Monday, January 11, 2010

Deerskin: an analysis

Beauty --by Robin McKinnley = perfect in every particular

Spindle's End -by Robin McKinnley = fabulous for the most part, though a bit frustrating in format and a bit vague towards the end

The Blue Sword - by Robin McKinnley = fascinating and exciting, if a little heavy on the feminism

The Hero and the Crown -by Robin McKinnley = long and tedious, with a few interesting side characters but an annoying protagonist and no particular point to the adventure as a whole

The Door in the Hedge - by Robin McKinnley = Enchanting. Tantalizing. A perfect collection of fairy stories.

The Outlaws of Sherwood -by Robin McKinnley = Dry and lifeless, laced with more feminism than I can handle for a story about men camping out in the woods

Deerskin -by Robin McKinnley = Distinctly McKinnley in a way that reminded me why I used to love her books

I must refrain myself from getting into another rant about her treatment of Robin Hood in his own legend and her insistence that all her protagonists must be women running out to prove that they are every bit as though as the men --that they always end up bigger than life in a way that the reader can't really feel triumphant when they win because it turned out to be no contest. I am going to talk about Deerskin, and Deerskin I liked.

Deerskin is based off of Charles Parault's story Donkeyskin. If I ever read the original I don't remember it (I went through a stage where I read volume after volume of fairy stories and one princess in disguise wearing a dress as silver as the moon blended in with all the rest) so I don't know how closely she followed it. I do know that she seems to do better with Fairy Tales and usually follows them pretty closely (though I'm still afraid to try Rose Daughter in fear of it somehow taking away from Beauty).

All the "McKinnleyness" that usually gets on my nerves just worked for the storyline. Yes, Lissar started out as a girl smothered in silks, trapped in what everyone else conceived as her proper life, expected to live up to ridiculous standards --but, well so much more literally 'smothered' and 'trapped' that I didn't think she was being mellow-dramatic for one minute. I won't deny that her 'animal-following' didn't bother me --just a little --but it did make sense. It was more like living with the wolves than the usual parade of adoring animals that follow McKnnley's heroines. Even the laser-light like show at then end in her final confrontation, though a bit bizarre, made sense because --especially after the long chapters of struggling for the very simplest of survival --you understand that she NEEDS super-human strength to do what she has to do. The prince was cute too --even though he was described as pretty homely and non-prince-like.

Part of the reason I didn't read this one way back when I went through my McKinnley stage (before I got too frustrated to go on) was because of a review I read from a reviewer that I usually agreed with --at that point anyways. It's been awhile. But I seem to remember (and here's where the heavy spoilers come in, just to warm you) that their main problems with it were. 1)In the beginning Lissar is weak and shuts herself in her room, almost waiting to be raped. 2) A large portion of the book is her wondering around in the wilderness, feeling miserable and sorry for herself and 3) when she miscarries she doesn't seem to have maternal grief. As for 1) --that really is the point isn't it? She is a princess. Beautiful. Neglected. Penned up. Innocent. She doesn't think of running away (for one thing she doesn't know where the garden door is) because the empty-halled palace is the only place she's ever known and she doesn't have anywhere to run to. as for 2) --as much as I'm for skipping to the exciting parts of a story and as much as I was craving human contact by the time those portions were done with, because so much of the book has to do with her physiological and emotional journey we NEED to see those bits so we understand her and really see what her parents have done to her --not just her father but her being so unprepared and then running around in the wild, trying to escape -to survive. yes, we are hearing every particular about her sweeping the floor and trying to take a bath, but in the state she is in those are impossible feats that help her to accomplish truly impossible feats later on. As for the third complaint --that's just plain ridiculous, as she shuts out the acknowledgment of ever having a father, let alone his child even as it is being miscarried BECAUSE it is too much for her to handle and she is certainly not void of maternal instincts, as shown later when she rescues the doomed puppy litter. Perhaps because of the lost child even if she doesn't dare remember why.

I think what enchanted me most about the book was the style. The plot wasn't perfect. There were a few extra things I wanted resolved at the end and the bizarre magic that came from nowhere in particular did get on my nerves. But the prose was . . . distinct. It was itself without adhering to the modern rules of writing. Maybe that is because it was written over ten years ago and the standards were different back then. There was much less 'showing as apposed to telling', very long periods of narrative summery rather than direct scenes and not everything was told in chronological order. I find this intriguing, for now that I think of it Beauty was much the same. I am almost tempted to read her new Dragonsbane --or even Sunshine even though I've never been partial to vampire stories --to see if this is her personal style or more of a late eighties/early nineties trend. Perhaps a stage in her writing development. I say "almost" tempted though and I mean almost because I have to many other things on my to-read list and Dragonsbane looks far too much like an "Eragon the McKinnley version" to me. And I'm sick of vampires.

I remain inconclusive about the author as a whole.

I promised you a Megan Whelan Turner shrine for the next couple of months didn't I? Rest assured I will be picking up Instead of Three Wishes at the library tomorrow and will begin posting reviews. We still have 58 days left.

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