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“Love can make a man into a beast. Love can also make an ugly man beautiful.”
– The Prince laying down the story’s message, with emphasis on the former in this case…
CONTENT WARNING: This review features a brief mention of violence and sexual abuse, and discusses a portrayal of an abusive relationship. If you or someone you love is in an unsafe situation with a family member, spouse or partner, it is okay to reach out for help. Links to various hotlines and organizations that can assist you will be posted at the end of the review.
Perhaps the most iconic of the “animal bridegroom” folktales spanning across the globe is Beauty and the Beast. The motif of a beautiful woman being paired with a beastly man is indeed a tale as old as time; the oldest recorded story, The Epic of Gilgamesh, includes an anecdote about a savage wild man, Enkidu, falling in love with a virtuous priestess, Shamhat. Like Snow White, though, the origins of the Beauty and the Beast story we know today can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this time through the tale of Cupid and Psyche:
Psyche was the most kind and beauteous of three sisters, yet all who came to admire her only did so for her looks, not to pursue a wife. The attention Psyche received earned her the ire of Venus, the goddess of love. She commanded her son Cupid to make Psyche fall for a hideous creature as revenge. But on seeing Psyche for himself, he fell in love with her. Cupid vowed to protect her from his mother’s wrath. When Psyche’s father went to visit an oracle, he was told she was going to marry a horrible monster and had to be left alone on top of a mountain for it to claim her. Psyche accepted her fate, not expecting the West Wind to carry her to an enchanted palace in the clouds instead. Her lover came to her invisible each night to dote on her every whim, asking only that she never try to see his face. Psyche was happy for a while, but began to miss her family. Despite Cupid’s misgivings, he allowed her sisters to pay her a visit. The sisters were bitterly jealous of Psyche, however, and planted doubt in her heart about her mysterious husband. They convinced her to look upon him as he slept to find out who he really was. Psyche was thrilled to learn she was wife to a god, but some hot oil spilled from her lamp onto Cupid. Burned in more ways than one, Cupid abandoned Psyche, and she was forced to undertake some herculean labors in order to prove her faithfulness and win him back.
One can see how the tale would evolve into a parable about love, loyalty, and how beauty is only skin-deep. The story even took a step into reality with Petrus Gonsalvus, “the man of the woods” or “the hairy man”. Gonsalvus suffered from hypertrichosis, a condition involving hair growing all over his face. Because of his animal-like visage, people of the time barely considered him human. In 1547 he was brought to the court of King Henry II of France where he more or less filled the post of “royal freak show”. He was married to a beautiful woman, Margaret of Parma, and they had children who likewise inherited their father’s hypertrichosis. Some scholars claim it was Gonsalvus who inspired author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve to write Beauty and the Beast. Her version of the story was published in 1740, then abridged and re-published by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont sixteen years later, with many more iterations by authors such as Andrew Lang following after.
It’s widely agreed that Villeneuve wrote her story as a way to prepare young ladies for arranged marriages. It’s easy to see the metaphor when you read it through that lens: Beauty is more or less traded to a suitor by her father in exchange for riches, she’s sent away from her family to live him, and emphasis is put on his kindness, wealth and higher standard of living as reasons to overlook his less pleasant qualities. Though the story can rise above it and the implied Stockholm Syndrome inherent when told well, only one version has successfully done so:
But since this episode came out almost a decade before Disney’s, it had to take inspiration from elsewhere…
In a chateau in the French countryside live an impoverished merchant and his three beautiful daughters. The eldest, spoiled Marguerite and Georgette, cling on to any semblance of their privileged former lives while the youngest, Beauty, dutifully aids in maintaining the household.
This is where I come to the first problem I have with almost every Beauty and the Beast iteration. In the fairy tale, Beauty was a nickname bestowed on her by her family because she was lovely both inside and out. She has an actual name, we just never learn what it is. Every adaptation, however, chooses to lazily call her Beauty. And yes, I know Belle just means “beauty” in French, but at least that’s a real name. I wouldn’t have a problem if she was called Belle (hi, Disney). That “Beauty” moniker not only sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the characters with ordinary nomenclatures, but really sets up Beauty to be held up to impossible standards and loathed by her siblings. I quote Phelan Porteous, “I can’t imagine why there’d be any complex between [the two sisters] when [their father] named the third one Beauty.”
Though Beauty works hard all day and doesn’t flounce around in clothes befitting her name, she still attracts at least one suitor more than her sisters do combined, much to their envy.
Jacques here pays Beauty a visit hoping to convince her to marry him. So you know the deal, he turns out to be a self-absorbed jackass meant to invert the Beast, right? And oh boy what a jackass Jacques is, offering to wed Beauty so he can save her and father from poverty, then respecting her wishes when she says she doesn’t love him that way and not pressing the issue further, and turning his pursuit towards the sisters since he recognizes they’re interested in starting a romantic relationship with him…
Are we sure this guy’s supposed to be the Gaston of this outing? Asking for a friend.
Beauty’s sisters then enter with marvelous news: some of their father’s long-lost ships have returned with the promise that they’re not financially ruined after all. The merchant sets out to learn what remains of their fortune but loses his way in the woods. He finds a magnificent yet eerie castle. The doors open to him and candelabras made up of living arms point the way to a dining room where he’s served by disembodied hands popping up out of nowhere.
If any of this is ringing a bell (ha), lemme stop you right there. This episode is, for lack of a better term, a near scene-for-scene remake of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. If it weren’t for the different score, some invested performances and a few story elements omitted for runtime, I’d say this was to Cocteau’s film what Gus Van Sant’s Psycho was to Hitchcock’s.
The merchant, while searching for his host to thank them for their hospitality, picks a rose for Beauty, since he apparently promised to give her one offscreen. Too bad for him the one house rule was Do Not Pick The Flowers. The master of the castle, a regal and terrifying Beast, emerges in all his furry fury.
“Yeah, albinism skips a generation in my family, what of it?”
Props to the makeup people, they recreated Cocteau’s Beast beautifully. The problem is…everything else about him. The enormous fangs on top of Klaus Kinski’s thick accent make him sound ridiculous. It’s difficult to take him seriously with that nasal lisp and attempts at guttural growls.
This Beast is based on Cocteau’s, of course, which in turn means it’s based on Villeneuve/Beaumont’s fairytale – which presents a whole other mess of problems. Instead of a spoiled, selfish prince learning to be worthy of Belle and the audience’s love, we have a creep who’d raise some serious red flags in real life. The Disney movie went out of its way to show that the Beast’s overreaction to Maurice’s trespassing was bad. On the flip-side, his desire to protect his rose makes sense as it’s tied to his curse. Here, the Beast is fine with letting Beauty’s father take advantage of his hospitality but throws a fit when it comes to the roses for no reason and threatens to murder him or his daughter as compensation. Keep in mind, we’re supposed to root for him and Beauty to get together. It’s tough to base a sound relationship on implied death, just saying.
And then there’s the casting of Klaus Kinski, which paints this episode with even more disturbing undertones. First, there’s the age difference. Pairing an older guy with a much younger woman is an unfortunate trend that still persists in Hollywood casting, but the eighteen-year difference between him and Susan Sarandon really pushes it. And while Kinski was an acclaimed actor in his lifetime, he was also a verified psychopath with a notorious history of violence, volatile and dangerous behavior, and sexually abusing his family. Frequent collaborator Werner Herzog declared him a monster and a pestilence, and his own daughters expressed relief at his death. All that instability and rage carries over into Kinski’s performance, but there’s none of the warmth needed to make the Beast a likable deuteragonist. He’s too good at playing a monster.
The Beast tells the merchant he has a few days to either return and die or send one of his daughters to take his place. He lends him a magic horse named…Magic (the horse’s name in the movie is Magnifique, which sounds way better) which will take him to and from his destination. The merchant relates his encounter to his family and announces that he will return to the Beast over Beauty’s protests. Once they’re alone, her sisters call out her for sucking up to their dad. But Beauty’s intentions are genuine, and she sneaks out of the house at dawn and rides to the castle. Her father tries to catch up with her on his own horse but she is long gone.
Beauty arrives at the castle and stands around the creepy hand-elabra hall for a bit before deciding to nope out of there. But the Beast shows up behind her asking where the hell she thinks she’s going. She faints at the very sight of him. The Beast carries Beauty to her room in another shot-for-shot recreation of the movie, complete with her clothes magically changing into a princess gown once she’s over the threshold. She awakens in her new bed to find the Beast staring down at her.
Her fearful gaze causes the Beast physical pain, and he dramatically backs out of the room saying that she will only see him at dinner time. That evening he lurks up to her and they have a dry “romantic” conversation about how the Beast is oh-so hideous yet he has a kind heart and he gives everything to Beauty because he finds her oh-so beautiful and loves her –
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast didn’t just talk about how Beast is good despite looking like a monster, they SHOWED it, which is way more effective. In fact, only talking about how this Beast is good and kind isn’t just hard to believe but made even worse because up to this point all he’s done is threaten to kill Beauty’s father over picking a flower and then NOT kill Beauty for showing up in his place. I know all the nice dresses and jewelry and food he gives her is supposed to represent trust, friendship and love in that Cocteau-ian surrealist way, but it really comes across as Beast showering her material riches to get her to like him after all the death threats. And the Beast going on about how he is slow-witted but would die of loneliness if he lost Beauty is, again, hardly demonstrated to back it up and comes off as cheap manipulation. The kicker? Every night they’re together the Beast has to ask Beauty to marry him. Though it’s a stipulation of his curse, it really feels like another way of wearing her down.
Things get even more alarming later as Beauty hears the Beast screaming while she’s preparing for bed. She hides outside her room and watches as he enters, his paws smoking. He roars at one of the magic mirrors to show him where Beauty is. When Beauty emerges and demands to know what he’s doing, the Beast tries to act all soft and present her with a gift. She rightly tells him to get out.
Yet as the days pass and the Stockholm Syndrome kicks in, Beauty starts feeling compassion for her animalistic captor to the point where she anticipates their dinner conversations. Or maybe it’s because she’ll have someone else to talk to, who knows. At one point Beast is late and passive-aggressively thanks Beauty for noticing when she calls him out on it. Oh joy, more manipulative self-flagellation. Beauty finally breaks down and says she can’t bear being away from her family anymore. She asks if she can see her father, which the Beast says he’ll think about…and then he asks if she’ll marry him when she comes back.
Once again he whinges about how horribly ugly he is yet he’ll die of grief if she went away forever (Don’t take a shot for anytime he says something along these lines. Trust me on this.) Beauty is moved to pity somehow and begins petting him, her first physical interaction with the creature she once feared to be near.
The Beast flat-out says, “You pity me, as one would pity an animal,” and Beauty replies “Beast, you are an animal.”
Still, Beauty is apparently falling for the Beast despite them having no chemistry, nothing in common, and all their conversations amount to “I’m/you’re so hideous but so kind”. Her attempt at getting to know him better reaches a disturbing conclusion as Beast spots a deer during their walk and his predator instincts nearly kick in. Later, Beauty is woken by the sounds of him shrieking. She finds him standing outside her room with his hair on end and his paws smoking.
The smoking is not explained in the episode but it’s a holdover from the Cocteau film. Whenever the Beast claims a life – in this instance, the deer from before – he burns from the pain he himself inflicted, which is made even worse by Beauty’s angry stare literally hurting him further. Beast begs her to forgive him for being a beast, but Beauty ain’t having none of that. She throws him a towel and tells him to clean up and go to bed. She’s not taking any excuses about his behavior. Shame it’s too little too late by this point. Beast screams at her to close the curtains because of her painful glare, but it sounds more like he’s going to kill her if she doesn’t.
Later, Beauty catches a glimpse of her father wasting away in her magic mirror. She begs the Beast once more to go home to take care of him.
The Beast finally capitulates and gives Beauty a magic teleport ring and a deadline to return in case she thinks he’s joking about the whole dying-of-loneliness thing. Beauty pops up back in her father’s room which triggers an uptick in his recovery. She also reunites with her sisters, who quickly go from “I miss have a sibling to boss around and do the work for us” to “Hey you’re supposed to be dead you bitch, what gives?” Jacques is all too happy to see Beauty alive and well, which further drives their jealousy.
Meanwhile the Beast is so desperately lonely that that he goes into Beauty’s room and smells her blankets, which I used to find beautifully tragic but now comes off as disturbingly creepy.
Beauty puts her ring in a trinket box for safekeeping on returning to the chateau. But after seeing a vision of the dying Beast in her mirror, she knows her vacation is over. When she goes to fetch the ring, however, it’s gone. Even Beauty understands that her sisters are the most likely culprits (and they did express interest in the ring earlier), though they deny her accusations. After reading them the riot act – a nice change from the other Beautys who are spineless milksops where their siblings are concerned – she pulls the “I’m gonna go and when I come back I want to see it right here” shtick that every naughty child is familiar with.
But for once the theft wasn’t her sisters’ doing – it was her father’s.
Eager to not deliver Beauty back into the Beast’s clutches, the merchant orders Jacques to go sell the ring at the market. One could only imagine the confusion and terror that whatever poor sucker who buys it will go through.
Beauty returns demanding to know where the ring is. Her father comes clean about his motives. Beauty keeps insisting he is a good and kind beast who cares for her and she for him.
Her father cannot understand this strange affection Beauty has for the Beast (Not liking the creature who once said he’d kill him or his daughter? Crazy old merchant!) But since Beauty is so desperate to be with the Beast in his final moments and she’s convinced that he’s much nicer than he was at their initial meeting, he lets her go.
Beauty catches up with Jacques, yet he won’t hand over the ring unless she goes out with him (okay, I take back some of my earlier praise about him). Beauty agrees and she vanishes the moment he gives her the ring – though strangely enough, the magic leaves the cloak she was wearing behind.
Beauty finds Beast lying in the gardens and he’s all “Too late, bye Beauty” and she’s all “No my Beast you can’t leave me I love you”. The next thing you know, night turns to day and standing before her is a handsome-ish prince. “The Beast is no more, I was he,” he says; a statement that would make much more sense if they kept in Beauty dumbly asking “Where has the Beast gone?” The prince explains that his parents didn’t believe in magic so some fairies cursed him as punishment. Ah those rascally fairies, cursing the wrong people and ruining their lives for shits and giggles.
Now that Beauty has agreed to marry him, the Prince declares that he will take her to his true castle up in the clouds. “Are you afraid?” he says (a reasonable question to ask when you’re working with Klaus Kinski). Beauty responds “I like being afraid when I’m with you” (the second-best answer you could give Klaus Kinski, the first-best being “I know jiu jitsu and my brother’s a cop”). And the episode concludes with Beauty and her Prince soaring through the sky to music that James Nguyen would call too meandering.
When I rediscovered Faerie Tale Theatre in my late teens, this was one of the first episodes I watched. It was also my introduction to the Cocteau Beauty and the Beast. Thanks to my fixation on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and similar stories at the time, I was obsessed with it, to the point of making music videos of it on my YouTube channel (please don’t go look it up, it’s from my embarrassing early days). Without this episode, I doubt that this review series would even exist. But now I’m a sadder yet wiser adult who’s endured the best and worst of what love has to offer, and as such the flaws within this iteration of this fantasy romance are far more prominent than they were in my innocence. This outing’s a well-intentioned homage to the Cocteau film and a faithful retelling of the original fairy tale, but one that unfortunately brings out their worst attributes. It’s one thing to suggest beauty is only skin deep, it’s another to keep excusing beastly behavior on account of looks and pretty speeches about having a kind heart despite all evidence to the contrary. Stories change over time for a reason, and even for all it’s beauty and creativity, I’m glad Cocteau’s film is no longer the de facto version of Beauty and the Beast in modern culture. Call me a sellout, a shill, an uncultured American rube who’s a slave to the unholy capitalistic Mouse, but Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast will now and forever be the best possible interpretation of the story. The romance and changes the characters go through are genuine, the alterations to the plot are necessary and better convey the story believably, and none of the actors are bloody psychopaths. End of story, bye bye, see you later.
- If the intro and scenes from Beauty’s chateau appear different from the scenes at the castle, that’s because they were shot on film while the castle scenes were shot on videotape like the rest of the series. An interesting choice, but one that has the opposite intended effect. The cottage seems like a magical place (or at least like I’m watching a half-decent made for tv movie) while the castle area is a weird, unreal but kind of phony set.
- Speaking of, the scenes at Beauty’s house was filmed on location at Chateau des Flores in Lake Arrowhead, California. Points for realism.
- Susan Sarandon wasn’t the first choice to play Beauty. She was a last-minute replacement for Jessica Lange.
- Though I’m not crazy at Klaus Kinski as the Beast, he jumped at the part because he was a huge fan of the Cocteau film. Glad he got to be an ascended fanboy, I guess?
- Beauty says, after the Prince asks about her post-transformation bewilderment, that she loves Beast and has to get used to his new form. This could be a nod to the normal reaction most people have to the Beast’s change. Greta Garbo infamously cried out “Give me back my beautiful Beast!” at the premiere of Cocteau’s film.
- Following that previous exchange, the Prince calls Beauty “a strange one”. Pot, meet kettle. I’m sure you’ll find something in common.
- A book in my pediatrician’s office was my introduction to the original Beauty and the Beast fairytale. The main things I remember are 1. The Beast resembled a baboon in a fancy suit, and 2. at the end of the story when Beauty and the prince look into a magic mirror showing their true desires, the Prince sees him marrying Beauty in a ceremony covered with roses, and Beauty sees herself reunited with her father. Like, wow, the guy that she supposedly loves doesn’t factor into it at all. That’s how much he matters to her.
- In case you’re wondering whether or not this episode affects my view of the Cocteau feature, well…kind of. The film has better acting and production value, but I don’t buy the romance for all the reasons previously mentioned, which is kind of a deal breaker. I do admire Cocteau’s artistic touches and the influence it had on Disney and other fantasy films going forward. If you want to see a great discussion comparing between Cocteau and Disney’s Beauty and the Beasts, then I highly recommend Kyle Kallgren and Tony Goldmark’s three-part crossover review.
Hey, Was That…: Anjelica Houston makes the most of her screen time since her short appearance in The Nightingale as mean sister Marguerite. Nancy Lenehan of Veep, My Name is Earl and countless TV shows plays the other sister Georgette. Character actor, Drama Desk winner and Captain Video’s nemesis Dr. Pauli, aka Stephen Elliott, plays Beauty’s father. Director Roger Vadim also wrote the films Les liasons dangeruses and Barbarella. Jacques’ actor, Stan Wilson, had a very short career but was roommates with Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve, and appeared in Popeye where he met, dated and for a time lived with Shelley Duvall. Wow, he was technically there from the start, wasn’t he?
Oh, and he was the voice of the Swallow in Thumbelina. Not as interesting as that six degrees of separation-style connection, though.
Who’s The Artist?: Does Cocteau count as an artist? Oh who am I kidding, of course he does. If he can move Kyle Kallgren to song, he must be.
Better Or Worse Than…?: I know I keep saying this for most of the episodes I cover but it’s true, Disney’s is the best – and I mean the original animated one. The live-action remake…well, it brought back some of the details from the fairytale and that’s just one reason why it’s the inferior film. HBO’s Happily Ever After moves the setting to Africa and is largely faithful to the tale. Despite that, it manages the impossible and makes it good, and not just by virtue of having a great cast including Vanessa Williams and Gregory Hines. Beauty has a loving relationship with her siblings, the Beast is actually a bit of a shy goofball from the start whose threats aren’t entirely made in serious, and he and Beauty’s romance doesn’t feel as forced as it could have. Plus the songs are nice.
Soyuzmultfilm’s The Scarlet Flower has pretty animation, though most of the same story problems; this goes for the 2014 French remake of the Cocteau movie as well. I’m torn on the TV movie starring George C. Scott and his wife Trish Van Devere in the title roles and the Czech horror-leaning Panna a netvor for the same reasons, though both are worth checking out at least once. The Golan-Globus adaptation is laughably bad, the Bevanfield animated movie and 2011 teen romance Beastly is just plain bad, and I’ve heard wonderful things about Mamoru Hasudo’s Belle but haven’t watched it at the time of writing this. People either love or hate the Ron Perlman series, I might watch it one day just for him, but the reboot of said series sucks from what I’ve heard.
And of course there are countless terrible Disney knockoffs which are only worth mentioning for one important thing:
Thank you and good night.
Ranking: Is this a well-crafted episode? Yes. Is this a boring episode? Definitely not. But I just can’t enjoy it like I used to. It gets the Number 10 spot between Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Next time on Faerie Tale Theatre Reviews: When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake, there’s only one person who doesn’t know how to shake. It’s The Boy Who Left Home To Learn About The Shivers. Shame it won’t be out in time for Halloween…
Screw it, the next review will be posted on October 20th, just in time for the holiday! See you then!
Thank you for reading! Faerie Tale Theatre reviews are normally posted on the 6th of each month. Special thanks to my generous patrons Amelia Jones, Sam Flemming and Robert Barnette. Anyone who joins the Patreon party can get such fun perks as sneak peeks of reviews, extra votes, movie requests and more!
As promised, here are various links and phone numbers to organizations that can help you or someone you care about is in an abusive situation:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 (In Canada: 686868)
- National Deaf Domestic Hotline: 1-855-812-1001
- Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
- Prevent Child Abuse America
- The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 (or Text START to 678678)
- Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN): 1-800-656-4673
- Refuge UK Domestic Abuse Line): 0808 2000 247
- Domestic Violence Helpline (Victim Link)(Canada): (604) 875-0885
- Family Violence Info Line (Canada): (780) 310 1818
- SOS Help (France): 01 46 21 46 46
- The Samaritans (Australia): 1 (800) 198 313
The Animation Commendation said:
This sounds like an…interesting adaptation, to say the least. Knowing that actor is the Beast is very…creepy.
Anyway, yeah the BATB love story is probably my fave love story in fiction and I am critical of the Stockholm Syndrome criticism it gets. The animated Disney version is my fave as well, but I’ve only seen that and the remake versions of this story.
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Agreed. I’m not a fan of people throwing accusations of Stockholm Syndrome at it, but in this iteration I could see why.
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Tristan Petty said:
I was wondering if you were going to bring up the stuff about Klaus Kinski and you sure didn’t disappoint. I pretty much got a good idea of what kind of person he was when watching that documentary My Best Fiend from Herzog. But later on, hearing more information about him…Wow! What a creep!
It is also interesting that this borrows a lot from the Cocteau version which is similar to the critique of the live action Disney remake being almost shot for shot with a few (VERY unnecessary) additions. Goes to show some people can take from what’s considered the best but it will still live in the original’s shadow.
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The Library Key said:
Geez, I didn’t know all that awful stuff about Klaus Kinski. Really puts a more horrific scrim over the episode.
The Library Key said:
I personally don’t like this episode too much. The acting is pretty stiff all around, and I really do not buy the romance either. Klaus Kinski’s makeup is cool, I’ll grant that, but I agree, his performance has absolutely zero warmth and does not engage me much. I will say, Susan Sarandon’s costumes are gorgeous, and seeing Anjelica Houston in an early role is pretty cool.
I’ve seen a few episodes of the Ron Perlman TV show, and while it’s a gorgeous-looking show with some decent acting, it movies quite slowly at times. The remake TV show was a serviceable way to pass the time (for the first season, anyway, it gets really ridiculous from there on).
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Abigail Kane said:
As a longtime otaku, I highly recommend Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle. It’s on HBOMax (oh, that poor, poor streaming service, what was Zaslav DONE to you?), but I think there’s a Blu-Ray as well.
Also, what happened to your Broadway Blogathon post? Did you delete it? Where is it?
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It was scheduled to go up but it wasn’t ready yet. I wasn’t able to finish it before the weekend ended so I’m holding off until next time.
Jennifer Schillig said:
You might like to know that next year, there will be a historical novel about Pedro Gonzales–Marvelous by Molly Greeley.
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Interesting! I’ll have to read that when it comes out.
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