Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Re-Tellings: What is the appeal? (Discussion) (Re-Telling Reads Month #1)

Welcome to the first official posting for Re-Telling Reads Month! In case you don't know what this is about yet, you can check out this post for more information on it. I hope you enjoy!

To kick-start it, I had a few thoughts on my mind really about the whole idea of re-tellings in general. I also think it's best to go ahead and give what I think is the best definition before continuing to take away any confusion.

A "re-telling" is a story that tells another in some form or style again. This isn't to be confused by the numerous amount of stories, etc. inspired by others. Re-tellings use the characters of the story they are recreating, but may change names, gender, ages... A re-telling is commonly a modern version of a classic or a retold fairytale. This is about the best way I can sum it up. If you have a question though, feel free to ask! :)

Today's topic of discussion (and the first discussion for the RRM feature!):

Re-Tellings: What is the appeal?

There are many variations of just one piece of literature I can think of off the top of my head immediately re-told in ways from continuations to modern to monster mash-up: Romeo & Juliet. Not to mention the countless others just simply inspired by the work, telling their tales in ways so similar that it can almost be classified as a ‘re-telling.’

But we can’t just look at Romeo & Juliet as the only work of literature through history to go through this constant pick-up and re-tell in different ways. There are many other classics, as well as some infamous fairytales and historical figures with their life stories, taking on this approach through books, movies, and television--and many of us seem to not have any objections at all.

Oh Leo. It was this quirky movie re-telling when I first saw you and said to my friends, "DIBS."

Personally, I think the appeal is there because it is in our DNA as human beings. Our ancient ancestors passed stories down through generations by words, and at times liked to change them up to give them more oomph or a new style through the years. In a way, I feel that we’re only doing the same. Even if we do not like how a certain re-telling turns out sometimes. I know I don’t always like them, but I’m always curiously attracted to them either way. They are characters I know deeply on most occasions. I like seeing how they’re treated in different settings, situations, time periods, and such.

…And sometimes I like ranting about them also after a bad experience. This usually seems to happen with me and Shakespeare re-tellings more than other types. I have my obvious preferences.

Is it a trend? I don’t think so. Re-telling a classic or original fairytale has been around for too long. I remember being a small girl and hearing the original stories of Little Mermaid and Cinderella and Rapunzel after I’d already seen or read the Disney versions. Ha. And in recent years, I’ve enjoyed a couple monster mash-ups (Ex: Wuthering Bites and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, to be discussed later during this feature), and a Hamlet re-telling called Falling For Hamlet by Michelle Ray. One of my very favorite books to end up in my hands in the last three years is New Girl by Paige Harbison--a re-telling of Rebecca, a classic I hadn’t read or heard of before, but rushed out and bought after reading the modernized re-telling because I wanted that original so I could see how much they compared. I figured if the re-telling was that damn good, I’m going to very likely love the original.

So no, I don’t believe this is a trend that’s around for a period of time. I think that no matter what the latest trend may be, re-tellings will always be around with a curious audience. There’s so much that can be done with so many different stories. And as time passes, the list can just keep growing, right?

Whether you’re a fan of re-telling classics/fairytales and other types of stories or not, do you see it ever going away? What do you think is the appeal for readers who love picking them up?



  1. I can think of several other reasons:

    1) Relatability. Not everyone is going to connect with or grasp the original, i.e. Romeo and Juliet, or The Illiad, or even Pride and Prejudice. Some people like modern things. Or they don't read the specific genre or subgenre the story fits under. Or sometimes even the medium can be a turn off. (Romeo and Juliet being a play, for example.)

    2. Accessibility. Not everyone can read and understand Shakespare. So when people do retellings, what happens is that people either knowingly get a story themed on a play, they get little nods to the play if they are familiar with it, or they get to read a story that interests them and don't *realize* it's a retelling.

    3. Adding depth, fleshing things out. The novel I'm currently telling is based loosely on the myth of Hades and Persephone. I know: a lot of people have had a go at this. But I figure the reason *why* is that what we get in an authentic mythology book is a very short, very brief glimpse at the story. The way we write things nowdays is very different than how they would have been written back then.

    4. Homage. I think that even in the more "What were they thinking?!" retellings that each author approaches his or her story with love and respect. There has to be something there that they liked, otherwise why touch it?

    5. Changing the outcome / rules. In an opposite direction, another reason may be that there is something about the original story that the author wishes had been done differently. In my story that has some Hades and Persephone undertones, the girl that my Lord of the Underworld, Lucian, tries to *force* to become his wife ends up becoming the enemy of my entire series, whereas the woman he ends up with he meets by accident and the feelings between them grow in a more natural and appealing way. I've always felt *sympathy* for Hades--being the Lord of the Underworld would be lonely, darn it!--but I think he went about things the wrong way. So when my Hades-esque character was to get an HEA I had to make sure he didn't get it for screwing up.

    6. Genre bending / blending. Look at Cinder by Marissa Meyer--Cinderella as a Cyborg! I love seeing stuff like this because it takes a simple story and allows the author to take its core or its themes and then use those to create something unique and yet instantly appealing at the same time.

    7. Built in fanbase. There are those who *love* retellings, or even just retellings of certain stories. Of course there are also those who hate 'em, look down on people who write 'em, or who will be critical because it's "their" (favorite) story being "toyed" with. But any of this is better than the raw invisibility of having a story that doesn't have some kind of draw or hook to pull readers in.

    8. Inverting. Sometimes the blessing of working with an established story is that there are rules you can choose to bend, twist or break. Someone deciding to re-write the Three Little Pigs from the Wolf's POV, for instance.

    Anyway, those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

  2. What I like about retellings is fitting in the themes of a familiar story with new ideals. It helps tie together our past and our future.


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