Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Beauty by Robin McKinley
Release Date: October 1978
Publisher: Corgi Children's (New Edition - 2004)
Pages: 259
Buy The Book: Amazon

"Sixteen-year-old Beauty has never liked her nickname. Thin, awkward, and undersized, with big hands and huge feet, she has always thought of herself as the plainest girl in her family – certainly not nearly as lovely as her elder sisters Hope and Grace. But what she lacks in looks, she makes up for in courage. When her father comes home one day with the strange tale of an enchanted castle in the wood and the terrible promise he has made to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows what she must do. She must go the castle and tame the Beast – if such a thing is possible…"

The Disney version of Beauty And The Beast is possible one of my favourite films (not just animated) of all time, so I'd been planning to read this book for a while (although I had no idea it was first published in 1978!). However, this may have prevented me from reading the book impartially, as I found myself comparing the two very different retellings. 

The book starts off slowly; it takes just under half of the book for Beauty to get to the castle and meet the Beast. If I didn't already know what was coming, I would have grown bored with the book after 100 very detailed pages about her chores around her new house and how much Beauty misses the city. I persevered with the book, knowing that it would pick up eventually once she reached the castle. When she finally did, I wasn't disappointed. McKinley creates a wonderful, ethereal atmosphere in-keeping with the whole tone of the book. No talking teapots, no friendly candlesticks, just two mysterious housemaids in the form of a 'helpful breeze'.

As with all retellings of a popular story, there will always be changes made. I found myself missing the boorish Gaston from the Disney version, however I really enjoyed the concept that Beauty doesn't become physically beautiful until the end, meaning that the Beast really does fall in love with her personality. A criticism? I had thought that reading the book would give me much more of an insight into how the two fall in love; I thought there would be long and touching conversations and a slow, gradual falling process, but it does seem that one minute she's terrified of him and the next they're in love. This could possibly be my only criticism of the book but it is a significant one that marred the ending slightly for me.

Overall, once Beauty arrives at the castle it's very easy to get lost in this book. McKinley creates believable, warm characters and is adept at embellishing that wonderful atmosphere that only fairytales have, and her version of this story is spirited and satisfying.