Monday, September 24, 2012

Non-Fairy Tale Retellings

Fairy tale retellings are a constant in the fantasy genre, and here at the Inkpot we’ve talked about them before. But popular as they are, they’re not the only tales that can be retold. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of retellings of stories other than fairy tales, which led me to think about the things various types of retellings have in common… and the things that set them apart.

No matter what the original source, I think the best type of retelling is one that draws upon the power and magic of the original while still delivering something new and interesting. And some retellings – of poems, legends, or nursery rhymes– operate under the same sort of logic as fairy tale retellings: the original is spare, and serves as a foundation to be fleshed out. But what if you’re retelling Shakespeare or Jane Austen? I’ve never tried it, but I’m sure the challenges are very different when you’re reimagining an already fully-realized story.
The category that spurred this post is a recent spate of retellings of nineteenth-century novels, and particularly two stellar examples: Ironskin by Tina Connolly (steampunk Jane Eyre with faeries) and For Darkness Showsthe Stars by Diana Peterfreund (dystopian Persuasion). Others that I haven’t read yet, but am looking forward to, include Jane & Catherine by April Lindner (retellings of Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights). 
Edgar Allen Poe is another author who seems ripe for being retold, with books like the dystopian Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (you can guess which story that’s based on…) and the forthcoming gothic fantasy Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey (based on Annabel Lee).

Greek myths and legends have long been a favorite, from classical retellings like Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman (Hades & Persephone) to contemporary re-imaginings like the upcoming Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall (the Odyssey).

It also seems the category of retold stories will soon be expanding, with a variety of intriguing new retellings coming up. There’s a retelling of Peter Pan, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, currently in stores; a retelling of an Agatha Christie novel, Ten by Gretchen McNeil, was discussed here recently; an anthology of retellings of Mother Goose rhymes, Two and TwentyDark Tales, is coming in October; and though its publication date is still far away, I’m fascinated by news that a retelling of the Nutcracker, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, is in the works.

What other stories would you like to see retold? Any other new retellings coming up that you’re looking forward to – or past retellings that you want to recommend? Please share in the comments!


  1. Ballads also offer scope for retellings: Tam Lin especially, with an all-time favorite novel The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope, also Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones. Margo Lanagan works with ballads, too: story "My Lord's Man" comes to mind (Raggle Taggle Gypsy O?).

  2. fantastic post, leah! i really enjoy retellings that i'm actually NOT very familiar with. then it seems more fresh to me. i did LOVE kenneth oppel's young frankenstein duology. i think that Nevermore by kelly creagh also inspired by poe?

  3. Peter Salomon has a new novel out called HENRY FRANKS which I believe is a (super creepy) retelling of Frankenstein. Honestly, I'll read pretty much any retelling. They're so much fun.

  4. Clearly, Frankenstein is the trend I missed when compiling this. ;) Thanks!

  5. Shelley Moore ThomasOctober 6, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    Thanks for highlighting these! And don't forget the recently spotlighted Such Wicked Intent, a retelling of the Frankenstein story. And then there's one of my favorite stories that gets retold again and again, Romeo and Juliet, Juliet Immortal comes to mind as the latest.

    Such a fascinating topic!


  6. Thanks - I'm actually in middle of reading This Dark Endeavor right now! It's clearly a prequel to Frankenstein, but I didn't know if he was going to get up to an actual retelling. Now I'm even more excited to read it.


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