Sunday, October 23, 2011

Library Essentials Month: Beauty by Robin McKinley

This post didn't push live on Saturday, so here it is now on Sunday:

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley is today's library essential and only one of two fiction titles on the list this month. I debated this one and then decided it is certainly one of my library essentials and it is always fun to add some fiction especially on a Saturday when nothing heavy is really wanted anyway.

This is an essential to me because it was a very important book when I first read it decades ago, but still several years after its 1978 original publication date. I discovered it when I was about 13 or 14--I don't remember the time but know it was after I had read McKinley's The Hero and the Crown in one day while very sick (read a chapter, run to the bathroom, rinse, repeat). I was thrilled to have a novel written around my favorite fairy tale by a favorite author--anyone who can make me happy to be home from school while violently sick quickly becomes a favorite. I think an entire generation discovered this book and was inspired to write more retellings several years later because there were virtually no others in the early 80s. Well, I know of one other I bought during that time--Roses by Barbara Cohen, another Beauty and the Beast retelling that was enjoyable, but it was not Beauty. Then Terri Windling's FairyTale Series came along and started to fill in the gap for older readers. But I digress....

Anyway, this is a touchstone book for many authors and readers and inspired many future novels. Nowadays it tends to be underappreciated by the YA readers who have an abundance of choices and is now marketed primarily to a middle reader market that can still appreciate it. It's continued success and popularity helped establish a subgenre of fairy tale retellings. No, it wasn't the first to do so--that's been going on for decades--but there was a dearth of options for many years and none that sold like this one did which convinced publishes to buy and print similar titles. Publishing is a business, never forget. Everyone likes to eat.

Book description from the publisher:

A strange imprisonment

Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, "Cannot a Beast be tamed?"

Robin McKinley's beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.

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