In Princess Beast, the much-anticipated sequel to Mrs. Beast, award-winning author Pamela Ditchoff has written another tour de force of fairy tales. Ditchoff’s picaresque novel offers a captivating, perceptive, edgy, and often humorous twist on the meaning of “happily ever after,” and the strained bond between a mother and her teenage daughter.
(credit: Paul Ditchoff)
Rune, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Beauty and the Beast, has fallen in love with Hans the Hedgehog, only to have her love stolen when a princess breaks his spell and Hans changes back into a handsome prince.
Like her mother before her, Rune embarks on a quest to win back her love, and along the way meets the famous fairy tale residents of Andersen Land: The Ugly Duckling, The Bog King’s Daughter, The Emperor in his new clothes, The Little Mermaid, and Karen of The Red Shoes. Princess Beast, however, is not your mother’s fairy tale, but one that Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood fans will surely savour.
“Rich, surprising, witty, and unsettling, Pamela Ditchoff’s Princess Beast provides a modern introspective angle to classic fairy tales. The novel brilliantly reveals the things that lurk in the dark interior of oft-told tales, transforming our youthful fantasies into things more delightfully subversive. In its quest to deconstruct the persistent fairy tale themes of beauty and “happily ever after,” Princess Beast takes us to a fantasy world beyond our imaginings with fairies, elves, hedgehogs, enchantresses, and the obligatory princess, who is on a journey of self-discovery. Ditchoff’s lush prose provides new twists on many old tales and is sure to engage fans of dark fantasy.”
- Dr. Maria F. Bruno,
Director Undergraduate American Studies, Michigan State University
To entice you into Pamela Ditchoff’s deliciously dark and subversive fairy tale world laced with the timeless conflict between mothers and daughters, we have included Chapter One of Princess Beast below.
A Novel by
Copyright © 2010 by Pamela Ditchoff
All Rights Reserved
In the northern most portion of the great Grimm forests, a dozen wild-eyed deer leap and flee willy-nilly through the autumn night; rabbits jack-knife into their burrows; a startled polecat slips off a river rock losing her trout; a family of field mice awakens in their tunnel and bite each other's tails in irritation; and a horned owl perched in the tallest oak, twists his head one hundred and fifty degrees scowling like mad: Rune, fourteen-year-old daughter of Beauty and the Prince/Beast, is throwing a tantrum as only an adolescent beast can.
Inside her cave, Beauty is stirring a squash stew and worrying about her daughter. This is the third night in a row Rune has stayed out past dark. On the two previous nights, she made lame excuses, which Beauty didn't believe for a minute. She suspects Rune has been keeping company with that musician, Hans the Hedgehog. She now regrets having allowed Rune's obvious lies to slide by in order to avoid another confrontation; during the past four months, there have been far too many.
Beauty decides to take drastic measures. She digs up the magic mirror that has lain buried for fourteen years, six feet underground at the mouth of the cave.
She had buried it for good reasons. First, the mirror is a symbol of her former life as a beauty: a mere reflection contained within elegant boundaries. Second, its magic allows only the past and the present to be revealed. Beauty chooses to forget her past, and she would rather not know if her father still lives in Castle Fleur de Coeur, if her sisters are still statues at the castle entrance, or if her husband, King Runyon still believes she is dead. Third, and most important, she does not want Rune to get her paws on the mirror and peer into Beauty's past.
Beauty's sharp black claws slice through the hard-packed dirt like a warm knife through butter, and there it is--as brilliantly exquisite as the day the Beast first gave it to her. She takes the mirror inside and sits on the straw mattress in her sleeping hollow. Because she is out of practice at rhyming, Beauty furrows her beastly brow. Her black lips move silently before she holds the mirror to her face and speaks:
"Magic mirror, by the light of the moon,
Show me the whereabouts of my daughter, Rune."
The mirror's surface shimmers with moon glow and reveals Rune, running at a staggering pace through Vagary Vale, clutching a bundle to her chest and shrieking at the top of her lungs.
Beauty drops the mirror and runs west, hackles rigid with adrenaline, fear pounding her knees. She scrambles to the top of Hesitation Hill, tears loose trumpeter vines and swings through the trees like Sheena of the Jungle. At last, she spies her daughter stumbling toward Thistle Thicket. Beauty swoops down, scoops up Rune, and carries her spent, frazzled beastie home.
* * *
Elora the Enchantress is playing Tomb Raider in the palace game room when her crystal ball flashes three times, indicating Beauty's magic mirror is in use.
"Bricklebrit," she curses. Croesus, the Ibizan hound curled at her feet, opens his mouth and spits three gold coins spinning on the maroon marble floor.
It must be said here that within Elora's scheming Machiavellian mind lies a tender spot for Beauty. She has earned Elora's grudging respect, an accomplishment as rare as a chicken sprouting teeth. Consequently, during the past fourteen years, in the guise of a newt, a blackbird, or a walking stick, Elora has periodically checked on mother and daughter and found the pair of beasties blissfully content.
So even though the flashing makes her lose concentration on the game, Elora is uncharacteristically quick to leave the console and conjure up Beauty's image in her crystal ball. Enchantress and hound watch Beauty snatch up the shrieking Rune, carry her home over her shoulder, and heft her into their cave.
Croesus whimpers and places a paw on the ball.
"I see it, fur face. Blood on Rune's bundle,” Elora mutters and zooms in on Rune, scanning her image from head to toe." The girl's fangs are clenched together in a frightful grimace, and her black talons are tipped red.
Croesus moans and begins to sway.
"If you faint, I'll turn you into a field mouse and toss you out the window to the owls," Elora snaps. "Shake it off and pay attention. Rune's drawing a second wind, and instinct tells me we're in for a beastly brouhaha."
* * *
Beauty senses a storm brewing and she wraps her arms tighter about her daughter. Rune growls and thrashes to free herself from Beauty's grip.
"What happened, Rune? Answer me!" Beauty demands.
Rune is beyond words, writhing in a foaming-at-the-mouth rage. At this point, Beauty locks Rune in a full Nelson, and she turns limp as a rag doll. The bundle plops to the floor and Beauty sees bloodstains on the pink satin cloth. She drags Rune toward the hearth to look for wounds, and the young beast begins kicking like a River dancer. Beauty tightens her grip, which is strong enough, in full use, to break a bull moose's neck, and says, "I won't let you go until you tell me what happened tonight."
Now Rune does something she's never done; something she knows is forbidden except when in danger of her life. She opens her jaws wide and sinks her fangs into her mother's arm. Howling in anguish, Beauty throws her hands in the air. Rune snatches the bundle between her teeth and scurries to her bedroom cave hollow.
Whimpering with shock, Beauty shuffles to her medicine shelf. She gathers a handful of burnet leaves, chews them vigorously and spits the staunching juice onto the bite. Then she crouches beside the hearth, stares into the embers, and dodges the bones, stones and pinecones thrown from Rune's hollow. She utters the lament voiced by mothers of adolescent daughters throughout time: "What have I done to deserve this?"
* * *
Beauty's present predicament began on the day Prince Runyon literally ran into Elora the Enchantress in her toothless, red-babushka-headed, arthritis-bent, bow-legged, sack-of-sticks-on-back, crone disguise. Not only did he refuse to help the old dear to her feet, he kicked her in the ribs as well, prompting Elora to cast the spell that transformed him into The Beast. She continued her magical manipulation of Grimm Land affairs, (Elora is an omnipotent enchantress who enjoys shuffling the cards of Fate) by spelling up a storm three years later, which directed Beauty's father to the Beast's castle. Elora counted on his weakness of character, and he proved himself by offering up a daughter to the Beast. She was equally assured of Beauty’s self-sacrificing devotion to her father. Her supposition was that Beauty's presence would simply torture the Beast, that so repulsive was his appearance, Beauty would never agree to marry him and thus break the spell. Elora had underestimated Beauty. Much to Elora's amusement, (having not been surprised for three-hundred years) Beauty learned to love the Beast, broke the spell, married Prince Runyon, and was destined to live happily ever after.
This did not happen, as you may know from the tale, Mrs. Beast. After a few months of married life, Beauty realized she preferred her beloved Beast to the vain and eccentric prince. Hence, guided by her magic mirror, she embarked on a quest to find Elora's Deco Palace, atop Glass Mountain in Grimm Land, and ask her to reverse the curse. Along the way, Beauty met Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, each living lives a far cry from happily ever after.
In the most worthy of quests, true value lies not in the object, but in the lessons learned on the journey. Beauty learned that fairy tale beauties hide and deny: Snow White hid in the dwarf commune and denied passion; Rapunzel hid in Storyendburg and denied love through a succession of sexual partners; Rosamond hid in opium and denied reality; Cinderella hid behind her veil and denied aging. Beauty learned that beauties are hunted by evildoers, mistreated by their families, and married to men who withhold the steadfast, enduring love given to plain and pretty girls, who refuse to befriend beauties.
Beauty also learned, early on in her travels, that she was pregnant. Many months later, road-dusty and backbones aching, she finally reached Glass Mountain. Elora the Enchantress, watching from the roof of Deco Palace, magically zapped an escalator into the south face of the mountain and rode Beauty to the top. As Beauty huffed and puffed and moaned and groaned through her labor, she did indeed ask Elora to cast a beastly spell. The enchantress asked if she was absolutely certain because once cast, the spell was non-negotiable, whether the child turned out to be Prince Runyon's or the Beast's.
Beauty blinked three times and said, "Because I've learned on this quest that beauty is beastly, it doesn't matter which one is father, my choice would be the same."
Elora cast the spell. Beauty's lustrous chestnut curls were replaced by thick coarse hair covering her from head to foot; her eyelids retracted and her bright hazel eyes bulged from their sockets; her pert nose grew to the size and texture of a purple cauliflower; her cherry pink lips were replaced by a gash of a mouth, bright blue gums, three rows of jagged teeth, and thin black lips; her hour glass figure expanded in muscle and bone, shortening her neck, enlarging her chest, lengthening her arms and legs until she was a female version of her beloved Beast, and her daughter was delivered as a miniature version of her mother. Elora whooped with glee and completed the spell by saying: "I endow you with the power to change back. If a man will love you as you are, and ask you to be his wife, you will become as you were."
Finding another husband was the furthest thing from Beauty's mind. She thanked Elora and promptly set out to find a suitable home for mother and baby beast. During her quest, she had traversed nearly every square mile of Grimm Land: she knows angst clings and spreads like lichen within the dense forests; she knows that roaming and skulking among the trees are animals capable of speaking, scheming, granting wishes, and eating children; she knows the land is infested with frogs, witches, giants, dwarfs, fairies, elves and goblins. She has been in forest clearings where Grimm peasants and cutthroats dwell in thatched roof cottages. She has climbed hilltops where castles stand from which kings exact impossible promises, queens die in childbirth or plot infanticide, princes await adventure, and princesses await princes.
Determined to raise her daughter far from Grimm dangers, and using the Heartbreak Mountains as a compass, Beauty traveled north. After scaling the mountains, she crossed miles of desolate heath, acres of pasture land; by night she passed towns, farms, and fields of rye until she came to a glacial outwash plain rimmed by wide valleys. She swam valley rivers, hiked valley peaks, and she stopped where the glacier had stopped. Before her lay a land dotted by deep blue lakes, surrounded by tree-covered hills with nary a castle nor thatched hut in sight. There she found, in the side of one green hill, a perfect home: the cave was dry and warm with a large main room and two generous hollows.
Beauty dubbed her home Cozy Cave. Here, she could be comfortable; here she could be content and perhaps live happily ever after with her darling daughter. Beauty took to her new life like a duck to water, reveling in freedom from the tyranny inherent in her previous form. The hair covering her body is rich in natural oils and needs neither constant washing nor brushing; it keeps her warm throughout the bleak Grimm winters and sheds itself in summer. She is never concerned with what to wear. Her new body gave her strength she could not have imagined in those days when people described her as "dainty and petite."
However, for Beauty, the greatest benefits of being a beast were not physical. She was no longer the object of stares; humans and animals alike fled, slack-jawed and pop-eyed at Beauty's approach. Men did not lust after her, idolize her, or hate her because they couldn't have her. Women were not jealous, envious, nor catty. She didn't need to keep quiet out of fear of being judged harshly. No one expected her to behave as a fairy tale beauty should. The only expectations placed on her were self-imposed: to provide food, shelter, safety, education, and affection for her daughter.
Although the outcome of Beauty's quest was contrary to her original intent, the transformation brought happiness she'd not dreamed possible. Except for her brief blissful months with the Beast, Beauty had lived a life of loneliness, and that loneliness was banished upon her daughter's birth. Once in a while Beauty recalled the passion she had shared with the Beast and fantasized about the company of a mate. However, she would not risk falling in love, and she was too decent to play with affections. If a man proposed marriage, which she felt was highly unlikely and undesirable, she was certain of her change back to a beauty, but she was uncertain of the effect on Rune. Beauty vowed to forsake rapture for contentment and they lived happily in Cozy Cave, their love for each other unconditional, until four months ago.
* * *
Pamela Ditchoff's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing