Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. English Dept.


Anthony Adams


Robin McKinley is an American fantasy author who uses fairytale structure to explore themes of gender and nature. Her first book, Beauty, a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” was published in 1978. She continues to write fairytales and other fantastic fiction, utilizing the fairytale form and structure. She has won a few awards, including the Newbery Award in 1985 for her novel The Hero and the Crown. Her latest book, Pegasus, was published in 2010. Jack Zipes describes McKinley’s heroines as "self-confident, courageous young women who take the initiative in a world which they help to define with men…it is the woman who dares to oppose tyranny, to seek alternatives to oppression…for McKinley there is no reason why women cannot live the lives they choose for themselves if they are willing to struggle and surmount obstacles, which apparently hinder men, too, from realizing their identities (23-24)."

The books discussed here exemplify McKinley’s protagonists that come to realize their identities through finding self-confidence and courage. The Blue Sword (1982) is the sequel to The Hero and the Crown, which deals with themes of colonization and bravery in the face of the unknown. Spindle’s End (2000) is McKinley’s retelling of “Sleeping Beauty,” full of talking animals, a magical countryside, and a princess who dares to save herself. Sunshine (2003) is a vampire story, where contradictions can’t quite stay contradictory, and an ordinary book-loving, cinnamon bun-making woman is unexpectedly thrust into fighting vampires. Dragonhaven (2007) is the tale of Jake, a boy who lives in an isolated national park and finds a baby dragon. These books were chosen out of McKinley’s work for their emphasis on gender and nature, themes that are never far away in McKinley’s books. McKinley offers a portrait of nature as a place where non-traditional events may occur and she creates strong, independent protagonists who aren’t content to just do as they are told. McKinley uses fantasy fiction to provide examples of drastic change to status quo.


fantasy fiction, fairytales, gender

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