Top critical review
Beautiful, but NOT the fairy tale!
on January 11, 2004
I read this as part of a bundle of retold fairy tales, and was insanely confused. This book bears very, very little resemblence to its parent story, "Donkeyskin," and thus, was very distracting to me. I kept looking for parallels to the original story, and didn't find them. The only part that followed, in fact, was the first section, where Lissar's mother dies, and her father declares his intention to marry his daughter. When Lissar refuses, he rapes her and leaves her for dead. The next morning, she flees the castle with the clothes on her back and her faithfun sighthound, Ash.
While I did love the made-up mythology, and the subplot-which-rapidly-became-the-plot about the dogs and the Moonwoman, the repetitive nature of the early parts of the book ("Your mother was the most beautiful woman in the world" repeated five or six times a page for about fifty pages) and Lissar's disconnectedness from the world around her following her assault drove me crazy. Some numbness I would certainly expect from a survivor or a brutal rape, but her inner monologue became tedious in the extreme after a short while. "It is getting cold. It is also getting dark. White stuff is falling out of the sky. What is the white stuff called? Oh, it is called snow. It is falling on this...stuff growing out of my head. I think the word for the stuff that grows out of my head is hair."
Such a person, you'd think, would have lasted approximately ten minutes in the deep woods. But no. She suddenly morphs into an experienced woodswoman, all while maintaining this disconnected demeanor.
On the flip side, though, I do have to give McKinley kudos for...adjusting...some aspects of the original fairy tale that never made sense to me. For example, in the original story, the unnamed Princess, now called Donkeyskin, escapes to the neighboring kingdom and proceeds to make the prince of that land fall madly in love with her. I always though, "What? How many friggin' princesses can there BE in a 50 mile radius? Why doesn't he recognize her?" McKinley handles this by disguising Lissar--AND her dog--so that no one can tell where they came from.
Despite the lyrical, haunting prose, I got the feeling that McKinley tried to be daring by pickig one of the more gruesome fairy tales out there to retell, but then wimped out before going the full monty and telling the full story of the sun, the moon, the stars, and, of course, the donkeyskin.