That’s what I get for not perusing my blog reader on a daily basis: I missed the post on SurLaLune’s Fairy Tale Blog about the sale on Robin McKinley’s “Beauty and the Beast” novels. Ah well. I do already own a copy of Beauty. But I’d like to have Rose Daughter as well, and yes, I’d like them as ebooks as well as hardcopies, so I can stick them on my Kobo and cart around with me, just in case I get overtaken by an urge to re-read them.
I only just discovered Robin McKinley last summer. I can’t believe I hadn’t found her long before now; by rights I should have read her back in the 80s when I was burning my way through every fairy tale book my high school library had to offer, or in the 90s, newly arrived in Canada, when I was discovering the great writers of English children’s literature. But it wasn’t until last year, when I was going through “Sleeping Beauty” adaptations and finally actually read McKinley’s Spindle’s End (as opposed to having it sit in my library book stack and returning it un-read after renewing it twice), that I got into her writing.
One of the things I find interesting and, as a hopeful adapter of fairy tales, encouraging, is that she wrote two versions of “Beauty and the Beast”. She just wasn’t done with the topic. The adaptations aren’t that different – to be honest, I have a hard time keeping them straight in my mind, as I read them within a few months of each other (they were written nineteen years apart). They’re both set in a traditional quasi-medieval fantasy world (cobblestone fantasy); they’re both based on de Beaumont’s version of the tale, except that instead of being bitchy the two sisters are actually kind people and have a good relationship with Beauty (that’s one of the things I love about McKinley – good family relationships); and Beauty is a good, kind, thoroughly relatable character.
There are differences between the books, of course – not least of which is the ending, but I’m not going to spoilerise. Rose Daughter, which is the newer book, has more complexity, is less of a straight-up retelling. But that’s not to say that Beauty is un-complex (simplistic?). It was McKinley’s first book, and I believe it almost immediately catapulted her to fame. Justifiably so. The lyricism of her language alone warrants her popularity. Her fairy tale retellings are a bit different than the high fantasy stories (The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown) that cemented her standing – they’re slower, quieter, more gentle. No heroic sword fights, kick-butt princesses (or peasants-turning-princess, for that matter), or evil sorcerers – just a girl who has a knack for growing roses or a healing touch. But that’s what I love about them. I’m not a big sword-and-sorcery fan – battle scenes bore me – but the fantasy worlds that McKinley creates, which are all about the characters, draw me in, invite me to linger.
I’ll leave it at that. If you haven’t read Robin McKinley, do – you won’t regret it. For myself, I still haven’t read all of her books, so I have more to look forward to. The bliss of having discovered an author you love, and finding they have a long bibliography…