Last night I finished rereading Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, which is a gorgeous retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Actually, this is Robin’s second version of Beauty and the Beast. I read the first one, Beauty, when it was first published in 1978, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve reread it so many times that my copy is dogeared, and the pages are falling out. I also enjoyed this version (Rose Daughter was published in 1997) but it is very different from Beauty. It is also beautifully told, with the symbolism of the roses and thorns intertwined throughout the story, but it is a more complex story. The magic is more confusing and harder to overcome. I liked the characters very much. I liked Beauty’s sisters more in this version, and of course I loved Beauty, who is kind and good and loves roses. The Beast was not as easy to get to know, with his cryptic words and dark clothing, but I sensed his deep loneliness. The ending was a surprise, and I had to go back and reread the last few pages to make sure I hadn’t missed something.
Robin McKinley is a master storyteller, and I love her books. At the end of Rose Daughter, she included an author’s note to explain why she wrote another book about Beauty and the Beast: “…Rose Daughter shot out onto the page in about six months. I’ve never had a story burst so fully and extravagantly straight onto the page, like Athena from the head of Zeus. I’ve long said that my books “happen” to me. They tend to blast in from nowhere, seize me by the throat, and howl, Write me! Write me now! But they rarely stand still long enough for me to see what and who they are, before they hurtle away again, and so I spend a lot of my time running after them, like a thrown rider after an escaped horse, saying, Wait for me! Wait for me!, and waving my notebook in the air. Rose Daughter happened, but it bolted with me. Writing it was quite like riding a not-quite-runaway horse, who is willing to listen to you, so long as you let it run.” (pg. 291)
I understand perfectly what Robin means when she says, “If you’re a storyteller, your own life streams through you, onto the page, mixed up with the life the story itself brings; you cannot, in any useful or genuine way, separate the two. The thing that tells me when one of the pictures in my head or phrases in my ear is a story, and not a mere afternoon’s distraction, is its life, its strength, its vitality. If you were picking up stones in the dark, you would know when you picked up a puppy instead. It’s warm; its wriggles; it’s alive.” (pg. 291)