Thank you for your support of ceinwenlangley.com, but the time has come to move to a prettier, simpler format.
You can find my NEW website at http://www.ceinwenlangley.net.
See you there!
Thank you for your support of ceinwenlangley.com, but the time has come to move to a prettier, simpler format.
You can find my NEW website at http://www.ceinwenlangley.net.
See you there!
When I was nine years old, I went to the city with my dad.
The year was either 1996 or 1997, and we were living in the north island of New Zealand. The eighteen months we spent there are the golden years of my childhood. We lived in a beautiful house with a beautiful garden, Mum was still a Stay At Home and Dad worked a few minutes from the house so I saw him all the time, and my last remaining live-in brother, while very busy being a Teenager, was usually nice to me.
Before we go on with the rest of the story, because she’s doesn’t feature in it again, I’d like to express what a great mother I have. She was, and is, present, fun, supportive and lovely. I just have some feminist guilt at focusing so heavily on Dad here when she was and is so consistently there and awesome.
Okay, let’s continue.
New Zealand is particularly, for me, a golden time with my dad. In our home in Warrego (a mining community in the Northern Territory, populated entirely by mine workers, their families, and bull ants) I’d had to compete for his time with work, the pub, three older brothers, a bout with cancer and being a small, quiet girl. Which is not to say I got a small amount of attention. I was, until the age of thirteen, a Daddy’s Girl. And to his immense credit, he never described me as such. I was, in his words both at the time and forever after, ‘such a lovely kid.’ He read me bedtime stories (shared with Mum), putting up with the sheer amount of times I made him read Fox In Socks because of how funny his Welsh accent sounded stuffing up tongue twisters, he let me use him as furniture, and most importantly, he let me hang out with him when he was listening to his music.
For your cooler fathers who spent the sixties in the UK as proper adults, you’d think this music would be rock related. But not my dad. My dad, who lived in Britain, who could not name one Bowie song. My dad who had never heard of the Doors until I watched that almost entirely terrible Oliver Stone movie and turned my life into an insufferable Jim Morrison tribute piece. My dad listened to Welsh male choirs. I dubbed it dragon music, on account of the gunmetal dragon statue that lived on the stereo, which he thought was delightful, and we’d dance to it while the rest of the family watched TV in the lounge – me standing on his toes, naturally. I really was a sickeningly cute kid.
And then we moved to New Zealand. Dad spent less time at the pub and more time at home. We spent a lot of time together as a family, exploring the country, on hikes, at Saturday morning sport events. But one night was just me and Dad. I’m sure there were others, but this is the one that sticks. A Welsh choir was touring and performing in Auckland, a couple hours drive from where we lived, and he and I went together. I don’t remember if Mum didn’t want to go or if she was busy/away. I don’t remember if we drove there that night or if we stayed in a hotel. I remember being excited, I remember loving the concert, I remember them singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow and the Dulux song, and Dad being absolutely chuffed and conducting from his seat the whole time.
But this is not a story about my dad.
Twist ending! Sorry. This was me initially trying to write a short anecdote and then getting sidetracked by a place and a time and a person that I miss.
This is actually a story about an ugly dress and the girl wearing it.
While we lived in New Zealand, Dad’s two oldest sisters came to visit. They were – and are – delightfully, stereotypically Welsh. Small and pale and very chatty. They brought with them two delightfully stereotypically Welsh husbands, one who wouldn’t stop singing and one who wouldn’t stop inspecting the garden. Sadly, they also brought with them the dress.
There’s this thing people like to do to little girls, and it is to buy them pretty dresses. ‘Pretty’ in this context is a reflection of the buyers interest, without ever taking the personal interests or preferences of the little girl in question into account.
Also, by this time, I wasn’t exactly little. Nine is, as far as kids are concerned, practically a grown up.
There’s a really great picture of me in this dress. A small, pale girl with brown hair, engulfed in burgundy satin and white lace garnished with burgundy bows and frills, looking off camera to an unseen parent, utterly mystified.
The only time I wore this rustling monstrosity, other than to take said photo on the day of The Gifting, was to the Welsh choir in Auckland. It seemed appropriate, and Dad was a very big fan of (children) sincerely thanking anyone for a present, no matter how odd you find the choice of dried blood as a colour for a child’s dress, and sending the gift giver evidence that you have used and enjoyed their rather odd present.
It was when we were walking to the theatre that I saw her.
This woman, whose face I never saw, has stayed in my mind forever as the pinnacle of amazingness. She was walking in front of us with a man, and she was, as far as I was concerned, beautiful. She had long, long hair, perfectly straight and dark. She had knee-high boots, a short black skirt, a black jacket. She was pale, like me, and she walked like someone who had somewhere to be.
I don’t know where she went. I don’t remember her turning off, or us overtaking her. I just remember her there, in front of me, looking incredible while I wore an artful reworking of one of the Queen’s curtains. And then I remember being at the concert.
I don’t spend much time thinking about her. She just pops into my mind every now and then, and has ever since. Most recently, she came to my mind last week. My comfortable, flat boots for work died an unfixable death, and the only shoes I had at my boyfriends were my new ankle boots. I pulled them on over black knee high socks, and threw my black coat over my uniform. Thanks to not adding enough time to my usual route to allow for tall shoes, I was running late.
I caught a look at my reflection of a shop window as I power-walked through the centre. I always forget how long my hair is now, dead straight after a shower. My open jacket showed my short black skirt, a staple whether I’m at work or not, and my boots and socks looked awfully familiar in the blurred glass.
And there she was. The woman I’d seen in Auckland on a special night with my Dad in the reflection of a shop window over twenty years later.
Maybe this isn’t the story of an ugly dress either, or the girl wearing it. Maybe it’s the story of two strangers, two women, two decades apart.
I’ve had a complicated, lifelong relationship with Gaston, beginning when I first saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) when I was five years old and culminating two weeks ago when I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (2017) at age twenty-nine (though, realistically, four days off thirty). And when I say ‘culminating,’ I mean burdening everyone within a twelve foot proximity of me with Gaston related diatribes.
It was suggested to me (by me, in a caffeine fugue, though very earnestly supported by one of my long-suffering casuals who had at this point heard my rant four times in five hours) that I channel these feelings in a healthier way, i.e. away from the innocent, Disney loving youths in my shop and towards the void of the internet.
So here we are, internet. You and me and my Thoughts and Feelings on Gaston. Let’s begin at the logical point:
Why The Crap Do I Love A Boil like Gaston?
Because he’s especially good at expectorating. Because he uses the word ‘expectorating’ in one of the greatest scenes in Disney movie history, which is an impressive feat given that Beauty and the Beast (1991) is arguably (probably, definitely) the most technically amazing and objectively great* Disney movie (though will accept arguments for Moana and Mulan, and possibly The Little Mermaid if you want to pander to my specific interests of shaggy dogs, dudes in capes and mermaids). Because he is, flanked by Claude Frollo and Ursula, the (combination) greatest, scariest, funniest and most realistic Disney Villain of all time.
*A note before we go on: like all of my ramblings, all of my statements are pure opinion and based on utterly no research, and almost all of my absolutes are hyperbolic. But that one is accurate. Beauty and the Beast is technically brilliant. Not a single beat in this movie is wasted and it gets around what would usually be tedious and cringe worthy exposition by leaning wholeheartedly into being a proper musical. Not a movie with songs. A musical. It’s not my favourite Disney movie, but it’s the most well done.
The Villain We Deserve
In hindsight, Gaston was something of a left-field villain for the time, more along the lines of what they tried (and failed miserably – don’t @ me, that movie is a (thoroughly enjoyable) mess – to do with Hans in Frozen). As the angstier parts of the internet like to point out, Gaston could (not should, could) have been the hero of this story: a handsome man, well respected by everyone in the village, tries to rescue the woman he loves from imprisonment by a hideous beast.
Which is nonsense, because Gaston doesn’t love Belle, Belle repeatedly tells him she wants absolutely nothing to do with him, and Belle isn’t imprisoned at that point anyway. You are wrong, angsty internet. Draco Malfoy isn’t a nice boy, either, while we’re at it.
Anyway, what we have here is an ‘alpha’ male (I hate that term and concept, but it serves here), who isn’t mentioned as being powerful by any actual official means. The village has no elected or inherited leaders, as far as we’re told. Gaston has no title or position, no family to speak of, and he’s not mentioned as being wealthy (though he has some coins to splash and a say in the pub, so it could be argued as being implied), so in canon he has no prestige worth noting bar being ‘a handsome fella.’ From this we can surmise that Gaston is just a dude in town who everyone listens to because he’s handsome, charismatic, confident, a sick interior designer and looks really good when his hair is wet.
Which is interesting when you compare him to the other Disney villains up to and around that point. In every example, male or female, villains are seeking to take or hold a seat of power. The Evil Queen wants to stay the queen, Maleficent wants to take revenge and the kingdom, Ursula wants to take revenge and the kingdom, Jafar wants to take the kingdom, Scar wants to…
You get my point.
Of the male villains, we have a definite sense of the ‘other.’ Jafar and Scar are thin, heavy lidded, queer-coded (the trope of giving a character – usually an antagonist – traits and characteristics reminiscent of gay stereotypes while not being explicitly defined as being an LGBTQ* character). They are emasculate and subtle, classic movie villains. Captain Hook is a blatant coward, and portrayed as being unattractive despite his vanity, and mocked and pandered to by his crew. A classic comedic villain, almost pantomime in delivery.
Gaston, by comparison, is masculine in the extreme. He is vain, but understandably so. He is talented, brave, a known cheat at every game he plays but seen as a lovable rogue for it.
He’s also abusive, manipulative and misogynistic. And these are traits that, here, are explicitly portrayed as being both highly masculine*, and undesirable.
[Obligatory note that abuse and manipulation are not masculine by nature, but in Beauty and the Beast 1991 we are shown masculine forms of them, in that they are exhibited by a man celebrated for his supreme masculinity.]
But Gaston isn’t just an evil fairytale bogeyman. He isn’t the evil advisor trying to take the throne. He isn’t the wicked stepmother trying to get her daughters married to the prince before he sees the beautiful Cinderella. He isn’t someone we see in fiction and kind of liken to people we see in the real world. He is someone we see in the real world. He’s every single attractive, well-liked man who survives and, too often, flourishes after allegations of violence, assault and abuse. He is an athlete, he is a politician, he is a celebtity. He’s a boss, he’s a boyfriend, he’s a son.
Usually, we read about his achievements. We hear about what a great guy he is. We see, in a small paragraph, what he is accused of. We hear his defenders, and later, we read him recognised for another achievement, and we see the world forget.
But Gaston is the villain of Beauty and the Beast, a character who doesn’t exist in any form in the original fairytale, invented for children of the early nineties, a privileged man who doesn’t survive his attempts to control and manipulate Belle into a horrible marriage.
Gaston is the best Disney villain because he’s real, and he’s likeable, and he’s terrifying. And because it’s so satisfying when he loses.
So What Did I Think About The Live Action Gaston?
To put it as succinctly as I can, I enjoyed the performance (mostly) and hated the writing.
But succinct is neither a word or concept I like to use on my blog, so let’s start with five minutes of screeching and follow it with the following statement:
They completely watered him down.
Gaston in 2017 is an idiot. He is Gaston at half volume, all the vanity and confidence without much of the charm and none of the manipulation or calculation. A man who can’t think as opposed to a man who prefers not to. A man who went to war and really liked the part with the killing and the shagging and came home a hero, which could have been an interesting element if they’d played it for anything but comedy, but they didn’t.
Gaston 1991 has a clear thought process. Let’s tell the story from his perspective.
He sees a woman he wants, because she’s as beautiful as he is. She ignores him, which is confusing, but Gaston ticks all the boxes a man should and therefore she’s just playing hard to get – or doesn’t know what she wants. Which makes sense, she is a woman. But she rejects him again, flat out, in public. Which is humiliating. In cold fury, he swears to have Belle. Having Belle is now a matter of pride and revenge. (End of Act One)
The entire village, despite seeing his humiliation, pitches in to help him see what a top specimen of manhood he is. They still love him. He’s still their favourite guy. The one person he knows Belle cares for enters his domain in a panic with stories about a monster. His initial, hotheaded reaction is to throw him out for a laugh, but he hatches a longer term plan: to imprison Belle’s father and manipulate her into agreeing to marry him. (End of Act Two)
But when Belle returns, she rejects him – publically – again. And worse, she rejects him for someone bigger, stronger, hairier, possessing every single physical trait Gaston values and every emotional trait he considers a weakness: kindness, gentleness, friendship. Gaston is furious. He no longer wants Belle, even to prove a point. He wants vengeance. He wants proof of his superiority. He locks Belle away, to be sent to the asylum the second he gets home (a woman who doesn’t want him is crazy, after all, which can come at no cost to his reputation or esteem) and artfully – and purposefully – plays on the fears of the village to roil them into a mob. When he finds the Beast, submissive, back turned, waiting to die, he’s disgusted and triumphant, shooting the Beast in the back. Gloating in his perceived and easy victory, rubbing salt in the wound. Belle is his, how could she want you when she had someone like me? But Belle comes back and chooses the Beast again. Again. And without any effort at all, Gaston is overpowered and emasculated, made to beg for his life. Everything he holds valuable has been stripped of him. And Belle and the Beast don’t even care. Belle doesn’t so much as look at him. The Beast turns his back on him. Gaston is nothing if he leaves now. So he stabs the beast in the back, killing him. He has his revenge, for a moment, and then he dies. Killed, in Disney tradition, by his own lust for power.
It’s a personal trajectory I can get behind, because I can see the motivation in each of his decisions. The only beat in Gaston’s story that makes me cringe from a storytelling perspective is the whole arranging a wedding without asking the bride first, which I was very okay with losing in the live action. But there was no replacement beat, and it threw off his whole character journey.
Of all the new scenes, Gaston and LeFou’s felt the most rejigged, in that they didn’t correlate to the feel or tone of the original. You could argue that my dislike of them comes down to ‘Ceinwen Langley Hates New Things,’ but you would be wrong, because Ceinwen Langley very much likes new Star Wars and new shoes. The news scenes felt jarring, and they didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Now, I’ve only seen Beauty and the Beast 2017 once, so my memory is a little fuzzy, but here is what I can glean of Gaston 2017’s journey. Whose wardrobe they got confused with Captain Hook’s.Yo ho.
After deciding to woo and marry Belle, Gaston points out that spinsters in the village are gross and nobody likes them (no offense, Agatha), gets rejected on her doorstep with nobody watching, and then is a bit sad. His creepy best friend(?) shoulder massages him into a rollicking tribute to his greatness and everyone joins in, reminding Gaston that everyone loves him because He Is A Handsome Man Who Is Good At Man Things. They don’t know why they’re cheering up Gaston, but they’re up for it because every last inch of him’s allegedly covered in hair, which is a claim I question in live action, but okay. Belle’s father enters, raving about a monster, and Gaston goes off with him to… it’s a bit of a cliffhanger. (End of Act One, sort of?)
Gaston and LeFou help Belle’s father look for her, because this is a good way to grease him up to get him onside in the whole Belle marrying him thing. But then Gaston gets cold and bored, and after a bit of an argument it comes out that there’s no way American Kevin Kline will support this bid for his imprisoned English daughter’s hand. So Gaston ties him up and leaves him to be eaten by wolves and goes home because a dead father is better than an interfering one. But also Belle is confirmed missing and that’s… fine? Did he think she’d gone home? How did this factor into the grand plan? Anyway. (End of Act Two maybe.)
Gaston is accused of trying to murder Belle’s father by wolf and the village considers this because Gaston seems to be less respected in this version despite them all singing about how great he was the day before. He seduces his small, guilty friend into attesting to his innocence, and they worm their way out of it by calling Belle’s father crazy, and by happy accident they’re taking him to the asylum when Belle comes back! Yay! Did everyone just… not care that the hottest girl in the village disappear? No? I mean, they didn’t in the other version either, but they’ve made such a point of explaining the backstory that it seems weirder here. Anyway, Belle rejects Gaston in public for the first time! And she does it for a Beast! And Gaston looks stroppy about it, and we lurch into the same general ending as the animated version except Gaston has a gun instead of a bow or hunting knife and he dies because he’s on a bridge what falls down.
This is a biased and forgetful retelling, I know. But Gaston 2017 wasn’t frightening. He wasn’t a villain I recognised from the real world, he was a villain I recognised from formulaic movies: a character built around strong set pieces from an earlier draft, existing only because he’s expected to.
Which is disappointing in a film adaptation of Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast, but more disappointing in an opportunity lost. Gaston recognises that not all villains look like villains, that they can be your hero or other people’s heroes, and that someone trying to own you is not someone who loves you. These are important lessons for all of us, as important as beauty being skin deep (unless you’re a woman, in which case your name is literally Beauty and it’s all anyone will really say about you).
Gaston 2017 teaches us to keep dodging that annoying old guy in the market. A valid lesson, but sort of… less interesting. And also that beauty is only skin deep, unless you’re a woman, in which case your name is lit
Side note, why was Gaston so much OLDER than Belle? He could have been old and manipulative for a WHOLE NEW level of scary, but no. Old and dumb as a brick but making hot headed, bizarre, disastrous decisions that…
I guess he is a relevant villain after all.
Did You Actually Like The New Movie At All?
Yes. I enjoyed it a lot when I was watching it. But also the more I think about it, and the more I hear the full soundtrack at work (every two and a half hours), no. Emma Watson can’t sing well (she can sing adequately, which is not good enough for a musical film) and all of the joyous hustle and bustle of every chorus number is gone. All the animate objects lost 90% of their physical personality and despite having amazing actors the voice acting couldn’t make up for it, and EVERYTHING ABOUT LEFOU HOLY MOTHER OF AWFUL NONSENICAL SCRIPTING. Also I somehow hate English accents after this movie.
Pretty dresses, though. I liked that you could always see Belle’s bloomers. I liked that they leaned into the musical thing with even MORE songs. I liked what they did with the Beast’s character and that they gave him and Belle more in common than proximity. I like that they addressed why they were having a ball in an abandoned imprisonment castle, and I like that the Beast was such a dork about it. I like that they tried to make Beauty and the Beast more of a story about Belle, which it never really was in the 1991 version, even though I think they mostly failed. I liked the new library scene better than the old one. I liked that they read books at the dinner table. I like the prince was someone I would definitely make out with. I really liked his new song even through it didn’t fit his emotional journey and even though I completely replotted the third act in my head to make it fit better. I like Luke Evans, even though I wish Gaston had been played by Chris Hemsworth.
I mean, right?
Why Do You Care So Much About This?
I don’t, really! I just have feelings! And now I’ve purged them. And now I feel clean. And like I can maybe never talk about this again.
Until tomorrow, when a customer tells me they thought Josh Gad was funny.
There is a LOT of writing advice in the world/on the internet. Mostly on the internet. Message boards and facebook groups and sub-reddits are full of advice – often asked for, often… not – about what to do about adverbs (the road to hell), prologues (readers always skip them so don’t bother), present tense (ew), first person (are you a teenage girl? Because otherwise no), love triangles (stop immediately) and so on. Stephen King’s On Writing is cited roughly eight times a topic, occasionally Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat, and a whole lot of ‘personally, as a reader, I’s.’
So to be incredibly helpful, I, a person who wrote a book in first person present with a prologue and a bit of a love triangle, have decided to compile my own list of ABSOLUTELY AND UTTERLY UNBREAKABLE WRITING RULES (you can trust me, I have an IMDB profile and I didn’t even make it myself), drawn from a lifetime of reading and some years of writing.
*Alcohol/tea/coffee/green cordial. Whatever gets you through.
** Oh, but always read submission guidelines when you submit your work. That actually is an utterly unbreakable rule.
I am not a person with artistic skills. At all. Luckily, a thing called Canva exists which lets me kind of pretend a little bit. So I’ve made some cute social media sharables from the three stories in Almost Midnight. If you like the book, or even just like the quotes, please feel free to save them and share them to Facebook, twitter, tumblr, instagram, reddit or any other platform you cool kids are into.
In which our heroine, frazzled faux ginger thing that she is, reveals the new cover of her seven month old book and the reasoning behind it.
Greetings and salutations, dear reader.
I’ve made what might be seen as an odd decision. Or, if not odd, extremely unwise on the financial front. I’ve taken a book that I never expected (and still don’t) to sell well, and I’ve thrown more money at it.
Because my income increased, and I’m sort of bad with money for one. And two, because I wasn’t happy with how the book looked.
I bought the old cover premade – a popular choice for indie publishers on a tight budget (which I very much was at the time). Basically, the cover was already finished, and the designer just filled in my name and the book title for a fraction of the cost of commissioning something new.
I loved the cover, and I still think it suits me and the book – but only if you know me, and only once you’ve read the book, which is the best tactic for selling your words to strangers.
To the uninitiated, it’s a little dark (tonally and colour wise) and skews a bit teenage. I worried that it gave the impression that my retellings would be tragic and grim (lowercase g, one m), and it bothered me that it didn’t quite match the style of the illustrations inside.
These things had niggled at me before and shortly after I published, but there wasn’t much I could do about it without an income boost.
And then I went full time with the day job.
One of the many weird things about taking a non-creative full time job are all the conflicting feelings of relief and excitement and shame and guilt. ‘Yay, I have money again!’ ‘Yay, I like this job!’ ‘Yay, I’m no longer a burden on my friends and loved ones!’ ‘Wait, am I still allowed to call myself a writer if I’m not doing it full time?’ ‘Oh crap, please don’t ask me about how my writing is going.’ ‘I’m too tired to write tonight, but then what am I doing the day job for?’
So when it became clear that I had spectacularly failed Camp NaNoWriMo due to my brain and body getting used to the rigours of full time work again, I decided to focus on one thing I could handle, could now afford, and kept me feeling like a writer.
I’ve been following a few cover designers whose work I like over the past few years, and I immediately knew I wanted to work with ebooklaunch.
I like their typography, and I think their books would look completely comfortable on a bookshop shelf, which is important to me.
So I got in touch, and with absolutely no idea of what I wanted the cover to actually look like (I am not a visual artist. At all.), I told them that I wanted the cover to clearly reflect the hopeful tone of the stories and the all-age audience. And then I included an example of my illustrations and some book covers in a similar genre that I liked. And they sent back this.
And I squealed a bit and sent it to some supportive but critical friends for their reaction, in case I was too blinded by love and the need for the amount of money I paid to a complete stranger on the internet to yield extremely positive results. But all reactions matched mine. This was the right cover. It’s bold and pretty, it’s Cinderella without being TOO cliche (I hope), looks great full size and in thumbnail and it looks like it would sit happily on the shelf of a five year old or a fifty year old.
So here we are! Same book, new cover, and a very happy author.
And now, because my brain and body are somewhat more used to the full time thing, I’m going back to writing the next one.
Okay. So I didn’t complete Camp NaNoWriMo. I wrote no words in week two, and only a few in week three, and then I entered a vicious shame cycle which lead to no writing and no blogging for a few more weeks.
BUT. Now I’m settled in at new job (it’s fun, I get to play with Star Wars figurines, so) and have actually fallen into a good writing schedule. Words are getting written, work/life/writing balance is being maintained, and life is pretty good.
Also I’ve spent this silent time getting the cover of Almost Midnight redesigned! So stay tuned for that reveal once my proof copy arrives!