Form and Content
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 them and that they all live in the house, a plan that Father accepts. The city house and most of the family’s goods are sold at auction. Beauty is given Greatheart, a beautiful, huge horse, because she fed and took care of him when he was young and he misses her when she stays away. Eventually, they reach their new home. Gervain makes the sisters promise never to walk in the woods behind the house without either himself or Father for company. He tells Beauty that the forest may be enchanted and that it is said that a monster who had the form of a man lives in a castle there.
Father receives word that one of his ships is returning to port. He leaves for the city to meet it, telling the family not to look for him until springtime, when traveling will be easier. Father returns in late March after a blizzard. He holds in his hand a large scarlet rose, which he gives to Beauty. She had asked for some rose seeds, if they were not too expensive, when Father asked if they wanted anything from the city. Father tells his story: He became lost in a blizzard and stayed at a castle. When he was ready to leave, he picked the bud of a beautiful rose. A beast who walked upright like a man roared that since Father stole the rose, he had to die. Father pleaded with the Beast, who agreed to spare his life if he would give him one of his daughters. The Beast promised not to harm her but demands that she come of her own free will, loving her father enough to want to save his life. The Beast would give him a month to decide.
Beauty is obstinate in her insistence that she be the one to go. Father travels with her until Beauty asks him to return home. With fear and trepidation, Beauty enters the castle and meets the Beast. She is given beautiful clothes and has everything done for her. Every night, the Beast asks, “Beauty, will you marry me?” and every night she says “no.” Eventually, while she is visiting her family, Beauty realizes that she is in love with the Beast and will agree to marry him.
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...
(The entire section is 1,651 words.)