do we never tire of this story of the triumph of affection over outward appearance? Of course, it's also a story of extortion, kidnapping and violence, but hey, nobody said fairy tales were pretty. Your beautiful heroine has to have some heavy burdens to triumph over. Molly Coxe retells the old story with verve and an eye for detail. When Bunny's father gets lost in the forest and stumbles upon the magical castle, the splendid meal that appears before him includes "steaming oatmeal, jasmine tea and fresh carrot juice." When Bunny first leaves home to go to the Beast's castle, it is so early in the morning that the moon is still up. The story is richly detailed enough to survive without illustrations, but fortunately it doesn't have to.
Madame Leprince de Beaumont's 18th-century love story simply describes the Beast as "hideous," and leaves the nature of his hideousness to the reader's imagination. Jean Cocteau's surreal 1945 film portrayed the beast as fanged and vaguely leonine. The 1991 Disney movie gave us a Beast tusked and handsomely maned. Now, Bunny &and the Beast brings us a whole new take on this cursed nobleman.
With all the rest of the characters reinvented as rabbits, the new Beast turns out to be a bull terrier, complete with shiny black nose and one black eye, and resplendent in a purple velvet suit. Pamela Silin-Palmer, the illustrator, has great fun with these characters. Interestingly, she is also preoccupied with certain creatures that aren't even mentioned in the text. They show up in curious ways that will reward the attentive browser. Bunny's father picked a rose from the Beast's garden, and this trespass resulted in the Beast's demand for one of his daughters. Therefore flowers especially roses, but also irises, violets, pansies and others are the unifying visual theme in these busy double-page montages. And the flowers are crawling with tiny beetles, dragonflies, bees and snails. Lots of snails. There are many amusing touches. In harlequin trousers like jesters, tiny frogs lurk around the body of the text, rather like the singing mice in the film Babe. While Bunny reads, a frog in the corner peruses The Frog Prince. As the Beast is dying, a nearby frog blows his nose on a tiny hanky.
Curiously, the most realistically painted creatures in the book are the butterflies. Sulphurs, blues, swallowtails, monarchs realistic portrayals of each flutter through the otherwise loose and fanciful illustrations. Although the insects go unmentioned in the text, the characters aren't unaware of them. Bunny's father permits one to land on his finger; a frog chases one with a tiny butterfly net. Fairies, cavorting around here and there, are tiny bunnies with butterfly wings.
In Bunny &and the Beast, Molly Coxe and Pamela Silin-Palmer have managed the difficult task of creating a new and amusing take on an old story. In doing so, they remind us that one mark of a classic is the ability to speak anew to each generation.
Michael Sims is a writer in Nashville.