Beauty by Robin McKinley
I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. A retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley Firstly, I think this is one of my favourite fairy tales. It’s also probably my favourite Disney Film. So I went in with fairly high expectations.
I actually know what it is about this tale that appeals to me. It’s the fact that somebody can see beneath the exterior to what lies within and love a person whether or not they’re attractive. Plus, and I know this probably sounds unreasonable, but it always kind of reminds me of Jane Eyre. Now, I know that’s probably a long stretch but I can’t help making the leap.
I’m fairly certain that everyone will know the story of Beauty and the Beast but for the avoidance of doubt it’s a fairy tale told at bedtime of a family whose fortunes take a downward turn. The father and his three daughters (the mother having, I think, died in childbirth) have been brought up in comfort and style. The father is a merchant with ships that he owns to trade his goods. He becomes a victim of rough tides and loses his wealth. The family then move to the country and live a much simpler life. The father, on returning from a trip to the city, becomes lost and comes upon a dark and foreboding castle and yet he is looked after and fed (although he sees no sight of any person). In the morning, upon leaving he takes a rose from the garden to give to his daughter (nicknamed Beauty – for obvious reasons). Upon taking the rose there is an almighty roar and a huge beast appears and threatens to kill the man for abusing his trust and stealing the rose. The beast demands that the man return in 30 days time – to die – or one of his daughters to take his place (not to die of course but to become a prisoner within the castle)!
That’s basically the gist of the story. In the retelling imagined by Robin McKinley there are a few differences. Beauty has earned the nickname in spite of her looks as she is rather plain and unlike in the traditional tale her sisters are both pretty and fair tempered. The family love each other dearly. In accordance with the original tale their fortunes are lost but they actually then move to the country with a suitor of one of the sisters where they seem to live in relative happiness despite all their extra chores (which they are very unfamiliar with). There is, of course, a foreboding forest – believed to be enchanted – to the rear of their cottage which nobody ever enters. That is until the father does return to the City following the return of one of his ships. On his return journey he does become lost and encounters the enchanted castle belonging to the beast. From there onwards the story is fairly much as above with a few differences like a rather fascinating and enchanted library!
I really enjoyed this story. McKinley has a quite enchanting voice. I liked the fact that Beauty wasn’t actually as her name described. She was actually much plainer than both her sisters although lets be clear here – she’s not ugly, hideous or a beast). I liked this about the story – both of them had inhibitions to overcome. I also liked the enchanted castle and the magical breezes that kept Beauty company.
Reading this again made me realise that in fact both Beauty and the Beast were lonely and in need of each other. I’d never really picked that fact up before. Beauty, even in the more traditional stories, and certainly in this – was always different than the rest of her family. Certainly not an outcast but definitely not the same. The two characters seemed almost compelled to like each other just because of their differences. When you consider the Disney film of the story – Beauty is lovely – and yet the entire village think she is ‘odd’ – simply because she reads! They don’t truly accept her although they want to because she is so pretty (in fact in that tale her prettiness is almost a curse because it draws the wrong attention). The beast on the other hand will never be accepted. He’s far too scary and hideous. It’s the two extremes and although one may seem more desirable than the other in actual fact neither of them truly fit.
I’ve rambled on a bit there and been led off course. This is a lovely retelling of one of my favourite stories from a very good author. If I had any criticism at all it would simply be for a little more of a dark gothicy feel.
Otherwise, I really enjoyed this and would have no hesitation in recommending.
I’m submitting this for my Once Upon a Time reading event being hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings under the category of fairy tale.