I think I’ll blame my partner’s Disney song playlist for making me want to (re)read a bunch of Beauty and the Beast retellings. The obvious place to start (for me, anyway) is with Robin McKinley’s two attempts at telling the story, Beauty and Rose Daughter. Beauty is perhaps the less delicate of the two, being suited to a younger audience in terms of complexity, language, etc, but it still makes a good story. You come to care for the little family, and learn to care for the Beast; the mysteries of the Beast’s castle are genuinely interesting, though how confining someone to a castle which contains a library full of all the books ever written and yet to be written is a punishment, I’m not entirely certain.
(You can see why I empathise with this version of Beauty, who loves her books and her studies, who reads and rereads Malory’s Le Morte Darthur.)
As usual, then, I found this a charming read, and I liked the little references to domesticity that are nearly inevitable with McKinley — the sisters’ rough hands as they learn their new work, their learning curve. And as usual, the thing I disliked most was that Beauty had to be made to match her name, in some magical transformation that made little sense — the goodness of her is in her inner beauty, and why on earth she needs to have dancing amber eyes, I couldn’t say. I liked that Beauty started out plain. I would rather she come to some happy acceptance of that than get a wish to be beautiful — that doesn’t solve anything.
If I’m remembering the key difference between this and Rose Daughter rightly, too, it’s a little awful that the Beast vanishes and changes so much too, leaving Beauty faced with a man she doesn’t know, who doesn’t even know his own name. He’s the same person, but then, you can’t really say he is when everything’s so different and suddenly the Beast she loved is a handsome prince, with very little explanation. It would, perhaps, be better if Beauty instantly recognised him instead of feeling so confused — at least then there would be a sense of continuity, of the importance of knowing what someone is like rather than what they look like.