August Fantasy Thread - SPOILERS - Beauty
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This is a sweet retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. It's very, very similar to the Disney movie version although I believe this book came out several years before the movie. Neverthless, I found myself humming all the Disney songs in all the appropriate place. DD was about 5 when the Disney version was released in theaters and we must have watched it four hundred and leventy-seven times.
So, I was a little disappointed that there was 'nothing new' here. This one probably appeals more to people who don't have the big screen version memorized backwards and forwards.
About 20 years after writing this, the author wrote another version called Rose Daughter which I am reading now. This second version seems so far to be less cannonical.
In grad school, I wrote a paper on fairy tale retellings for young adults. It's a popular sub-genre these days, with more being published every year. However, in 1978 (when Beauty was published) it was much less common. I actually think that McKinley paved the way for the popularity of future YA fairy tale retellings. It also may say something about why she stayed so close to the original, when many newer stories have more twists and diversions from their source material.
Here's an essay McKinley wrote (shortly after the publication of Rose Daughter) about why she retold the same tale two times.
Thanks also for the essay that you linked to. It's similar, but not identical to an essay in the back of the copy of Rose Daughter I'm reading.
I have seen criticism of the fact that Beauty really becomes beautiful by the end of the novel; some people seem to feel it undermines the message of appearances not being important. It's never bothered me, as I felt that the way McKinley handled it the change was just a natural part of growing up physically. I was an incredibly plain teen, who didn't really become attractive till I was about 18, so to me Beauty was like myself. What do others think?
I wish there were fewer super-attractive skinny white main characters in general, because the world is more diverse than that and diversity is interesting. I do generally find it frustrating when a character who doesn't fit that mold at the beginning of the book does by the end.
It doesn't bother me in this particular case, but probably only because I first read the book when I was about 12. I wouldn't defend it as the best possible choice McKinley could have made.
I thought it was appropriate in this book for her physical appearance to change as I also took it as naturally growing up.
Still, when I read Beauty, it was so nice to see a character that didn't start as beautiful at age 14 - I was so gawky and awkward and unfinished at 14.
I always thought it was simply her growing up to look like her mother, unlike her sisters, who were pretty, but didn't bear that specific resemblance.
Since I'm here, I'm going to be totally rude and change the subject to Greatheart. I think my favorite bit with him was how she agonized over him getting plow-spots from his harness.
I do like the fact that that McKinley has expanded the story into more than just a fairy tale, with the hardship of the family when they loose their fortune and Robbie being lost. I think it really adds to the story and gives it more depth. I also like the fact that she kept to the 'original' story in the father picking the rose before going home, something that was entirely changed in the Disney story. I do really see the similarities with the Disney movie, but I wasn't bothered by it, but that's probably also because I was obsessed with that movie when I was a child and still watch it 4 or 5 times a year and enjoy it soooo much, so I don't mind the book being similar. I think the idea of the servants being actual human beings, only invisible, makes the story a lot nicer, gives it a nice touch; in many versions it's just an unpersonal kind of magic that takes care of things, and I like this better.
Also, I do like the fact that Beauty changes. I think many girls are not very beautiful yet in their teens, most adolescents have this sort of awkward phase they have to get through, and I really like the fact that Beauty thinks she isn't beautiful right up to the very end. I think it's also sort of the transformation that turns her from child into adult; she starts out as ugly and awkward, and determined to never marry the beast, but over the months she is transformed, she grows, she becomes beautiful and realizes that she actually loves the beast. At the same time, she realizes that her father and sisters are no longer the most important thing for her, but that the beast has become the most important.
Oh, and I do love Greatheart... And I love it when he goes off with the young mare, the sneaky fellow! :)
The characters in this version are even more fleshed out, more fully realized than in the first version There is much more depth to Beauty and her sisters, the Beast and even the townspeople. The castle is even more magical than the one in Beauty and more secretive. Again, there is a wonderful animal character, a cat named Fourpaws.
The first part of the book is pretty similar, but the climax and ending are completely different. We don't learn the story of the ensorcellment (see, even my vocabulary grew a bit while reading this book) until the end and it's a much darker, more complicated story complete with a very sad simulacrum who gave up her human life because she wanted the Beast to love her. And at the end, there is a wonderful, terrible choice for Beauty. Would I have made the choice she did? No. Drat--I'd love to discuss it, but unless we get into spoilers for this book, I guess I'll leave it at that.
The original Beauty is lightness and happy endings as smooth as silk. This version is more gritty, more nobbley with a more complicated ending and bit to muse on after it is over. In some ways I think this version holds truer to the old Grimm's fariy tales which always had a dark side and were not merely tales to amuse children.
I gave Beauty 3.5 stars and this one 4.
For me the only issue in this story and other re-tellings of beauty and the beast is the beast is never really very beastly. By the time Beauty gets to the cast, he is already walking, talking and civilized, would of prefer him to be a bit more beastly.
i was also a little disappointed that Beauty became attractive in the end, and though i agree that some people grow into their looks, i just felt it would of been better is she came to terms with her more plainness and knew she was loved for being her.
The first half of the book got a 9 and the second half sort of petered out to a 5 or 6. The story was appealing, gentle and interesting but it didn't go anywhere. There was build up but it didn't really ever hit a peak. I might not be explaining it well. It was sort of "that's it?" Don't get me wrong. I liked it and am glad I read it. But it was missing something in the end that would have made it a great story.
Somewhere in the back of my head I can't shake the image of an older woman saying to a frightened bride: "Ah, honey, of course you're scared. And he will roar like a beast and scare you but your gentleness will win him over. He will love you and you will love him and you'll have a fine life together."
Beauty and the Beast **was** a favorite of my daughter's while she was growing up.
But now I am cynical and worry about the lies we tell our daughters.
Sakerfalcon, Jack Zipes looks like he has some amazing books out there! Thank you for mentioning him.
Welcome, Artistsn! I'm glad to see your post. I think we are on opposite poles about the message of this book. I would love to hear more of your view!
When I was a child, I loved Beauty and the Beast. I never thought about the background information, or the underlying subtle themes, or how it was possibly instructing me to be kind to my awful beast of an arranged husband - because I never in a million years ever thought about being IN an arranged marriage. It was totally foreign to my experience, so I never thought about it.
Now that I'm older, it's an interesting concept, and I can certainly see where those influences are still there in a lot of our old fairy tales (You want to talk a bad message about arranged marriages, look at Bluebeard!! How about obeying your parents - Red Riding Hood got eaten and NOT saved in the original fairy tale!)
However, on the flip-side, now that I'm old enough to notice and explore these backgrounds and underlying ideas, I'm also old enough to reason about them and talk about how they may or may not be good influences on real-life decisions.
I know I am sometimes annoyed with 'messages' like this, but I do feel like I shouldn't be too judgemental. I mean, it was a different time and in those days this was 'normal'. I think most people never even considered that things could be different, they just lived their lives the way everybody did. And in such a context, if you can't change things, it might not be so bad to teach girls to accept their fate and try to make the best of it. If you can't change the way things are, it might be better to teach girls to make the most of their marriage and be content with it, than to teach them to be unhappy about it, I guess...
Not a bad point - at least for the individual. Consider the cases of girls in fanatical Islamic countries who commit suicide after they are exposed to western media. Why? Because they find out that girls in other parts of the world have freedoms they will never have and suicide is the only way they can think of to escape the prison they were born into. If you're truly trapped, then it's good to have been exposed to the idea that you can find a way to live in your cage.
From the perspective of society as a whole, though, I'd say it's better to offer the information that things can change. Those suicides may force people to speak out and demand change in their communities.
I love Beauty, and I loved the fairy tale as a child - looking at it with a child's eyes and not seeing the implications either. I will say that I perceived the transformation of the Beast to be about having the discipline to adapt and break long held habits in order to please the one you love. Everyone in a relationship has to be pliable and willing to compromise if the relationship is to survive. The Beast's struggle to control his anger and arrogance struck me as a good lesson in developing self-discipline.
Ultimately, I love this book because it is a gentle retelling of the story, and I read it as a comfort book when I need to believe that a girl can find true love in the most trying of circumstances.
On a side note - I know someone who had an arranged marriage and she said she and her husband grew to love each other very much - she felt that arranged marriages were a good thing, because the partners were chosen to be from compatible backgrounds. She's a psychiatrist and says that she thinks that one reason some marriages break up is because the individuals are from different economic and social strata. I don't know if I agree, but it's an interesting perspective.
Sometimes I think we read into stories the worries and fears we already have.
I agree the theme of appreciating whats inside is a good message to send, my issue is that both Beauty and Beast became beautiful at the end to fully achieve this and that spoils the message somewhat.
The story of loving a person for what they truly are is beautiful. No arguments with that.
If the theme of arranged marriage is part of the picture, in this story, at least, Beauty had choice all the way through. She chose to go to the Beast, she chose to stay and to go back when whe had the option of leaving. Helcura, I am guessing that the your friend also had some choice about her marriage.
Silverlily, have you read Rose Daughter? The ending is quite different regarding them both becominig beautiful and perhaps was one of the things that McKinely wanted to do over.
I liked it, but I didn't really find anything surprising or special in it. Just a nice retelling of B&B. Yet lots of people here seem to lovelovelove it. Am I missing something?
It is also one of the first "modern" fantasy stories that I recommended for my very sheltered mother to read, and she loved it so much that she's read all the others and moved on to other fairy-tales and mythic modern fantasy like Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman!
Does anyone know who/where the original tale is from? I'd kind of assumed it was a Hans Anderson story, but I don't know for sure - maybe 'traditional' is the best we can do! I do like the sound of Rose Daughter though and will try to find that sometime.
I hadn't thought about the TV series for a long time although I do (sortof) remember it ....... Vincent, I believe???
Oh, and the reason Tepper's Beauty didn't mix with McKinley's Beauty and I had no problems with it - Tepper's Beauty is actually Sleeping Beauty. Sheesh.
*gives head a knock in hopes of jumpstarting the memory cells*
I have to say that I REALLY enjoyed this story because is was so canonical. I like having interesting "loosely based' stories (like The Fire Rose is) but I didn't know how much I missed the canonical story until now. This book didn't remind me of the Disney version so much as another movie that I saw many years ago and loved. I imagine Disney just used the canonical story rather than borrowing from McKinley's novel. But who knows?
As for arranged marriages, I think that they have a worse reputation than they deserve. No, I don't think young girls should be married against their wills...but I DO think that setting up a young man and woman who have similar values and backgrounds is actually very useful. I think that many marriages don't work these days because the couple don't have the same values...whether those be religious, financial, child-rearing-philosophy, etc. Also, in an arranged marriage, the families are joined just as much as the young couple is. And that makes for an excellent support system. :)
I will read The Rose Daughter now. :)
1) She naturally was growing up (just as other people on this thread said) and
2) She was the only character who claimed she was unattractive. As far as I know, other people never said so. Plus, there WAS a guy that liked her previous to the beast. So I interpreted her claims of unattractiveness as evidence of a poor self-esteem. I figured at the end she was more receptive to her own beauty because she liked herself more--she had made some good, honorable decisions and they had turned out to be the right decisions, and her self esteem was improved. She'd not had a chance to think about her beauty in a while, since she'd had no mirrors.
Evidence of a poor self esteem is there throughout the book. Like that tantrum she threw at being put in a beautiful dress because she thought it would make her ugliness stand out more. That's a pretty typical sign of low self esteem.
Someone with a healthy self esteem wouldn't have said: "It is a beautiful dress....And that's why I won't wear it; if you put a peacock's tail on a sparrow, he's still a brown little, wretched little, drab little sparrow,"
I accept that I'm not amazingly beautiful, but I wouldn't go about calling myself "little" (3 times) or wretched or drab. :)
I feel she was simply young and had the insecurity of youth and never bothered looking in mirrors after she left the city. After all, they were poor and she probably didn't have access to one.
Some people just develop later. My cousin was similar. At 17, he was 5 feet 4 inches, and the shortest man on that side of the family. At 20, he was 6 foot, and happy to be there. At 22, he shot up another 8 inches, and now he's the second tallest on that side! The funny thing is that he was so used to being short, it took him a very long time to remember to notice things like door frames and ceiling fan heights. I can see someone with no frames of reference for appearance or height simply not noticing the changes, as long as there was nothing to make it obvious.
I tend to agree with Hibernator in that I do think that Beauty gives a very accurate representation of someone who doesn't think she is pretty or beautiful. However, I wouldn't go so far as to say that automatically equals poor self-esteem.
She did feel bad about her beauty - her nickname was Beauty, and she felt she wasn't! I think there were several places mentioned that she felt her father was being purposefully blind or that her sisters were being nice to her because she wasn't pretty. In a city family where social and societal mores are tied up in being pretty and marketable, especially when there are scads of evidence about how beautiful her mother and ancestors are, I am only surprised she never thought she was adopted or a changeling!
Now, that said, I don't think she had poor self-esteem. I do think she was young and insecure, but she had a great deal of things that she was proud of herself for (even if she denigrated them) and she knew that she had family and friends who loved her for herself, not her beauty.