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29 November 2010 @ 05:46 am
TOTW: Fairy Tales Reimagined  

Even as the picture book folk- and fairy tale is on the wane, the world of children's books is seeing a rise in fairy tale retellings for middle grade and young adult readers. In fact, this corner of the fantasy market seems to be experiencing a golden age, to the delight of die-hard fairy tale fans like me. If the larger wave of children's fantasy in the nineties was a product of Harry Potter's popularity, I'd attribute this wave of retellings in part to a couple of other successes: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and the movie version of Shrek.

Like film adaptations of books, fairy tale retellings require padding, since the original material is inevitably short story length, though often even more lacking in detail. Most of the time the main characters don't even have names! Of course, this need for padding is a godsend to the reteller, who can fill in those blanks with creative abandon. So we get a story like "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" merged with the world of fairy and a bit of vampire lore in a Transylvanian setting in Juliet Marillier's Wildwood Dancing, we get Vivian Vande Velde's multiple reinventions of a story she finds illogical with The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, and in a year or so, we'll be able to read new Inkie Marissa Meyer's Cinder, in which an android Cinderella must save the planet. Because—why not?

While some retellings hew fairly closely to the original plot, others take such creative liberties that the original scarcely remains as a handful of bones. Of course, any approach along this range can be successful. It's very fun to see modern novel stylings wedded to the spare and slightly formal tropes of the traditional fairy tale.

I'll just mention that in a way, the YA retelling comes full circle, since authors for teens feel comfortable reinstating the violence and sensuality that characterized the tales in their oldest versions, before they were sanitized for small children. Remember, before there was TV, there were people sitting around the hearth telling folktales. A lot of the Grimms' stories really are grim! Just take a look at Adam Gidwitz's new book for middle grade readers, A Tale Dark and Grimm, wherein he blithely stitches together some of the gorier tales while riffing on bad parenting and individual responsibility.

Of course, what I really want to talk about is my favorite retellings, and I hope you do, too. I'll list a few I think are standouts, and then I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.

Cinderella—There are a lot of these out there, but I think Ella Enchanted is still a frontrunner when it comes to making something new and intriguing out of this famous tale. I'm also fond of a sweetly classic version by Eleanor Farjeon, The Glass Slipper. And let's not forget our very own Malinda Lo's Ash, in which the title character must choose between a fairy lord and the King's Huntress.

Beauty and the Beast—Newbery Award-winning author Robin McKinley has written not one, but two variations, Beauty and (years later) Rose Daughter. I also enjoyed Alex Flinn's contemporary take on this one, Beastly. There's a movie version of Beastly coming out in March 2011, so we'll have to see how it translates to the screen.

Sleeping Beauty—Try Robin McKinley's version, Spindle's End. I also like Helen Lowe's Thornspell, mostly because it's from the prince's point of view, with a whole new way of explaining the curse.

The Goose Girl—Shannon Hale's book is terrific, and it opened the door for her excellent Bayern series.

What are some of the best retellings you've read?

dawn_metcalf: Smile!dawn_metcalf on November 29th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
Elizabeth Bunce's amazing A CURSE AS DARK AS GOLD as a Rumplestilskin retelling and Jackson Pearce's SISTERS RED as another twist off of Red Riding Hood are the first that pop to my mind!

I *adore* fairy tale retellings!
katecoombs on November 29th, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
Dawn--Oh, you're so right, thanks! I was trying to think which Inkies have done retellings, and A Curse as Dark as Gold is a prime example! Still haven't read Sisters Red; I'll have to look for it.
Chiclee: children's litchicleeblair on November 29th, 2010 02:17 pm (UTC)
My undergraduate thesis-- which inspired one of my current WIPs, a retelling of The Little Mermaid-- was on contemporary retellings of fairy tales in the children's novel. I studied Ella Enchanted, Just Ella (ugh), Briar Rose and Beauty.

In the end, I concluded that as far as updating the fairy tale to today's audience, in keeping with current trends and all that "fairy tale" has come to mean Ella Enchanted worked the best. I love Briar Rose and Beauty too. Just Ella I can't stand, for the chatty tone and anachronisms, though I usually love Haddix!

Leah_Cypessleah_cypess on November 29th, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC)
Too many to list! I love fairy tale retellings. Sarah Beth Durst's ICE, a retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," is one of my favorites. And I'm really looking forward to ENTWINED by Heather Dixon, a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.
Chachic: there must be morechachic on November 29th, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
I love this post because I'm such a fan of fairy tale retellings. Most of my favorites have already been mentioned - Beauty, Ella Enchanted and The Goose Girl - but another one that I loved is Orson Scott Card's Enchantment, which is a Russian-flavored retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
keelyinkster on November 29th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
Fairy Tales
I loved Goose Girl as well - great post topic for the beginning of winter! My all time favourite was The Little Match Girl - and right now I'm working on a YA loosely based on Hansel and Gretel, but one of the best adaptions I've read lately was Tender Morsels - truly disturbing!
wendydelsol on November 29th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
Great post. Given the weekend success of Disney's TANGLED, it stands to reason that fairy tales are still bankable. Thanks for the book recommendations.
katecoombs on November 29th, 2010 03:14 pm (UTC)
Wendy--funny you should mention Disney; I was just posting on my blog last week about Disney formally announcing that they will no longer be making ANY movies based on fairy tales! [Gasp]
(no subject) - lena_coakley on November 29th, 2010 04:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - leah_cypess on November 29th, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lena_coakley on November 29th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ex_marissam on November 29th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
ex_marissam on November 29th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
What a fantastic post on one of my favorite topics! I am so in love with FT retellings and love seeing all the ways authors can reimagine these archetypal stories. The well is bottomless.

There are a couple books mentioned here that I can't wait to get my hands on. Thank you for adding to my reading list!

Among my favorites are non-YA "Mirror, Mirror" and "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" by Gregory Maguire. I also loved John Connolly's "The Book of Lost Things" which isn't a direct retelling of any one story, but combines elements of many. Marillier's "Heart's Blood" was another fantastic take on Beauty and the Beast.

And if anyone is into really DARK retellings, Angela Carter's short story collection "The Bloody Chamber" is about as grim as they get.
ebooraem on November 29th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
All of my favorites have been mentioned--as well as one, Maguire's CONFESSIONS, that is on my tottering TBR pile. Although I love this genre (is it a genre?)as a whole, I'm particularly happy when an author takes the subtle approach, as Elizabeth Bunce did in CURSE, and you're about half-way through before you slap your forehead and say, "Hey! This is Rumpelstiltskin!" (Or whatever.)

I love your point, Kate, about the tales coming full circle when they return to Original Grimness.

What is it about FT retellings that grab us all? Is it nostalgia, or admiration for the cleverness involved in creating something new out of something so old and familiar? A little of both, I guess.
Heather Tomlinsoncalepin on November 29th, 2010 05:04 pm (UTC)
Yay, retellings!

A couple of titles not mentioned yet-- Holly Black's new THE WHITE CAT is a fascinating one, with more to come in the sequel THE RED GLOVE (due next April).

Donna Jo Napoli has written a number of retellings, including BOUND (Cinderella) and her latest, THE WAGER.

Jane Yolen's BRIAR ROSE is another fantastic one. Sad, but in the best way.

Also, if you're looking for retellings of a particular title, Heidi Ann Heiner's Sur La Lune Fairytales website has a great feature which lists novels, plays, etc. by story.
wanderingdreamr: kobatowanderingdreamr on December 1st, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
I read The White Cat but I didn't think it was a retelling of anything, did I miss a few fairy tale references?
(no subject) - calepin on December 1st, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
atapestryofwords.blogspot.com on November 29th, 2010 05:18 pm (UTC)
You mentioned all my favorites - I love Ella Enchanted, Beauty and The Goose Girl! Another retelling I enjoyed was East by Edith Pattou, of East of the Sun, West of the Moon.
Bonniebaine on November 29th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
One of my new favorite retellings is Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier. It's an AMAZING retelling of Beauty and the Beast! I recently picked up The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott and White Cat by Holly Black, though I haven't read either yet. Also, yay for marissameyer! I can't wait for you to hit it big! <3

Some of the aforementioned (by you guys) authors have other fairytale-retellings as well. Some authors I can think of are: E.D. Baker (Disney "borrowed" elements from The Frog Princess for their recent movie), Orson Scott Card (Enchantment), Sarah Beth Durst, Jessica Day George, Margaret Petterson Haddix (Just Ella, Palace of Mirrors), Shannon Hale, Mercedes Lackey (Tales from the 500 Kingdoms, Elemental Masters), Gail Carson Levine, Robin McKinley, Gregory Maguire, Juliet Marillier, Donna Jo Napoli, (oh, and by various authors--the teen series Once Upon a Time). I know there are others, but offhand, this is what I can think of ^^;;

Then, not quite fairytale-oriented, but you have authors that retell classic books, mythology, etc: Frank Beddor (Alice in Wonderland), Esther M. Friesner (Greek and Egyptian re-tellings), Gregory Maguire (Wizard of Oz, others) Rick Riordan (Greek/Roman and Egyptian re-tellings), etc.
Bonniebaine on November 29th, 2010 05:59 pm (UTC)
I loved today's post. One of my favorite genres to read/write. Ever! Also enjoy the type of fantasy found in books by authors such as Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore (not sure what to call it...) and Dystopian novels to round out my top three :)

I hope Disney changes its mind about fairytales! Pixar is about to release its first fairytale: Brave (prev. titled The Bear and the Bow). Ahh, and the movie reminds me: I forgot to mention Mette Ivie Harrison above!
(no subject) - katecoombs on November 30th, 2010 01:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - wanderingdreamr on December 1st, 2010 03:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lalaith7 on December 9th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - wanderingdreamr on December 9th, 2010 02:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lalaith7 on December 9th, 2010 02:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
katecoombs on November 29th, 2010 07:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, even more good stuff! I'll just add that if you want a sweet, funny, and creative middle grade retelling, Eleanor Farjeon also wrote about Rumpelstiltskin--or rather, Tom Tit Tot--in The Silver Curlew, another classic I love.
AlisaLibbyAlisaLibby on November 29th, 2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
fairy tales!
I'm overwhelmed with books I must read! I'm glad that two books I loved - Marillier's Wildwood Dancing and Yolen's Briar Rose - have been mentioned. I also loved Haunted Waters by Mary Pope Osborne, and - for a very loose, contemporary telling of the Undine tale - Penni Russon's Undine trilogy. Also, Donna Jo Napoli's The Magic Circle and Spinners.
Sarah Beth Durstsarahbethdurst on November 29th, 2010 08:55 pm (UTC)
I love fairy-tale retellings!

A lot of my favorite have already been mentioned (such as Beauty by Robin McKinley), but here are a few more:

Jack the Giant-Killer by Charles de Lint
Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Sayantani DasGuptaSayantani16 on November 29th, 2010 09:02 pm (UTC)
old tales done new
LOVE LOVE LOVE this post - on my favorite topic, old tales done new! I really enjoyed Michael Buckley's Sisters Grimm series, Malinda Lo's Ash, and of course re-tellings of non-Western folk/fairy stories like Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. I'm working on a YA retelling of several Bengali (Indian) Folktales right now.
Hm - here's a question for all of you: what's the difference between a fairy and folk tale? I don't know except that non-Western tales always seem to be classified as folk tales - and many deal with princesses, mistaken identity, fairies & other magical beings. Hm... Any clarification welcome!
katecoombs on November 29th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC)
Sayantani--I actually did a post on fairy tales at my children's book review blog a few days ago as a sort of prequel to this post, including an explanation of the difference between folktales and fairy tales (as I understand it!): http://bookaunt.blogspot.com/2010/11/honk-if-you-still-love-fairy-tales.html
Sayantani DasGuptaSayantani16 on November 30th, 2010 01:20 am (UTC)
fairy vs. folktale
Many thanks for the link to your Book Aunt site - loved that post! It was brilliant and so informative!
Here's one more to add to the list of "not your average damsel in distress book": Suniti Namjoshi's Feminist Fables. Lovely nonsexist retellings of well known fairy/folktales - as I remember appropriate for both grown ups and kids
Re: fairy vs. folktale - katecoombs on November 30th, 2010 02:48 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: fairy vs. folktale - Sayantani16 on November 30th, 2010 03:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
wanderingdreamr: kobatowanderingdreamr on November 29th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, it's not a traditional fairy tale but I've read a few re-tellings of 1001 Nights (the story surrounding the story actually, the part about Sharazad trying to stay alive night after night) and I liked those quite a bit.
Leah_Cypessleah_cypess on November 30th, 2010 05:12 am (UTC)
Ooooh recommend one please! (pretty please?)
(no subject) - wanderingdreamr on November 30th, 2010 11:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - leah_cypess on December 1st, 2010 01:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
kjankowski on November 29th, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC)
Great post! My favorites have already been mentioned, so I'll just add Jane Yolen's SLEEPING UGLY.
A Deserving Porcupine: christmasrockinlibrarian on November 29th, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)
I have come into this discussion far too late today to add anything new! Everything I thought of has been mentioned a long time ago. Ella Enchanted is probably my favorite of these books ever, followed by Beauty. I think fairy tale retellings may actually be my favorite kind of fantasy? No, humorous fantasy is, but fairy tale retellings are a close second (and if you combine the two, such as in Ella Enchanted...) I love them straightforward, and I love them far out, and I love especially how authors come up with new explanations for the odder details of the stories. I've NEVER been able to think of Sleeping Beauty in the same way since I read Yolen's Briar Rose, for example.
khek: Hel-lokhek on November 30th, 2010 12:30 am (UTC)
My favorite fairy tale was always Snow White and Rose Red...and I love the retelling done by Patricia Wrede.

Does Tam Lin count as a fairy tale? If so, both Diana Wynne Jones' Fire and Hemlock and Elizabeth Marie Pope's The Perilous Gard are two of my other favorite retellings.
brandy_painterbrandy_painter on November 30th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC)
Love, love, love. All of my favorites have already been mentioned but I just wanted to pop in and say that this is fantastic great.
TumbleCoyotetumblecoyote on November 30th, 2010 02:18 am (UTC)
Army Of Darkness, a cheeseball (and awesome) action/horror/comedy is totally a Cinderella story. Only with skeleton warriors and chainsaws and such. I realized this my Freshman year of college while one of my classes was studying the Cinderella archetype. Observe:

1) The main character's name is Ash.
2) The movie's first line is "My name is Ash, and I am a slave." and the last? "Hail to the king, baby." There's the story arc, right there!
3) The rest is pretty much a testosterizing of the tale- evil magic instead of fairy godmothers, evil twin instead of evil stepsisters, and a big siege battle instead of a ball. Fun stuff!
readwriterockreadwriterock on November 30th, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
Oh, man, I love me some Army of Darkness. It gets quoted quite frequently at our house. I'd never thought of it as a Cinderella story, but that actually kind of works.

"Groovy." :)

(no subject) - ex_marissam on December 2nd, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
readwriterockreadwriterock on November 30th, 2010 03:09 am (UTC)
So many of my favorites have been mentioned already - Ella Enchanted, Spindle's End, A Curse Dark as Gold, etc. One that I didn't see mentioned is Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest, which isn't technically YA but did win an Alex Award. It's a retelling of "The Six Swans" from the Brothers Grimm, and it's wonderful.
Lisa Greenlisagailgreen on November 30th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
I love the creative retellings of all of these fairy tales! One I read relatively recently was Sisters Red, which was a dark retelling of Little Red Riding Hood which I thought was really very clever.
lauramc on December 1st, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
Grimmer than Grimm
Upstream, someone mentioned the Sur La Lune site, but I'll post the link here, because it really is worth checking out if you love fairy tales, fairy tale retellings, or fairy tale illustrations.

I'm just geeky enough to have to mention that the Grimms actually cleaned up tales they collected to make them suitable for a younger audience. They were more re-tellers than collectors.

I love the Perilous Gard, too, as well as Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper. I suppose these are more folk tale retellings than fairy tale retellings. Still, lovely.

Edited at 2010-12-01 02:15 pm (UTC)
Dorothy Winsordawtheminstrel on December 1st, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC)
I loved Bunce's "A Curse Dark as Gold," which is a Rumpelstiltskin retelling. Bunce sets it in a cloth mill, which makes it natural that there's spinning going on. And she provides a plausible explanation for why Rumpelstiltskin wants the baby. And it's really well written.