Published by HarperTeen
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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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?"
Robin McKinley's beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.
1 – Beauty was written in 1978, about 15 years before Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out.
2 – This is Robin McKinley’s very first book.
Now, the first point is key, as there are a number of details with which the book seems to overlap with the Disney film. In fact, as I was reading McKinley’s book, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Disney epic had been based on her novel. Since I adored the film, I had absolutely no problem reading a similar (yet very, very different) version of the Disney tale. Still, it is important to remember that any Beauty/Disney overlaps are not at all the fault of McKinley.
In regards to the second point, I found it rather reassuring to know this was not the pinnacle of McKinley’s achievements. Although I enjoyed Beauty, it was not a breath-taking literary achievement. Having heard so many great things about McKinley’s writings, it was good to know that she’s had 30-odd years since the publication of Beauty to refine her style.
Now on to the good bits. Although I have no knowledge of the first Beauty and the Beast tale, McKinley’s style made me feel like I was reading the original version of the story. It was almost as though I were reading the un-filtered first version of the tale – without the weight of an author behind it, visibly guiding the story. Instead, this book just… was. You know what I mean, right? When you read Beauty, you can’t even begin to imagine someone actually writing it. The book, surely, just came into existence by itself.
And, because of that, I feel rather odd describing my issues with the plot – or rather the lack thereof. Even though, yes, this is Beauty and the Beast, everything still felt rather mundane. Beauty does this, then that, then the other, and then things work out to be such-and-such. It was more of a historical account than a dramatic novel, with none of the twists and curves you’d expect in “real” book.
But still, I really did enjoy Beauty. My unwavering love of the tale probably made me more forgiving of its dull moments… yet, I’ve no doubt that McKinley is a skilled author worth of praise.
Bottom line? Beauty is a must if you are a fan of the Beauty and the Beast tale. But if you’re not, I’d try something else from McKinley’s repertoire.
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I like the sound of this one Kay. I keep seeing it around but wasn’t sure whether to give it a go or not. I’m not overly familiar with the Disney film (I’ve seen it once or twice) but it’s interesting what you say about the similarities even though the book came first. I might just give it a read one day!
I have not read this one but I do love McKinley’s writing and need to check it out. I do love retellings and use some of them in my classroom as a stepping off point for my kids to do a compare contrast paper. Thanks for this review I need to add this to my list.
Really analytical review, I enjoyed reading this. Not heard of this book before but it was nice to have it brought to my attention, cheers.
@Jen – Don’t you have a copy of Sunshine? I’d be interested in seeing what you think of McKinley’s later works before you get to this one!
@Jan – This was one of the first re-tellings I’ve ever read, but now that you mention it, I probably would have loved an assignment looking at multiple versions of the same tale… closest we ever got to that was comparing the film to the movie!
@Ceri – Glad I could help! I know loads of people have heard of McKinley, but she’s not quite as read as she should be. 🙂
I used to love reading fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm when I was little. I loved Beauty and the Beast too, so it would be interesting to read this!