"It's said there's a castle in a wild garden at the center of these woods: and if you walk into the trees till you are out of sight of the edge of the forest and you can see nothing but big dark trees all around you, you will be drawn to that castle: and in the castle there lives a monster. He was a man once, some tales say, and he was turned into a terrible monster as a punishment for his evil deeds; some say he was born that way, as a punishment to his parents, who were king and queen of a good land, but cared only for their own pleasure."
I can't remember where I first heard about Robin McKinley, but I've seen her books mentioned on lots of blogs that I respect. As I love fairy tale retellings, I decided that the time was right to pick up Beauty, a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. In terms of plot, it's a fairly straightforward telling, with Beauty (an ironic nickname in this version) offering to become the captive of the Beast in order to save the life of her beloved father. Once prosperous residents of the city, Beauty's family has fallen on hard times and they leave with her sister Hope's husband to settle in the countryside, where he will work as a blacksmith. Beauty's father loses the path through the forest when returning from a journey and ends up at an enchanted castle, where he is treated kindly until he tries to steal a rose to take home for his daughter. Rather than allow her father to die, Beauty leaves her family to live in the castle, unaware of the secrets hidden by the Beast.
In the end, I really enjoyed Beauty. I found the first section rather slow but as soon as Beauty actually arrived at the enchanted castle, the book was far more captivating. There was a subtle hint of magic running through each sentence and it was fascinating to watch Beauty's attitude towards the castle and the Beast slowly change, until she simply couldn't imagine being happy anywhere else. I'm not a fan of romance novels, but the romance in this fairy tale retelling was completely believable as Beauty's feelings changed slowly and gradually with time. I loved the scene where the Beast shows her his library, which contains copies of books that will only be published much later, and the way that romance only came after respect and friendship.
It was hard whilst reading this to get the Disney film (a favorite from childhood) completely out of my head. Beauty is less dramatic; there's no Gaston also pursuing Beauty, and this made the ending quieter but more powerful. McKinley wrote the character of the Beast very well; we only get to see him through Beauty's eyes but she manages to get across hints of his past and emotions. From about the mid-point on, I couldn't put the book down and I ended it with a big smile on my face. I'll certainly be looking out for more McKinley books to read, as she combines the fairy tale with a great portrayal of human emotion.
First Published: 1978
Edition Read: Corgi Books UK, 2004
Score: 4 out of 5