Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast Analysis

Robin McKinley

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Robin McKinley’s Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast is effectively written in the first person, allowing the reader to share readily in Beauty’s feelings. The novel is an adaptation or retelling of the 1757 story “Beauty and the Beast” by Madame Le Prince de Beaumont.

Beauty’s given name at her baptism was Honour. At the age of five, however, not understanding the word “honour,” she told her father that she would rather be Beauty. Thus, Beauty is the name by which she is called throughout the story. Her oldest sister, Grace, is beautiful, tall, and blond and has blue eyes. Hope, her other sister, is beautiful, tall, and slender with chestnut-brown hair and large green eyes. Both sisters are kind-hearted and have small, delicate hands and feet. At twelve, Beauty has mousy hair, muddy hazel eyes, is small of stature with big hands and huge feet, and has a skin problem. Beauty is known as “the clever one” and likes to read and study.

Their father, Mr. Huston, is one of the wealthiest merchants in the city. At nineteen, Grace becomes engaged to Robert Tucker, Father’s most promising young sea captain, while Gervain Woodhouse, an iron worker in Father’s shipyard, is in love with Hope. Father’s ships meet with disasters, however, and there is no word about the fate of Robert Tucker. Father soon loses his fortune.

The family is aided by Gervain, who asks for Hope’s hand. He does not like the city and has found a small house with a forge and a shop near his home village, where he will work as a blacksmith. Gervain proposes that the family move with...

(The entire section is 667 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A brief opening scene introduces Beauty's family—her father and three sisters—who live in wealthy circumstances. Their lives are changed abruptly, however, by the devastating loss of the father's merchant ships, which leaves them virtually penniless. They move to the countryside to live more simply, and McKinley's carefully chosen details render the family's new rural environment believable.

In contrast to the family's simple home is the dark, dangerous forest that lies behind the farm house. Although he has been warned against entering, the father takes a short cut through the forest on his return from a long journey. There he discovers a mysterious castle occupied by the Beast. The subsequent action of the novel unfolds in this remarkable castle in an atmosphere of enchantment. Doors open themselves, candles light themselves, and clothes put themselves on. When Beauty comes to reside there, she finds that, no matter where in the huge castle she happens to be, her room is always just around the corner

(The entire section is 164 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

For a first novel, Beauty demonstrates considerable literary sophistication. The author has a sharp eye for descriptive details and a flair for the striking use of simile and metaphor. She describes the scent of the country air: "the breezes often stirred the piney, mossy smell of the forest with the sharp smell of herbs, mixed in the warm smell of fresh bread from the kitchen, and then flung the result over the meadow like a handful of new gold coins." To depict a moment of painful silence, she writes: "The world was as still as autumn after a winter's first snowfall, and as cold as three o'clock in the morning beside a deathbed."

McKinley's descriptions of the Beast's castle mingle mystery with awe and humor. The sense of silent and invisible presences is captivating, as doors open and teapots pour themselves in a disarming fashion. A humorous touch involves the library, with its stacks of books not yet written.

The author's use of incremental repetition in the Beast's proposals of marriage and Beauty's refusals is poignantly effective. With each refusal, the reader becomes more sympathetic with the Beast. The potential for love in this relationship is paralleled with Grace's strong and abiding love for her longmissing fiance Robbie.

The reader's perception of Beauty is enhanced by McKinley's effective use of first-person narration. Most of the events involve Beauty directly; those that take place out of her presence,...

(The entire section is 406 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Although the reader learns of the spell that is cast on the Beast, the evil magician never actually appears on the scene. In general, McKinley's vision of human nature is a positive one, with instances of loyalty and courage on all social levels. As an example of loyalty, the Beast's two female servants, who remain in his castle as breezes, cheerfully serve Beauty because of their devotion to the man who has become the Beast.

The story is also essentially without violence. Storms may destroy the ships that provide the family income, and forests may house imposing figures who exact bizarre penalties for trespassing, but overall, Beauty takes place in a world without war or politics, a world of a vaguely distant past when life was more simple.

(The entire section is 128 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Is it possible to determine the time period during which the story takes place? What clues does McKinley offer?

2. How do Grace and Hope fulfill their allegorical names?

3. How is the father transformed after his trip through the forest?

4. Does Beauty actually grow, or does she only seem to grow during her stay at the castle?

5. How does Beauty's interest in ancient Greek mythology and literature relate to her adventures in the novel?

6. Why does it seem appropriate that the Beast cannot recall his name when he is transformed back into a man?

7. Why does Beauty immediately like the portrait of the young man that she sees? Does she recognize, consciously or unconsciously, the resemblance of the portrait to the Beast?

8. Why is the title of the novel simply Beauty? Why is it not Beauty and the Beast?

9. Where, how, and by whom is magic used in the story?

10. Who are the three couples referred to in the remark about a triple wedding at the end?

(The entire section is 166 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Contrasts between appearance and reality pervade this novel. Examine the significance of the clothing worn by the Beast, the clothing worn by Beauty, and Beauty's attitudes toward the clothing she is given to wear in the castle.

2. Dreams are significant in this story. Which characters have dreams? What do the dreams mean?

3. There is an ironic parallel between Beauty's love of animals and her relationship with the Beast. Even the birds that are banished from the castle come to eat the seeds which she puts out for them. Does her appreciation of animals make it easier or harder for her to consider the Beast's proposal of marriage?

4. When Beauty's family objects to her determination to live at the Beast's castle, she consoles them by saying that she will be able to "tame" the Beast. Does she "tame" him?

5. What characteristics do Beauty and the Beast have in common that lead first to their friendship and later to love? 6. How does the author make the Beast sympathetic, but not grotesque?

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

After McKinley's first novel, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, she wrote a collection of short stories called The Door in the Hedge. Two of the stories are original, and two are retellings of fairy tales. The Blue Sword is a fantasy novel set in an imaginary country called Damar. It was followed by another fantasy, The Hero and the Crown, which features a female protagonist. McKinley edited a collection of fantasy stories called Imaginary Lands, which includes one tale of her own called "The Stone Fey." All of these works reflect the influence of folk and fairy tales on the author's imagination. Sequels to The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are anticipated.

(The entire section is 121 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Guthrie, Frazer. "Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown." Times Literary Supplement (August 30, 1985): 958. This lengthy review explores the major features of McKinley's most recent novel, discussing action, character, and dialogue in depth.

Heins, Paul. "Robin McKinley, Beauty." Horn Book 55 (April 1979): 201. A sensitive review of the novel, with comments on its believable characters, inventive plot, and entertaining style.

McConnell, R. M. "Robin McKinley, Beauty." School Library Journal 25 (November 1978): 65. This reviewer notes the humor in McKinley's inventive narrative and recommends the novel as an appealing "fantasygothic."

May, Hal, ed. Contemporary...

(The entire section is 165 words.)