Monday, March 21, 2011

Beauty and Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

It takes a certain chutzpah to re-tell a story and sell it to the rest of us twice over. 
However I am exceptionally grateful that Robin Mckinley decided to do just that. 
 Beauty was Robin Mckinley's first re-telling of the lovely fairy story Beauty and the Beast, and is the more straight forward and traditional re-telling, although none the less enchanting for that. It is an exceptionally satisfying and comforting read and just what a fairy story aught to be (in yours truly's humble opinion!) The writing in Beauty is lush and beautiful, the characters are agreeable and the ending is deliciously happy. 
Twenty odd years later McKinley returned to the scene of the crime and wrote Rose Daughter which is a darker, more intricate and complex re-telling of the same story. 
While possibly not as satisfying (it diverges a little too much from the fairy story as I know and love it and there are a few too many loose ends) it is still exceptionally interesting, has some wonderful details and descriptions and is still an enchanting read in its own right. If it were not that I had read Beauty first, and found it perfect, my praise might be stronger yet. 
While each book on it's own is lively and vivid and Mckinley's strong and distinctive voice is always a joy, reading the two together makes for an even richer experience and I find it interesting to compare the two and see the result of twenty extra years. 
It is particularly lovely to see the blooming of Mckinley's love of roses in Rose Daughter. In an afterward McKinley explained that she wrote Rose Daughter after moving to England and acquiring a Rose Garden (also a husband, in one of my favourite romantic stories... sigh) 
I read Rose Daughter again recently as a.) I have been un-packing my books into our new house - happy sighs - and it was at hand and b.) we have been taming our own roses in our somewhat overgrown garden (this is a massive understatement) and I now more fully appreciate and understand Mckinley's loving pages of description of pruning and compost and the deep scratches a true rose afficiando wears with pride.  
My beloved and I spent an entire afternoon recently demolishing the vast tower of a dead and dying rose, discovering only at the end of our labour that the beast had actually swallowed and half-digested a poor plum tree. 
I now understand the satisfaction of Beauty in Rose Daughter as she tends to first her own cottage rose garden and later the Beast's green house full of neglected and dying roses. As I busily prune and plant, being scratched and torn in the process and discovering it to be somewhat addictive, the two stories keep me company - and such pleasant company!

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