Beauty and the Beast/Song of Orpheus Critical Essays

Barbara Hambly


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Hambly uses a loose adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale to provide an imaginative commentary on problems in modern society. In particular, Hambly targets the 1980’s lifestyle, which in her view seems characterized by a general insensitivity to the plight of human beings whose standard of living falls far below that of the book’s heroine.

As suggested by the fairy tale, the story’s primary concern is the maturation of Catherine, who evolves from “Daddy’s little girl” to a woman with selfhood, identity, and integrity. The death of Catherine’s mother many years before had placed Catherine solely in the care of her wealthy, doting father, who naturally encouraged attitudes that would ensure her status in the life he enjoyed. He could not protect her, however, from the ugliness and violence rampant in society. That violence appeared, at first, to wreck her life but ironically proves to be the catalyst for her progression from supreme self-centeredness to a higher level of existence. Catherine’s discovery of a world inhabited by people who had forsaken the glittering society Above and who had suffered barbarities that had equaled or surpassed those inflicted upon her leaves its impression upon her. This secret, tightly knit community restores her faith in humankind and precipitates her change in attitude.

Catherine’s real growth is initiated by her love for Vincent. Like the Beast in the fairy tale, Vincent is dangerous and repugnant only to those who remain unacquainted...

(The entire section is 622 words.)