Beauty

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sun Jan 16 23:26:22 EST 2000


On Sat, 15 Jan 2000 22:40:14 +0100, Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

>>Robin McKinley, THE BLUE SWORD - Elise;  BEAUTY. (Perfection for me - it's
>>such a charming story and she avoided the "cheap thrill" of making the elder
>>sisters unpleasant.) -SallyO;  ROSE DAUGHTER,THE BLUE SWORD,THE OUTLAWS OF
>>SHERWOOD - Sarah
>>---Melissa:  I agree.  It [Beauty] just felt perfect.
>
>All right, I'm now determined to explore this one. 

Well, I liked your last response....Anyway, this is what I think about
_Beauty_.

In the first place, when I say I think a book is perfect, it may not have
much to do with how high up it is in my list of best books ever.  I simply
mean that it feels well put together--complete in some sense, without
anything left out.  (The ending is another matter, but I think the reason
the abruptness doesn't bother me is that it's all wrapping-up after the
climax of Beauty telling the Beast she loves him.)  It was a satisfying book
to read.

I was going to say the same thing about Beauty not being passive, but
playing a passive role.  I think the whole book is extremely passive, not at
all in the heroic mode like _F&H_ or _The Perilous Gard_, both of which are
actually higher on my favorites list than _Beauty_.  (I really do prefer
more active books, in general.)  Not a lot happens, there's no great feats
of heroism; it's just extremely quiet and not world-shaking.  As I think
about it, part of the strangeness of the ending is that you go through the
whole book feeling as though what happens between Beauty and the Beast
affects just them--and then suddenly he's back to being royalty and all
these people appear out of nowhere.  I think that's a little disconcerting,
that it turned out to matter quite a bit more to quite a few more people
than you'd thought at first.

The double-name (Beauty/Honour) goes a long way toward redeeming some of the
flaws of the original Beauty and the Beast story.  I think you're completely
right, Hallie, that your problem is more with the story than this novel.  At
no time is Beauty a true captive of the Beast.  When her father returns and
first tells them that he's supposed to bring one of his daughters back, they
didn't have to do anything.  They could have just stayed put and never
returned to the forest.  It was Beauty's sense of honor, and that of her
family, that made Beauty's choice necessary; this is a family that has
always kept its obligations, however distasteful or inconvenient.  Then,
once Beauty actually gets to the castle and gets to know the Beast, *there
is absolutely nothing keeping her there.*  She's got Greatheart; she could
take off at any time and the Beast would just let her go.  Again, it's that
sense of honor that keeps her there--that and her curiosity, her desire to
figure out the mystery of the Beast.  And, admittedly, there's the joy of
being able to read again.  Beauty said early in the book that she, being a
"rougher article" than her sisters, adapted to their life in the country
more easily than either of them.  But in saying that, it's partly a denial
that she's left anything behind.  I think it's not until she has her beloved
books back that she realizes how much she'd given up in leaving the city.
In any case, I don't think she's ever really a captive.  She misses her
family, true, but all her bonds are of her own making.

What makes it all so ironic is that Beauty doesn't seem to know how much
she's ruled by honor.  When she learns that her sister's fiance Robbie has
returned, just as Grace is starting to think about letting the local
minister court her, Beauty says something like "you never know about these
desperately honor-bound people; she may feel she has to go through with it
(a second engagement) for some reason."  But she's every bit as honor-bound
as her sister; she never sees, for example, how ridiculous it is to go to
what she believes could be her death (in the Beast's castle) to fulfil a
promise she didn't even make.  Or why, when the Beast tells her she can
never leave the castle, she shouldn't just walk out the door immediately.
Though _Beauty_ isn't truly in the heroic model, McKinley is still attacking
that old convention that women have no honor that isn't tied up with their
virginity.

Finally, I think what appealed to me in the first place was how well Robin
McKinley redeemed this truly horrible story.  The sisters are loving and
beautiful and not even a little jealous; the father really cares about his
children (in the original story, I get the sense that he's selling his
daughter to protect himself); Beauty is no more a drudge than her sisters,
and certainly isn't a frail creature unsuited to hard labor (as the original
story suggests).  It would have been equally possible to do a retelling of
"Beauty and the Beast" that emphasized the awful aspects--either way
undercuts the sense of romance that I think attaches inappropriately to the
story.  But McKinley's _Beauty_ undercuts, and then replaces that twisted
story with something much more wholesome and enjoyable.  I like it.

And you're certainly not obnoxious to voice a different opinion, Hallie!
Sheesh.  You'd think Sally and I were scary or something....  :)

Melissa Proffitt

P.S. I don't know what to say about the whole tragedy thing, though....
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