Author: Robin McKinley
Published: October 1978
Beauty was Robin McKinley’s first published book. She says that she set out to write a short version of the well-known fairy-tale as a writing exercise, but it kept getting longer and longer until finally she actually had a novel on her hands, so she submitted it to a publisher and it was accepted immediately. She was 24 at the time.
There have been different versions of the Beauty and the Beast story in many countries and for many centuries, and today the number of collected versions of the story apparently numbers in the hundreds, so a modern person sitting down to retell the tale has a lot to choose from and indeed since there are already so many versions, there would not seem to be any reason not to change details of the story to the author’s own liking. Disney certainly did so.
McKinley has stayed fairly close to the version of the story I was most familiar with from childhood. The one major departure in her story is that instead of two sisters who are reminiscent of the evil stepsisters in Cinderella, the sisters in McKinley’s story are beautiful, good, and kind. Frankly, I liked McKinley’s version better. McKinley’s story is filled with realistic people struggling against real and severe problems and showing quiet courage and good humor in the face of new and reduced circumstances. And that is before the Beast enters the picture.
The Beast and his castle are everything one could want. They are legitimately frightening in the beginning; charming and vulnerable as the story progresses. And Beauty too is all that one could wish. Like all McKinley’s heroines, Beauty is a woman of character--strong character--and yet she struggles with her own demons just as the Beast must.
When I was teaching junior high school English, Beauty was very popular with the girls that age. I have never spoken to a boy or man who has read it, so I won’t bother recommending it to the men here at E2. However, for you women, although this book is more clearly intended for a younger audience than The Blue Sword , The Hero and The Crown , or Sunshine , I would still recommend it to you if you like fantasy. Of all her books, Beauty would be my fourth favorite, and I reread it every few years.
Interestingly, years later, McKinley wrote a second novel which is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. I can’t recall that I have ever heard of any other author doing such a thing. That book is called Rose Daughter . If you are a fan of McKinley’s books, I guess it is worth reading once, but I didn’t like it nearly as well as Beauty .
Beauty has received the following honors:
1966-1988 Best of the Best Books for Young Adults (ALA)
1979 Fanfare Honor List ( The Horn Book )
1979 Books for the Teen Age (NY Public Library)
Here is what Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place said about Beauty :
Beauty is the most delightful first novel I’ve read in years, and astonishingly skillful. Robin McKinley never slips up once. The writing is absolutely sure-handed and the characterization never falters for a moment. I was moved and enchanted by the book. I didn’t want it to end. Both as writer and reader, I can’t wait to see what Robin McKinley does next. This first one is a marvel.