For our chat this month, I wanted to jump into a favorite genre/theme of mine: retellings! They seem to have become really popular in the last year, so I’m gonna share my feelings on them and also give you guys some recommendations. Because there’s so many retellings I’ve read, I’m not going to discuss all of the ones in the image in detail (just a heads up!).
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Retellings are definitely a favorite topic of mine. I’m always excited to read these reimaginings of classics or fairytales. And to be honest, I haven’t even read the originals to most of these books. If it’s inspired by a fairy tale I probably know about the original (like I know most of the Brothers Grimm ones), or I’ll be familiar with the Disney versions. However, if it’s a classic I probably haven’t read it, but I love knowing that someone took an idea and pushed it into a new genre or created something almost entirely new from it.
I think what may sometimes make people hesitate to read retellings is that they’re worried it’ll be too dependent on the work it’s inspired from (i.e. “If I didn’t read the original then I won’t get half of what’s going on”). Honestly, I don’t worry too much about getting the references. I just want to enjoy what I’m reading now. I’m sure there’s people that worry about how different the book will be from the original, but if I wanted the book to be like the original, I’d just go read the original.
At one end of the spectrum, we have retellings that are very loosely based/inspired by other works. I put A Court of Thorns and Roses in this category because if I hadn’t read in some article that this was inspired by Beauty and the Beast, I never would have guessed it. ACOTAR is a great example of “creative reimagining” because you can probably pick out some pieces in the story that say “Beauty and the Beast”, but in an overall sense, it’s really its own story.
The Bear and the Nightingale also kind of falls into this category. It’s not really a retelling perse, but it’s inspired by multiple Russian fairy tales that are then woven into a series with its own independent story. What also makes it great is that the author does a great job of teaching us about these fairy tales throughout the story without making it feel overbearing.
On the other hand, we also have series that like to really weave the original elements/mythology into the stories. I think one type of retelling that does this a lot is Alice in Wonderland. Anytime that I’ve come across a retelling of this story I feel like they try really hard to work those iconic characters/moments into the story. Alice by Christina Henry does a great job of doing this. We get to see the Rabbit, Caterpillar, and even Cheshire in addition to Alice (and apparently there are allusions to other characters from Carroll’s work).
Alice in Zombieland also really tries to work some of those memorable icons into the story, but it does it in a less elegant way. I feel like they just tried to force it into the story and did it in really meaningless ways that just… well, let’s just say it wasn’t my taste. I feel like if the only way you can think of to work the rabbit into the story is to make rabbit-shaped clouds appear every now and then you’re really limiting your imagination (which was honestly a shame because I thought the overall concept of her series was very interesting).
And as a final note, I think it’s good to recognize that not all “retellings” are really so strict in their meaning; by that I mean that some retellings are not inspired by other works. In the case of And I Darken, this is a historical fiction reimagining with Vlad the Impaler, but as a female! I love it when we get gender-bent characters! Especially when it means that the character is going to face challenges.
I think retellings are not a way for authors to take shortcuts or be lazy in their writing; in fact, I think retellings are more challenging because they have to make their story stand out from other retellings while still connecting the reader to the original work/figure. It’s hard work, but when they pull it off just right I think the results are so creative and fun!
Favorite Retellings: Lost Boy by Christina Henry, Alice by Christina Henry, Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon, and And I Darken by Kiersten White
Do you have a favorite type of retelling?