48 pages 1 hour read

Robin McKinley

Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1978

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast (1978) is author Robin McKinley’s debut novel. It’s an adaptation of the original Beauty and the Beast fairy tale written in 1740 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, with genre elements of fantasy and romance and marketed for a middle grade readership. McKinley’s version of the story maintains an 18th-century setting while modernizing thematic explorations of outer versus inner beauty, ideals of faithfulness and selflessness, and heroines who shape their own destinies. Beauty won the 1998 Phoenix Award, which honors English-language children’s books that are overlooked for major literary awards at the time of their original publication. McKinley is known for her fairy tale retellings and fantasy novels, and was named the 39th Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association in 2022 for her contributions to science fiction and fantasy literature.

This guide uses the e-book edition of the text published in 2014 by Open Road Media. Pagination may differ from print editions.

Plot Summary

Honour Huston lives with her father, Roderick, and her two older sisters, Grace and Hope. She’s been called by the nickname Beauty since childhood when she declared it preferable to Honour, a concept she saw little value in at the time. As she’s gotten older, she’s decided her nickname doesn’t suit her. Her sisters are beautiful, but in Beauty’s eyes, she’s quite unattractive. The Huston family is wealthy, thanks to Roderick’s booming merchant business. Grace is engaged to one of her father’s ship captains, Robbie Tucker, and Hope has fallen in love with a blacksmith named Gervain Woodhouse.

Robbie captains a voyage in which four of Roderick’s ships, and Robbie himself, are lost at sea. After a series of misfortunes befalling Roderick’s business, this is the final straw that brings the family to financial ruin. Gervain encourages them to move with him to the country, where Roderick can work as a carpenter. They auction off their city manor and most of their belongings and travel two months to reach the rural town of Blue Hill. Over the ensuing year they adapt to a much humbler lifestyle. Hope and Gervain marry and give birth to twins.

When Roderick receives a message that one of his lost ships has returned, he prepares to travel back to the city to claim it. He asks his daughters what gifts he can get for them while he’s there. Grace and Hope joke about wanting pearls and rubies, but only want their father’s safe return. Beauty asks for rose seeds, hoping to plant them in the family’s garden. Roderick expects to be gone until late spring but returns in March on the heels of a blizzard. He tells his daughters that the ship wasn’t one of the four lost on Robbie’s voyage, and there’s still no word about Robbie’s fate. Eager to get home, he explains, he rode through the snowstorm and got lost in the forest. He came upon a castle and went inside seeking shelter from the blizzard. There, invisible servants waited on him. He fell asleep and awoke the next morning feeling 20 years younger. As he was leaving, he came upon a rose garden and picked one to bring to Beauty, since he hadn’t found rose seeds for her. A hideous beast appeared and said Roderick would be killed for stealing the rose. The beast agreed to spare Roderick’s life in exchange for one of his daughters coming to live in the castle.

When Roderick finishes telling this to his family, Beauty says she will go. Her father refuses, but Beauty insists and eventually he gives in. When Beauty first meets Beast, he assures her she’s safe there. She spends her time reading books from the castle’s magical library and riding her horse around the castle grounds. A friendship grows between Beauty and Beast. However, each night he asks her to marry him and each night she says no. Though she’s happy enough, homesickness begins to overwhelm Beauty. Beast lets Beauty see her family through an enchanted nephrite tabletop. She sees that they’re thriving and, though they miss her, are comforted by dreams of her. She also sees Robbie returning to the city after six years, having finally made his way back from his troublesome voyage. Fearing Grace will marry another man because she believes Robbie dead, Beauty decides she must let Grace know he’s alive. Beast lets Beauty leave the castle to see her family. He tells her that if she doesn’t return within one week, he’ll die.

Beauty has a joyful reunion with her family. Being home, however, makes her realize that she’s come to love Beast. Her family urges Beauty to stay longer, but just before a week elapses, she dreams Beast has died. Beauty rushes to the castle and finds Beast on the verge of death. She tells him she loves him and wants to marry him. In an explosion of light and sound, Beast turns into a handsome man. He explains he’s been under a curse that could only be broken by someone loving him despite his beastly appearance. He helps Beauty realize that she has become beautiful too. The rest of the castle’s inhabitants awake from enchantment and a crowd of people arrives to cheer the return of their prince. Beauty’s family is among them, and Beauty looks forward to a future full of love and happiness.

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By Robin McKinley

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