Several of My Favourite Retellings

Hi, everyone! I hope your week is off to a fantastic start! I know. I know. No one likes Mondays because the week's off to a new start. But you know what Mondays also mean? It's time for Monday Musings! Wherein I ramble about various and sundry depending on my whim or Patreon requests/suggestions. Posts are somewhere below 2,500 words at most and consist of short personal essays and discussions.

Several of My Favourite Retellings

Last week, I revisited an old post about my favourite fairy tales. As that post had a companion, this week, I’m revisiting a discussion on my favourite (fairy tale) retellings.

I’m sure it doesn’t take people long to pick up on the fact that I enjoy fairy tale retellings rather a lot. I’ve only got a series exploring them, after all. I’ve always loved them. There’s something fascinating and beautiful about the many ways in which we can retell the same story without losing our originality or personality. Retellings, to me, are a testament to the power of storytelling and imagination because even the ones that are similar to one another are recognisably different and have always been such.

Talking about my favourite retellings may be a little disingenuous since, in many cases, I’ve only read the story once. I’m not great at rereading nowadays, but these are all stories that have touched me deeply and that I’ve enjoyed reading rather a lot.

One of the newest additions to my list of favourite fairy tale retellings is Aliette de Bodard’s In the Vanishers’ Palace. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with a distinctly Vietnamese flavour set in a post-colonialist and post-apocalyptic world. It’s arguably science fantasy and maintains an amazing balance between being nothing like Beauty and the Beast and yet being recognisably a retelling of the fairy tale. It deals directly with the question of consent inherent in the narrative as well as the question of how such a palace could be forgotten. One of the great frustrations for me in fairy tale retellings is the way they deal with the timelessness present in the original. De Bodard deals with it beautifully and poignantly, as she deals with every aspect of the narrative. My favourite aspect, though, is almost certainly the magic and the commentary it delivers on certain well-known magic systems.

Another new addition to my list of favourite retellings is Jo Walton’s The Prize in the Game, which retells The Táin and, having finally read it, lets me posit all three of the books as a single unit for the purposes of this post. I think they’re best read closely together, to allow this prequel to nuance Sulien’s opinions and commentary in The King’s Name and The King’s Peace (both of them retellings of Arthurian legend). These books are some of the richest and most in-depth retellings I’ve ever read. Like De Bodard in In the Vanishers’ Palace, Walton retells these tales in a way that is both nothing like the original and yet unmistakably that story. There is a depth and lyricism to Walton’s retelling that encapsules both modern fantasy novel sensibilities without losing that sense of myth that comes with a story retold many times over many centuries.

Sticking with the theme of not-actually-fairy-tales and retellings of The Táin, I also want to highlight Jules Watson’s The Raven Queen. This is a historical fantasy retelling of the tale and, thus, far more recognisable in its retelling. Watson, unlike Walton, seeks to tell a story that reads like it could be the ‘real’ story before time and storytelling polished it into the tale we know today. It’s a companion piece to Watson’s The Swan Maiden, and though The Raven Queen stands on its own perfectly well, it’s worth reading The Swan Maiden first as the two are closely intertwined and you’ll get a better understanding of events overall.

Novis by Rachel Tonks Hill is a science fiction retelling of Beowulf, and exceedingly epic in its scope. I don’t even really know where to start with this one. It’s a delightful take on the tale and, despite being a science fiction setting, still manages to keep some of the horror of the original poem intact. Choosing to retelling Beowulf in a space opera allows Hill to keep everything that makes the poem so memorable whilst giving it a spin unique to the story that Hill is telling.

Returning to actual fairy tales, I cannot write a post like this without mentioning Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty that weaves the fairy tale firmly into reality and tragedy by tying the narrative of the fairy tale to the Holocaust. It’s difficult to talk about this book without feeling like I’m spoiling it. One of the reasons it was so powerful to me was knowing virtually nothing about it beyond that it was a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It is, however, one of the most powerful and heart-felt retellings, and a perfect example of how we use stories to make sense of the world around us.

Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl is one of the most faithful retellings I've ever read while still making the story into an entire novel. In some ways, I think Hale's retelling of The Goose Girl is the way it's always lived inside my head plucked out of the world of dreams and poured into written form. In most ways it isn't, of course. I never dreamed of Bayern or the way magic works in them. But if Seven was the novella that taught me just how different you can make a fairy tale retelling while keeping it recognisably its original then Hale's was the book that taught me the power of staying true to a story's core. I've never read a retelling that felt, so keenly, like it was an unabbreviated version of a tale.

Iron and Gold by Hilda Vaughan is a book that I can almost guarantee you've never heard of. It's a retelling of a Welsh fairy tale, Lady of Llyn y Fan Fach, and is utterly, utterly gorgeous. If you enjoy fairy tales, especially an exploration of the fairy bride trope in fiction, I strongly urge you to track down a copy of this book. It's thoughtful and thought-provoking as well as emotionally gripping. The introduction of the Honno edition is well worth your time too if you're normally the kind of person who skips introductions.

One of the most powerful retellings I've ever read was Deerskin by Robin McKinley. Deerskin is a retelling of stories such as Bearskin or All-Kinds-of-Fur and deals unflinchingly with the aftermath of rape. It’s a sensitive, gentle retelling, if at times harrowing. McKinley’s style is somewhat hit-or-miss for me, but in Deerskin, certainly, it works a wonder on me. It’s an honest look at the healing process and trauma and seeks to deal with it in a way that I’ve not seen many fairy tale retellings even dare.

As this technically covers eleven books already, I will leave it at this. I have many more books that I utterly love and that I’d recommend without hesitation (if, at times, with content warnings) and I hope that if I’ve inspired you to pick up any of them, that you’ll enjoy them immensely.

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