Retellings | How Stories Reinvent Themselves


Looking at today’s bookshelves, readers may notice that retellings are cropping up more and more. From Meagan Spooner’s Sherwood , which reimagines Robin Hood from maid Marian’s perspective, to The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston, a queer retelling of The Princess and the Pauper, new ways of telling classical fairy tales, myths, and urban legends seem to be published all the time. But the real question is why? Why do authors continue to reimagine these stories?

1.These stories work, and people know them.

Pretty obvious, but that’s the point. It’s sometimes hard to bring readers into brand-new worlds. In reading something familiar, readers may already care about the story and characters, giving authors an ‘in’ with their audiences. If readers come into a book already engaged, this gives writers lots of room to expand on or even reimagine characters from the past, envisioning them with new or modern complexity. You might even show the ‘other side’ of the story as John Gardner did with his novel Grendel, telling Beowulf from the perspective of the monster instead of the hero.

2. These stories can be modernized.

Taking a tried-and-true narrative and adding new voices is all the rage—and that’s a good thing. New voices can be injected into these stories and allow underrepresented groups to create their own version of the narrative, like Julia Ember’s The Seafarer’s Kiss which retells The Little Mermaid from a queer perspective and also adds Norse god Loki into the mix. In retelling classic stories, authors can reinterpret favorite protagonists like L.L. McKinney’s version of Alice in Wonderland in A Blade so Black.

3. Classic stories can create new worlds.

Writers can also reimagine entire worlds of fantasy or mythology. In American Gods, Neil Gamain created a world where the old and new gods were all real and fighting for power in a land that wanted none of them. The DreamWorks film Shrek is set in a fairytale realm yet subverts expectations with Shrek, an ogre, being the hero. The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski takes a world where monsters, curses, and magic are real and envisions what a man would have to turn into to fight them. All these stories and more take classic myths or pieces of folklore and expands them into new and interesting worlds.

The real beauty about all the above mentioned retellings is that this list is short and doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the reimagined stories that are currently on shelves everywhere. Every year, authors are coming up with tons of new reasons to revisit our old fairy tale friends, with each one bringing something new and interesting to the table. 

PRR Writer Jon Kresal