October Discussion: Beauty

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October Discussion: Beauty

MsMegan
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This post was updated on .
Welcome to our first book club discussion, all! Back in August, we got on the subject of Robin mcKinley's 1978 classic, Beauty, over on theBeauty and The Beast tumblr and it seemed a natural choice for our first discussion!

I'm reading from the 1993 Harper Collins edition (the paperback with the yellow dress. I have several copies from the dollar bin of various used bookstores. It's a pretty common find). If you use a Kobo or other ereader, you can find the ebook here on Tuebl.

To get discussion started, I'm going to seed a few bookclub-esque questions here, and then we'll let conversation grow organically! I'm sure we'll work out the kinks of forum discussion as we go!

Discussion starters...

- In what ways does the novel Beauty differ Villeneuve's romantic novella? From Beaumont's moral tale?

- How does Beauty's opinion of herself compare to the direct narrative style of the book? Is her self-image compatible with the way in which she relates the story?

-How much do we know about the Beast? How does he compare to other depictions of monstrous suitors?

-Does the era Beauty was published in influence its storytelling or content? How does this book differ from fairy tale retellings that are being written and published today?


Feel free to pose more questions or just monologue a bit about your feelings on it! I'll be chiming in, too, of course!
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Nicole
- In what ways does the novel Beauty differ Villeneuve's romantic novella? From Beaumont's moral tale?

The sisters. It’s the first thing I thought of when reading McKinley’s version. They’re so much kinder than in both B and V’s rendition of the story which I gravitated more to. My sister and I are very close and usually spends hours together so McKinley’s family seemed more realistic to me than the other ones which are more following the theme of comparing good with evil by making beauty wonderful and her sisters terrible. Beauty too is a more fleshed out character. She’s not perfect by any means, her nickname doesn’t fit her. Basically she has flaws and flaws are relatable. But she’s just as kind in this adaptation as she is in the others. Though I could never quite believe Beauty was as guileless as she appeared to be in Beaumont’s version. You don’t stand by and let your sisters be turned into statues if you’re so kind hearted.


- How does Beauty's opinion of herself compare to the direct narrative style of the book? Is her self-image compatible with the way in which she relates the story?

Since we get inside the character’s head more in this version it makes sense that we get a little more about her own self image and I like the fact that she’s doubtful of her own appearance. What girl at 19 or so isn’t? Beauty ‘s character in B and V’s version seems more like some sort of Pygmalion type character. She’s  practically perfect in every way, has no flaws and therefore is rather boring to us mere mortals. Having a Beauty who isn’t a beauty I think also makes for an interesting parallel for this particular story. It’s a tale basically about two people who build up each other’s self confidence and by the end of it, when they look in the mirror see two beautiful people looking back. It’s like, they’ve pulled out the positives in each other so that’s what they see now. which I like very much. It also means Beauty is already more inwardly focused. She’s not automatically calculating people’s worth based on their appearance which means she’s a perfect candidate for the Beast.

-How much do we know about the Beast? How does he compare to other depictions of monstrous suitors?

I feel like the Beast is often approached as a mystery, regardless of narrative. We do learn more about him in McKinley’s version than the others, namely because Beauty spends much more time with him in that version than she does in the others. She meets him during dinner, spends the day with him, Beauty even notes that she never grew tired of his company and would actively seek it out. But he’s still a rather vague character all things considered. This is different from the other versions wherein she really just spends the course of an evening with him each day.  The wit of the Beast is also something that varies here. In one of the versions (Beaumont I think) the Beast is forbidden it seems from showing any sort of cleverness and must instead win Beauty’s heart through his pleasant nature. The dreams Beauty has of the human prince is something McKinley doesn’t have  which I was glad of because Beauty always seemed to be rather a ditz to me for not figuring out the connection between the prince and the beast in the fairy tale stories (esp. when they both keep telling her not to trust her eyes too much)

-Does the era Beauty was published in influence its storytelling or content? How does this book differ from fairy tale retellings that are being written and published today?

I think this version sort of sets the standard for a lot of retellings of any fairy tale I read now. I actually remember reading somewhere that Beauty is what re popularized the trend of fairy tale retellings. The era definitely influences the writing it was published near the end of the 70s meaning it was probably right smack dab in the middle of the second wave feminist movement and I think that’s a little telling with the strong protagonist who does more in terms of fieldwork than domestic chores, has a big hand in deciding her own fate (even though the story seems to have a Victorian-esque setting). I think the audience McKinley had in mind, young adults, is a big part of it. I feel like the main group of people the B and V versions were intended for where children and that’s why the characters are so simplistically good and evil.



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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Stitchlingbelle
In reply to this post by MsMegan
I'll admit, I'm really intimidated talking about this book! I pretty much imprinted on it as a kid, so it's hard for me to step back and view it critically. So call this the first round of impressions. =)

It's interesting in several ways, in terms of McKinley writing it-- it was not a time then fairy tale retellings were all the rage like now, it was her first novel, and she specifically wrote it after hating a movie version of the story that "got it all wrong". And she didn't got back and read or research other versions of the tale, the way so many of us have-- she'd never read deV's original, for example. And of course, though this is a discussion for later on, she then proceeded to write a whole new version of it later!

When first reading the book, I really identified with Beauty, or wanted to. I was bookish and wanted to be pretty, so the wish-fulfillment aspects of the story suited me to a T. And while I have to agree with whoever mentioned that from an older perspective Beauty acts a little immature in places, again, when I was younger she seemed perfectly logical to me. 14-18 is a pretty illogical age. =)

The Beast seems to be a problem in every narrative, to the point where quite a few of the retellings we'll be discussing seem to skip over him to focus on Beauty's relationship with her family. That's one of the greatest strengths of this retelling, in my opinion-- they get plenty of pages together, and it's all solid. We get tension and character development, but also ordinary moments and a sense of rhythm and friendship.

For his personality, I loved him. Tired, mysterious, selfish in places, but with a real wit and nobility that just leapt out of the pages at me. And of course, truly caring and loving to our Beauty.

More later...
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Rosengeist
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Personally, I feel like McKinley has one of the least problematic Beasts.  I do find his behavior a bit odd when Beauty returns and saves his life at the end, right before he transforms back.   There is an odd jump from suicidal and near the brink of dying to "oh well...I should probably get started on breakfast."  I've always found that a bit off in an amusing way.

He's also a very reserved and restrained beast, which is simultaneously intriguing and mysterious and also a bit unfulfilling.  I personally kind of...enjoy having that moment of just bleak despair and rage and sorrow that the beast here never reaches.  (Hi, I'm Rosen, I enjoy Schadenfruede!  Let's be friends!) Any beast worth his salt can angst like a boss.  ANGST!
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Nicole
I like that you mention the fact that the Beast is problematic to the narrative. I feel that Beauty actually talks about that at one point in the book. There's a scene where, after the title character returns home, her family is asking her all about the castle and on the subject of the Beast she says, "My greatest difficulty was the Beast himself. I couldn't leave him out of my narrative, yet I had tremendous trouble bringing him into it..." That always made me smile because I felt like it was a nudge from the author to the reader. I have trouble believing McKinley didn't go back to re read any of the batb stories b/c some of the dialogue I've noticed in her book (a very tiny bit) is lifted from both Beaumont and V's version in scenes between the Beast and the merchant and Beauty and the Beast's first encounter. It's possible though that she didn't re read them b/c she knew them so well already and some of it subconsciously seeped into her writing.

To completely switch gears, there's something that I've always wondered at, near the start of the book (I think after Beauty and Ger have their discussion of the forest and why everyone should probably just stay away from it) Beauty goes to a little creek that flows out of the woods and drinks from it. I always wondered at the significance of this b/c I feel it is important. Did the water do something to her? Allow her to be more open to the magic that the Beast says later she's been resisting at his castle? Or is it instead meant to show that some things are just things, a creek can just be a creek and there's nothing magical about the forest? But that can't be right b/c later Beauty gets lost in the woods trying to find the castle again and the Beast says he knew she'd have trouble and was sorry he couldn't help her (plus she dreams of the stream right before she leaves)? I'm going in circles at this point so I'll stop, but do any of you have any theories on this?
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Stitchlingbelle
In reply to this post by Rosengeist
I don't miss the angst too much (though he does have that bit with the wine bottle), so much as I miss that we don't get that character arc at all. He's 200 years old when she meets him; he's gone from the fiery young noble in the portrait, though all his angst and regrets and basically come out the other side when we meet him. While Beauty's entrance does affect him, he's already a full-formed personality when she shows up, and we don't get any of his inner life at all, except for Lydia and Bessie's comments. So there's a lot there to miss.

I do like that he's ready to go back to how things were after she returns, leaving it entirely up to Beauty to take the leap and propose. After all, the reason his arc isn't in the book is because it's all about hers, and I like that she doesn't try to play it cool and just wait until he presumably asks again that night. In a way, I almost see Donna Jo Napoli's Beast as being a companion piece to this one, because of the tight focus each one has on just one of our duo.
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Stitchlingbelle
In reply to this post by Nicole
I read an unsatisfactory bit about that somewhere (can't remember where) and it got me to thinking, too. I guess that it marks her, but I don't know which way-- is that how the Beast first becomes aware of her? Or the magic does, drawing her family into everything after that point? Does it change her, as you said? Or is it just supposed to mark her apart from her sisters to the reader, as someone who wants to see beyond what's been told to her? Or is it a turning point to Beauty herself?
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Stitchlingbelle
In reply to this post by MsMegan
Another set of reflections, a bit in tandem with our film discussion...

When I was younger I loved this ending, but now that I'm older it bothers me a bit. While Beauty and Beast have each other, and Grace has Robbie and Mr. Huston and Melinda even pair up and everything's wonderful, I can't help but mourn a bit for the life in Blue Hill they lost. Maybe they just got gussied up for the wedding, and afterwards Ger set up as the castle blacksmith and B&B started holding intellectual salons and so on, (this is my new head canon) but the very fairytale-ness of the ending lends you to think that they all became the visions they had while trying on the Beast's largesse. That Ger became the one you could see "commanding armies", etc. And Now that I'm older, I'm not sure becoming grand would be much of a gain.
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

MsMegan
Administrator
In reply to this post by Nicole
Nicole wrote
To completely switch gears, there's something that I've always wondered at, near the start of the book (I think after Beauty and Ger have their discussion of the forest and why everyone should probably just stay away from it) Beauty goes to a little creek that flows out of the woods and drinks from it. I always wondered at the significance of this b/c I feel it is important. Did the water do something to her? Allow her to be more open to the magic that the Beast says later she's been resisting at his castle? Or is it instead meant to show that some things are just things, a creek can just be a creek and there's nothing magical about the forest? But that can't be right b/c later Beauty gets lost in the woods trying to find the castle again and the Beast says he knew she'd have trouble and was sorry he couldn't help her (plus she dreams of the stream right before she leaves)? I'm going in circles at this point so I'll stop, but do any of you have any theories on this?

You know, this aspect and the griffin motif in Beauty's jewelery and dreams, I always felt were something she sort of abandoned midway. I was puzzled on my first reading when the Beast wasn't a griffin himself (I read it as a teenager, gasping at how perfect and lovely it was the whole way through, aghast that I had lived this long without knowing about it). It feels like an odd detail to point out so carefully early on and then not connect to the larger plot. Shotgun, first act, etc.

I thought the woods and stream were maybe a sign of her willingness to accept magic. She's not above immersing herself in a strange world. She's open to being changed...which is sort of odd, considering the care that goes into establishing her workaday world...I honestly feel like she would be happier out there pulling stumps with Greatheart than trailing around a castle. The ending does feel a bit strange bittersweet.
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

MsMegan
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In reply to this post by Stitchlingbelle
I miss the angst, I love seeing a rise out of characters (which should tell you something about where certain things are going, ha!). But yes...McKinley's Beast (both of her Beasts, really) are quite even-keeled.

I appreciate that she takes care to establish that Beauty's father was decades older than her mother, who married at seventeen, before giving us a somewhat tired, much older-but-not-ancient Beast for Beauty. While it seems to work here, I do always feel a bit uncertain about drastic age and power differences in pairings. The ending is where I most feel uneasy. It's slow pacing and lack of shock on the Beast's part makes me feel weird, and I've never quite pinned down why. Maybe because he was always waiting for an endgame, implying that he was simply biding his time and manipulating our heroine (creepy). His calm control over much of the situation is evened out a touch by having her surprise him with Greatheart, though... I'm rambling!
read Beauty and The Beast online!
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Stitchlingbelle
I have to admit, I don't have a problem with age differences in pairings... I'm married to a man 14 years older than I am. =)

But yes, that scene with Greatheart is possibly my favorite in the book! I hate versions of the story where the Beauty has nothing to offer the Beast (except his transformation)-- it doesn't seem like real love. I adore the fact that she has hope and determination where he's given up, and that she surprises him with this gift. It's wonderful.
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Nicole
In reply to this post by Stitchlingbelle
Character arc! Yes, that's the thing I miss a lot about this Beast too. I feel like if you're going to have the curse centered around him being an arrogant jerk (which this one seems to based on Beauty's acute description of the personality she sees in his portrait and the engraving on the gate/door) then we need to see how that happens and how Beauty effects that change. And if you're going to be so specific about the period of time the Beast has spent in this curse I feel like some really interesting scenes could be gotten from that. Like, what the heck do you do to occupy yourself for 2 centuries so you don't go insane? But we don't hear about any of it and I always wondered.... There's another adaptation I always liked called Beastly by Alex Flinn that (like the Napoli one) is told from the Beast's POV only in modern times. I always felt that one got the angst of the Beast right.
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Nicole
So what would you guys say is your absolute all time favorite scene/piece of dialog in this book? For me, it would probably be where Beauty asks the Beast if he's going to offer her his arm. It's such a simple yet intimate scene that never fails to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Alternatively, what would you say is your least favorite scene?
P.S. What do you all think of... I can't even remember his name... that ginger lad who kissed Beauty during her sister's wedding. I feel like he was supposed to have some sort of larger role in an earlier draft. Like, he's being set up as a juxtaposition for the Beast but we never learn enough about him to make that a concrete foil.
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Stitchlingbelle
Aw, poor Ferdy. (And poor minister guy, honestly.) I thought both of the "runners-up" were mostly there for contrast, and in Beauty's case, to express her lack of maturation at that point. And the minister of course got to act as the plot device that forced Beauty home.

My least favorite scene is probably the return to the castle; it always seemed tedious to me. Yes, yes, the forest is hard to get through all of a sudden, we're all very alarmed, can we please see the Beast now? =)

My favorite is impossible to choose. Sometimes I think it changes every time I read the book! One that never fails to make me smile is Beauty making Beast try a bit of cake, and him teasing her about it. I'm particularly enamored of it right now, though, because I found a geek food blog that made up a recipe for the cake! (http://www.foodthroughthepages.com/2012/10/01/spice-cake-beauty/) I've made it twice and I love it. =)

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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Rosengeist
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In reply to this post by Stitchlingbelle
I actually really love that bit.  I guess it's not so much that I miss the angst, or expect him to throw an emotional tantrum or anything.  I do actually kind of love that he is a more reserved, restrained sort of beast, but I feel like, there are moments when the way that he withholds his emotions doesn't feel emotionally correct to me.  It just seems like there are more moments when he would be upset, or offended or agitated.  I will acquiesce though, it really is more about her than him, but considering how much of the narrative is just those two interacting with one another, it feels like there would be something more there.
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Rosengeist
Administrator
In reply to this post by Nicole
The one moment from the novel that has always stuck with me, and perhaps it's because I find it such a unique break away from most versions of the story, is the scene where the Beast has picked up an unconscious Beauty and carries her to the couch, he's kind of cradling her and she's nuzzling into his chest.  Suddenly she wakes up and scrambles away from him, and he's in this kind of, emotional shock.  All he can say is "you needed me."

It's such a strong, short scene to me that serves so many functions.  Firstly, it acknowledges that both characters have a basic attraction to one another, despite the fact that Beauty still has an understandably human terror of him.  It sets up that, to some extent, the Beast doesn't believe a woman could love him, and, most touchingly to me, it shows the Beast genuinely remembering his humanity for the first time.  For as cute as the dinner scene in the Disney version of the tale is, where Disney Beast relearns cutlery, this feels like a deeper acknowledgement of what being human constitutes by tying it not to the rituals and practices of humanity, but the relationships we have to each other. This scene marks a change in how the Beast reacts to the world.

This is a person who has only had to think of himself, and, more disturbingly, has only really had himself for company for several centuries.  He's never really written as being selfish, I mean, he's pretty likable, but at the same time...he did kind of pull Beauty into this whole situation, no matter how much he tries to be kind about it.  I can imagine that when he was first cursed, he sought a woman not out of a desire to be loved but simply as a means to an end. He may have become more caring, but that has to still be there on some level.  He's forgotten, if indeed, he ever really knew, what it actually means to have someone emotionally depend on you, however briefly.  I feel like that's the moment where the door opens for him to consider Beauty above his own desires and needs.  In a very roundabout sort of way, that feels to me like the moment where he begins to "transform" back into a man.  He can't really become human again until he remembers what that means in the first place, otherwise, he's a beast in a human body.

I kan has overanalyze?
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Rosengeist
Administrator
In reply to this post by Nicole
I can't say I think McKinley was doing this, but there are elements of the home life and the whole set-up of other suitors that feels a little bit Jane Austen-esque.  You know, just, bringing in these potential men that...are kind of lacking for the heroine.  The aren't cruel, or mean or anything, they're just not as appealing as the lead.

It could also be a bit of a subversion of the Gothic Romance triad, especially since that shows up in so many tales similar to BatB, such as Phantom and Hunchback.  There is, of course, the virginal heroine, the upright or at least, socially acceptable romantic male, and finally, the "dark" or monstrous suitor.  Even in instances when that dark male is appealing, powerful, or represents deeper knowledge, the heroine really never goes with him, she goes with the considerably more dull, but comfortable man.  She's tempted, she may want to go, but ultimately, she turns to what would be socially acceptable.  You started seeing retellings in the 70's of fairy tales, such as Angela Carters work where the heroine chose to give into the darkness, the wildness or the unknown, but in general, you always she the dark man as the tempting, but unchoosable option.  Conversely, MicKinely's Beast feels like the only choice Beauty can make.  I may be confusing Rose Daughter for Beauty, but doesn't the Beast, post-transformation tell Beauty that if she hadn't come in time to save him, or had he died, she would have simply gone mad, or that it would have emotionally twisted her somehow?  

I'm just thinking off the top of my head here. XD
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Rosengeist
Administrator
In reply to this post by Stitchlingbelle
Also, I need this cake.  I need several of these cakes.  To the kitchen! (flies off to find her baking gear)
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Tevokkia
In reply to this post by MsMegan
There are a few reasons why this particular retelling really resonated with me (one of which being my able to see parts of myself in this Beauty) that a lot of people have already mentioned, so I'll gloss over those for now.

The thing about this story is that it genuinely builds a relationship between Beauty and Beast ... some other retellings (Villeneuve, I'm looking at you), make you wonder a bit what they talked about at night that would make her fall in love with him, being as she seems to be more entranced by the richness and amusements of the castle itself (again Villeneuve, I'm looking at you). I keep picking on Villeneuve here, but that version of the story really seemed like more of a love story between Beauty and all the neat stuff "the rich beast" had to offer rather than a love story between her and the Beast himself.

I also liked how each of her family members were given personality, motivations, and general agency rather than falling back on that old fairytale trope of "protagonist is sweet and kind and generous and gentle and beautiful, while all the other women (especially sisters) are vain and lazy and mocking and average-looking at best." I haven't gotten to read as many other novel-length retellings as I'd like, so I can't say how common it is, really.

A scene that has always struck me has been the one in which Beast is showing Beauty the portrait gallery. She looks for a long time at that last portrait, and when he asks her what she thinks of it, she replies "I think he died young."  Reading it superficially and knowing where the story is going, it's easy to say "Ha, he's standing next to you!", but on further thought, you could say that she's absolutely right. He did die young; the person he was when that portrait was painted is a very different person than the person he is when he regains his own form.  Someone mentioned they found it odd and a bit unsatisfying that he let her essentially create a new identity for him by naming him at the end (the unsatisfying part from me is that we never find out what that name ended up being), but perhaps (at least subconsciously), that was intentional on his part. Whether or not he actually did remember what he was named before (which we'll never know, since he's not telling), he was ready to leave that identity behind and start fresh rather than grasp at something that used to be there and isn't anymore. Yes, she gets to name him, but he's already crafted a new personal identity for himself and he trusts her to attach a label to that.
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Re: October Discussion: Beauty

Rosengeist
Administrator
I will freely admit that I fall into the category of people who find the renaming bit a little off, and on a gut-reaction level, I still feel that way...I am always a bit touchy about people creating the identity of others in such palpable terms.

That being said, I think you have a strong analysis of the scene you best liked Tevokkia, and I really like your dissection of the whole naming issue.  I geuss if we're running with your theory, you could argue that he let her name him because he hasn't been in the world for so long that he may not know what makes a good name anymore.  The acceptability of certain names change significantly over time.

Nice break down. :)
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