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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Robin McKinley

A strange imprisonment...
Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.
When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, "Cannot a Beast be tamed?"

I decided to kick things off on my end with one of the most traditional retellings I've come across.  So traditional, in fact, that I first was a little irritated with it and thought it was a rip-off of Disney's Beauty and the Beast -- until I realized that Robin McKinley's version of the story came decades before the movie.  Decades.  Yet the similarities are so incredibly striking that it's kind of a wonder there wasn't a big McKinley/Disney smackdown.  For reals.

The beauty and the beast/cupid and psyche/etc story is one that never fails to capture my attention.  No matter how bizarre the bones of the story really are (falling in love with something you either can't see and fear is a monster, or can see actually is one), there is this incredible magic to the story and its elements that makes me all swoony and fangirly every. single. time.  I can't help myself.  Now this isn't to say every telling of the story is good.  Some most certainly are not.  But some are magic.

This one is not quite magic for me, but it's certainly very strong.  It was McKinley's first novel, so it's lacking some of the crazyspark exhibited in later work (and the rambliness that accompanies it).  But her talent as a storyteller is eveident, even if some of the spark is missing.  Hints of her incredible worldbuilding skills are there (as I said, if you're familiar with Disney - well, that's the world she gives us, minus talking tea pots.  For the most part.)  It was easy to picture, and enjoyable to be there.  She succeeded at one of the hardest aspects of this tale: she made me love the beast, and believe Beauty should, too.  It was really all very lovely.

It was lacking, though, in the power I've come to expect from McKinley; it neared her usual level of development, but lacked some of the savor.  I think anyone looking to get the obligatory "twist" on the tale is going to be disappointed.  This isn't a "twist" tale.  It's really more an expansion.  She takes the tale and fleshes it out, fills it and makes it more real, but she never spins it or puts her stamp on it necessarily.  She tells it well, but some may feel like anyone could have told it.  Personally, I don't think every tale needs to have a twist or a spin -- some can just be well told versions of the well-known tale.  That's okay.  But for many readers, it may leave them feeling like something's missing, or that it lacked creativity, and this may cause it to fade a little more quickly from mind.

I also think that there is something to be desired in the ending.  Everything happens as it should (and as you know it will), but I would have wished for a little more development to it, a little less rush.  Again, it's that 'savor' that I'm used to with McKinley (and sometimes, her books are a little too savory...).  I wanted a little more time to process and enjoy, and not feel like I was being rushed out the door.   But it's a very exacting and engaging retelling, and though it may not be flashy, it's certainly not one to pass up if you're looking for a fairy tale more so than a "retelling".


  1. I enjoyed reading about your thoughts. I read this one a long time ago and you refreshed my memory.

  2. I literally just finished this one, and completely agree. Although it was really well told, I felt like there was something lacking. Knowing it was Mckinley's first book, though, is rather impressive.

    And yes, the similarities to Disney are rather impressive! Although I think Disney made the right move by including a villain - something this retelling might have benefited from!

  3. I read this one in fifth grade, and am definitely due for a re-read soon. Thanks for the review!

  4. I liked Beauty, but it did not match the amount of love I had for The Blue Sword or Spindle's End.

    I haven't actually noticed the similarities between this and the Disney version, however I'm not exactly the most observant person either.

  5. I read this book a long time ago and I remember liking it, but not really being to impressed by it.

    I think Disney's Beauty and the Beast borrowed from the 1946 French film version of it directed by Jean Cocteau. It's the first version that had a villain named Avenant who was a douchebag wannabe suitor of Belle's. Disney totally stole it. I wouldn't be surprised if they borrowed from this book too.

  6. I've been thinking about reading this one so it's good to know that this is more of a fairy tale than a retelling. I'll keep that in mind when I pick it up! Thanks for the review.

  7. Thanks for the review, I've never read it but I think maybe I'll add it to my need to read list.


  8. This was the first fairytale retelling I ever read, and I loved it. :)

  9. I haven't read it. Thanks for review.


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