Here is the another entry in the Favorite Adaptations Giveaway. This entry is by Christine Ethier, too. Read more about the giveaway here to learn how to win a copy of Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross. I am extending the deadline on entries through April 14th since I didn't think ahead about this week being spring break and vacations for so many. Probably because this week has been anything but for me...
There is something about the Beauty and the Beast story that is attractive to society in general and to the literature, movie making crowd in particular. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Middlemarch and other books in varying literary quality draw on the motif, subverting, perverting, or simply retelling it (One of my faves is Jane Yolen's version which is a mash up with O Henry's Gift of the Magi). It is no surprise that Robin McKinely was drawn to the tale, twice, and any reader can see the germ of the second novel in this book, her first.
McKinley's writing, in particular The Hero and the Crown, was one very important touchstone of my childrhood, as it seems to be for many fantasy reading women of my age. I can't help but wish that teen girls of today would read her the obessive way and in the vast amount of numbers of those that read Twilight or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. McKinley writes better, and she will most likely last longer.
This book, McKinley's first and her first retelling of Beauty and the Beast, was totally ripped off by the Walt Disney Company for thier movie. It's actually sad and insulting because not only did Disney rip it off, but they totally shortened the Beauty character (now, before people come and demand my Tigger shirt back, I happen to like the Disney movie, but a spade is a spade. Get over it).
McKinley draws heavily on the French version of the story, yet she makes it her own. Beauty likes to read, but unlike Disney's Belle (Beautiful in French), Beauty reads literature, not the romance novels of her day. Belle's love of reading is based on her love for romantic adventure; Beauty's is based on a love reading for itself and for knowledge. She is a scholar. It is difficult to imagine Disney's Belle having the same reaction to the library in this book, that Beauty does (also, we are never given a title of what Belle reads, hmmm).
Another change that McKinley makes, and she is one of the few authors who does this, is make Beauty's family a loving family. Beauty not only loves her father, but she loves her sisters. She and her sisters get along. They take to each other, not down to each other. They are not in competition. This isn't a fairy tale of the bad sisters being punished and the good (always the young one) being rewarded; it's about a loving family being rewarded.
Because this is early McKinley, there are flaws in the book, flaws that make the reader understand why McKinley basically rewrote the story in Rose Daughter. Beauty, for instance, is almost too perfect. She is the girl who stands out because she is not only more bookish, but more boyish than the other women. This perfection is dealt with in the end sequence. Additionally, Beauty's gaining of Greatheart feels like a wish fullment version of the horse movie of the week. But these are really, almost nit-picking. The most serious flaw is the fact that Beauty's sisters, Grace and Hope, are almost interchangable, though fully likable. McKinley also presents the view that being non-bookish is not any worse than being bookish, which is nice.
What I truly love, now, however, is simply that I only realized when I re-read this book as an adult. Beauty and the Beast from its earliest days was always a story about women and marriage, in particular the fear of marriage that must have developed in a society when the marriages were arranged and husband and wife barely knew each other. McKinley keeps this, and adds, understandably, a fear of desire and of changing into an adult. In many of Beauty's reactions to Beast there is the change of pubertry but also that struggle of coming to terms with adult desire, love, and one's own sexuality.