"Deerskin" is above all a meditation on the strength of the human psyche. McKinley has said that she wanted to explore the common fairy tale plot device wherein a young girl is saved from a "fate worse than death," as is the original Charles Perrault heroine on whom "Deerskin" is based. But, what if she isn't saved from that fate? Is "fate" really what this is? Is she lost forever? Is her worth somehow less than the girl who is magically whisked away from the act of violence? In McKinley's version, Lissar is "whisked" only after the fact, and on her own two feet (sometimes aided by the four feet of her loyal dog, Ash, who is possibly one of the best dogs in all of fiction.) This book is heart-breaking and heart-repairing. The characterization of Lissar is complete and the reader is carried into the depths of her pain and also her rejuvenation. "Deerskin" moved me deeply and continues to do so every time I re-read it.
Jan 16, 2008
dark fairy tale re-telling
McKilnley has a sure hand when telling fairy tales, whether they are re-tellings or her own creations. "Deerskin" is a re-telling of the Cinderella-like "Donkeyskin," incorporating darker tones of sexual predators and the labyrinth of emotional healing after rape.
Princess Lissla Lissar flees from her confining, ornate home when her father demands she marry him in place of her dead mother. The trauma she experiences at his hands, and the subsequent harrowing months of physical healing, quite literally drain her -- she loses her color along with access to deep emotions. Her long black hair becomes silvery-blonde, her eyes like crystals. She wears the skin of a white doe, and is accompanied by a white greyhound. She enters the service of a neighboring king, and slowly, slowly travels the road to emotional healing and trust.
This is not a story for the young, unlike the majority of McKinley's tales. For those with an appropriate level of maturity and cultural context, it is a powerfully symbolic story of healing, re-learning trust, and allowing love to dominate fear.
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