I first heard of posting about forgotten books on Friday’s a couple of weeks ago and was reminded of it again today when I read the OF Blog’s feature on The Famished Road by Ben Okri. I’ve only been reading speculative fiction regularly for the last few years, so I thought I didn’t have any older books to mention since I already read and review a lot of the older ones I have missed here. However, a few books did come to mind and I decided to write about an old favorite, Beauty by Robin McKinley.
When I say this is an old favorite, I mean it quite literally – the first time I read this book I was probably about 9 years old. I picked it up at the local library and was absolutely enchanted by it, but years later when I tried to remember the name and author of the book all I could remember was that it was about the tale of Beauty and the Beast. Some research and asking around on my college’s intranet boards finally turned up this book as a possibility. It was with some trepidation that I bought the book – what if it wasn’t the right one or I didn’t enjoy it as much anymore? It is, after all, a young adult novel I read as a kid.
My fears were unfounded and I loved the book just as much as the first time I read it. The book had me charmed from the very beginning when our plucky heroine Beauty describes how she, the clever and bookish ugly duckling of the three girls in her family, came to be known by this attribute:
I was the youngest of three daughters. Our literal-minded mother named us Grace, Hope, and Honour, but few people except perhaps the minister who had baptized all three of us remembered my given name. My father still likes to tell the story of how I acquired my odd nickname: I had come to him for further information when I first discovered our names meant something other than you-come-here. He succeeded in explaining grace and hope, but he had some difficulty making the concept of honour understandable to a five year old. I heard him out, but with an expression of deepening disgust, and when he was finished I said: “Huh! I’d rather be Beauty.”
The early part of the book details the life of the family as they undergo some financial difficulties. While this part of the story was interesting and helps you understand why Beauty is so sad to leave her father and sisters, the best part of the book starts when Beauty arrives at the Beast’s castle. From her father’s tale of the beast, Beauty is expecting to be imprisoned by a cruel monster – instead she meets a kindly creature who can deny her nothing and tries his best to make her happy. She is surprised to find she actually comes to enjoy the beast’s company but can she let herself actually love this hideous brute?
Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale, so it’s no surprise that I’d have a soft spot for this book. Yes, this is a bit of a girlie book, but for those who like that sort of thing, I’d recommend it.