Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Title: Beauty
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: May 1993
ISBN-13: 9780064404778

Plot Summary: The third daughter of a wealthy merchant, given the name Honour at birth, renames herself Beauty when she is five-years-old.  However, as she grows up she feels that she is ill-suited for the name, considering herself plain-looking and short.  Her great loves in life are her books and her horse.  When her father’s fleet of ships is lost at sea, she and her family move to the northern countryside.  They make the best of their reduced circumstances and work hard at their new life.

Their fortunes begin to reverse when they receive the news that one of her father’s ships has appeared in port.  Her father leaves to sell the cargo and pay his debts, and returns with a rose for Beauty (in this version, she had asked him to bring back rose seeds for her to plant).  He reveals that he had stayed overnight in a mysterious castle in the forest, and when he plucked the flower from the garden he was met by a furious Beast, who demanded that either the merchant or one of his daughters return in one month to become his prisoner.  Beauty is willing to go.

She is waited on by invisible servants, served delectable food, and kept in a luxurious room.  Although the Beast is hideous, he treats her kindly and they become companions.  Each night he asks her to marry him, and she repeatedly declines.  Beauty is allowed to see her family for one week, but accidentally stays too long and discovers that the Beast is dying upon her return, when she reveals her love for him and breaks the curse that kept him in that ugly form.

Critical Evaluation: Despite sticking so closely to the original tale, Beauty does have some twists, including that she is physically plain, and she prizes her intelligence (as the narrator, Beauty occasionally makes allusions to Latin writers and Greek mythology – the family canary is named Orpheus).  The symbolism of the names is significant – whether or not she considers herself beautiful, Beauty always makes honorable choices (her real name), which displays inner beauty.  It can be argued that this is a feminist adaptation of the fairy tale – in any case, Beauty is not planning to sit around and dream about getting swept off her feet, she is willing to work hard and dreams of going to university.  McKinley’s work predates the Disney film, and some of her ideas (including the presentation of an immense library) may have influenced the filmmakers.  Whether or not McKinley’s Beauty had any kind of effect on the animated production, this work was noteworthy for inspiring a revival of fairy tale adaptations, particularly for young adult audiences.

Reader’s Annotation: In this adaptation of the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” Beauty considers herself plain looking and intelligent, and would rather attend university than worry about husbands.  When she becomes the prisoner of a beast, she’s in for more than she bargained for.

Author Information: Born on November 16, 1952, in Warren, Ohio, Jennifer Carolyn Robin McKinley was the only child of school teacher Jeanne Turrell McKinley and United States Naval officer William McKinley.  As a child, McKinley was envious of boys because “they were the ones who got to have adventures, while we got to – well, not have adventures.”  She started telling herself stories about girls who “did things and had adventures.”  Her later writing career was heavily influenced by these early narratives about heroic women.

These early tales evolved into several stories set in a fictional world she called Damar, and as she wrote about it, McKinley realized “there was more than one story to tell about Damar, that in fact it seemed to be a whole history, volumes and volumes of the stuff, and this terrified me” (“Robin McKinley,” 2009).  She set aside this project and began working on what became her first published book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. McKinley’s works are primarily fairy tale adaptations and tales of Damar.

In 1991, McKinley moved to Hampshire, England, to marry the author Peter Dickinson.  In addition to writing, McKinley is an avid reader and enjoys “nineteenth-century novels, murder mysteries (‘not too gore-spattered’), old-fashioned adventure, and British history.”  Her musical taste ranges from “grand opera to heavy metal rock,” and she loves spending time gardening.  She enjoys horseback riding, has taken up musical pursuits like bell-ringing and voice lessons, and has kept a blog since 2007.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: Can be compared to other versions of Beauty and the Beast

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Compare Beauty to other adaptations of the fairy tale, including the Disney film.
2) Was it necessary for Beauty to become more physically attractive by the end of the story?
3) How would the ending be different if the Beast didn’t transform back into a man?

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: None

Challenge Defense Ideas: This book has no apparent challenge issues, but if a challenge comes up:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I read this book for this course when I wrote a paper on Robin McKinley and the fantasy genre.  I thought it was important to include this title on my blog because of the impact it had on the young adult genre.


Robin McKinley’s website and blog.

Robin McKinley on Facebook and Twitter.


May 5, 2010 - Posted by | Books |

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