Having read books from Robin McKinley before it was cool to go back and read her 1978 debut. It sticks very close to De Beaumont’s version, and is magical in its own right. It feels more like a retelling for adults than for children. Not that it has adult content, it just feels grown up somehow.
In this version Beauty has two older siblings named Grace and Hope. Beauty’s actual name is “Honour,” but being too young to understand the concept,says she’d rather be called “Beauty,” and it sticks. Unfortunately for her she turns out to be the least pretty of the three. She’s thin and awkward with big feet. She feels she let the family down by being plain. So of course she comes to hate the name that does not describe her. But we all know she is the clever one who enjoys reading.
Beauty’s father is a wealthy merchant, but one day his ships get lost at sea and they lose everything. They move to the country in the north, a land that is known for its magic and enchantments. So of course the one rose her father picks for Beauty happens to be from the Beasts enchanted garden. In exchange for his life he must bring back one of his daughters.
We all know the familiar story, but what I loved about this was that no one is really a villain. Yes, Beast scared the father and falsely threatens him, but he did not have villainous intentions (we learn later on.) Beauty’s sisters are just as kind as they are beautiful, and the father treasures them all.
Beauty is courageous enough to be taken away from her family and the life she knows.Her sister Grace offered to go in her stead, but Beauty owns up to the responsibility that she asked for rose seeds in the first place. Also the Beast is nothing like the Disney version. He never argues with Beauty, in fact he is so kind and patient I was surprised. I guess I was expecting some yelling, and a scene with wolves (yeah, that didn’t happen.) Actually Beauty is more likely to throw a tantrum every once in a while, but she always apologizes for her behavior later. She acknowledges that being the youngest she usually gets her way (but not in an obnoxious way.) Like when the enchanted handmaids dress her like a princess she freaks, because she doesn’t feel pretty enough to wear such finery. Although as the book progresses she becomes as beautiful as she is honorable.
As she comes to trust Beast the magic of the castle little by little reveals different things to her, like the library filled with books not yet written. How cool is that?
Overall, we all know how it ends,but it’s told in such a magical way and the details here and there really make this novel a classic and a must read for fairy-tale fanatics out there. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally read. It’s awesome.
Just because… here’s some Annie Leibovitz pics from the April ’05’ Vogue issue featuring Drew Barrymore as Beauty.