Rating: +

Sheri Tepper

In the theme of books based on fairy tales, Beauty follows the life of Sleeping Beauty, intersecting with a variety of other fairy tales. I found parts of this book very dark and difficult to handle (this is not good late night reading) and other parts of it quite fun. Overall, it warrants a '+'.

The guiding theme of the book is the presence of beauty and magic in the world, and the risk we run of allowing them to disappear. In this version of the story, Beauty escapes the shackles of a life-long sleep and travels across centuries and into alternate magical worlds searching for her mother, for a safe haven for herself, and for a way to prevent the horrors of the 21st century from coming to pass. In the version of the future which Beauty sees, the world's population has outgrown the resources for feeding it and beauty and magic (and liberty and free will, it seems) are things of the past.

Alongside this somewhat vague goal, Beauty is also trying to find out who her mother was (she never knew her), and to take care of herself and the people she loves as best as she can. It turns out repeatedly that the people she loves turn out to be living lives from other fairy tales (a token explanation for this is given in the book).

One of the most fun aspects of this book is seeing a host of familiar stories through a new lens. The heroines (and heroes) aren't as unambiguously good as they are in the original stories. Beauty, having seen the future, is aware of the connections between what she experiences and the future's fairy tales, though not all of the details are carried forward reliably. It's amusing to see what types of omissions and additions took place to fit today's fairy tales with a coherent past world.

I did think that Tepper showed a version of the future which was too dark if taken literally. Stepping back, though, one can see the distant past as an ideal dream world, and the not-too-distant future as a complete nightmare, with the bulk of human history somewhere in the middle and moving from one to the other. Clearly, Beauty is a call for people to fight the forces pushing us along that continuum. What form that fight should take is left vague, of course.


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