Dec 3, 2007

Beauty by Robin McKinley

The subtitle of this book says it all: a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. At first glance that leaves no room for any mystery, but those who enter this tale expecting complete familiarity will be surprised. This is, no doubt, Beauty and the Beast, a story we all know, but Robin McKinley made the story refreshing – she made it her own. She stretched the tale in unexpected directions will still maintaining the shape one would expect. The surprises are mostly in small details, but these make all the difference.

For example, in this story, Beauty is an awkward bookworm, whose physical beauty pales in comparison to that of her sisters. Her actual given name is Honour, and she thinks it is a sad irony that she ended up with the nickname Beauty, as she is in no way worthy of. As the story unfolds, we realize that she is, in fact, very worthy of both names.

In this version of the story, Beauty’s sisters, Grace and Hope, and not selfish or vain, but warm-heated and well-meaning girls. The way the sisters’ relationship was portrayed was very interesting. Sisterly love and family ties in general play a very important role in the story. Also, the sisters themselves, their personalities and their own love stories play a much more important role in this retelling than in the tale we all know.

This novel is full of details I absolutely loved. For example, at the Beast’s palace Beauty finds a library with all the books that have been written, as well as the ones that have yet to be written. She reads the works of Robert Browning, T.H. White’s wonderful The Once and Future King and the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This last one is difficult for her, since she has no idea of what things like telephones or motor cars are.

Robin McKinley kept me turning the pages of this story as if I didn’t know what would happen next. Her writing is at once simple and poetic, and it carries the story along beautifully. The novel is told by Beauty herself, who is a wonderful narrator and tells her tale at the exact right pace.

My only complaint about this book was that I found the ending a little too happy. I mean, we all know Beauty and the Beast is a story with a happy ending, so I didn’t expect this to be any different, but the novel ended at too perfect a moment. Does that make sense? I guess I’m used to fairy tale retellings with a little bit of melancholy, a little bit of ambiguity. But this is really just a side note. The ending didn’t keep me from thinking that this is an absolutely wonderful fairy tale novel.

Reviewed at:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Framed and Booked


  1. What a lovely sounding book! It seems like it would be the perfect read for this time of year.

    And you truly are just as bad as Chris...


  2. I agree with sounds positively lovely! I've never read anything by Robin McKinley, though I've been meaning to read The Hero and the Crown for quite some time. Off to add this one to my wish list. (Why is it that my amazon wish list is so often my next stop after coming by here?!!)

  3. HAHA! I know exactly how Debi feels...I can't tell you how many times I've gone straight from your blog to typing "" into the address bar. You write such great reviews.

    I love books with characters who love books! It adds such nice charm to them. I also love books that retell classic tales. One of my favorites is Orson Scott Card's Enchantment. This sounds like it could be a favorite too. I know what you mean about endings sometimes being too happy though. Sounds like she went for the Disney ending with this one. I'll definitely be checking this one out!

  4. One of my favorite books! Do you know she has another book with yet another take on the Beauty and the Beast story... with a very different twist at the end. It's called Rose Daughter.

  5. This sounds like a good choice for the Once Upon a Time Challenge in the spring. I'll make a note of it.

  6. Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales, and so I am definitely interested in this book. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth.

  7. This sounds like it would be right up my alley. I'll have to keep this in mind come the next Once Upon a Time Challenge. I always loved the Disney cartoon of Beauty and the Beast mostly because she was a book lover and I like the sound of that part of this book. Plus I haven't read any of Robin's work, so it may just be time!

  8. I am TOTALLY adding this to my reading list! It sounds really really good!

  9. I can't think of Beauty and the Beast without remembering seeing the old black and white movie when I was a kid... and then of course I was totally in love with the TV series Beauty and the Beast, though it was "beyond" the original story... sigh, I can always hear Ron Perlmans voice as the beast!!

  10. Off topic...but I got my Secret Santa gift today! Yay! Thanks Nymeth for being the host, I'm thrilled. I of course had to post about it immediately.

  11. I swear that your blog adds more to my growing wishlist than anything else! You always make books sound so appealing. Off I go to add this one, too.

  12. oh wow, not only is it a book about love but also about books!

    sounds like a very interesting adaptation.

  13. Sounds really good. B&B was always my favorite childhood story (and Disney movie!). I do know what you mean about the too perfect ending--but on the same hand I think many of us have come to expect "perfect" endings with fairytales.

  14. oh wow, so many comments I didn't respond to! For some reason blogger is not sending me e-mail notifications. Hm, weird. Is anyone else having this problem?

    CJ: I'll take that as a compliment :P And yes, there is something very Autumnish about this book that makes it perfect for this time of the year.

    Debi: This was my first book by McKinley. That's the one that won the Newbery, right? I really want to read it someday.

    Chris, right back at you :P And yes, Enchantment is also a great one! The ending did feel a bit Disney-like, but the rest of the book definitely didn't.

    Suey: I didn't know that, no. I will definitely be checking it out. Thank you!

    Petunia: It'd be perfect for the challenge, yes!

    Literary Feline: You're welcome :) It is a great fairy tale... one of my favourites too. I just love the animal bridegroom theme.

    Carl: This was my first book by her, but I definitely want to read more! She's one of those fantasy authors I always (unintentionally) ignored, but I really need to correct that.

    Court: I hope you enjoy it!

    Deslily: I've heard so many good things about that movie. It is highly regarded among fairy tale lovers. I really need to watch it someday!

    Carl: This reminds me, people should be staring to receive their (actual :P) Secret Santa packages... I should put a Mr. Linky up soon!

    Robin: I hope you like it :)

    Dewey: Like I told Chris, I can say the same about you!

    Jean Pierre: Love and books is the perfect combination, isn't it?

    Trish: Yeah, those endings are common, but both the older versions and the modern retellings tend to break that pattern, which is why I thought this one might be different, too. But like I said, I loved it regardless!

  15. OK I just posted on your other post about not adding any more books to my list but I changed my mind, this is going on it damn you! Sounds like just my type of book.


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