Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley

Beauty has grown up in a city, the youngest daughter of a wealthy merchant.  While her two oldest sisters are completely beautiful, she is small and plain. Her father loses everything when much of his sailing fleet is destroyed and the family must make a new life for themselves. They move north with the fiance of Beauty’s sister, taking a small house on the edge of a dark forest.  They soon become used to their new life.  Beauty’s father is called back to the city on business, but as he returns he becomes lost in the forest.  He enjoys the hospitality of an enchanted castle and upon leaving cuts a single rose to take to his youngest daughter.  This causes the beast to make his first appearance and extract that promise that either Beauty’s father will return or send his daughter in his stead.  Of course, Beauty goes, and I’m pretty sure you all know the story from there.

This was a lovely retelling, although very heavy on the description and low on the action.  It will most likely appeal most to teens and tweens with an excellent vocabulary and an affinity for historical novels.  There’s nothing wildly interesting or original about this retelling, it’s just a very pleasant version, done very well.  Beauty is both intelligent and initially plain, something lots of girls will find encouraging.

Great for: Teens and tweens who loved the Disney movie and want something with a similar feeling.  Although McKinley’s story is very different from the Disney version, the heroine being a bookworm remains the same.  The enchanted castle also has some of the same feel, with the animated furniture and feasts.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Mother married at 17; father was 40.  Sister Grace is engaged at 19 to man of 28.  They plan on marrying after he returns from a sea voyage, but her father would prefer they marry first and “perhaps start a baby.”  A mare dies birthing a foal.  There are proposals, weddings and someone has babies.  There’s courting.  There is kissing, but it is not described.  A horse flirts with a mare.
Profanity – “hell,”
Death, Violence and Gore – Beauty’s mother and baby sister died.  Her father has lost ships (and therefore men) at sea.  They fear robbers and cutthroats.  An aunt is widowed.  The beast cuts himself on glass and bleeds.  The beast will die if beauty does not return.  A few invisible servants discuss that murder should be allowed in the case of evil magicians.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – Beer is mentioned several times, and offered as payment for services.  They drink wine.
Frightening or Intense Things – The magic and the beast’s castle all have a slightly sinister feel to them, but nothing that will scare or alarm the intended audience.

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4 Responses to Beauty

  1. Beth says:

    Kids who love books and beautiful writing like this version. As a kid, I loved that Beauty studied Greek and Latin when she lived a life of luxury at the castle. OF COURSE that’s what I would do, in addition to riding my giant horse around.

    This book is much older than the Disney version, but I’m glad that Disney cribbed the good parts, although Belle is much less intellectual than Beauty (uh, Belle, letting the sheep eat your book means that you won’t be re-reading it any more…).

  2. Mrs.N says:

    I hope my review didn’t read as though McKinley borrowed from Disney, of course it’s the other way around. I wasn’t very young when the Disney version came out, and would have absolutely been of an age and a mindset to greatly enjoy this book had I known about it back then. It absolutely would satisfy a but I want more craving for any girl whose favorite part of the Disney movie was the library. Oh that library! And that the one in Beauty includes even books that haven’t been written yet absolutely upgrades that fantasy.

  3. jmlc says:

    Oh that library! And that the one in Beauty includes even books that haven’t been written yet!

    I adored this book for that very reason.

  4. Yes, I liked the books that haven’t been written yet and Beauty wondering what an aeroplane is. And I LOVED the scene where she yells at the handsome man,”What have you done with my Beast?”

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