16 in ’16: Read a Retelling


by Lindsey

Today we start one of my favorite themes in our Reading Resolutions challenge: Read a Retelling. In its simplest form a “retelling” is a new version of an older story, but it can be so much more than that. A fairy tale, folk tale, mythic tale or poem, play, or classic novel may be reimagined in a variety of settings, putting an entirely different spin on the original story.

As a fan of short stories, two of my favorite books in this genre are Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Michael Cunningham’s A Wild Swan. Both collections are darkly strange and sensual with stunning prose. Cunningham and the late Carter are truly gifted writers, and their fairy tale retellings give me chills every time I read them.

I also want to highlight two ebooks that are featured on OverDrive right now: Wicked by Gregory Maguire and Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope. The first in the series, Wicked offers a different side of the story told by L. Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Green-skinned Elphaba wasn’t always as wicked as she appears in the classic tale. In fact, she was once a student activist who fought for the rights of Oz’s sentient animal citizens. Maguire details her early years, her days at Shiz University, and her fall to darkness. Wicked was adapted into a popular Broadway musical, and I love both musical and book for the impressive world-building Maguire achieved. Sense & Sensibility is based on, you guessed it, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. It’s a modern retelling about three sisters – Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret Dashwood – coming to terms with the harsh realities of life after their father dies and they lose their country house, their family name, and their inheritance. I have not read this book, but Library Journal calls it a “sprightly mix of the old and new told in streamlined prose.”

The Bloody Chamber      A Wild Swan      Wicked      index

To help you along, I included a list of adult retellings below. You might also like to take our quiz for reading suggestions. Retellings are also a popular young adult genre, and you will find a list of YA titles on our Teen page. Outside of the Sno-Isle Libraries website, the SFF Book Reviews blog also has a fairly comprehensive list of retellings.

I’ll check in with you on July 20 to see how you’re moving along with this challenge. Do you have any ideas for what you plan to read? Any favorite retellings you would recommend? I look forward to reading your thoughts on this genre!

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19 responses to “16 in ’16: Read a Retelling”

  1. Lindsey Anderson says:

    Great blog Lindsey-you do a wonderful job of drawing people into the suggested readings. Wish I had more time to read. I will keep it on my wish list!

  2. […] a Retelling of fairytale, folk tale, or classic (Jul. 10 – Jul. […]

  3. Lindsey Anderson says:

    Short stories are great for when you’re strapped for time because it’s so easy to put them down and pick them up again whenever!

  4. Ariana says:

    I’m planning on reading Red As Blood by Tanith Lee – a short story collection I’ve been meaning to read in full ever since we read her Little Red Riding Hood retelling for an English class (along with about ten other Little Red Riding Hood versions – adaptation and intertextuality were the buzzwords of the week).

    I also have My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me lined up to read, which is a collection of 40 retellings by different authors, as well as The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason – but we’ll see if that happens in the next couple weeks or not.

    I really enjoyed reading The Bloody Chamber a year ago – especially since Bluebeard is my favorite fairytale. I also love Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (a book that uses Russian fairytales to talk about Communist Russia’s destruction of the country’s cultural heritage) and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (one of my absolute favorite books and a retelling of Jane Eyre). For fun reads, I would definitely include the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (okay, that one’s not exactly fun, but still enjoyably readable).

  5. Lindsey Anderson says:

    I have never read anything by Tanith Lee and it feels like a literary crime! I am definitely adding Red as Blood to my TBR list. I’ve been meaning to read My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, too. We only have it in our collection as an ebook, one of my recommendations, but I will get to it eventually! I love that your favorite fairytale is Bluebeard. It doesn’t get enough attention and it’s delightfully dark. Thank you for commenting, Ariana!

  6. Lindsey Anderson says:

    Also, we don’t have Red as Blood in our collection yet but thanks to you, Ariana, I just put in a recommendation to our collection development staff. Thanks again!

  7. Serena S. says:

    I read A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice to my precious piggies. They went hog wild, popcorning in delight at the sight of the adorable piggies dressed up in all of their beautiful costumes posing on all of the little hand made sets. I highly recommend this very sweet and short adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

  8. Lindsey Anderson says:

    I completely agree, Serena! That book was one of my recommendations earlier this year. The same author is releasing A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist in October!


  9. Julie says:

    I really enjoyed the audiobook version of “A Wild Swan” by Michael Cunnigham, narrated by Lili Taylor and Billy Hough. Occasional music enhances the mood of and atmosphere in the stories. You’ll want to pair this with the book, so that you can enjoy the beautiful illustrations, as well.

    Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue (author of Room) is a great collection well worth your time!

  10. Lindsey Anderson says:

    I loved Kissing the Witch! I bought it back in 1999 or 2000 and it was my first exposure to Emma Donoghue. I noticed we don’t have it in the library collection so I just put in a request for purchase.

    And I completely agree about the audiobook version of A Wild Swan, Julie. The accompanying music was somewhat eerie and it definitely enhanced the stories.

  11. Heather says:

    Great suggestions! My to-read list just grew exponentially. I really enjoyed Eligible (once I got used to the modernity) and recently finished Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, which is a retelling of Taming of the Shrew. It was a quick but entertaining read. 🙂

  12. Lindsey Anderson says:

    Thanks, Heather! Both Eligible and Vinegar Girl have received a lot of praise in literary and library circles and judging by the hold queues, everyone is really excited for them. It’s great to hear they are worth the wait!

  13. Serena S says:

    Jane Steele is described as a retelling of Jane Eyre as a gutsy serial killer, but it is more of an homage to Jane Eyre rather than a retelling. Each chapter in Jane Steele starts with an excerpt from Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is Jane Steele’s favorite book and she makes many references to Jane Eyre. There are similarities in their lives- they are both orphaned, sent away to boarding school and become governesses. Jane Steele kills in self-defense or to protect loved ones, so I really wouldn’t consider her to be a serial killer.
    I did enjoy reading Jane Steele. There is a lot of dark humor, it was a fun read.

  14. Serena S says:

    Lindsey, thanks for the info on A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist, I’m looking forward to it. He is so adorable. I’m planning on reading it for the 2016 category.

  15. Lindsey Anderson says:

    I still haven’t read Jane Steele, but then I still haven’t read Jane Eyre either. I don’t know how I made it through my English degree in college without reading Charlotte Bronte! I’ve heard a lot of great things about Jane Steele, though, so I’m glad you enjoyed it, Serena. They’re both on my to-read list. I’m all for the dark humor!

    Also, you’re very welcome for the Guinea Pig Oliver Twist tip. I’m so pumped for it!

  16. I kinda want to read Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone by Denning.

  17. Oh, and I absolutely ADORED Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Valentine! It’s also a straight historical fiction retelling of The 12 Dancing Princesses, for anyone who’s feeling weary at the amount of fantasy in this category.

  18. Alez says:

    Retellings are one of my favorite categories of books. I’ve read a number of them over the years. I’ve never read Red as Blood by Tanith Lee, but I have read her Snow White retelling, White as Snow (ebook edition http://catalog.sno-isle.org/polaris/search/title.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.6&cn=839241). It is really intense, but a really good read. Though I would say anyone who loves a Bluebeard tale would probably enjoy this darker Snow White.

    One of the things I love about Retellings is how they can turn up in the oddest of places. Romance author Eloisa James actually has a series of historical romances based on Fairy Tales. Fans of the show House may particularly enjoy her Beauty and the Beast story, When Beauty Tamed the Beast (print copy http://catalog.sno-isle.org/polaris/search/title.aspx?ctx=1.1033.0.0.6&cn=252856), as James based some aspects of her main hero on Gregory House.

    • Michelle C. says:

      I loved the book When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James! But then again, Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale. Although in this version, I felt like the main character Linnet had a lot more mettle and spunk which I appreciate.

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