of his encounter with the Beast and the price to be paid. She hears her sister Violet's voice: See what this measly creature's arrogance has caused! Why didn't she settle for the same gifts as ours? Now she's going to be the cause of our father's death and she doesn't even cry. Beauty feels anew the sting of her sister Daisy whipping the rose branch against Beauty’s bosom, the thorns drawing three drops of blood.
(The Grimm psychologist claims that a small amount of bleeding, three being the number associated in the unconscious with sex, prepares little beauties to accept this precondition for conception, because only after the bleeding of menstruation and hymen breaching, is a child born, so bleeding is closely connected with a happy event.)
Beauty twitches as pain tugs her into consciousness. Her eyes open on the Great Hall ceiling and a blur of faces encircling her supine body. Prince Runyon is grinning, the tip of his tongue protruding from between his teeth, his eyes crossed in concentration. Ouch! A thorn is stuck in my skin, Beauty groggily surmises. She rolls her eyes down to the source of her discomfort and sees Runyon puncturing her breast with an inked-dipped needle. He pauses and meets her widening eyes.
"Do keep still, darwing. Only thwee wetters to go."
Beauty elbows to a sitting position as Runyon's entourage simpers in admiration. "Such an artiste! Do me next!"
Beauty wets the hem of her petticoat with tears of humiliation, dabs her breast with the moist satin, reads the three letters and does precisely as they suggest: RUN
* * *
"No doubt about it-- a spell can be virtuous. The spell I cast on that prince was a stroke of virtuosity." Elora raps her scarlet nails over the crystal ball image of Runyon and his laughing entourage as Beauty flees the Great Hall.
“Remember the day I made Runyon run?” Croesus bobs his head with enthusiasm and Elora scratches his ear.
When Elora first met Prince Runyon, she was reconnoitering the southern boundary of Grimm Land on a path alongside the Deep Icy River. She wore her toothless, red babushka-headed, bent-with-arthritis, bow-legged, sack-of-sticks-on-back, crone body; easier to sneak up on those deserving of a good zap when disguised as one of the meek and lowly. She had just changed a smart-mouthed brat into a speckled salamander and was stepping jauntily around a curve when Runyon rounded the same curve and knocked her flat.
"Watch where you're going, haag!" Runyon sputtered.
Elora lay on her back, spindly arms and legs flailing like an overturned beetle. "Help an old lady to her feet, Deary," she croaked in her most pitiable voice.
"Happy to obwige," Runyon leered and hoofed the old gal in the ribs, sending her bouncing down the riverbank. Upon the third bounce Elora changed to her natural state. She waited for Runyon at the next bend in the path, and when he saw her, he stopped dead in his tracks. Whistling like a cartoon wolf, he lasciviously took in her knee-length hair, blue-black as raven's wings, eyes just as black with iridescent flecks of silver, and five feet ten inches of curvaceous porcelain flesh wrapped in a Versace body suit. Elora sauntered up to him, wrapped her arms around his neck and stuck her tongue in his ear.
"I sure would wike to get in those pahnts," Runyon panted, kneading Elora's tush.
Elora ruffled his hair. "That's just what I need," she whispered, twisting a blonde curl around her finger, then screamed in his ear, "two assholes in there!"
Runyon staggered backward, covering his ear. He saw Elora's lips moving as if she was throwing kisses, and faintly heard her words: "Bricklebrit, Bricklebrit, Bricklebrit."
She aimed an index finger at Runyon and growled, "You bruised my ribs, you sebaceous wad of maggot cum." Then the beastly transformation unfurled in time-lapse photography speed: coarse, copper-colored hair sprang from each pore; his skull expanded to the size of a buffalo's; his eyelids retracted, exposing horrific peeled-grape orbs; his nose spread to the likeness of a purple cauliflower; his mouth stretched into an ear-to-ear gash, displaying jagged teeth sprouting from bright blue gums; his neck disappeared, setting his boulderish head atop a humped back and barrel chest; his arms lengthened, his legs shortened, his hands and feet tripled in size.
Runyon the Beast ran like mad and dove into the Deep Icy River. As she watched him swim, a sly smile crept over Elora's blackberry lips. She aimed her finger once again, and when the Beast crawled onto the French fairy tale bank, another part of his anatomy had tripled in size. He shook the water from his fur and gaped at his pendulous appendages.
"A tribute to my exquisite sense of the ironic," Elora chuckled. "Listen up, beasty boy. Five miles southeast, in the Kingdom of Fleur de Coeur, is your new palace, spelled to provide you with comforts. Any meal you desire, ask, and it will appear. Request a tune and instruments will play. There's a magnificent rose garden and hundreds of books to take up your leisure--you'll have plenty. You also have the power to change back to your obnoxious royal self if you can find a woman who will love you as is and agree to become your wife. But you can't reveal your true identity. Oh, and on your bedside table is a magic mirror; anything you wish to see will appear on its surface: your parents when they assume you're dead; your friends carousing and gambling; your lovers, slick with passion in the embraces of others; the bustling cities and serene villages you cannot visit. Every time you pick up that mirror, you'll see the beast you truly are, and, simply for my amusement, you have to phrase your requests in rhyme. Bonne chance, bebe."
* * *
The mirror is the last item Beauty packs. She has already packed three gowns, two petticoats, one pair of bloomers, four hats, two pairs of gloves (one lace, one leather) and four pair of shoes into a large portmanteau. She hasn't a clue where she'll go, but go she must. Up until now, she has forgiven Runyon's eccentricities, believing his loving, beastly self would eventually emerge. However, tricking her into exposing her derrière to his voyeuristic entourage was unforgivable.
Overcome by a spasm of nausea she presses the cool mirror to her forehead. After a moment, she opens her eyes and five letters shine before them. She moves the mirror away from her face and they disappear. Placing it to her forehead once again, the letters reappear: ELORA.
"Elora is the enchantress who changed Runyon into the Beast. I broke her spell with a vow of love. Perhaps could she change him back to my beloved Beast?" Beauty whispers. Even though Beauty has never been outside a twenty mile radius of her home, she believes she might find Elora with the mirror to guide her.
"Yes, I'll have an adventure, a genuine quest, bold as any knight or prince." Enamored by the thought, Beauty sighs. "I'll ride Vixen, Runyon's Arabian mare, travel by day and sleep by a campfire. I'll ford streams and climb mountains, my love for the Beast surmounting every obstacle."
* * *
Croesus releases a doggy sigh in response to Beauty's declaration of love and receives a firm thump on his head. "You're fogging up my ball," Elora mutters. "You know I detest sighing, and most especially Beauty's sighs."
Elora has made it her business to know the character of every being within the fairy tale realm. Since birth Beauty has demonstrated character above and beyond the norm of a fairy tale beauty, so Elora has taken a special interest.
“There was something different in the atmosphere the day of Beauty’s birth that made me travel to her dwelling; a yellow and lavender layering of the sky, the scent of mint, and the appearance of three white Ibis flying east.” Elora snaps her fingers and conjures up the day of Beauty's birth within her crystal ball.
Beauty's mother, Antoinette, lies beneath an eiderdown quilt upon a massive mahogany bed. Her face is as pale and wet as skim milk. Her daughters, Daisy and Violet, aged six and eight, are in their mother's dressing room dusting themselves with powder, rouging their cheeks, and fighting over the contents of the jewelry box. Marcel, a prosperous merchant, waits outside the large double doors for the squall of his third progeny. The baby does not squall, not as the midwife bathes her, nor when she lay her on a bed of rose leaves, cleans her mouth with honey, wraps her in ermine skins and calls for the father.
Marcel jumps at the sound of his name. Violet and Daisy gallop down the hall in a cloud of talcum as their father holds a finger to his lips to quiet them. When he turns his back to open the doors, they stick out their tongues. Marcel perches on the bed and his usual indifference to infants is stymied when Beauty lifts her long lashes and trills like a pigeon. His heart goes flip-flop. She's a little beauty Antoinette croaks with her dying breath. Marcel falls to the floor, weeping and tearing at his beard. Violet and Daisy, their beady eyes gleaming over the foot board, exchange a conspiratorial glance. Swift as a pair of weasels, they grab little Beauty and hightail it for the door.
Elora elbows Croesus as the scene follows the sisters out-of-doors, and her own image appears in the crystal ball. "Not bad, huh, hound?" Croesus nods and watches as Elora pops out from behind a willow tree in her seven-year-old, carrot-topped, knock-kneed, front-toothless, freckle-faced girl disguise. Daisy and Violet are momentarily diverted from dangling the wailing infant Beauty over the backyard well. Go ahead, the disguised Elora shouts, throw her in!
Daisy releases Beauty's leg and Violet, gripping a plump ankle, swings the baby behind her back. Hey, you can't tell us what to do. She's ours.
Daisy takes three steps toward Elora with clenched fists. Get lost, toad face. She picks up a stone and throws it at the girl enchantress. I hope a big bad wolf eats your guts.
Violet drops Beauty on her head to join the stoning. Elora retreats slowly, her skinny wrists deflecting stones like Wonder Woman’s bracelets. Once she spies Marcel on the threshold screeching, Where is little Beauty? Elora vanishes into the forest.
"What rotten rascals they were," Elora grumbles over her crystal ball and stomps her size 9 Bruno Magli boot heel squarely on Croesus' tail. The hound yelps and scurries under the bed. "How satisfying it would have been back then to change Daisy into fox and Violet into a chicken. But what's life without intrigue? Boring. Now, let us see if Beauty has ceased her inane sighing and gotten her arse in gear."
* * *
Beauty dons her navy blue riding cape, hefts her portmanteau, and descends the Grand Staircase. Luncheon clatters rises from the Great Hall: the clink of silver forks, the ringing of crystal goblets, and the tinkling of harpsichord. Beauty pictures Runyon’s long, delicate fingers playing the keys and her tattoo throbs. She quickly draws open the Great Doors, ready to flee, then pauses on the thresh hold to bid farewell to the statues that encase her sisters. Staring at their frozen, frightful expressions, she recalls the last time she saw them in the flesh on her wedding day.
Beauty's family had arrived in a golden carriage Runyon commissioned to impress his future in-laws. Her father jumped from the carriage, broke into a buck and wing, and loudly proclaimed he'd known the Beast was a prince all along. Violet emerged and stumbled into Daisy, who was dumbstruck gawking at the enormous white palace and the gorgeous Prince Runyon.
While Beauty obediently made her father welcome, Violet and Daisy raced to their sister's bedroom. Violet emptied an ink horn over the white satin wedding gown laid out on the bed. Daisy tore her fingernails through the Belgian lace veil hanging from the wardrobe. They plucked every petal from her wedding bouquet and put rotten eggs in the toes of her wedding shoes, then hurried down to the Great Hall.
Beauty knew nothing of these dastardly deeds because Elora repaired the damage with a snap of her fingers. When Beauty descended the Grand Staircase, every inch the fairy tale, princess bride, steam shot from Violet's and Daisy's ears. A black cloud formed over their heads and followed them as they staggered with blind rage to the palace steps. There a voice spoke from the cloud: I know your hearts and the malice they contain. You shall become statues while retaining your ability to think beneath the stone that encompasses you. You will stand at the portal of your sister's palace because I can think of no better punishment to impose than to witness her happiness. I will allow you to return to your original shape only when you recognize your faults, but I fear that you'll remain statues forever. Pride, anger, gluttony and laziness can all be corrected, but a miracle is needed to convert a wicked and envious heart, you rotten rascals.
"Surely, they've suffered enough," Beauty murmurs. “Perhaps Elora may be able to transform you too.” She kisses their granite cheeks and, if they could, the sisters would smirk with satisfaction as Beauty turns to take her leave of the castle, the prince, and happily ever after.
* * *
"What do you think, hound? Have they suffered enough?" Elora arches an ebony eyebrow. Croesus creeps out from under the bed and shakes his head decisively.
"You're doggoned right they have not. Not nearly enough for the hundreds of pinches and slaps they gave Beauty. At least now she's ducking out for a worthy cause unlike the last time when she offered herself to the Beast to save her neurotic family. Do you remember that? Would you care to see a replay?”
Croesus trots to her side and Elora snaps her fingers over the crystal ball.
Beauty's father appears within, preparing for a journey to the city. Violet and Daisy are tugging at his sleeves, yattering in his ears, demanding he bring back jewels and gowns. Marcel turns to Beauty and asks what he may bring her from his journey. A rose, please, she answers.
Elora snaps again and the crystal reveals Marcel heading home, penniless. His ships had sunk in a storm at sea, and although creditors had ravaged him, he had purchased a blue gown for Violet and a pink gown for Daisy. At the moment he remembered Beauty’s simple request of a rose, a snowstorm blew in from out of nowhere.
"A dandy of a storm, I must admit," Elora chuckles. "Mother Nature herself couldn't have done better. Look, there's Marcel when he spied the Beast's castle, sat at the Beast's table, gobbled up the Beast's food, slept in the Beast's bed . . . and the following morning, bold as brass, picked the Beast's roses."
Croesus raises his hackles as a buffalo-sized head thrust from the bushes with a hair-raising roar.
"Now there's a beast and a half!" Elora hoots.
Croesus bares his teeth and barks. Elora pats his round head, and together they watch as the Beast berates Marcel for being an ingrate and a thief, then tells him to prepare for death. Marcel pleads for his mercy, saying the rose was not for his pleasure, but one of his daughters had asked for a rose.
"Smooth move, Judas, way to crumble," Elora snorts. Croesus huffs in empathy and is rewarded with a Pup-Peroni. Elora zooms in on the Beast's face. A string of saliva breaks off his gruesome leer. I'll spare your life on the condition that one of your daughters voluntarily takes your place.If they each refuse, I'll find you and devour you and your daughters.
Elora and Croesus watch Marcel boo-hoo his way home, Violet and Daisy rush outside, greedy for presents, and Beauty smile with relief at his arrival. Marcel turns on the tears and holds out the branch of roses he pilfered: Beauty, take these roses; they will cost your poor father dearly.
Elora freeze-frames the scene as Violet begins to screech and Daisy snatches the rose branch. "I fixed those two." Elora snaps her fingers and the image changes to the entrance of Castle Fleur de Coeur where Beauty's sisters stand as stone sentinels. "Hey, Violet, Daisy--stat-chew? Get it, Croesus?" The hound wheezes a doggy laugh.
Elora snaps her fingers again and the image expands to reveal Beauty traipsing toward the royal stables. "She's on her way, Croesus. How long it will take her to find us? What obstacles lie in her path? Will she have the endurance to make it? I could find out by conjuring up the future, if I really wanted to."
Croesus licks her face.
"Yeah, you know I'm a liar, but I could intervene, help her just a tad."
Croesus flops to the floor and groans.
"Okay, I won't use magic. Beauty deserves a chance to prove herself. She is the only beauty in this neck of the woods who chose her prince instead of waiting to be chosen. I have faith in her, Croesus, but the world is not kind to beauties. And why is that so? They aren't to blame for being born beautiful any more than they're to blame for the fawners and the jealous who make them helpless, vain, paranoid, and gullible. The straight-up skinny, hound of mine? Love is not meant for beauty queens."