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coverDarker; More "French" Somehow
Rose Daughter
Robin McKinley
Almost twenty years after her original breakthrough success with "Beauty", McKinley returns to the tale of Beauty and the Beast.

This is a somewhat darker version of the tale than "Beauty", which was, somehow, very "American" in tone in my mind. This book, somehow, seems rather "French" to me (in keeping with the original source of the tale, if nothing else, i suppose).

But i suppose this "Frenchness" i seem to sense may come because i suspect that at least part of the imagery for this book came from Cocteau's wonderful 1940's film with Jean Marais and Josephine Day (which i heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys any version of the story) -- Beauty's nightmare of running down a dark corridor lighted at intervals by candles in wall sconces certainly resonated with some of the imagery in the film, and her father's first view of the Beast and his costume certainly did also.

But this beast is different from Cocteau's; there is less of the frisson (however mild) that we get when Cocteau's Beast, his hands covered with the smoking blood of his prey, claws at Beauty's door. This Beast, almost from the start (except when he is terrifying Beauty's father, to set in motion the events that will bring Beauty to him) is quieter, more melancholic; a philosopher-Beast, one might say.

I'm not sure if it was altogether a good idea to remove the mantle of scariness from the Beast, even if it was then transferred to other elements, some part of the existing tale, some invented for this book; i feel as if the Beast should gradually be revealed as harmless. One of the most telling moments in the Cocteau film (i seem to be referring to that a lot, and, why not?, since it's my favourite version of all...) is at the very end, when the handsome Prince who was, just moments before, the Beast tells Beauty not to be afraid -- and she looks shyly/slyly up at him through her eyelashes, holding his hands in hers, and says "I like to be a little frightened -- with you."

"Beauty and the Beast" at heart, is partially about discovering that that which we fear -- the Unknown, in the strictest sense -- is not that scarey. Facing our fears and confronting and laying them to rest -- if only in a metaphorical manner -- is part of its appeal. To a great extent, this book doesn't offer that, except in the last third or so.

But, of course, it is Very Much about discovering that a scary exterior may hide a gentle and noble heart; and that even the smallest and weakest of us can, if we be determined enough, and hold on and don't falter, no matter what odds seem against us arrayed, make a Difference.

And that, added to lovely prose and smooth storytelling, makes this a four-star read and i recommend it.