Review: “Beauty” by Robin McKinley

For the love of books

Meticulous attention to detail, bright and melodic descriptions, and an opinionated heroine as unique as her nickname—these qualities illustrate the intricate work of fiction that is Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast.  Re-writing a popular fairy tale into her creation of a brilliant new entity, Robin McKinley’s writing radiates with her effervescent storytelling, life-like characters, and the fascinating changes she made to Beauty and the Beast.

Honour was given the nickname “Beauty” when she was only five years old; however, Beauty personally thinks that her name is highly unsuitable in view of her unattractive physical appearance.  Despite this, Beauty is the cornerstone of her family.  Beauty herself is a scholar, devoted to literature and her studies as much as she abhors mirrors and her own reflection.  Her beloved father, Roderick Huston, is a widower and successful merchant in the city.  Her two older sisters, Grace and Hope, are the epitome of beauty and goodness.  Unfortunately, bankruptcy turns the Huston household into a scene of chaos and despair as it affects every family member in a different way.  The Hustons’ bourgeois-like status is suddenly converted into a state of poverty.  Like in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Beauty and her family are forced to give up every luxury and comfort, including their spacious home in the city, in exchange for a simpler life in the country.  However, this decision teaches the Hustons to appreciate their change in fortune as a blessing.  They begin to understand the meaning of life itself and what it is to truly live every moment fully, even through hard work and daily routines.

The settings in Beauty are similar to those of a European country during the times of the Middle Ages.  The author also ascertains the world Beauty lives in to be realistic as well as immerged in fantasy and the unexplainable.  Magic itself seems to be impossible, especially to practical Beauty, but the probability of its existence and its variance from known reality gradually becomes credible during the progress of the story.  At this point in the narrative, it is wise to note that the 1991 animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast and Beauty have remarkable parallelism in regards to content.  Beauty’s magnificent horse Greatheart, the architecture and visual design of the Beast’s castle and the outlying forest, the roses in the Beast’s garden, and the Beast’s enchanted servants/objects are only a few pertinent examples of how Walt Disney Pictures must have secretly integrated parts of McKinley’s novel into their animated feature.  Aside from that, Beauty is significantly different from the classic it is based on, not only due to the indefinable magic that is indirectly (and directly) involved in every course the storyline takes but also in the author’s defined characters and their individual traits.  For example, Beauty is an adult, not a frightened girl, who chooses to go to the Beast in place of her father. It is not just a matter of honor for Beauty, but an unselfish sacrifice for love.  Love is the strongest theme in Beauty; Beauty’s inner strength and beauty is magnified by the mutual love between her, her father, and her sisters and is demonstrated thoroughly by her choices.

On the other hand, the author makes the character of the Beast more intriguing than ever; she does not precisely describe his physical looks, but only his temperament and age.  Beauty’s scholarly inclinations and the Beast’s surprising intellectuality result in a well developed romance, for McKinley voices clearly how Beauty’s first impressions of her new home and her initial hatred for the Beast slowly transform into friendship and then a deep mutual love.  Therefore, by the end of the novel, it isn’t just the Beast who has undergone a metamorphosis—Beauty also beautifies into a more mature and understanding person.  The romanticism in Beauty as well as the pragmatism surrounding the character of Beauty makes the simple outline of Beauty and the Beast appear vague and distant at first glance, until it is obvious that the author is only bringing the original fairy tale under closer inspection with greater focus on every aspect within the story.

Narrated by Beauty herself with intelligence, Beauty is an imaginative retelling, comparable in many ways to a “journalistic record” of the heroine’s analysis of her own life from her perspective and the odyssey that permanently alters it.  In Robin McKinley’s Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty & the Beast, the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast has been colorized—this black-and-white romance finally has true dimension, emotions, and vision.

Original review: Part 1: Robin McKinley’s debut novel is excellentPart 2: Robin McKinley’s debut novel is excellentPart 3: Robin McKinley’s debut novel is excellent, Examiner.com

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