by Robin McKinley
Unconditional Recommendation: A retelling of Beauty and the Beast that includes more back story and Beauty’s family in the tale.
Genre: Fairytale Retelling
I love the story of Beauty and the Beast. As a kid, I watched the Disney movie every day for months (my mom will attest to this). These days, I satisfy my Beauty and the Beast love by reading every retelling I can get my hands on. And there are many out there for me to enjoy! This book is one of them.
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.
As far as fairytale retellings go, this one is fairly well known for being a good one. One of my favorite parts of this version is the gentle, even-pace of the story telling because it creates a very calm reading experience. It reads like a classic fairy tale and the experience is enchanting.
This retelling is more about family than other versions I’ve read. McKinley develops a believable back story to Beauty’s family that lends depth to the characters and to Beauty’s actions on their behalf. The story picks up when Beauty is in her teens but you get childhood stories throughout the beginning of the book.
In this version, Beauty’s real name is Honour and she thinks her nickname ironic because next to her two beautiful older sisters, Grace and Hope, Beauty thinks she is quite unattractive. Throughout the book, Beauty has an odd and often inaccurate view of herself and her beauty. I don’t particularly like this spin on her character but I found it to be a minor thread that I could easily disregard. Besides that, she is the classic bookworm who prefers the company of books to people and prefers the pursuit of learning to the pursuit of a husband. This Beauty is humble, willing to labor, and willing to roll with the circumstances. She isn’t one to complain, though she won’t sugar coat the reality either. Her character is, as her real name would indicate, honorable. She also has good, loving relationships with each of her family members.
The family element of this book came off as very real and endearing to me. The dialogue of the book is an old way of speaking and it is enjoyable to read. I love the way the family members care for each other and show one another kindness. They stick together through the hard times and there is no deceit, haughtiness, or ill will between them. It’s rather refreshing to read.
The Beast is only a monster in looks according to this version. He is a gentleman in every way to Beauty and their relationship is very tame and cordial. He doesn’t display any characteristics of a spoiled prince and is actually very mature. There are no scenes of yelling and fighting wolves or any kind of fight to the death. The Beast is a very mild-mannered nobleman and his character and the lack of action scenes maintain the peaceful mood of this book.
There isn’t a Gaston character in this version and no other contender for the Beast. Now that I think of it, there is very little conflict in this story. Sure, Beauty refuses to marry the Beast though he asks her every evening when she’s at his castle, and there are some minor disagreements between family members, but other than that, there is no major conflict.
I love this version of Beauty and the Beast because it’s written beautifully and lends itself to a calm, enjoyable reading experience. As far as books go, I either want action and adventure or slow, leisurely, stop-to-smell-the-roses sort of book. Which one do you think this is? If you like Beauty and the Beast, then please enjoy this captivating retelling. Happy reading!