This is the story as it should be told, with all of the beauty and love and magic of the original fairy tale, brought to life by McKinley’s rich narrative. We learn to like Beauty and her difference from other girls, to identify with her as a character. She loves to read, is rather plain, and loves her family dearly. Her choices and those of her family make logical and emotional sense to the reader, which strengthens the magic of the tale. The Beast, too, we come to love as Beauty does. It is perhaps easier for us, as we know the story, and she doesn’t. But the saving grace of McKinley’s story is that the Beast is never beastly to Beauty; the story remains one of judging others for what they are inside. It does not have the insidious negative social message that the Disney version presents to us, of loving a man even when he is abusive. There is no domestic abuse in McKinley’s tale; Beauty is not beautiful; the Beast is under a wicked spell, but is a good man at heart.
Rose Daughter (1978)
McKinley revisits her retelling of Beauty and the Beast, in what she considers to be the superior of the two. I agree with her book-borrowing fans, though, that this is not the case. Rose Daughter is too… well, just too. There is too much angst in the family at the outset, although this is more in keeping with the two selfish older sisters of the original tale, and after their financial fall, the girls becomes better friends, as is true in Beauty. What Rose Daughter is too, mostly, is overladen with allusion. We do not perceive in it the simplicity of the magic fairy tale world that Beauty presents us with; it is far more a medieval fantasy of sorcerers and social politics, of ways of magic that McKinley has instilled in her own text that do not have a source in fairy tale trope. And in the end, we are not given the satisfactory return to humanity for the Beast. Perhaps this message is powerful in one way—Beauty does not demand beauty of her spouse—but at the same time, it narratively untenable, for why would the magic-believing villagers welcome the Beast, in all his beastliness, as Beauty’s husband? McKinley posits an explanation, but it does not convince. I think the final shortcoming I need mention is that the balance is off. in Rose Daughter, we spend far too much time in Beauty’s mind, her experience, to get to know the Beast as we do in Beauty; nor is the magic personified, bringing both mystery and emotional solace to Beauty in her plight. The result is a longer, less gripping tale, definitely for older readers, but not more powerful for being more mature in nature.