There’s a lot of hype about Beauty and the Beast at the moment, with Disney’s live action film on the horizon, the legendary Angela Lansbury taking to the stage to sing on the animated film’s 25th anniversary, and the English release of La Belle et la Bête.
To add to this melting pot of excitement, YA fantasy author Zoë Marriott’s new book was released last month. In the past, she has written retellings of ‘Cinderella‘ and ‘The Wild Swans,’ and a series of magic realism novels fused with Japanese mythology amongst other amazing folklore/fairy tale infused goodness. Her latest offering is called Barefoot on the Wind, and it’s a retelling of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ set in a fictional, magical version of feudal Japan.
Hana’s isolated mountain village is plagued by a monster which lives in the forest. Every dark of the moon, it calls people into the trees and they are never seen again. Until Hana’s father is taken, and makes it back alive. Seeking answers and a way to free her people from the monster’s curse, Hana ventures into the forest armed with her bow and arrows. But what she finds is unexpected, and she soon realises that what she came to slay might be a different monster to the one she originally set out after…
By writing Barefoot on the Wind, Zoë wanted to reconcile the story somewhat. As she explains on her website, Beauty and the Beast has a few issues. Mostly that the beast is manipulative and inconsiderate. He keeps the main protagonist prisoner, and guilt trips her into marrying him by setting her free only to say he will die if she doesn’t return. Not a great basis for a relationship! Personally, I’ve always felt that Beauty and the Beast is rather lacking. The reasons for the beast’s curse are always weak, and his behaviour doesn’t entirely show that he has changed. It’s down to the girl to come to terms with loving a beast, but his motivation to marry her is because she’s his only chance to break the curse – not because he loves her as a person, just because she’s there. Many analyses of the story focus on how the girl is rewarded for learning to see past his appearance and the message that beauty is on the inside yada yada yada, but there’s more to it than that. The story is meant to be about the beast breaking his curse, so he needs to learn as well. But I feel that he doesn’t really do this. Some stronger backstory would be nice, as would some more developed feelings between the pair.
Zoë’s version of events does a fabulous job of fixing these problems. Her changes to the story are simple but effective, and overall Barefoot on the Wind reads easily and gently. It’s a slow-paced, flowing story, filled with vivid Japanese and fantasy details which make it visually joyful.
I don’t want to give major spoilers, but oh my goodness I was not expecting to encounter Yuki-Onna in this book! As soon as she was mentioned my brain was just like ‘pihfdo chhdhc hkd fhlk h dihl!!’ Yuki-Onna legends both terrify and fascinate me, so I was ecstatic to find a new take on her.
Yuki-Onna is a type of Japanese yokai (demon). A Yuki-Onna is the restless spirit of a woman who died in the snow. She appears during snowstorms, and is very beautiful and usually dressed in white with black hair. Occasionally she will guide people to safety, but more likely she will freeze them to death. A common Yuki-Onna story tells of how a young man sees her, and promises not to tell anyone. Later in life, he marries a beautiful woman (often she is called ‘Oyuki’ which means ‘snow’) and they have children. But he breaks his promise, and tells his wife about his sighting of Yuki-Onna. His wife then reveals that she is the Yuki-Onna. She tells him she should kill him for breaking his promise, but will spare his life because of their children. Or, in less happy versions, she freezes them all…
Yuki-Onna is definitely not a creature to be messed with, and Zoë has done a fantastic job of depicting her wild, fearsome nature as well as her human origins. Like I said, I’ve always felt that Beauty and the Beast didn’t quite sit right, but until now I never would have thought that adding in Yuki-Onna could make it complete! Thanks, Zoë!
I also love that Zoë’s beast is tiger-like. This reminds me of Angela Carter’s story ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ (found in her collection The Bloody Chamber), which is also based on Beauty and the Beast.
So if your love of Beauty and the Beast is not yet satiated (and why would it be, with so much excitement going on?!) then you should definitely give Barefoot on the Wind a read. It’s available in paperback and on Kindle. And if you like it when you finish it and decide you love it, then you should totally pick up Zoë’s Cinderella retelling Shadows on the Moon next. It’s set in the same magical, Japanese-y world as Barefoot on the Wind, and it’s every bit as enthralling! Plus, they’re both aesthetically beautiful additions to any fairy tale bookshelf!
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