Master story-teller Laurence Yep took his inspiration for his magical version of the Beauty and the Beast fairy-tale from a traditional Chinese tale with a Southern Chinese setting. His The Dragon Prince (HarperCollins, 1997) has some satisfying twists and turns in the narrative and an impressive dragon in the role parallel to the Beast: visually too, thanks to Kam Mak’s powerful illustrations. We just love the noble, enormous, golden dragon, and completely empathised with Beauty/Seven’s inherent trust in the beauty she finds in him, that goes deeper than the fear – even when the Dragon insists, “But you really should be afraid” – yes, Little Brother especially loved that line!
Seven is set apart from her older sisters from the start: while they work in the fields, she does beautiful embroidery, which is then sold at the market, thereby providing the family with the sustenance the rocky ground cannot. The symbolism of this carries the narrative through to its conclusion (it’s a fairy tale so it’s irrelevant to question the point of the other sister’s activities, farming land on which nothing will grow). Three is jealous of Seven – and never more so than when, instead of suffering a terrible fate after agreeing to marry a firece dragon in return for her father’s life, Seven arrives on a visit to her family on a ‘chair of gold and coral’ and with all her maids behind her, descending from the sky in a ‘glittering procession’.
Three therefore tricks Seven and takes her place, preparing the Dragon Prince for a change in his wife’s appearance by saying she’s been ill – which makes for an interesting take on Beauty and the Beast: the Prince “didn’t care. In that short time, Seven had come to mean everything to him, not for her beauty but for her kindness.”
So do they live happily ever after? Well, I highly recommend you get hold of this great story and find out for yourself, and enjoy some cultural nuances along the way. For example, one bit that made me chuckle and served to show the Dragon Prince’s state of mind as he searches deperately for Seven: he buys at a market “without bargaining”!
Gathering Books also featured The Dragon Prince earlier this year, as part of a wonderful series of in-depth posts about Chinese fairy-tales – in case you missed them, here are the other links; they’re definitely worth a read: Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China (which Little Brother read for our Reading the World Challenge in 2008) and Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China (which I have also featured as a Book at Bedtime in the past)…