Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Beauty by Robin McKinely

by Robin McKinley
Fairy Tale
336 pages
published: 1978
4 of 5 stars

  • Is it wrong that right now I'm thinking in bullets? Can I cope with the fact that this is not a paragraph week?
  • Thoughts on this book.
  • This is the first thing I've read by Robin McKinley and I was impressed by the storytelling.
  • This book captured the feel of older time in its language. Leisurely. Descriptive. Higher vocabulary. It reminded me, in the language department, of Princess Ben. (Which is a good thing.)
  • I loved the logical back story - the father a wealthy merchant who lost his fortune and the family having to move to where the son-in-law could support them...
  • I liked that Beauty was not "beautiful" and that she had nicknamed herself.
  • I loved loved loved the servants in the castle as sentient, capable breezes.
  • I was totally engrossed.
  • I loved that the beast was OLD. That is the only way that the collective conscience of the villagers would have forgotten about a whole castle and nobility had once existed in their midst.
And now I feel bullet-free as I'm constrained to mention what I did not like and what lost this book a star on my rating scale. The end. I know and you know how Beauty and Beast ends, but that does not mean that as a reader that we want to skip it. At least I don't! The end is the big pay off! As a writer, that the end should have been the most important to get right.

What happened at the end of this fairy tale? Flash. Bang. Over. That's what happened. Literally. Now, it was magic, and it's fine that the beast transformed instantly, but this flash-bang also included a shower, costume change, and hairdo for Beauty (who wasn't a part of the original spell!), Beauty's family walking up to the castle apparently already aware that she was now a princess, and the slight personality shift of the main character. What huh?? I was gypped.*

One other thing I didn't like about the book was that Beauty, who wasn't supposed to be beautiful, was magicked at the castle so that she grew 7 inches, changed her hair and eye color and whatnot so that she was now beautiful. Two thoughts on this: first, the old standby of why does beautiful have to fit a certain mold to be beautiful? and two, the information that she wasn't beautiful came from an unreliable source - her. She was judging herself as compared to her sisters and with the dirty mirror we all use. Her father and sisters found her beautiful. The Beast found her beautiful. Why oh why did she need to be changed to be beautiful at the end? That very idea undermines the whole theme of the Beauty and Beast fairy tale any way. Beauty is on the inside!!

All complaints aside (heave, shove, puffpuff), I did love this book right up until the very end. And even so, am happy to have it in my fairy tale collection. It has been suggested that I might prefer Robin McKinley's other retelling of Beauty and the Beast, so I am excited to give that one a go.

*In a mission to spell 'gypped' correctly, (I had the erroneous idea that it involved a 'j' and an 'i') I found out the origin of the word. I had no idea it was a racist reference to gypsies!! Is the modern usage enough removed for me not to feel bad about that? Wow. Learn something every day! :O


  1. I remember reading this (not much, it was a long time ago) and thinking how abrupt the ending was. You may want to try her other retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Rose Daughter.