Curiouser &

Reflection and Reflexion: Female Coming-of-Age, the Mirror Stage, and the Absence of Mirrors in Robin McKinley's Beauty and Rose Daughter

Evelyn Perry

Jacques Lacan describes the child's psychological development--the transition from the Imaginary to the Symbolic Order--as resulting from an experience of the fragmented self and concluding in the integration of the self in society. During this time, the subject transitions into his/her adult identity and is initiated into the adult community ( Ecrits ). The subject comes of age via three developmental stages: the Imaginary, in which the subject is fragmented ("feels that [it] is in pieces" [Moi 100]), the Mirror stage, in which it merges and identifies with another human being (either through contact or by reflection), and Recognition of the self within a partnership, in which the subject identifies itself as autonomous and in relation, thereby placing itself within the Symbolic Order of language and culture. In Robin McKinley's novels Beauty and Rose Daughter (both retellings of Madame Leprince de Beaumont's "Beauty and the Beast"), adolescent coming-of-age doubles Lacan's psychological development in that it contains a second set of Lacan's three stages. McKinley describes adolescent coming-of-age as a psychological development both traumatic and identity-shaping; its ultimate success allows young adults to understand their actions as individuals as well as members of the adult community.

Within this doubling, the Mirror stage, in which the young adult is inducted into the adult community while still lacking an autonomous sense of self, is most significant. In McKinley's retellings, the Mirror stage actually takes place literally, without reflective devices: there are very few mirrors, glasses, or pools of still water. As a result, in McKinley's retellings of fairy tales, the adolescent comes of age without an autonomous sense of self. Therefore, the protagonists of McKinley's reworkings are spared the pain of seeing (and ultimately, of referring to) themselves until they have come of age. They do not see themselves until towards the end of the novel, and then usually by accident. McKinley's young adult protagonists are surprised by their recognition of adulthood in themselves. The trauma of adolescence is integrated into the adult character without the distractions of self-reflection and physical self-reflexivity.

In Lacanian terms, the ultimate success of self-definition is integration into the adult world; in the traditional, coming-of-age tales retold by McKinley, this integration is symbolized by heterosexual marriage, the "true" and "final" entrance into the adult community. This is true also of Robin McKinley's fairy-tale retellings. Beauty and Rose Daughter can thus be categorized as contemporary Lacanian marriage fables. As such, McKinley's retellings serve the same literary purpose as the original fairy tales being retold--however contemporized they have been.

This analysis considers how language determines self-identification by collapsing the subject and subjectivity. I will pay particular attention to the curious absence of mirrors and the resulting (self-) recognition in Robin McKinley's Beauty and Rose Daughter . The mirror that stands for communication between the visual self and the linguistically pre-determined self is not a factor solely in child development. Adolescent development includes establishing new self-identities within an adult community, the imperfect cyclical process of stabilizing that identity, and the preoccupations with looks and image common to young adulthood. Lacan's Mirror stage is equally applicable to considerations of adolescent development and reflective/reflexive devices in literature intended for an adolescent reading audience engaged in the process of re-identification.

Considering the long-standing and insightful debates between gender studies and feminist and Lacanian theories, it is important to note just how useful those debates have been. Gender and feminist theories and Lacanian theories have their own reflective and reflexive relationships--relationships that have empowered and informed literary analysis for several decades. As Jean-Michel Rabate has argued:

another important issue is female sexuality and the feminist controversy that surrounded Freud's conceptions and then Lacan's apparent bias towards the phallus...and it might be contended that he elaborated his idea of the phallus in an attempt to provide an answer to the many questions raised by the debate on Freud in the 1920s. Lacanian psychoanalysis clearly benefited from feminist critique, and one wonders whether Lacan would have come up with his ground-breaking formulas of sexuation...had he not had to deal with the...opposition he met in his own ranks in the early 1970s. Jacqueline Rose asserts very cogently that only psychoanalysis allows women and men to question their political fate as gendered beings. Michell and Rose's careful edition of Lacan's essays on feminine sexuality has led to a more balanced account of Lacan's alleged 'phallocentrism' and of the rift with early American feminism.

(Rabate 26)

Rabate reminds us that feminist theories informed Lacan to the perceived betterment of his work. Additionally, it must be argued that Lacanian theories have likewise informed feminism. Both approaches have enjoyed the challenge of articulating distinctions and oppositions as well as the introspective benefits of describing their similarities and comparing their equally valid and enriching analytic findings. Gender studies and feminist and Lacanian theories have seen themselves in reflection--both oppositional and mutually informing--and in reflexion--in the resulting definition and re-definition of the 'I'. It is therefore appropriate that the retellings Robin McKinley, a celebrated feminist author, has done of "Beauty and the Beast," a traditional narrative most often accused of sexism, should benefit from feminist- and Lacanian-informed analysis.

The beauty and the beast story, which Daniel P. Woolsey describes as having been "served up first by Madame de Villeneuve, Madame Leprince de Beaumont, Andrew Lang, and more recently, Philippa Pearce" (Woolsey 129), has been succinctly outlined by Ruth Bottigheimer in The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales :

A rich merchant who has lost his fortune wanders onto the grounds of an enchanted palace where he plucks a flower to take home to his youngest daughter. His act enrages the palace's owner, the Beast of the title, who as retribution exacts a promise that the merchant will surrender one of his daughters. The youngest willingly redeems her father's promise, and, expecting death, enters the enchanted palace. Instead, she enjoys luxury and elevated conversation with her monstrous partner, whom, however, she is unable to love. Released to visit her family, she overstays the time allotted for her absence, but when a sick and dying Beast appears in her dreams she hastily returns, declaring not only that she will marry him, but that she cannot live without him. Indeed, her tender sentiments restore the Beast to his princely appearance. The statues into which her wicked stepsisters are turned warn viewers against personal vanity and sisterly jealousy.

(Bottigheimer 47)

This traditional storyline has been attacked as misogynistic, as preaching that young women should be passive, obey the law of the father and of patriarchal society, and cultivate passivity and obedience as necessary female attributes ensuring a successful marriage (Rowe). It has also been asserted that this focus on female passivity and obedience was intentional, that Madame Leprince de Beaumont was keenly aware that the audience for her literary fairy tales consisted of young women of court society for whom a good match was desirable: the ultimate reward (Harries, Zipes). Achieving 18thcentury standards of female virtue, then, was a crucial prerequisite for a comfortable life.

Such historical suggestions, though unpalatable to contemporary, feminist-informed attitudes regarding female socialization and femininity, are not wholly unlike those of the present. We shudder at the thought that our young readers--females especially--should be socialized in part by traditional fairy tales written in a patriarchal context. We believe that our young adults should be inspired to bravery, intelligence, compassion, and independence, for those are the rules of our own socio-historical construct. But our adherence to those rules is no more enlightened.

Robin McKinley is generally celebrated as a young adult author who has artfully and successfully sought to provide complex and interesting female heroes who appeal to young adult (as well as adult) readers. In this, McKinley demonstrates both her understanding of contemporary fairy-tale criticism as well as a keen reading of the original tales. As Alison Lurie has noted:

...some contemporary feminists have joined the chorus of critics and attacked fairy tales as a male chauvinist form of literature: they believe that giving children [these] stories...is a sort of brain-washing, intended to convince them that all little girls must be gentle, obedient, passive, and domestic while they wait for their princes to come...In a way these objections are understandable, since some of the tales we know best...do have this kind of heroine. But from the point of view of European (and world) folklore, such stories are highly unrepresentative. The traditional tale, in fact, is exactly the sort of subversive literature of which a feminist should approve...In content too fairy tales are women's literature. Writers like Robert Graves have seen them as survivals of an older, matriarchal culture and faith; but whether they are right or not, it is women who most often are the central characters in many of these stories, and women who have the supernatural power.

(Lurie 18-19)

The significance of a central female character--one most often coming-of-age--is not lost on Robin McKinley. As Lynn Moss Sanders reminds us in "Girls Who Do Things": The Protagonists of Robin McKinley's Fantasy Fiction , and as stated on her authorized website, McKinley writes the novels she does because, as a young adult reader, she was frustrated by the lack of female characters who "do things." Thus Robin McKinley writes for young adults not unlike herself.

In the beauty and the beast tale, we are given a story with a female protagonist who does something--either out of obedience or pluck--and who experiences a journey. Robin McKinley's Beauty and Rose Daughter foreground this; in her retellings of "Beauty and the Beast," she augments the tale according to current social norms, updating certain features of the 18thcentury text. Of Beauty , Woolsey has observed:

McKinley's version of the story is significantly different from previous versions in that Beauty's Father is not ineffectual and weak, and the sisters are not the vain, selfish, and jealous wretches of the original tale...This change is carefully calculated...As an intellectual and a pragmatist, Beauty is unaccustomed to acting upon emotion or impulse, but finally she sees that she must keep her word and return to Beast. The sacrifice is made, the spell is broken, and the severance is ended. To modern readers living in a world where individualism and self-sufficiency are held in the highest regard, Beauty shows the way to escape from the treacherous and ultimately destructive morass of self-absorption and into a world of wholeness and connectedness with other living creatures. Significantly, this movement is an act of true escape, rather than a quisling's flight for self-protection.

(Woolsey 133)

Beauty's independence develops out of need and experience. Cast out on her own to fend for herself, Beauty must rally her courage, wisdom, and faith in order to find Beast's enchanted castle, to enter that castle and face the beast, and to remain in his company against her will. Broadly, but not transparently, Beauty's story is a metaphor for coming-of-age--a developmental process that includes taking leave of the safety of home, facing the unknown in the adult world, and coming to know and live in balance with that world.

For McKinley's Beauty, the initial experience of coming-of-age, like Lacan's Imaginary phase, is fragmentive and traumatic. In both Beauty and Rose Daughter , the stage ushering in adolescent coming-of-age involves a separation from the security of family. There is a threat that this separation must be done for the good of the family and may well result in Beauty's death. Beauty is thereby forced "to understand how something totally foreign can give itself, or better, impose itself upon a subject and how this subject can relate itself to this impossibility" (Bernet 162). Already fragmented and traumatized by the economic misfortunes visited upon her family and by her standing within that family (particularly when compared to her two lovely sisters), Beauty's sense of self is unstable. This is compounded when "something totally foreign" (the beast and his enchanted castle) "impose[s] itself upon her," and Beauty must "relate [herself] to this impossibility" in her life experience. In Beauty and in Rose Daughter , Beauty's Imaginary phase is marked by her unstable sense of sense and by the traumatic experience of being given away by her father.

In Robin McKinley's Beauty, Beauty considers herself plain, unfashionable, and unremarkable compared to her two elder sisters, a disappointment. Indeed, she feels that it is "evident that [she] was going to let [her] family down":

By the time it was evident that I was going to let the family down by being plain, I'd been called Beauty for over six years; and while I came to hate the name, I was too proud to ask that it be discarded. I wasn't really very find of my given name, Honour, either...[I]t sounded...as if 'honourable' were the best that could be said of me...My sisters were too kind to refer to the increasing inappropriateness of my nickname. It was all the worse that they were as good-hearted as they were beautiful, and their kindness was sincerely meant. Our father, bless him, didn't seem to notice that there was any egregious, and deplorable, difference between his first two daughter and his youngest...For a while his lack of perception hurt me, and I suspected him of hypocrisy; but in time I came to be grateful for his generous blindness.


Beauty describes the difference between her looks and those of her elder sisters as "deplorable," and her father as blind. Her resentment towards her father shows up elsewhere: Beauty's deplorable plainness is the only thing she feels her father can't fix for her, and so his blindness is a constant reminder of both her and his failure. Beauty responds by taking vows and absenting herself: "Since I believed my father could do anything--except of course make me pretty--I worked hard and studied with passionate dedication, lived in hope, and avoided society and mirrors" (6). Having recognized herself as different and inferior to her lovely sisters and found her father blind to her greatest pain, Beauty's sense of self is fragmented. The Imaginary phrase, during which Beauty will develop her sense of autonomy, has created divisions within her. As she comes of age, Beauty must integrate those divisions and see herself in a broader context. But she has set herself a difficult task: neither to see herself in a broader context nor to adopt that context, to avoid society and mirrors.

When Father loses his fortune--an event Michael Cadden describes as (another) result of Father's failure--the sudden change in the family's status is outlined in concrete physical terms (Cadden 18). Because Grace, the eldest sister, now believes the young captain to whom she is betrothed has been lost at sea with her father's fortune, she grows pale and thin. Already tall and thin with flowing blond hair and peach bud lips, Beauty sees the change effected in Grace as only making her look more "ethereal" (13, 47). Their second sister, Hope, green eyed, chestnut haired, and with a pleasing figure, saves the day by having had the good sense and fortune of falling in love with Gervain, loyal and wise, who will organize the family's funereal voyage away from the city to the bewitched north where Gervain is wanted as a blacksmith. Months later, they arrive world-weary and saddle sore at their destination.

Being an unknown quantity appeals to Beauty, it allows her to develop in complete familial privacy. The land does not see her and the folk of a bewitched region see and accept only exactly what's standing in front of them. Their new house is "beyond the edge of town and isolated from it by eyeless backs of village houses," and stands against "this great wood that no one passed through" (39-40). Of her social interactions in their new home, Beauty observes:

I never really had time to think about the suitability of my new role, or of how it had come about. I was becoming more boy than girl, it seemed; and perhaps since I was short and plain and had no figure to speak of the townsfolk found my ambiguous position easy to accept. The men took their caps off to my sisters, curbed their ribald tongues, and some of them even made rough bows; I was hailed with a wave and a grin...I was clapped on the back and given mugs of small beer.


Beauty acknowledges this as a mark of respect, a manner by which she is being welcomed into the adult world. Yet she continues to compare herself to her sisters, and to women more broadly. She will not see herself and thus is unable to acknowledge her own developing womanhood:

Grace and Hope were exceptional anywhere, but here in the country at least ordinarily pretty girls were outnumbered by plain ones, and I fitted into the background more appropriately than I had in the bright society of the city...overall I was on pretty good terms with myself. It helped that the only looking-glass in the house was in my sisters' room.


Beauty does a fair job of not seeing herself or being seen until Hope and Gervain's wedding, at which she is awkwardly kissed by a village boy. This kiss is an irritating interruption to Beauty, she does not enjoy it and must be reassured that there are better kisses (and kissers) in the world. There are no further romantic misadventures, and Hope and Gervain have twins when Father receives word that one of his ships has survived and is in port. Hopeful that this is Robbie's ship and eager for closure, the family insists and Father departs immediately.

In Beauty, Beauty refers to her physicality self-consciously and interprets much of her life experience through that lens. In Rose Daughter , Beauty never refers to her looks; she is understood to be as beautiful as her sisters, but invisible, and she cultivates her invisibility. When his financial ruin is imminent, Father remarks that Beauty is not terribly visible, but that he had hoped Lionheart and Jeweltongue's "sloppy seconds" would save Beauty from lonely anonymity:

His greatest pain as he watched the impending storm approach was the thought that he had not been able to provide a husband for Beauty. It was true that she was not very noticeable in the company of her sisters, but she should have been able to find a suitable husband among all the young men who flocked to their house to court Lionheart and Jeweltongue.


In Rose Daughter , Beauty is completely blotted out by the narrative. Aside from this casual remark, any comments about Beauty's looks--and any references Beauty makes to her physical self--are absent. As in Beauty , we are told that Rose Daughter 's Beauty does not mind their economic fall from grace quite as badly as the rest of her family:

She had never taken a great deal of interest in her own appearance and had minded the least of the three of them when they put their fine clothes away, for they had agreed among themselves that all their good things should go towards assuaging their father's creditors.


The strict non-observance of Beauty's physical self is not imposed by circumstances, but by Beauty herself. This is asserted when Beauty insists that the only gift she wants brought back from Father's trip to the city is a rose, some seeds perhaps. When Beauty discovers the terrible cost of her request, she self-sacrifices and insists that she be the one to go to the beast's castle. But she does it out of responsibility for her actions and to the land--not out of obedience to her Father.

Though there are profound differences between the adolescent coming-of-age protagonists in Beauty and Rose Daughter , this scene is not much varied. Just as both sets of sisters are good, Beauty's request for rose seeds is born out of her connection to the land. For the beauty in Rose Daughter , this develops at an early age, when her society-celebrated mother dies, a series of incompetent nurses take over, and a particular nightmare wreaks havoc. Rose Daughter 's Beauty is fragmented by the death of her mother:

Her mother was beautiful, dashing, the toast of the town. Her youngest daughter remembered the blur of activity, friends and hangers-on, soothsayers and staff, the constant glamour and motion which was her mother and her mother's world. She remembered peeping out at her mother from around various thresholds before various nurses and governesses (hired by her dull merchant father) snatched her away.


"Snatched away" from her mother and her mother's world, Beauty seeks to make herself invisible. As a result, Beauty bonds with the garden at an early age:

On some days, when it seemed to her that everyone she met was either angry or unhappy, she would go out into the garden and hide...she had never outgrown her child's instinct to drop quietly out of sight when a grown-up moving a little too purposefully was nearby. As soon as she stepped out onto the lawn, she felt tranquility drift down over her like a veil; and almost as though it were a veil, or as if she had suddenly become a plant herself (a tidy, well-shaped, well-placed plant of a desirable colour and habit, for anything else would have drawn attention at once), she was rarely noticed by the gardeners...even when they passed quite close to her.


Perhaps because this is a novel of omniscient narration, Rose Daughter 's Beauty dwells less on "I". Her interest in gardening begins with her life in the city. Her attention to the garden, her way of becoming invisible, is in marked contrast to her sister's preoccupations. Beautiful, gifted, and passionate, Lionheart and Jeweltongue exist in the world of their deceased mother, the world of literary salons, society parties, and marrying into aristocracy. Rose Daughter 's Beauty does not refer to herself or her name and she searches out a space so private as never to be seen. After circumstances move them to Rose Cottage, and a life of rural poverty, Beauty discovers the flower for which her new home is named and the origin of her mother's scent. When she holds one of her new-found roses up to her father, "he murmured her mother's name, but gently, knowing she was gone but happy in the memory of her; then his eyes found Beauty's, and he smiled again. 'Thank you,' he said. 'They are beautiful, are they not?' said Beauty. 'Almost as beautiful as she was," he said. Beauty said nothing" (46). Beauty continues to blot herself out. Whereas the Beauty of Beauty applies what she knows of gardening in their new, seriously-downsized home, the Beauty of Rose Daughter arrives having never seen a rose; both young women devote themselves to the earth and their gardens, tempting seedlings, battling thorny spines. In Beauty , knowledge awaits exercise; in Rose Daughter , exercise initiates knowledge.

What's fascinating about Rose Daughter is the detailed description of Beauty's discovery of roses. She identifies them first as ugly, cold, dead things, but takes pity on them. Having faith in the previous occupants of their cottage, Beauty unwittingly awaits the bloom of the rose. She then becomes quickly expert in the ways of the roses, their differing habits, scents, and composition. She becomes possessive of, and responsible for, the roses. It is this personality quirk, exaggerated by enchanted circumstances, that bonds her to the beast in Rose Daughter ; she ultimately claims her "I" in an architecturally soaring glass house on Beast's land. Her exuberant work with the roses, and the proliferation of the roses, is both fantastically accurate and a natural metaphor for the self-discovery necessary for coming-of-age and entering romantic partnership.

In Beauty and Rose Daughter , realism overlaps high fantasy; Beauty experiences

increasingly large and powerful enchantments and the earth gets more and more solid under her feet. Maryellen Hains has described Beauty as having "an emphasis on...magical reality" and goes on to argue that "[p]art of this retelling is a maturation story. Beauty's growing self-confidence is tied to her growing confidence in the Beast's world" (Hains 76). Both of McKinley's Beauties tend to the land: they plow the soil, tie up thorns, and cut for greenwood. The unavoidable mythic symbol in Beaumont's "Beauty and the Beast" and in Robin McKinley's two retellings is the rose, but the realism is exact, as McKinley herself is an avid gardener and rosarian. In southern England, at the home she shares with her husband, fantasy author Peter Dickinson, Robin McKinley tends 500 rosebushes (www.robinmckinley.com). Indeed, I recently identified a climbing rose on my own property by rereading McKinley's Rose Daughter .

McKinley was shaped by fantasy and fairy tale. Born a self-described "military brat," Robin McKinley insists on 2 details of her own adolescence: moving from base to base, she did not grow up in stable community; books were her favorite and most constant friends. She grew up traveling and reading. Among her literary influences are contemporary fantasy masters Diana Wynne Jones and Peter Dickinson and the British fantasy classics of Andrew Lang and E. Nesbit. Narl, McKinley's fairy smith in Spindle's End , shares his name with the smith in Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Shadow (1924).

McKinley's influences and experiences can be seen in her work: her main characters are invariably strong, moral and heroic women with a fondness for horses and dogs. Biographer Marilyn Karrenbrock has written: "McKinley's females do not simper; they do not betray their own nature to win a man's approval. But neither do they take love lightly or put their own desires before anything else. In McKinley's books, the romance--like the adventure--is based upon ideals of faithfulness, duty, and honor" (www.robinmckinley.com). The shared realm of mythic fantasy is a realm where we learn that which is most important to the human experience. We learn it through finely crafted metaphors--translating truth and accuracy into fantastic possession, just as we learn it through retellings--by translating mythic tales into contemporary expressions.

Jeanette Rhedding-Jones argues that:

Lacan theorized the very young child's self, or ego, as split initially into the "I" who does the watching and the "I" who is watched. This has been called the mirror phase, and psychoanalysts see it as coming before the gendered and symbolic order of spoken language is established. From a narrative writer's point of view, this split continues as these writers write metaphorically of what they see, whilst at the same time writing themselves into their texts. A parallel to this is that in narrative writing, the voice of the writer is the "I" who watches the world and herself. At the same time, the awareness of others as readers creates a knowledge of the "I" who is watched.

(Rhedding-Jones 13:3)

Rhedding-Jones reminds us that writing about coming-of-age allows us to reflect back on initial fragmentation, and that writing about that experience creates a second mirror phase. Like Beauty, Robin McKinley was bookish and considered herself plain; she writes about the kind of young women she continues to admire most, the ones she wanted to read about. Fairy tale is rich with such stuff, thus Robin McKinley's coming-of-age protagonists are delayed self-assigned friends and role models, they are in the process of transforming from invisible "girls who do things" outside of their social context, to visible women who are engaged with and integral to their social context.

Bruno Bettelheim defines this as 'Achieving Autonomy' and [symbolizing] sexual maturity," and locates it in the tale of beauty and the beast:

[P]opular and numerous are tales which...teach that for love, a radical change in previously held attitudes about sex is absolutely necessary. What must happen is expressed, as always in fairy tales, through a most impressive image: a beast is turned into a magnificent person...The best-known of these tales today is "Beauty and the Beast"...There are three typical features to the stories of the animal groom cycle. First, it remains unknown how and why the groom was changed into an animal; and this although most fairy tales provide such information. Second, it is a sorceress who did this deed; but she is not punished for her evil doings. Third, it is the father who causes the heroine to join the beast; she does it because of her love for or obedience to her father; overtly the mother plays no significant role... The three drops of blood [are] a symbol of achieving sexual maturity...Since the princess leaves to get married and thus is to change from a maiden to a woman and wife...it does not seem far-fetched to think that these drops of blood...symbolize sexual maturity...


In Beauty and Rose Daughter , Robin McKinley is retelling a traditional coming-of-age fairy tale and her own coming-of-age experience; she is revisiting the metaphors of her own life stories. McKinley knows "Beauty and the Beast" on experiential and intellectual bases. Accordingly, Beauty's adolescent coming-of-age is described by an overlap of realism and fantasy. Settings become increasingly bewitched, and supernatural characters grow in observation and in reference throughout Beauty's journey to adulthood. This is the predominant theme in young adult literature and of Robin McKinley's work in particular. Charlotte Spivak has noted: "Robin McKinley's fantasies accomplish for...fairy tales what [Evangeline] Walton does for the Mabinogion . She deepens the characters, strengthens the plots, and adds much emotional and aesthetic heightening through her lyrical style" (169); Anna E. Altman describes the protagonist of McKinley's The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword as experiencing "a shift from measuring herself by the judgments, real or imagined, of others to determining her own life. It is the adolescent's quest for social integration" (146). Signaling this quest, the onset of sexual maturity available in the original tale of beauty and the beast and unavoidable in McKinley's retrospective experience, must necessarily be translated into McKinley's retellings.

In Beauty , as is true to her character, Beauty's readiness for sexual maturity and to go in quest of social integration is something she asserts about herself even as she refers to her looks. She argues: "The rose was for me. And I'm the youngest--and the ugliest. The world isn't losing much in me...my best skills are cutting wood and tending the garden. You can get any lad in the village to do that...I'm turned eighteen. I'm ready for an adventure" (78). In Rose Daughter , the three drops of blood which, Bettelheim asserts, signal readiness for the impending "change from a maiden and a woman to a wife" are translated both literally and universally: a rose and their blood bind the two unlikely lovers and Beauty's father bears the message. On page 75, Beast intentionally pierces his palm with rose thorns to pledge his word:

[Father] saw the Beast's great hand closing tight round the rose's stem; when he opened them again, the palm had been pierced by one of the thorns, and three drops of blood fell softly to the crimson carpet, making a dark stain like a three-petalled flower or the first unfurling of a rosebud. "I am a man in this," said the Beast... "I keep my promises. By my own blood I swear it."

Beast's bloodshed is gesture of his manhood, of his adult character. For Beauty's father, Beast's blood announces the loss of his daughter--a loss that comes from his own failure. On page 78, when her devastated father hands the ill-won rose to his daughter, Beauty remarks: "'Father, you have pricked yourself...There is blood on the stem'...the old merchant shuddered so terribly that he nearly fell down, and the sisters forgot everything in their anxiety for him."

Beauty responds to a higher calling than that of her father, however. On page 79, Beauty falls asleep clutching her rose and is revisited by her prophetic nightmare: "When she woke, she found blood on her pillow; she had bitten her lip in her sleep, and three drops had fallen on the pillow slip, making a shape like a three-petalled flower or a rose-bud just unfurling." In Beauty as well as in Rose Daughter , Beauty and Beast are both adolescents coming-of-age. The fact that neither pair of pre-destined young adult lovers see themselves while they are coming to identify with the other is significant to the mythic exchange between the classic characters "Beauty and the Beast."

A scholar of Charles Perrault (as evidenced by Deerskin , a retelling of his "Donkeyskin"), Robin McKinley is sensitive to Perrault's "highly ethicized conclusion in his 'Beauty and the Beast' tale, 'Riquet a la Houppe (1697)" which "leaves readers in doubt about whether the monstrously ugly hero Riquet actually becomes handsome, or whether he only appears so in the eyes of his besotted beloved" (Bottigheimer 47). When the definition of beauty begins to shift, there is an internal leveling that, in turn, promises social integration.

Prior to entering the enchanted castle in Beauty , she avoids mirrors and re-images herself as a boy--as un-like her sisters as possible; Beast avoids mirrors because they remind him of his ugliness, his own lost humanity. This mutual disinclination for self-reflection tells itself in their elevated but familiar and fond conversation in which both characters coming-of-age assert their poor self-image:

After a moment he said harshly: "I am very ugly, am I not?" "You are certainly, uh, very hairy," I said. "You are being polite," he said. "Well, yes," I conceded. "But then you called me beautiful last night." He made a noise somewhere between a roar and a bark, and after an anxious minute, I decided it was probably a laugh. "You do not believe me then?" he inquired. "Well--no," I said, hesitantly, wondering if this might anger him. "Any number of mirrors have told me otherwise." "You will find no mirrors here," he said, for I cannot bear them: nor any quiet water in ponds. And since I am the only one who sees you, why are you not then beautiful?" "But--" I said, and Platonic principles rushed into my mouth so fast that they choked me silent. After a moment's reflection I decided against a treatise on the absolute, and I said, to say something: "There's always Greatheart. Although I've never noticed that he minds how I look." "Greatheart?" "My horse. The big grey stallion in your stable."


Despite Beast and Beauty's mutual dislike for mirrors, they discover that they care very much about how they look to each other. Beauty insists that Greatheart trust her enough to trust her opinion of Beast, rather than Beast's appearance (149-153). Beast is touched when Beauty reveals to him that she cares how she looks (184). Beauty watches for him, and misses Beast when he does not attend her at dinner, or meet her for a walk on the grounds with Greatheart (159). They share also a love of literature--and what better room in an enchanted castle than a library. But Beauty continues to feel jailed and is reviled by Beast's appearance. One evening she throws herself against the door, cutting open her hands and unable to get out and Beast catches her in a faint (167). Beast's despair at not measuring up to standards of beauty (Beauty's standards) overwhelms him; when Beauty compliments his strength but refuses to marry him, Beast crushes a wine-bottle in his hand. His palm begins to bleed and Beauty must staunch the wound (163).

Eventually, of course, Beauty and Beast learn to see, but they learn see quite differently than they had. Beast sees with a hard-won clarity, and sympathy for estranged humanity; he has been enchanted thus for 200 years, and spent the 1stdecade of that time just learning to walk upright. But he welcomes Beauty's shifting perspective, saying "lightly": "'I can see that your new clarity of perception will create difficulties for me'" (176). The impossible curse has doomed Beast from having any social contact, but, admirably, he continues to assert his noble humanity. Beauty sees with an increasing confidence in her heart rather than a reliance on her eyes; she loosens her grip on such concepts as real or fantastic and opens her heart to such probables as impossible curses. In the library at the enchanted castle are all the books that have ever been, or ever will be, written--many of which, of course, Beauty has never heard of because their authors have not yet been born. She describes her shift in perspective in retrospect and in the context of her reading:

I had been at the castle six months. I was no nearer the answer to the riddle of the magic that Lydia and Bessie hinted was laid on the Beast and his estate; nor did my sixth sense develop further...I found I could read more of the books in the library with comprehension; if I stopped and tried deliberately to envision, say, a motorcar, I managed only a headache and my reading was spoiled. But if once I slipped into an author's world, nothing in it disturbed me, and I could slip out of it again when I closed the book. But perhaps there was nothing really mysterious in that. I had accepted Cassandra and Medea, and Paris's choice among three goddesses as the reason for the Trojan War, and other improbables long before I read about steam-engines and telephones; I had accepted my life in this castle, for example. The principle was probably the same.


As Beauty describes her changing vision to Beast and interacts with him as the Other, and as Beast helps to articulate its finer details, Beauty and the Beast create a shared vision; they identify each other and the self:

I stared at the Beast, afraid much as if my vision cleared. He was not the awful master here, but my friend and companion within the spellbound castle. He too had had to learn to find his way through the maze of rooms and corridors that now bewildered me; he had had to learn to cope with enchantments in unfamiliar languages. As he stared down at me I knew his eyes were kind...


This explicitly described vision is shared in that Beauty and Beast are the only two to enjoy it. But they do enjoy it, together; and, together, Beauty and Beast begin to look into other reflective surfaces--not to see themselves but to watch their shared Other and to share compassion for the humanity of the beloved.

Beast describes Beauty's transforming vision by quietly pointing out the change in her perception of him. On page 178 he explains:

"...in not trusting me, you trust nothing here that you cannot perceive on your old terms. You refuse to acknowledge the existence of anything that is too unusual. You don't see it, you don't hear it--for you it doesn't exist... From what you've told me, a little strangeness leaked through to you, your first night here, when you looked out your window. It frightened you--I quite understand this; it used to frighten me too--and you've avoided seeing anything else since." "I haven't meant to," I said, distressed at this picture of myself.


Having experienced some shame and embarrassment at seeing herself through the Beast's eyes, Beauty continues to describe the pleasures of her developing vision. The Beast supports Beauty's pastoral appreciation for a sunset, for each tiny perfect detail in the flower garden, her every spark of intellect in literary conversation. Finally worn down by Beauty's insistence, and because of his own ability to "deny her nothing," Beast allows her to see her family as he does, through a reflective table:

I stared at him. "He dreams about you nearly every night, and tells the rest of your family about it the next day. It does comfort them, I think. I am careful not to let him see me." "How do you know? Can you see them?" I said, still staring. He looked away. "Yes, I can see them." "May I?" He looked at me, and his eyes were unhappy. "I will show you, if you wish it." "Please," I said. "Oh, please show me."


Beauty and the Beast see her family together, in a shared vision. Beauty learns that Beast sends dreams of Beauty to her father, that the roses still blooming on her old cottage comfort her family, and that Grace's long-lost betrothed, Robbie, is alive and well and has returned to the city.

When the Beast allows her to return home for one week--to warn Grace of Robbie's arrival before the eldest sister commits to another, unwanted, offer, and to assure them of her happy contentment--Beauty's family remarks on her growing up. Hope asks: "'Aren't there any mirrors in that grand castle of yours? I don't understand how you could help noticing something...' 'She's never noticed anything but books and horses since she was a baby,' said Grace... "An ugly baby," I said.'" (223). Although Beauty responds with her usual self-deprecation, in truth, she feels herself changed. She doesn't fit in and, again, this is described in terms of fantasy, reality and perception:

We all had our glasses refilled; but then the silence seeped back and filled the room so closely that it was difficult to see through, like flame...[I]t was slowly being borne in on me that my stories about the castle and my life there had little reality for my family. They listened with interest to what I told--or tried to tell--them, but it was for my sake, not for the sake of the tale. I could not say if this was my fault or theirs, or the fault of the worlds we lived in. The only thing they had understood was that I would be leaving them again, to return to a fantastic destiny; and I began to see how horrible this must appear to them. And I also began to sense that there was little I could do to help them.


Standing outside of her family, having them look at the Beast in the way that they do rather than through the love in her own eyes, Beauty establishes her sense of self in partnership with Beast.

Ultimately, and as a result, Beauty comes to name her feelings for Beast and acknowledge her preferment for their shared vision:

My thoughts went back to the evening just past, of the scene around the parlour fire, when I had tried to plead for my Beast against my family's animosity. I knew now what it was that had happened. I couldn't tell them that here, at home with them again, I had learned what I had successfully ignored these last weeks at the castle: that I had come to love him. They were no less dear to me, but he was dearer yet... And in the meantime I was with my family for a week.


Beauty feels "the whole weight of my family's love concentrated in [her] father's hand, pushing [her] down where [she] sat" (227), and reluctantly agrees to stay one more day.

Surrounded by wedding symbols as thick as thorns, Beauty returns home to Beast. Upon his dying breath, she admits her love for him, and accepts his marriage proposal. The enchantment falls away from the beast and his castle. Taken aback by Beast's sudden transformation to his natural, human beauty, Beauty makes one last gesture towards the self-image of her adolescence: "'I can't marry you ,' I burst out... "Look at you. You should marry a queen or something, a duchess at least, not a dull drab little nothing like myself'" (241). The Beast protests, and together they stand in front a mirror, seeing themselves for the first time and through each other. Beauty describes the integration of herself as one individually and as one in partnership with, in relation to, another:

The girl in the mirror wasn't I, I was sure of it, in spite of the fact that the man in golden velvet was holding my hand as he was holding the girl's. She was tall--well, all right, I told myself, I do remember that I'm tall enough now. Her hair was a pale coppery red, and her eyes, strangest of all, weren't muddy hazel, but clear and amber with flecks of green. And the dress did look lovely on her, in spite of the fact that she was blushing furiously--I felt as if I were blushing furiously too. I leaner closer, fascinated. No, there, it was I, after all. The quirk of the eyebrows was still there, the dark uneven arch that had always said that the eyes didn't believe what they saw; but then since I had only seen them in mirrors, perhaps this was true. And I recognized the high wide cheekbones, but my face had filled out around them; and the mouth was still higher on one side than the other, and the high side had a dimple.


Beauty shifts her disbelief from herself to the girl in the mirror, ultimately accepting her new sense of self and finally asserting her 'I'. It isn't magic, the magic is over, people are waking up all over the house, and yet, the enchantment has just begun.

"Beauty and the Beast" is a traditional literary fairy tale, as is Beauty in novel form: it ends with a wedding. A triple wedding, to be exact. Shortly after Beauty's pronouncement and Beast's transfiguration, Beauty's family (and her entire village, it seems) arrives to witness the wedding between Beauty and Beast, Grace and her recently recovered sea captain, and Father and Melinda, a special friend of the family. Even Greatheart, Beauty's loyal and stalwart companion, finds a mate in Cider, a mare acquired by Beauty's family during her literal and figurative absence.

Fairy tales are traditional literature originally used to socialize young women. Because these tales were abandoned for that social purpose, were subjected to fear, neglect, and dismissal, and because mythic narrative has a literary anthropology, fairy tales retain their form:

Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, a Frenchwoman who was for a time actually a governess in England also saw the fairy tale as suitable for the moral education of young women. Her version of "Beauty and the Beast" first published in...1756...revises and transforms the first version of the story published in 1740 by Mme de Villeneuve... Beaumont designed her magazines primarily as educational instruments, but...she understood the value of fiction, and particularly fairy tales, as part of her educational project... [S]he borrowed tales, not only from Perrault but also from Villeneuve...and other, less-known writers... [Her] dialogues reveal a turn to...Enlightenment belief in sociability and conversation as the source of self-improvement and social change.

(Harries 87-90)

Elizabeth Wanning Harries describes the developing vision of Beaumont's Beauty. Robin McKinley does the same for Beauty in her retelling. In both narratives, Beauty spends most of her time with the Beast, discussing literature, horses, and other enchantments, and Beauty begins mapping her altering vision. That vision holds with the ideals of courtly love. Lacan states:

...even Freud...seems to be surprised that the regression of love should take place so easily in terms of identification--even when, in texts written about the same time, he demonstrates that love and identification have an equivalence in a certain register and that narcissism and over-estimation of the object...is exactly the same thing in love.


In Beauty , Beast has taken down all the mirrors in the castle to spare himself the pain of monstrous self-recognition. It is not until McKinley's protagonists achieve adulthood that they come "face-to-face" with themselves. Beauty, therefore, does not see a mirror until just before she marries, and then notices that she has "blossomed" into womanhood. Beauty's vision of herself is not complete until framed in a mirror with Beast.

It is useful to call attention to the predominant traits of a heterosexual, white, anglo-saxon love story in a work of literature, to the traditional (and predictably pleasant, optimistic) marriage-and-happily-ever-after conclusion, and to raise feminist debates about the perceived value of either one. To do so lends a contemporary relevance to McKinley's Beauty . Though rightfully deserved, McKinley's work makes up only a small part of our vision. By honoring Beauty's partnerships with earlier versions and translations of mythic narrative, we honor the essence of story, the very heart of it. McKinley's retellings assert our own perceptions of Symbolic Order even as they are supported by the Symbolic Order of the past--neither old or new again, happily ever after.

The mirror stage, resolving itself in Symbolic Order, develops the adolescent coming-of-age understanding. In McKinley's Beauty , the protagonists recognize their dual relationships (between the 'self' and the 'Other') in the absence of mirrors. As such, Beauty and Beast re-identify within the dual imag(in)ing of "each other." The trauma of adolescent coming-of-age is rewarded by the ultimate partnership: a successful marriage.

In Beauty , this is achieved when Beauty and the Beast identify with each other, when they "see" themselves through each other's eyes (rather than in an unreflexive mirror); in Rose Daughter , Beauty and Beast are rewarded when they "see" past norms of physical attractiveness, into the heart and the soul. For Rose Daughter 's Beauty, however, this requires more profound reflection. Distracted with forgetfulness, restless from her inability to remember her promise to return to the Beast before it is too late, Beauty must "see" the Beast as she sees him--with her heart--for her family:

Beauty, to her sisters' alarm, turned in Jeweltongue's arms and began to weep against her sister's breast. "I do not know what to do! It is all too impossible! He is very kind--and--and--oh--but his roses are blooming again, I am sure that is what he wanted of me--" Why had she a picture in her mind of the Beast saying, Beauty, will you marry me? Why would someone so great and grand, like the Beast, want to marry her? She was beautiful, but that would fade, unlike Jeweltongue's skill with her needle and Lionheart's horse sense. She had always been the least of the sisters, called Beauty because she had no other, better characteristic to name as herself. She could make roses bloom...There was a little gap in the magic, that was all, and she had mended it, merely by being there, as if she were a bit of string. "I am sure that is what he wanted of me, and I can not possibly live without you and Father, but I have begun to wonder if I cannot live without--"


Beauty refers to her name for the first and only time at this point in the story, explaining that she is called Beauty because she has "no other, better characteristic to name her as herself." Similarly, this is the first time Beauty refers to her attractiveness, though--through association with her sisters and by implied omission--the reader assumes that Beauty is beautiful. Beauty is not self-reflexive until she is called upon to assert her character; her physical attractiveness is not important to her (nor, it seems, has it ever been). This self-recognition, coupled with her heart-felt vision of Beast, forces Beauty to accept her love for him. In acknowledging her selfhood, Beauty partners herself with the Other. This promises induction into the Symbolic Order of adulthood.

When Beauty realizes how Beast needs her, and of her usefulness to him, when she understands the great metaphor--that her talent as a rosarian is what makes her her own, valuable self even as those talents keep Beast alive--she separates from the sisters whose "hearts beat in each other's breasts." Beauty insists that her sisters come to share her vision, articulating the significance of the distinction between what someone is (the physical vessel) and what someone is like (the spirit inside the vessel):

"He is--he is--oh, I don't know how to describe him!" said Beauty. "He is very tall, and very wide, and very hairy; he is a Beast, just as he is named. He eats apples in two bites, including the cores. But he is--that is not what he is like." "What is he like then?" Jeweltongue prompted. "He is gentle and kind. He loves roses. He loves roses best of all, but his were dying; the only one still blooming was the one from Father's breakfast table. Of course, when I knew--when I found--I had to rescue them--him. He walks on the roof every night, looking at the stars. On the roof he has drawn the most beautiful map of the sky..." Beauty was weeping as she talked.


That Beast is "a Beast, just as he is named" but, more importantly, that he is "gentle and kind," a stargazer and a gifted artist, mirrors Beauty's own self-revelation. Indeed, Beauty's vision of Beast mirrors her mirror stage. Gratefully, Beauty has learned that she has a selfhood greater that her name and her shape. So too does Beast. This mirroring of each other is borne out in the roses--the grand operative metaphor of Robin McKinley's Rose Daughter .

As Beauty watches the last petal fall from Beast's rose from within her sisters' embrace, she remembers her promise to return to him, but she seems to have missed her chance. Until she remembers the cutting she made from the Beast's rose, hoping that they have taken root and that they can return her to Beast's enchanted castle. She recognizes her own agency, as well as her responsibility to Beast and for her actions:

She would not let him die. Her resolution faltered. As soon as her sisters had told her she had been seven months away, she should have remembered, she should have thought at once to look at the rose. It did not matter what her father's rose had done; she knew the enchantment that held her Beast and his roses changed, for she had changed it. And now she was destroying everything when the Beast had trusted her. When the Beast had loved her.


Beauty's final words to Lionheart and Jeweltnogue are directions. The metaphor of the rose extends to adolescent coming-of-age; Beauty gives her sisters instructions in cultivating cuttings and encouraging growth and development:

"And...feed these two little bushes! Give them a few of the oldest, rottenest, shrivelledest scrapings from the back of the manure heap, just a few, not too many--that is what they like. Even if you haven't time to build a compost heap, you can do that. Cuttings are very tender. They must be encouraged, not bullied, into growing." She seized the petal that was separating itself from the others and gave it a gentle tug; it came free and she set it in her mouth.


By placing the rose petal taken from the Beast's rose, transplanted under her care and growing in the shelter of her family's home, Beauty transports herself back to the castle.

But the castle is against her, confusing her and leading her away from Beast, who lies dying. There is a curious hum in the castle, louder when she tries to speak. Beauty swims against a strong current in the air of the castle hallways, finally taking refuge in her own self-reflexion and self-assertion:

She closed her eyes against it. She could not see it any more than she could hear it, but in this darkness of her own choosing she could hug herself round with her own thoughts, her own being, her own knowledge of her self and of her existence, as she hugged herself round with the dressing-gown her sister had made for her. She had none of her outer senses left: Blindness she had chosen, hearing and touch were deadened by the noiseless vibration, and her mouth was full of the flavour and scent of the rose petal.


Beauty has chosen blindness. She searches for Beast in the darkness, but she searches with her heart, her inner vision, rather than with her eyes. Beauty stumbles across her sexual maturity, a stain in the carpet, "Brown, perhaps a rusty brown, but difficult to tell against the crimson of the carpet. She knelt and touched it gently, not knowing why she did so, and opened her right palm and looked again at the three small scratches there left by the Beast's rose" (269); and she finds her Beast, lying on the ground in the bonfire glade, barely breathing.

In Rose Daughter , Beauty is tested with a choice--a thing by which she asserts her agency and with which she asserts the rightness of her newly-acquired vision. As she bends over the broken form of her beast, the voice of a greenwitch tells Beauty that she may choose the handsome man Beast was and "great wealth and influence... Or...[she] may take him back to Longchance, and be the sister of the baker and the squire's horse-coper son, and daughter of the man who tots up sums for anyone who hires him, and make your beast the same" (274-5). Beauty must choose for them both. Beauty chooses "Longchance, and the little goodnesses among the people [she] knows" (281). But the menacing enchantment continues to draw near:

She had pressed herself against the Beast, and the little embroidered heart made a tiny hole just beneath her breastbone, guarded by her lower ribs. With every breath it seemed to dig itself a little deeper. And she lay against her beloved's heart and...began to feel angry. We have come through so much, she thought. Is it for nothing after all? I want to attend my sisters' wedding, I want to attend my wedding. If all the hordes of sorcery are here gathered to grind us into nothing, is this the way we shall be denied the small homely pleasures we desire, that we have earned?


The heart that beats with her sisters, shown in the emblem of the heart-embroidered cord Jewltongue made for her departure--a cherished personal effect that Beauty has referred to more often than she has referred to herself--reminds her of her hard-won vision. With the embroidered cord in one hand, a shred of Beast's clothing in the other, Beauty makes her stand against the menacing enchantment surrounding her beloved Beast.

Strengthened by her whole, integrated adult self and bolstered by partnership and induction into the Symbolic Order, Beauty's stand is effective. Upon their immediate arrival home, and looking forward to a triple marriage (this time between the three sisters), Beauty summarizes her final passage into adulthood for Beast and they assure each other that she has chosen well:

"I--I had to choose for both of us--where I found you; in the bonfire glade. I--I tried to make the best choice I could. Did I--can you--are you unhappy with it?" Her beloved shook his head. "I am content past my ability to describe. But...the husband you would have had, had you made the other choice, would have been handsome--as handsome as you are beautiful. I do not know if--" But Beauty was laughing and would not hear what he might have said. She out her hands over his mouth and, when he had stopped trying to speak through them, took them away only to kiss him. "I would not change a--a hair on your head, except possibly to plait a few of them together, so as not wholly to obscure the collar and front of the wedding-suit Jeweltongue designs. But I--I think I will choose to believe that you would miss being able to see in the dark, and to be careless of the weather, and to walk as silently as sunlight. Because I love my Beast, and I would miss him very much if he went away from me and left me with some handsome stranger." "Then everything is exactly as it should be," said the Beast.


Everything is, indeed, "exactly as it should be"--for that is the last line of the novel. Like the Beauty of Beaumont's "Beauty and the Beast" and McKinley's Beauty , and true to McKinley's adolescent coming-of-age characters, Rose Daughter 's Beauty proves herself an adult with heart, courage and vision. For her efforts, she is rewarded with marriage--the ultimate partnership and life's greatest asset. In referring to herself as an individual within a familial community as well as someone in partnership with Beast, Beauty achieves her rightful place in the Symbolic Order.

Robin McKinley also asserts her sense of self and of home in Rose Daughter , in the form of an Author's Note:

Of course I wasn't going to tell Beauty and the Beast again, even if it was my favourite fairy-tale. Even if it had been retold hundreds of times by different storytellers, in different cultures and different centuries. Even though I knew it had resonances as deep as human nature, as the best fairy- and folk-tales do, including a lot that I couldn't reach, though I could feel they were there. Five years ago I moved to England to marry the writer Peter Dickinson. I was happy in Maine, where I had been living, with my typewriter, one whippet, and several thousand books, in my little lilac-covered cottage on the coast. And then I found myself three thousand miles away, in another country, living in an enormous ramshackle house surrounded by flower-beds and covered in wisteria and clematis and ancient climbing roses whose names no one remembers...Last winter I sold my house in Maine. I still loved it, even though I knew I would never live there again, and I knew it would be a tremendous wrench to cut myself loose from that last major attachment of owning property in the country where I was born...It wasn't just a wrench; it felt like being drawn and quartered. We came home to southern England in a late, bleak, cold spring, and I sat at my desk and stared into space, feeling as if I were barely convalescent after a long illness...But as I sat at my typewriter--or looked over my shoulder at the black clouds and sleet--I didn't feel up to anything too demanding, like the novel I was supposed to be working on. I thought, I'll have a go at this...Something might come of it. I can do a little more with roses; that'll be fun. Rose Daughter shot out onto the page in about six months.


There is a strong and exuberant multiplicity of metaphors in most good retellings, and in Robin McKinley's retellings in particular. Here the author describes the experience of being uprooted from one small cozy space to one the size of a lumbering stretch--and that greater call of character and space, the life spent in partnership with the self and the Other. This metaphor is self-reflexive, empowered in that it announces itself to the reader and asserts the experience of the 'I' and the 'eye.'

Other metaphors are self-reflective, they show what they remember about being an adolescent coming of age. Like Lionheart, McKinley knows horses. Like Jeweltongue, McKinley has an ear and an appreciation for the literary. Like Beauty, Robin McKinley comes to describe herself as a passionate gardener and a fanatic for roses. And, like Beauty, McKinley knows the pervasive metaphors of fairy tales; the constancy of their character; their skin as familiar as home. McKinley tells us that "[her] books 'happen' to [her]." She writes:

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. 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...But the association between my inner (storytelling) life and my outer (everything else) life is unusually close in this book...Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that my favourite fairy-tale came back to me, dressed in a new story, after twenty more years in the back of my mind and the bottom of my heart--and the odd major life crisis to break it loose and urge it into my consciousness. Maybe it'll come to me again in another twenty years.


McKinley's books happen to her because they have happened to her. She writes about adolescent coming-of-age because she is reminded of her own. Regardless of details, the metaphor of fairytale is at once constant and slippery beyond our grasp. And because each life upheaval has a habit of reminded us of all our past upheavals, the metaphor becomes multiplied, and we are able to see those upheavals--adolescent coming-of-age among them--with a piercing clarity when supplied with a reflective structure and an articulate voice and vision.

As considered here and as applied to Robin McKinley's retellings, Lacan's Mirror stage and Symbolic Order, like fairy tales, are operative metaphors. In studying Beauty and the Beast and its retellings, we learn what is eternal in young adulthood, and what is specific to our own time, place, and culture. In identifying with McKinley's Beauty--either in Beauty or in Rose Daughter --we demonstrate that we still believe in the struggle to achieve a balanced, whole and integrated self, and in the necessity of passing through the Mirror stage and taking our place in the Symbolic Order. In identifying tell-tale aspects of contemporary selfhood--an insistence on "brave girls and strong women," an assertion of the rightness of the individual within a balanced, whole, and integrated partnership--we recognize the preoccupations of our own times and places and experiences. Ultimately, we acknowledge that among the greatest of these preoccupations and the most negative of these experiences has to do with looks, our physical appearance. And we acknowledge that much is being done to counteract the negative, that we have a responsibility to do so. But "[c]uttings are very tender. They must be encouraged, not bullied, into growing" (263). We must be mindful of the old adage beauty lies within , as our belief in it is more powerful that our arguments for it.

And the Beauty in all of us, the tender cutting searching out its rightful place in the garden, really does lies within. For there is also something wonderfully and appropriately mythic about reading Robin McKinley's retellings through Jacques Lacan. In articulating between the self and the Other, the internal and the external, the "inner (storytelling) life and the outer (everything else) life," in understanding partnership between such polarities and in maintaining the delicate balance of Symbolic Order, we come "unusually close" to who we have been and who we are. Maybe it'll come to us again in another twenty years.


Works Cited

Altman, Anna E. "Welding Brass Tits on the Armor: An Examination of the Quest Metaphor in Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown." Children's Literature in Education 23.3 (1992): 143-156.

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Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment . New York: Vintage Books. 1989.

Bottigheimer, Ruth B. "Beauty and the Beast," The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales: The Western fairy tales traditional from medieval to modern , ed. Jack Zipes. New York: Oxford University Press. 2000.

Cadden, Michael. "The Illusion of Control: Narrative Authority in Robin McKinley's Beauty and The Blue Sword. Mythlore 76 (1994): 16-19, 31.

Dunsany, Lord. The King of Elfland's Daughter . New York: Del Rey Impact/Ballantine. 1999.

Hains, Maryellen. "Beauty and the Beast: 20thCentury Romance?" Merveilles & Contes 3.1 (1989): 75-83.

Harries, Elizabeth Wanning. Twice Upon a Time: Women Writers and the History of the Fairy Tale . Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2001.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits . Alan Sheridan, trans. New York: W. W. Norton. 1982.

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Lurie, Alison. Don't Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children's Literature . Boston: Little Brown and Company. 1990.

McKinley, Robin. Beauty . New York: Scott Foresman. 1993 (reissue).

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Sanders, Lynn Moss. "Girls Who Do Things": The Protagonists of Robin McKinley's Fantasy Fiction." The ALAN Review 24.1 (1997): 38-42.

Spivak, Charlotte. Merlin's Daughter's: Contemporary Women Writers of Fantasy . Westport: Greenwood Press, Inc. 1987.

Woolsey, Daniel P. "The Realm of Fairy Story: J.R.R. Tolkien and Robin McKinley's Beauty." Children's Literature in Education 22.2 (1991): 129-136.

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Evelyn Perry

Volume 8, Issue 1 The Looking Glass, January, 2004

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"Reflection and Reflexion: Female Coming-of-Age, the Mirror Stage, and the Absence of Mirrors in Robin McKinley's Beauty and Rose Daughter" © Evelyn Perry, 2004.
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