I read a lot of retellings.
Case in point: In the last two weeks, I have read the books Cruel Beauty, Across a Star Swept Sea, and Sisters Red, and I am currently reading Splintered. (All of which seem excellent, by the way). All these books are retellings.
Retellings set stories in new places, and show you the characters in a different way. I am particularly partial to fairy-tale retellings (Cinder, Beauty and A Curse Dark as Gold are other examples of these) and retellings seem to be increasingly popular in YA. In this post I will talk about the value of originality, what I like about retellings, and generally fangirl (over amazing retellings, and, lets face it, their cover art which won me)
What is appealing about these retellings? Firstly, stories like classics and fairytales, no matter how wonderful they are, were told to and for a culture far different from ours. They adapt characters and places, so even if the setting (like New Pacifica) is totally different, a new understanding of the story is gained. Seeing the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a video retelling, made me understand how headstrong and courageous Lizzie was. Seeing Persis’s cunning and passion made the entire plot of the Scarlet Pimpernel relevant to me despite the stagnant language of the original (which I have not read). It also made me interested in the original works.
Secondly, the stories that are being retold are usually old. Stories that linger, whether it is Red Riding Hood or Persuasion usually have a powerful (and hopefully entertaining) message about humanity, which is why they are still there. Stories good enough to be retold are usually good stories, and the power of the message stays despite utterly different characters and settings. In Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Cinders struggle to be recognized as worthy despite being a cyborg is just as valuable as Cinderellas’ story of overcoming the prejudice of a first daughter. themes like prejudice and love and violence appear throughout literature.
The problem with retellings is originality. Is it your work if you use Lewis Carrols world? Is it your own story when someone else wrote its’ bones? In an effort to overcome this, I find that retellings are hugely original. A Curse Dark as Golds (By Elizabeth Bunce) setting in the Industrial Revolution as a woman works in a mill, For Darkness Shows the Stars (by Diana Peterfreund) tech-less dystopia, Scarlet’s (by Marissa Meyer) Fourth Era France, Ash (by Malinda Lo) and a dark fantasy world- each of these settings differs hugely from the original tale. Another example is Frank Beddors’ Looking Glass Wars, where Wonderland is fully fleshed out and card soldiers are central to the rebellion. Trying to be original means that thes works are really original and offer entire amazing perspectives on other places.
The covers of these books are TO DIE FOR. Apart from all the amazing ideas expressed in the cover above, one of my favourite covers of all time is A Curse Dark as Gold. The handwritten font shows that it is a fairytale, the gold is locked around her hands. and it. is. so. beautiful. This cover, especially once you read the amazing book, just makes me happy. And all retelling covers manage to express the original story and something about the setting/characters of the book, which I love.
I love retellings. I love seeing how Rosamund Hodge and Robin McKinley tell the same story differently. And I’m excited to see the difference between Alice in Wonderland, Splintered and The Looking Glass wars treat Wonderland. I like seeing how cover designers work with these ideas. And I hope that these books continue to be written.