21 August 2011

Robin McKinley: Beauty and the Beast

"Beauty and the Beast" is one of my favorite fairy tales.  The Disney movie adaptation and the Jean Cocteau adaptation are two of my favorite movies.  I quite liked the TV series (when I was allowed to watch it) and even have a soft spot for that odd Rebecca DeMornay musical adaptation.

I read Robin McKinley's Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast back in junior high.  It's a really great adaptation in that it gives Beauty's family more depth.  Her sisters aren't jealous and grasping as in the original and are quite good at the make-do scenario.  They all pitch in to help with housekeeping and earning money for the household.  When Beauty's father returns with the rose and she agrees to live with the Beast, McKinley's tale aligns with the fairy story.  Beauty and her Beast have their happy ending.

I decided to re-read Beauty because, while looking at McKinley's bibliography, I noticed she also wrote a second re-telling, Rose Daughter.  Say what?  Sunshine rekindled my interest in McKinley so reading both Beauty and the Beast retellings would be interesting.

Rose Daughter incorporates more magic into the story.  In this world roses must be grown with the help of magic and are, therefore, very rare.  Beauty's talent lies in making plants and flowers grow.  Beast's roses are dying which partially explains why he's so upset when Beauty's father picks a rose for her and demands that she come in his stead.  Although Beauty only stays seven days in Beast's palace caring for his roses, as months go by for her family, the alternate reality of the castle and garden allows McKinley to spend a great deal of time thoughtfully exploring the situation Beauty finds herself in.  The end of the tale carries a true twist.  Once she declares her love for Beast, Beauty is given a choice: choose between the handsome Prince (Beast's former human form) or the Beast as he is now.  Beauty has her happy ending, just in a different form.  It's quite refreshing.

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