The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms marries the handsome king of a wealthy realm. They have one child, a daughter named Lissar, who is ignored while the happy couple enjoys an idyllic, self-absorbed marriage. When the queen discovers that her perfect beauty is fading, she orders a portrait and, when it is finished, adjures her husband to marry no one who is not as beautiful as the painting. Smiling in triumph, she dies.

Lissar is first noticed by anyone other than her nursemaid when the prince of a neighboring kingdom—alone of all those who send condolences and gifts to her father—sends her a gift, a puppy from his favorite fleethound bitch. Because of the puppy, Lissar begins to develop a love of life and nature. She becomes a very atypical princess, learning herbal and plant lore from the aunt of one of her chambermaids.

Lissar’s discovery of self is interrupted when a grand ball is given to present her to would-be suitors. Her mother’s portrait dominates the great room, but her father is overwhelmed by her resemblance to the portrait. He dances with her all night, turning away interested suitors. When he is later pressed to marry again, he declares his daughter to be his intended bride. The final horror occurs when he rapes her in her own bedroom.

Stunned into amnesia, Lissar follows her dog, Ash, out of the palace grounds, out of the country, and into a distant forest, where they subsist by learning to hunt and...

(The entire section is 482 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

As in all good fairy tales, the setting of Deerskin is vague regarding time and place. A few hints, mentioned earlier, suggest that...

(The entire section is 303 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Deerskin is divided into three parts, a fitting number, since three is often the magic number in fairy tales. The tripartite structure...

(The entire section is 1380 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

It may seem odd to argue that a fantasy novel based on a fairy tale has any relevance for young adults today. However, reading about their...

(The entire section is 730 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Why is the story of the courtship of Lissar's mother and father given so much attention? What does it tell us about their characters? How...

(The entire section is 250 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Find Perrault's story "Donkeyskin." Note how McKinley changes the story or adds elements to it. What is the impact of the changes she has...

(The entire section is 179 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Deerskin is part of a growing trend in fantasy literature: mythic fiction, or revisionist fairy tales. Readers who enjoy this book...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Chauvette, Cathy. "Robin McKinley, Deerskin." School Library Journal 39, no. 4 (1993): 261. A brief but insightful review that is...

(The entire section is 170 words.)