Happy Wednesday, my friends! This week is flying by for me. I actually have both kids asleep right now (how did that happen??) so I thought I would catch up on a review!
I am excited to share my thoughts on Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley. I must admit that Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales, especially the 1991 Disney film. Perhaps it’s Belle’s love of books that makes her easy to connect with. But I think it is also her kindness and her courage.
I read this book on a recommendation from a friend of mine. It is such a clever and darling retelling of the classic fairy tale.
- I love retellings that are true to the original story while adding a unique, unexpected dimension to the story. This novel does that so well.
- I am obsessed with the Beast’s library in this novel. It. is. so. cool.
Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley tells the story of Beauty, a girl who never quite fit in but who is willing to sacrifice everything for her father. Goodreads summarizes, “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 love all the background we get about Beauty and her family. I felt like I knew them and it was easy to cheer for them. We learn about their lives in the city, their move near the mysterious forest, and their strong love and support of one another. I think this background made Beauty more likable as a protagonist because readers can see how much she loves her family and how she wants to protect them. I also enjoyed the details about Beauty that showed she wasn’t perfect, but she worked hard. I this she describes herself best:
“I shunned company because I preferred books.”
“I was the only one who read poetry for fun.”
Beauty, pages 6 & 8
I just love both these lines! She sounds just as much a nerdy book nerd as I am 🙂 Her character is lovely when she is home, surrounded by her family, and in her heroic act to initially go to the castle with her father. However, I didn’t like all the changes that came to her. More on this later.
The magic was subtle and powerful in this novel. But it’s never quite explained. I really enjoyed the magical elements of the castle with the invisible servants, beautiful gardens, and — of course — the amazing library with all the books in the world (and more). I’m a little obsessed with that library and it’s incredible collections over time and space. I loved the way McKinley incorporated elements from reality into the castle. While her story takes place in an older time, we get flashes of our time with the mention of 20th century authors and unique food choices. That connection made the magic and the story more intriguing for me.
The growing relationship with Beauty and the Beast is equally intriguing and sweet. I would say it’s nearly as lovely as the classic Disney movie. The changes in their relationship are subtle and small. Readers hardly notice that Beauty has fallen in love with the Beast until it’s staring us in the face. I like the way they gradually become friends by spending time together. And I love the way Beauty defends the Beast and insists he come with her to meet her horse (even when he thinks it’s a bad idea) and their reading sessions in the library. She and the Beast build a sweet friendship at first that transforms into a powerful love.
The way we are transformed along with Beauty is also really interesting and compelling. Like Beauty, I felt scared and antagonistic towards the Beast when she first arrives at the castle. I thought his proposal of marriage was strange and awkward. But then I felt my heart soften towards him like hers does. When Beauty goes home on a visit, I felt like we didn’t belong back in her family home, just like she felt distant from her family. The story had become more complex. We had read about magic and stories that are beyond her world. The story had to return to the castle because it belonged there, like Beauty.
I loved the slow storytelling of the first three quarters of the novel. But I had some qualms about the last fourth. Spoilers coming up!
I don’t like that Beauty is physically changed. There is a strong focus on physical beauty throughout the novel. Our protagonist continues to say that she is not beautiful and eventually she comes to terms with that. But then she is changed into a physically different person by the magic of the castle. It is only then that she feels worthy to marry the Beast (since he has transformed into a achingly handsome man). I don’t like what that teaches children (especially girls) about the over importance of physical beauty. Also, I don’t really understand why she had to change that way period.
Additionally, the ending wraps up very quickly, and we don’t get all the answers to the mysteries presented in the novel. I would have liked more explanation at the end about the way the magic of the castle works, why the servants were invisible, or how the garden stayed in spring while the outside world changed. Also, I would have liked to hear more about why the Beast was cursed and why it was for so long. Perhaps even a few scenes from the wedding would have been fun too.
Okay spoilers over.
Now, I have learned that this was McKinley’s debut novel. And I applaud it. The characterization is gorgeous, the settings are compelling, and the details are impeccable. Just not my very favorite story, and the ending is a bit too quick and easy for me. Overall, a fun retelling!
What are some of your favorite retellings?