The Modest Verge is two this month and to celebrate we have something very special for you. We asked our favorite authors to tell us about their favorite books. The response was overwhelming and we are grateful beyond measure. We received so many Book Stories that we will be able to post them on Tuesdays for all of May and June. We hope you enjoy them.
My Book Story: Robin McKinley’s Beauty
One of my all-time favorite books, and one that was a huge influence on me as a writer, is Robin McKinley’s novel Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. I was a young teen when I found it at the local library, and I was completely enraptured by it. I loved the heroine, an awkward bookworm saddled with a nickname, Beauty, that she knows she doesn’t live up to. She was the most relatable fairytale heroine I had ever encountered.
McKinley also transfigured the world of the fairytale, bringing humor and character development and a wealth of concrete visual details that made the story so much richer and more vivid than the short tales I had grown up with. Perhaps best of all, she made it believable that Beauty could fall in love with her captor-companion, showing the humor, intelligence, and warmth behind his terrifying exterior.
The idea that a writer could take a classic fairytale and develop it into a novel was new at the time, and it seized my imagination powerfully. I embarked on my own novel-length versions of “Cinderella” and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” which were great learning experiences for me as a writer. Even when I resumed writing original stories, for the next few years I tended to set them in a fairytale world full of comedy and romance as well as adventure.
Many years later, when I realized how much I loved writing historical romantic suspense set in gothic surroundings, I found that I was still revisiting the “Beauty and the Beast” plot. The classic gothic romance storyline is about a plucky, innocent young woman who travels to a strange new home and is both drawn to and repelled by the frightening yet charismatic master of the house—essentially “Beauty and the Beast” with some mystery and supernatural elements to season the mixture. For me it’s a story with endless fascination, maybe because the Beast is by his very nature more complex than many other masculine archetypes. He is both man and monster, and he is literally transformed by the power of love. What a powerful fantasy!
My book story has a postscript, too. Years after I first read Beauty, Robin McKinley herself revisited the original story with a new novel, Rose Daughter. It has much to recommend it, but I find the heroine more elusive and distant. McKinley’s original Beauty feels like a sister to me, or like a better version of myself. She’s a funny, lovable, joyously imperfect companion for any reader (or writer) as they navigate the adventures and challenges of life outside the fairytale realm.
Amanda DeWees is an author and editor based in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her PhD in English literature from the University of Georgia and likes to startle people by announcing that her dissertation topic was vampire literature. Besides writing, her passions include theater, classic film, Ioan Gruffudd, costume design, and the preservation of apostrophes in their natural habitat.
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