Each month I do a blog post based on a Goodreads group called ‘Play Book Tag.’
The group choose a theme and then people share, discuss, recommend and review books that fit the theme.
Let’s take a look!
It’s a splendid thing is what it is.
Fine, I shall provide a definition but first I want to confuse matters by throwing out two more definitions.
A retelling most definitely isn’t (or shouldn’t be) plagiarism (illegal!) and although retelling’s can get confused with books that have been ‘based on’ or ‘inspired by’ an original piece of work it needs to have a close enough (and clearly recognizable) relationship to the original to be considered a legitimate retelling.
I’m going to take Little Red Riding Hood as an example to demonstrate the above as it’s an easily recognizable piece of work and a public domain fairy tale.
NB: Public domain means a creative piece of work that isn’t protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright and so it’s the public that ‘owns’ the work and not an individual creator. Anyone can use it for their works without seeking permission. For example, fairy tales (a popular source of retelling’s) are public domain but Harry Potter is not.
If I were to write a version of Little Red Riding Hood exactly as it has been written/ presented by the brothers Grimm with no changes to the story or characters or even text, I wouldn’t be presenting an original piece of work.
It wouldn’t constitute as plagiarism (that whole public domain thing) but it wouldn’t exactly be inspired.
However, if I were to write a version of Little Red Riding Hood that was exactly the same as Scarlet by Marissa Meyer or Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge then I would be plagiarizing their work even if that work is a retelling. That’s important to note – a retelling is an original piece of work.
If I was inspired by Little Red Riding Hood I could have a story about a young girl in a red dress that goes missing from her local park near an inner city estate. The story could then be about the rising panic to find her and the vigilantism that follows when a mob believes a predator has taken her. The news stations reporting on the event could even refer to her as ‘Little Red.’
However the tale has no other components from the original aside from something happening to a young girl in red. The story could actually be about inner city gang life, mob rule mentality and the class based system in how the media treats the importance of missing people.
If I decided to do a retelling I would need to have a lot more connecting the story to the original. In the definition above I mentioned the retelling could share the same plot, characters, setting, themes, arcs and tone.
Now, a retelling doesn’t have to have all of these but if a prominent part of the original is the theme of ‘beware of strangers’ then I would probably anticipate a stranger appearing at some point in the story.
The retelling may need to hit the same notes as the original but it can play with the source material to ensure it is a unique version. The great thing about a retelling is that there may be an added sense of anticipation as the readers are familiar enough with the original to know where the story is headed.
A story can always be subverted to throw a twist in the tale which excites readers in a different way.
There are many different ways to provide a unique version of a story that has possibly been retold many times already. Even retelling’s have retelling’s!
For example, The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang is a retelling of Ulysses by James Joyce which itself is a retelling of The Odyssey.
Remember – a retelling can come from anything. This can be myths, religious stories, plays, poems, classic novels and so on.
So I’m not going to list these by the source material (i.e. Fairy Tales -> Little Red Riding Hood -> Scarlet by Marissa Meyer) because why would I want to make life easy for myself?
Instead I have selected some tropes to highlight a few (and it is only a few as there are so many) techniques that writers have used to make their retelling original with some bookish examples.
Alternate History where the world of the story has had one or more historical events unfolding differently to the original world.
Example: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith which er… retells Pride and Prejudice with the unfortunate inclusion of a 19th century zombie plague. This also serves as genre mash up of the most glorious kind.
Perspective Flip where the original story is told through the eyes of another character (secondary, minor or even the villain) that presents another viewpoint of how the events unfolded.
Example: Wicked by Gregory Maguire which also acts as a ‘villain origin’ story for the Wicked Witch of the West.
Fractured Fairy Tales which is a trope applied to fairy tales, surprisingly. This is where common fairy tale tropes such as prince charming’s and wicked stepmother’s are subverted or parodied.
Example: This also applies to ‘Wicked’ but I’m going to use Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl where he retells some popular fairy tales but puts a decidedly less than wholesome spin on them. Pig skin bag anyone?
Deconstruction where an original has been taken apart and a real life or ‘practical’ meaning has been applied.
Example: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan where Greek myths are retold as though children of the gods live in modern day times. The books show them having to deal with the practicalities of what it means to be a child of a Greek deity.
Parody where the original is gently and lovingly mocked. Sometimes not so gently.
Example: It’s not a direct parody but has moments of affectionate parodying – Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett has nods towards Macbeth. In fact, a lot of the Discworld books contain tongue in cheek affectionate parodying of multiple other works.
Multiple authors have made successes from retelling’s (Marissa Meyer, Madeline Miller, Tanith Lee, Robin McKinley, Rosamund Hodge, Margaret Atwood and Shannon Hale) and some have even written different retelling’s from the same original in the same short story collection (looking at you Angela Carter) which shows that the source material can be a gift that keeps on giving.
This is based off of the ‘Popular Retellings Books’ list on Goodreads which contains 12,018 entries. The top ten are: –
- Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer
- Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer
- Cress (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer
- The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
- A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
- Winter (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer
- Heartless by Marissa Meyer
- Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
- Hunted by Meagan Spooner
- Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer
Er hey Marissa, you want to move over and let someone else drive?!
I have heard of all books on this list, which is unusual as I often haven’t with these lists. That being said, I adore retelling’s beyond belief so it really doesn’t come as a surprise that none of these come as a surprise.
I have read six out of ten with the only ones not read being #4, #8, #9 and #10.
It’s fairly clear that Fairy Tales, while not the only creative medium that can be retold, is clearly one of the most popular with almost all on this list being a Fairy Tale retelling (bar two I believe).
Out of those Fairy Tales it seems Beauty and the Beast is the number one favourite although I don’t know what the list would look like further up. In my Fairy Tale Friday post on Beauty and the Beast I said that I thought it was one of the most popular, if not the most popular, simply based on the number of retelling’s in the market.
Now, the only one I would argue isn’t actually a straight forward retelling is A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas because I believe that fits more into the ‘inspired by’ category. It definitely has connections to its original source (Beauty and the Beast) but it deviates quite dramatically from the material. As previously mentioned this isn’t all that uncommon – a lot of retelling’s wouldn’t technically be a retelling if we looked closer.
I know I joked about Marissa ‘moving over’ but actually I’ve read The Lunar Chronicles and Heartless and enjoyed them very much. I didn’t give any of them higher than a 3 star but to me 3 star is ‘jolly good fun’ and let’s what those retelling’s were for me.
Unfortunately I’m not a fan of Sarah J. Maas’ work but I’ll leave it there.
As to the others on the list? Well I really, really want to read them because as I’ve said – I adore retelling’s.
If I continue up the list there is also:-
- Circe by Madeline Miller – on my TBR
- To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo – read and 3 stars given
- Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge – on my TBR
Basically if I haven’t read a retelling then it’s on my TBR and if I can’t find a retelling that fits exactly what I want then you can bet that I’ll be trying to write it.
If you’re a regular follower than you’ll know my adoration for the retelling’s of Angela Carter, Neil Gaiman (Snow, Glass, Apples is such a head-trip) and Leigh Bardugo’s Language of Thorns.
And yes, I know there are many retelling’s out there that aren’t based on Fairy Tales (and I did make this point in my intro) but I can’t help myself – my heart loves them the most!
As always it would be great to get your thoughts, whether this is on retelling’s or books that have been inspired by something. What do you think works/ what doesn’t? Are you sick of seeing the same original source material appear over and over again or can you never have too much of a good thing?
What would you like to see?
I adore retelling’s of every kind so I will happily encourage recommendations. If you send me a bread crumb trail towards fairy tale rec’s then even better!
Until next time – July’s topic is going to be about a place that I know very well – London! Or Lahndahn as me south London mum pronounces.