Beauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer

beauty and the beast_mayerBeauty and the Beast by Marianna Mayer, illustrations by Mercer Mayer

I’ve saved the best for last.

This is the book made me fall in love with fairy tales.

Mayer uses richly detailed paintings to illustrate this classic story of Beauty and the Beast, setting it somewhere in the medieval era. Mayer depicts the Beast’s strange and magnificent castle by including elements of Egyptian and Art Nouveau influences.

Mayer is a master at hair. It’s one of the little things that I love about this book from Belle’s father’s beard to the fur on the Beast’s cloak, and every single illustration that features Beauty close-up. Her hair is gorgeously done with the individual strands that are first lined and then filled in… it just looks so realistic. It’s beautiful.

Also, Beauty is a bibliophile and when she’s sitting in the tower, book in hand, so regal in her natural grace, posture and yes, her stunning jewelry, well, I just wanted to be her. Speaking of jewelry, I love the butterfly wing coronet in one scene, and the matching scarab brooch and ring in another.

Mayer juxtaposes Beauty’s life in the palace to the one she left behind. Small details in their home hint at the life she had with her brothers. There’s a lute and a skull in the house – who is the musician? Who loves the theatre? A crucifix on the wall hints at their faith.

There are some books that when you find them again, it is like you have re-discovered a great treasure. This is one of those books.

When I stumble across an original hardback copy of the 1978 classic, I stop and caress the dust jacket. Without opening its pages, I silently acknowledge the beauty within and should I linger, my heart begins to ache with the memory of a child who learned to love fairy tales, an ache that will only be satisfied by sitting down once more and beginning with these lines:

There once was a wealthy merchant who lived with his three daughters and three sons.

If you liked either of the books featured this week illustrated by Mercer Mayer, you may also like some of his other titles:

  • East of the Sun, West of the Moon
  • Favorite Tales From Grimm
  • Shibumi And The Kitemaker

You can learn more about the art of Mercer Mayer at:


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