Arts

The Queen's Council hardcover: Rebel Rose
Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum

Ottawa’s Emma Theriault explores Belle’s life after royalty from Beauty and the Beast in The Queen’s Council: Rebel Rose

Since its release in 1991, Disney’s animated feature film Beauty and the Beast has played a significant role in the childhoods of young adults. Originally written in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the classic fairytale has been adapted countless times for film, stage, and television.

Many die-hard Disney fans have theorized what became of Belle, the Beast, and their castle staff after they were released from the enchantress’s curse. How does Belle transition from being a commoner to royalty? Does the Beast maintain his character development or return to the selfish prince he once was? How do real historical events factor into the tale? 

Local author Emma Theriault gives readers answers to these questions and insight into what comes after happily ever after in The Queen’s Council: Rebel Rose, the first book in the Disney-affiliated Queen’s Council series.

Set in 1789, Rebel Rose follows Belle as she explores her new position of power while living in the castle and learns how to best use it to create justice in her country. At times, she finds herself torn between her past as a commoner and her future as a royal. Although she never anticipated such a responsibility, she refuses to lose her platform, as she is the only voice the commoners have. Belle must discover how to use her voice, power, and privilege to help those less fortunate than herself in a world where many would rather silence her. 

The prospect of writing a novel continuation of your favourite fairy tale might seem like “a dream come true,” and Theriault described it as just that. The 31-year old admitted that she has always been a “huge fan of Disney movies, especially Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.” Although the premise for the novel was based on Belle’s story before Theriault signed onto the project, she insists that she would have chosen to focus on Belle anyways. A self-described introvert, Theriault identified with Belle’s love of books at a young age, and believes that “bookish children everywhere definitely have an idol in Belle.” 

Born and raised in Ottawa, Theriault moved to British Columbia during her twenties, and returned to the capital in 2014. Along with reading, writing has always been of high interest. As a teen, she attended the Canterbury High School Literary Arts program in Ottawa and also attended the Ottawa International Writers Festival annually. Although she couldn’t include many aspects of Ottawan life in Rebel Rose, Theriault does cite growing up in Ottawa as having an important influence on her writing. 

“Going to the Ottawa Writers Festival as a volunteer or attendant since high school and getting to meet Canadian authors definitely gave me the opportunity to improve my own writing, and commit to writing as a career,” she said.

When asked about how she received the opportunity to write a novel for Disney, Theriault said, “I signed with my agent in 2016 for another book that was unsuccessful, but later wrote a sample for Rebel Rose and finished my first draft last July. It was a very fast process.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the release of the novel, particularly in regards to promotion. Theriault says ideally, she would be travelling throughout the country to meet and engage with booksellers and readers; she even had plans to travel to a book expo in New York before lockdown. Instead of meeting readers in-person, Theriault and her team have had to turn to virtual methods of promotion, especially involving social media. 

“Doing everything virtually obviously isn’t ideal, but it helps the situation. We can still hold online events, do interviews, and talk to readers. The goal is to get the books in front of readers and that can be accomplished virtually,” she said. 

Shortly after the release of the animated film, Beauty and the Beast was seen as a feminist film. Belle delighted and enchanted audiences, who had rarely seen a female Disney protagonist that was depicted as intelligent and capable of making her own decisions. Additionally, when the Disney live-action remake was released in 2017, Emma Watson, who played Belle, made several headlines after interviews where she repeatedly focused on the feminist aspects of the film, such as making Belle an inventor as well as an avid reader. 

Having the opportunity to write Belle’s next chapter for Disney allowed Theriault to wrap up some loose ends in terms of the meaning behind the story and add her own spin onto one of Disney’s most-loved feature films. 

After years of retellings, the story has also faced some scrutiny. Some viewers have speculated that Belle suffered from Stockholm syndrome, a psychological response that occurs when hostages or abuse victims bond with their captors or abusers, which might explain Belle falling in love with her captor, the Beast. 

When asked about whether or not she attempted to alter aspects of both Belle and the Beast’s characters to address these criticisms Theriault explained, “I did my best to have all characters grapple with choices they’ve made. She doesn’t regret her choices, but she knows she hasn’t always been given the opportunity to make these choices,” Theriault explained.

“The Beast also deals with PTSD as he’s spent most of his life under a curse. Belle is reminded that she was once a prisoner, but she has strong convictions and understands that she must deal with her choices. Her world is turned upside down by the French Revolution she understands that she must remain dedicated to doing what is right, even if that path is the more difficult one.”

Following Rebel Rose, Disney plans to release two more books in The Queen’s Council series. The Queen’s Council: Rebel Rose will be available on Nov. 10.