Mar 20, 2009

Beauty

a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast
by Robin McKinley

Beauty is the first McKinley book I ever read, way back when I was about fourteen. And I fell in love with it. I can't count how many times I read it over again. I think I was first intrigued by how incongruous the title and the girl pictured on the cover of my old paperback (shown here) seemed- she's just so homely. Even one of my school friends remarked: wow, that girl's ugly (in a totally dismissive voice). By that point I was so enthralled by the book I felt indignant at her judgment of it by its cover!

It's quickly explained in the story that Beauty's given name is actually Honour, but when she learned at five years old what it meant, she said "Huh, I'd rather be Beauty!" and the nickname stuck. Compared to her two pretty, graceful sisters, Beauty was the tomboy of the family. She preferred working with her hands, loved studying books, and faced everything with a very down-to-earth attitude. So when her father lost his fortune and the family had to move from the city to a humble little village, Beauty tried to see the adventure in it all. Far from being intimidated by the dark forest their house butted up against, rumored to harbor an enchanted castle and a ferocious beast, Beauty was curious. When her father (as the familiar fairy tale goes) became lost in the forest and enraged the beast, Beauty offered herself up and went to live in the magic castle. The mysterious enchantments of the castle and Beauty's reactions to them are so well-described in this book. Floating candlesticks, dishes that serve themselves, self-pruning roses, and a library full of books from the future! At first, of course, she is frightened, but gradually she becomes bolder and grows used to the strangeness of her surroundings and even the fearsome Beast himself. I loved how she asserted herself, arguing with the invisible servants and trying to accustom her terrified horse to the Beast's presence. The love story here unfolds very gradually, Beauty and her Beast slowly growing more and more comfortable with each other until they find they are good friends, and perhaps something more. I also liked that the good first third of the book is about her family, how they face their initial hardships and settle into their new surroundings. It established the characters as very real people; and I was glad that her family members reappeared later in the story. The final scene was a grand confusion, but I didn't mind much.

I thought of this book today because my four-year-old was watching the Disney version. My husband was unfamiliar with the fairy tale when he first watched the film with her, and I remember him asking me afterward: but at what point did Beauty fall in love with the Beast? He couldn't pinpoint it. We talked for a bit about his gradual transformation into a more well-behaved, friendly persona, but then I looked at him sideways and said "I know the moment when she fell in love with him."
"When?"
"It was when he gave her the library."
"Ah! Don't tell me that!"
And what a library it was. I think my dream library looks like the one in the Beast's castle.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 247 pages, 1978

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10 comments:

Eva said...

I read this one last year, and I loved it. :)

I think the Disney version is one of the better Disney films as well!

Nymeth said...

I loved this book. That's what my dream library looks like too! My post is here.

Jeane said...

Eva, I like the film too. I was actually surprised at home many details echoed McKinley's work, which I don't think were necessarily part of the original fairy tale- the library of books not yet written, for example...

Nymeth- Thanks! I didn't find your review when I searched, for some reason.

Jena said...

There's an FAQ on McKinley's site, and one of the questions was whether she's credited anywhere for her obvious influence on the movie. (I remember when I first went to see the movie, I'd finished McKinley's book not so long before, and I walked out telling my sister that McKinley must've been in on that movie--or at least the creators had read it.)

And thank you for posting the cover of the book I read way back then. It was the cover that caught my attention at the library that day. I think I liked the dress she was wearing--or maybe it was the expression on her face. I'd kind of forgotten what it really looked like.

Jeane said...

Jena- Thanks for directing me to her site. It's pretty cool. But... I read through all the FAQs and I couldn't find where that was addressed. Can you point it out to me?

Cath said...

I've got this one on my tbr pile, along with several other McKinleys. Must get to it. So far the only book of hers I've read is Sunshine, which I absolutely adored, but gather it's quite different to her normal style.

Susan said...

One of my favourite books, I was just saying to Kerry at Saving my Sanity (it's on her OUaT3 reading list), and here you've just read it! I really must reread it, it's been years since I first read it, like you, and it was instantly one of my favourites. That library *sigh* all of our dream libraries, I think!!! Fabulous review, Jeane, and now I have to go see if I can dig up my copy and add it to my ever-growing second list of books to my OUaT3 reading!!!! lol

Trish said...

Wow--I didn't realize that this one had been around for so long! I've seen it around a lot recently and just assumed it was a more recent book like the Shannon Hale ones. This one is on my list of books to find, but I'll be looking for it a little harder now--glad you love this one so much.

Jeane said...

Cath- I really liked Sunshine, too.

Susan- It took me a minute to remember what OUaT3 meant. Yes, this book would be lovely for that! I love rereading it.

Trish- I think it's the first novel she wrote.

Jenny said...

Oh, I love this book so much. I grew up reading the edition of the book with the cover you picture here, but now I can't find a copy of it. I hate the cover of my copy.

I loved the library with all the books that hadn't been written yet. (I was glad they liked Browning.)