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Beauty - Robin McKinley

I'm doing fairly well with my challenges this year, a couple of books read for both and the first book for Carl's Once Upon a Time V challenge is now under my belt: Beauty by Robin McKinley.




Grace, Hope and Honour are three sisters, the daughters of a wealthy ship-owner, whose mother died when they were young. Honour hates her name and thinks being beautiful is preferable to being honourable and thus, from when she is very young, is called 'Beauty' by everyone who knows her. This turns out to be a misnomer, as it happens, because as she grows it becomes apparent that Beauty is not beautiful like her sisters - in fact, she thinks of herself as rather plain.

Luckily they're a very close-knit family. When their father's business fails and they are all rendered destitute, one of his employees, Germain, offers marriage to Hope and a place for them all at his new forge, inland, in his remote home village. Miles from anywhere in fact, in a small village surrounded by a large forest. They accept his offer and a new life begins, one of hard work and simple pleasures with new neighbours who are welcoming and supportive. One thing Germain insists on though, is that none of them should ever go into the forest as it's known locally to be enchanted and dangerous.

Returning from a journey, late one night, the father gets lost in bad weather. Mistaking his way he ends up in the middle of the forest and eventually discovers a castle. Here there is no bad weather and beautiful roses are blooming. He picks one for Beauty and brings the wrath of the castle owner down upon his head - The Beast. The Beast tells him that he'll allow him to leave but he has to return within a week with his youngest daughter.

Back home, the father admits to what has happened. The whole family are horrified and against Beauty going but she won't hear of it and volunteers to go back with her father. Devastated at having to leave her family, but determined to go through with it, Beauty leaves for the castle, having no idea what her fate will be or whether she will ever see her beloved sisters again.

I have to say first of all that I have a well developed dislike for retold fairy tales. I'm not sure why but think it might be to do with the fact that I like unpredictability in my reading, I don't want to know how the story is going to pan out before I even start. And of course, with a retold fairy tale the story and ending is well known by everyone.

That said, I do have quite a fondness for the story of Beauty and the Beast. The idea of falling in love with someone, not because of their good looks, but because of their good character and intelligence greatly appeals to me. I've only read one book by Robin McKinley, Sunshine, a vampire story which I absolutely love, and I was curious to see how she handled this completely predictable story. Very nicely is the answer to that question. The story is beautifully narrated in the first person - Beauty is a delight in that she's down to earth, has no airs and graces and is brave and 'honourable' as her proper name suggests. It also doesn't harm that she's bookish! You can't help but like her. The Beast is also nicely drawn... I love the idea that his library is full of books that don't yet exist and thus Beauty is able to read Sherlock Holmes!

The sense of place is also very good... I'm a forest and mountains sort of person anyway so that helps but it does sound idyllic regardless of that; the descriptions are beautiful as the family go about their new pioneer style life. (Think Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder). I was rather envious, I must admit, despite the fact that the family's fortunes were ruined. It struck me they hadn't ended up with such a bad bargain.

So, am I converted to retold fairy tales now? Nope. LOL. I did quite enjoy this one but that's probably enough now for at least another year. I picked the book up in a charity shop ages ago and several times I've been on the brink of putting it in the charity shop box, unread. But I'm glad I didn't as it made a delightful and easy start to Carl's challenge.

Comments

I read that book many years ago when it was first published -- prior to the Disney cartoon -- and loved it, for the reasons you gave. I was especially pleased that the older sisters weren't wicked, and were loving and good. As the oldest in my family, I was very tired of the older children always being selfish and wicked. Humph.

She has another take on B & B called Rose Daughter, and a third book, Deerskin that reworks a fairy tale. It is excellent, excellent, excellent, and not for young children at all. Prolific writer.
Yes, I have to say that one of the reasons I liked the book was the closeness of the family and the fact that they weren't all horrible to each other, as is so often the case.

I actually have Deerskin on my tbr pile. I gather it's quite contraversial so am looking forward to reading that.
Oh, Robin McKinley's Beauty is one of my very favorite books, I've re-read it many times, usually when I'm feeling blue and out of sympathy with the real world. It never fails to cheer me up.

Having enjoyed it so much, I read Deerskin (oh, years ago, now) with high hopes, but it was much too horrific for me, even though it was truly well written. It's all in the reader's reactions, I suppose.

Anyway, I'm happy that you liked Beauty, even though it didn't "convert" you. Do you feel that way about Tanith Lee's re-told tales? I mean, do they put you off too? I like most of them very much, especially Red as Blood, which re-tells Snow White as a vampire story. Very creepy.
I haven't actually read any of Tanith Lee's writings so I can't say if I'm put off by those or not. I checked the library for her books as I know I should read some, but they hardly had any books by her at all. Will keep an eye out in charity shops.