Flashback Fridays: :In the Eye of the Beholder . . .

You’re a young woman with two older sisters whose rich merchant father has come on hard times.  You’re life has been dramatically reduced from its former opulence, but you remain positive.  Then word comes that one of the ships your father thought lost has come into port.  In rejoicing, your father packs for the journey to hopefully regain his former wealth, and asks each of his daughters what special gift they would like.  You ask for a rose.

Do you remember:

Beauty by Robin McKinley (HarperCollins, 1978)

Fairy tale retellings are a popular form of fiction.  Robin McKinley is certainly not the first.  But this particular re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast was one of the first retellings I’d ever read.  It remains one of my favorites.  McKinely eschews the more romantic and ornate sense of story for the personal tale of one fairly down to earth heroine.  Beauty, as she is called by her family, started her life actually named Honour.  Due to her disgust as a child with trying to understand the meaning of Honour and failing, she announces: “huh, i’d rather be Beauty.”  The name winds up sticking.  This gives you an idea of how McKinley’s Beauty dramatically departs from the original fairy tale version.  You get to know her as a girl who sometimes speaks her mind before she thinks, who tends to regard herself with rueful amusement.

This first person account is not another version of the Cinderella tale, where Beauty has mean stepsisters and is forced to work as a domestic servant, abused by her own family.  Beauty in this story has two older sisters who are beautiful and generally kind-hearted.  In fact, Beauty considers herself the plain one of the bunch.  Despite their sudden poverty, Beauty has adapted well, enjoying the sun and gardening.  She’s happy in this life.  So when her father returns to them to announce that they are no better off wealth wise, and gives her  the rose with an explanation of the payment the Beast demanded, Beauty is giving up a life that she actually enjoys for an unknown life and fate with the Beast.

McKinely creates a wonderful adventure story with Beauty leading the way.  Magic glimmers at every turn of the castle and the fun of exploring it and adapting to it are part of the adventure.  Beauty’s observations and approachable voice make this a delightful tale to follow from beginning to the very predictable, but no less wonderful end of the story.  A fully fleshed out story that brings the characters to life as individuals rather than caricatures and types.

My favorite part?  Well, the library of course.  I daresay there are few enchanted libraries quite as wonderful as this one.  The first time I saw this scene in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast:

beauty library

I grabbed my friend (who was in the theater with me) and burst out ” that’s the library from Robin McKinley’s book!”

I’m apparently not the only one who is a fan of that library.  Author Jim Hines’ fantasy series features characters who can magically reach into books in order to retrieve objects small enough to fit through the pages.  The two books in his series Libriomancer and Codex Born are both full of  book cameos, including McKinley’s Beauty which is  used at one point to access this very library. (word of caution, these stories for the adult,/new adult age and certainly not for younger readers!)

Robin McKinley is a fantasy writer who has been entertaining children, young adults and adults with her amazing stories for well over three decades.  Beauty is far from being her only fairy tale retelling–in fact it’s not even her only Beauty and the Beast retelling!

Almost twenty years after Beauty, McKinley published Rose Daughter (Ace, 1997), which tackles the same fairy tale, but from a very different angle and set of characters.  Other fairy tale retellings include Spindle’s End (2000), and The Door in the Hedge (1981), though most of these tend  to be more for the young adult audience rather than middle grade.

Since that first dip into fairy tale retellings, I’ve been a fan of them, and love the opportunity to explore new ones.

What are your favorite fairy tales/retellings?  Comments Welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on November 29, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I know you asked for favourite fairytale rebellings, but I have to alter my comment slightly just to say – this was one of the BEST reviews I have read in a long time! I thoroughly enjoyed it; a great mix of informative and entertaining. Keep it up!

  2. Ooh, you’ve got me ordering the book. Thank you. Absolutely my favourite fairytale. A lot of the others scared me too much. And the library. Oooh, the library. It’s somewhere I’ve gone often in my life. I can’t wait to read his description of it. Thank you. 🙂

  1. Pingback: My 400th Post: What Brought Me This Far: 100 Books in my Blood | Views From the Tesseract

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