This is a retelling of the beloved fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. In this enchanting version, Beauty hates her nickname (her real name is Honour) because she feels that she is the least beautiful of her father’s three daughters. Instead, she values her intelligence and her love of learning and riding. Her merchant father’s financial failure causes the family to auction off their belongings and move to the country where Beauty is grateful for her practical skills. When her father comes home with a tale of an enchanted castle and an angry beast, Beauty agrees to go to the castle to spare her father’s life and eventually learns to love the beast.
Sissy: This was the first book Robin McKinley ever wrote,and when I read it, I loved it. It came out long before the Disney movie version of Beauty and the Beast or the plethora of fairytale retellings that have come about in the last 20 years. So at the time it was a refreshing and novel idea. I like the concept of Beauty as a gangly, awkward girl who is more interested in horses and books than boys or embroidery. I know that the Disney version has Beauty’s character being more bookish, but Robin McKinley had the idea first. I also like the fact that in this retelling the characters in Beauty’s family are fleshed out a little bit and have their own side stories going on.
Bubby: Good pick this week, Sissy! I love Robin McKinley’s early books. (Her later books, not so much.) Beauty is actually the first of two retellings of the classic story that McKinley has written – the other is Rose Daughter, published almost 20 years later and a good read in its own right. McKinley has a way with words. It’s almost as if she spins a web around the reader, drawing them right into the world she is creating. You really feel that you are experiencing the story right along with Beauty and her sisters Hope and Grace. The characters are so well drawn that you really care what happens to them – they are imperfect and human and they could be your friend or neighbor or sister.
Sissy: I like all of Robin McKinley’s solo authored books except Sunshine.
Bubby: Sunshine. Yuck. Everything you already hated about vampires minus all of McKinley’s signature elegant prose plus some language and sex. Stick with the older stuff. It’s better.
Sissy: Yes. Robin McKinley writes so beautifully. She must have been going through a dark period when she wrote that book. I will forgive her. Back to Beauty. You all know what happens at the end of the story and so what makes this book readable is the characters and the imaginings of the author as she reinvents the circumstances surrounding the familiar ending.
Bubby: I want to be one of Beauty’s sisters – before their father’s business failed, it was all silk and roses and silver lah-di-dah poshness. I could get used to that. Sitting near the fireplace, eating crumpets with clotted cream and black currant preserves, drinking tea from my silver teapot in my china cup with my pinkie finger in the air. Delightful! Of course, after a few weeks, I’d probably be bored spitless. And then I’d have a heart attack from too much clotted cream. But I’d enjoy myself in the beginning! You can have tea with me, Sissy. I’ll get you your own china teacup painted with pink roses.
Sissy: I hate tea. Tastes like fish spit. I believe I have mentioned this before.
Bubby: Fine. No tea. Hot cocoa. In a pretty, rose embellished cup. That’s the important part.
Sissy: Since when did you become the little old lady with pink roses all over the place? Are you going to start knitting an afghan next?
Bubby: Hey, knitting is hot and chic nowadays – all the famous Hollywood actresses are doing it.
Sissy: Right. Our main character, Beauty, was so not into all that crap. Now that we’ve distracted you hither and yon, find a copy of Beauty by Robin McKinley and go back to the lovely days before everyone and their dog was making a buck with a retelling. 3 1/2 bubbles.
Bubby: Wow. You have lost your magic today, Sissy. Methinks someone needs a new tube of hemorrhoid cream. At any rate, Beauty is a delicious magical tale. You will love it. 4 bubbles from me. Happy weekend!
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