‘Beauty and the Beast’ is one of my favourite fairy tales – a beautiful daughter is sent to live with a Beast because her father has stolen a rose from the Beast’s garden, only to fall in love with the creature she once feared, thus casting away a spell and discovering the Beast is really a handsome and wealthy man, and they all live happily ever after. Aw! Both of these books written by Robin McKinley appropriate this classic fairytale, however they were written twenty years apart. I read Beauty first, since it was first published in 1978. Rose Daughter was first published in 1998.
I love Robin McKinley’s writing and comparing her two retellings of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is like comparing chocolate cake to a brownie – they might look like they’re the same thing and even sound like they’re the same thing, but there are differences beyond the initial concept and if you want something to satisfy the chocolate craving you go for the cake (Beauty), but if you want something to give you an intense burst of flavour with something you didn’t quite expect (Is that walnut or pecan? Can I detect coffee?), then you swipe up the brownie (Rose Daughter).
Beauty is a beautiful retelling of the classic. This is not the first McKinley novel I have read, so I did have very high expectations – and I was not unsatisfied. McKinley has a beautiful gift with story telling and I found this to be a lovely story that was, in every way, a fairy tale. Simple entertainment is probably the best way to describe this narrative. It follows the “standard” plot of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in such a way that it is easy to be absorbed in the narrative. I would happily recommend it to anyone of any age – it’s a simple, magical, and faithful retelling with no crazy surprises but with a beautiful depiction of love, family, and friendship.
Rose Daughter is quite different, however. I would suggest that if you wish to read both, leave a long gap between the two. Obviously elements of the plot will be similar – they’re both a retelling of the same fairy tale, but I think the magic of Rose Daughter would be most appealing if you waited and let some different stories shake up your imagination, rather than letting it be lazy and turn to the same concept with seemingly slight variation. Because it’s more than slight, and you might miss it if you read it quickly and skip through it with the opinion it will be the same sort of retelling.
Rose Daughter is original – in fact, it gives me new appreciation of the word ‘original’! McKinley transforms the story with such beautiful imagery and symbolism that I was inspired to buy a cottage and grow roses – and I’m the kind of person who can barely keep a hardy pot plant alive. This is not your basic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story and McKinley draws you in to a rambling, powerful narrative. Rose Daughter is much more intricate and there is a detailed construction of characters in terms of their history and development that makes the magical and fantastical elements believable. I expected to roll over and find a rose garden on my pillow, and I don’t think I would have blinked if a greenwitch appeared at the foot of my bed. I would suggest this book for all older readers – it tends to be categorised as ‘young adult’, but I wouldn’t stop there. This is a fairy tale for anyone who wants to believe in fairy tales again.