If Hook is my favorite movie, then Beauty and the Beast is probably my favorite Disney movie, and Belle my favorite princess. This may or may not be related to the massive library and her penchant for reading books anywhere and everywhere. My family would jokingly compare me to her for that.
So you can imagine that when I saw a book titled Beauty, written by Robin McKinley, and featuring a rose sitting on the shelf, I knew immediately what fairy tale I’d find and that I needed to read it. I only glanced at it long enough to confirm this guess before buying it. This is fairly unusual, to not only buy but to read a book on so little information. When I looked at the back last night before choosing it, I only read the first sentence. “Beauty has never liked her nickname.” That provided me with all the information I wanted about the book: that it’s not going to be utterly stereotypical and boring, that the heroine has a will of her own, and that it is most definitely Beauty & the Beast.
Beauty is only 325 pages long. A fact which I only now checked – sign of a good book, that I’m not constantly figuring how many pages are left. It may be on the short side, but it’s a very engaging read, told in first person. I think that was a good choice for this particular tale, as there are no mirrors in the Beast’s castle, and Beauty herself undergoes some changes that she fails to notice. It’s also a nice little fact that Beauty’s given name is Honour, and well suits the character herself. As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
I have, sadly, never heard of Robin McKinley before. But I am quite pleased with this introduction. Her book brings to mind several elements of the Disney movie, but if there’s any copying, it’s the other way around, as this text is copyright 1978. This particular edition is a 2005 printing though, which I always find heartening. Unpopular books don’t get reprinted, especially not after nearly thirty years. Sometimes I check things on isfdb.org – the Internet Speculative Fiction Database – and it is mind-blowing to see how many editions some books have, especially when they don’t seem to be as well-known in my circles as others.
Looking up Beauty in the database, it has a lot more editions than I would have guessed, though they’re grouped a bit. It was generally available 1978-1980, then 1985-1986, then 1990-1993, and then 2003 to present. Some of the editions appear to be British, and one might be Canadian. It clearly hasn’t been in continuous publication, but it’s not as rare as you might think. If I haven’t seen it before, it’s more likely that I wasn’t looking in the Mc’s, as I know better than to buy a McCaffrey book without checking. It just goes to show that sometimes it pays to browse everything in a given section.
I really am a sucker for well-told fairy tales of all types, and this one just hits all my sweet spots. I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of McKinley’s work, especially her other fairy tale books.