Saturday, May 23, 2009


Title: Beauty
Author: Robin McKinley
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1978

Grace, Hope and Honour - who as a child didn't understand her name and asked to be called Beauty, for all that it didn't and still doesn't suit her - are the daughters of the failed merchant, Roderick Huston. They live with Hope's fiancé, a blacksmith in the town of Blue Hill far to the north of the city they grew up in. One day, years after their relocation, word comes that one of their missing four ships has returned at last. Roderick sets out at once to meet up with his former employees, and perhaps discover the fate of the other three vessels, but before he leaves he asks his daughters what they would like from the city of their birth. Grace and Hope ask for jewels and gold. He knows they are joking, for they have no use for such things now. Beauty, always practical, asks for seeds. Rose seeds for their garden.

It is not to be. Rose bushes and rose cuttings can be found in abundance, but they would not survive the two month trip back to Blue Hill. The return journey is uneventful, and Roderick leaves the caravan he traveled with close to his home. This is when the story truly starts, for he is set upon by a blizzard. Lost and alone in the forest he stumbles into a castle where invisible servants provide everything he needs. On his way out the castle gates towards home, he snaps off a single red rose to take home to Beauty. The Beast appears, and after hearing Roderick's story demands he return in a month to die or let one of his daughters, who agrees to come of her own free will, come to spend the rest of her life at the castle.

What makes this version of Ms. McKinley's retelling so enthralling is Beauty herself and how she responds to the magic of the castle and to the Beast. She takes it all in stride, and makes it work for her as though magic were always part of her life, not something new and a little bit frightening. From books that don’t quite exist yet or convincing her placid horse that the Beast won’t eat him, Beauty wiggles her way into a stifled world, sending out ripples that change everything the Beast and we know about the classic story. Because Beauty is a strong character she creates strong situations around her. While she feels she isn’t physically beautiful, and is described as awkward and gawky, Beauty has enough intelligence that even a doctoral admissions board would have to pay attention to her, and that makes her shine.

Beauty is told from Beauty’s perspective, in first person.

My Thoughts:
I do prefer Rose’s Daughter of the two Beauty and the Beast retellings that Ms. McKinley has done because I love its’ ethereal quality, but if for nothing else I would adore Beauty for her brains. Young ladies need strong role models, and most of the “princess” types (Cinderella, Little Mermaid, etc) don’t usually fit into that category. Beauty has potency, passion, ideals and depth. Beauty accepts everyone for who they are, even if it means overcoming her own terror. She shines off the page as someone I wish I could be. This is a much more personal Beauty and the Beast than any other I’ve read. It draws you in. The flowers are fragrant, the people are full of personality, and even the animals show you that they’re cognizant of their world.

Favorite Scene:
I love when Beauty introduces Greatheart to the Beast. The scene is so tense and heartrending that it makes you wonder how this poor girl can ever make things work.

Who this book is best for:
Beauty is probably more of a book for girls than for boys, but it’s suitable for anyone over about 12.

Violence: 0 of 5. The worst thing that happens is a horse being spanked on the rump.

Stars: 3.5 of 5

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