An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

I’ve mentioned before how much I love fairy-tales/myths re-tellings, there’s something fascinating about seeing a new angle on a classic story we already know, and I love to discover new books with a different view.

This is a chart created by the cleverbots at EpidReads, who compiled a list of books and grouped them by similarities.

You can find the full chart list here by epicreads – it’s not a complete list of what’s out there of course, but it’s a decent place to start!

Have you read any of these? I’ve added a few of these to my book list already!

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Fairy Tales & Long Tails: The Top 10 Fairy Tale Re-Tellings

I’m a big fan of re-tellings of fairy tales, the more detailed and historically accurate the better, particularly if they’re set in a specific period of history or place (or even in a sci-fi type of setting which doesn’t exist in normal history!)

I’ve grown up with Grimms fairy tales and Hans Christian Anderson short stories and fairy tales, and while I devoured them as a young child (the grislier the story, the better!), it always left me wanting a bit more. What happened to the servant-girl-turned-princess after she married the prince? Did she get on with her in-laws? Did she have to learn to cook and manage the household, or did she get bored? Why was it that the heroine was always beautiful, charming, slim and easy to befriend? What happened to the plain girls, or the ones that didn’t have fairy godmothers? What if the wandering princess who ran away didn’t meet a friendly passer-by, and ran into someone with darker intentions, or she didn’t end up making friends with generous, understanding animals and get food from them?

These days, of course, such stories aren’t enough. I’m always looking for stories, which look beyond the original fairy tales, which have more to them than relying on the beauty of the heroine to save her, or the princely-ness of the hero to get him along and defeat the dragon. My biggest gripe, I think, is the fact that the hero and heroine always get married the next day after their troubles are over, and live ‘happily ever after’ – what exactly constitutes a happy ending? Having lots of gold and wearing pretty dresses to balls? Having children who were royal and then retiring to old age where they would reminisce over their adventures of youth? Or even just surviving to a certain age with all your limbs intact. A lot of the fairy tales we read as youngster glossed over these parts, making sure that the story ended when the hero got his gal.

For me, it isn’t always the case – which is why I turn to fairy tale re-tellings to see these characters fleshed out and their lives developed to something more credible.

That’s not to discredit fairy tales at all, I certainly do see the appeal of an easy story, where prince-meets-girl, has a dilemma of some sorts and then eventually it all ends in marriage (this is starting to sound more and more like an Asian Star Plus drama), and there’s a magic to them which is unique; but in this day and age I think we question a lot of these stories, and it’s easy then, to see why re-tellings of fairy tales are popular – to acquaint us with the heroes and their flaws more fully, and to immerse ourselves in a fairy tale in all it’s details.

So here are my Top Ten fairy-tales retold, by various authors, although it’s by no mean conclusive (I’m reading one at the moment!) – and there’s certainly more I wanted to add to the list but couldn’t!

10. Castle in the Air – Diana Wynne Jones
I’m not sure how much this fits into the category of ‘fairy tales’ or typical fantasy stories, but Diana Wynne Jones has always been one of my favourite authors, because of her wacky, wonderful storylines and her mix of sci-fi, fantasy, quirky humour and odd brand of romance which has always utterly appealed to me. This is re-telling of sorts, of the tale of Aladdin and his quest to marry the princess he is in love with – but of course, all sorts go wrong, and there are plenty of other wizards, djinns, witches and magicked cats thrown into the mix to make the plot all the more complex. I loved this book, and although it was a written as a sort-of sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle (which I also loved!), Castle in the Air has its own unique style which is something I really think would appeal to readers who aren’t interested in traditional fairy tales – particularly because of the way the story has a quirky way of being able to relate to us in an ordinary way too.

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9. Beauty – Robin McKlinley
I’ve read a couple of versions of Beauty and the Beast, but this one appealed to me less because of the storyline, and more because of the atmosphere it creates. Although it’s quite a solemn story, the characters created are endearing, and McKinley is one of my favourite fairy tale-retellers because of her ability to make ordinary doings interesting. In this story, Beauty is not so beautiful (although her two sisters are), and their fortunes are not so fortunate, as their father’s business is ruined and they are forced to move to the countryside to survive. From there the story begins, where Beauty’s father strikes a deal with the Beast to save his life, and where there’s always a suggestion of magic which is never quite revealed til the end.

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8. Wildwood Dancing – Juliet Marillier
I loved this story as a child – twelve princess sisters go dancing every night, all night, so that every morning their slippers would be worn out, much to the consternation of their father who never figures out why – until he sets a task that any man who manages to find out will be rewarded with marriage to one of the daughters (plus the kingdom). Juliet Marillier is another of my absolute favourite authors, one who captures a period beautifully and puts in a lot of research into her books so that the detail is just amazing. Wildwood Dancing is set in 16th Century Transylvania, and is based on just five sisters who go dancing every night – but it is here that it gets more eerie. The ‘Other Kingdom’ they visit every night has more than just fairy folk, there’s a hint of ‘Night’ people, vampires, and the risk of losing one’s self. Add that to the threat of forced marriages to overbearing cousins, and the idea of ‘wildwood dancing’ becomes less innocent and merry, and instead more about the sisters’ survival and independence. A great read, and one of Marillier’s best.

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7. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister – Gregory Maguire
I love Gregory Maguire’s imagination and the way he twists a traditional story to make you look at it from a completely different angle – and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is no different. Maguire sets this story during the ‘tulip mania’ era in the 1600s, where the two ‘ugly’ sisters and their toughened mother Margareuthe have fled the witch claims of England to Netherland to find their fortune among the buying and selling of valuable tulip bulbs. Meeting the spoiled Clara and her rich parents, Margareuthe quickly sets to finding a place in the household, and moving upwards from there amidst a backdrop of art, religion and the idea of beauty – which is ambiguous, complex, and certainly doesn’t tell us who the heroine is in this whole tale.

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6. Deerskin – Robin McKinley
This is one of the darker stories I’ve read, and certainly it is a brave one. I remember reading this story as a young child (and an African version of it as well!), of a widowed King who cannot find anyone to match his late wife’s beauty – and instead decides to marry his daughter. While in the original fairy tale the horrified princess escapes, meets a prince and lives happily ever after, in McKinley’s tale, there are a lot darker events which take place which change the heroine’s life forever. McKinley’s writing style is almost ethereal here, and it’s certainly a brave topic she covers – rather than writing about balls, riches and beauty, she writes about surviving rape, losing family, and looking for acceptance in adversity. And I think she succeeds well in this novel, creating a character who is truly admirable and shows the real meaning of being a princess, and of the strength it takes to rebuild yourself have faith in yourself. A very moving book, although heart-breaking in places too.

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5. Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine
This is probably the most recent fairy tale re-telling that I read, and I really liked the quirky, funny tone of it, which tells the story of a girl whose fairy-tale gift at birth forces her to be obedient, amongst a land of ogres, fairies and gnomes. Which is not the best gift, seeing as Ella finds herself being forced to obey commands from others who don’t always have her best interests at heart. Although this is just a loosely based on the story of Cinderella and has its own side tangent, it’s still a good story in itself (I preferred this much more over the film too!), and has plenty of ways of showing the good side of fairy tale creatures and magic.

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4. Revolting Rhymes – Roald Dahl
I have no idea if this counts, but I’ll add it in because Roald Dahl is another favourite author, and I LOVE wacky, satirical takes on any story, which Dahl spins perfectly. These are a collection of short poems which tell classic fairy tales in a completely opposite way (Cinderella runs away with a nice man who makes jam, for example), in true Roald Dahl style, with brilliant Quentin Blake illustrations. If you like Dahl’s work, you will probably already have read this.

My favourite line is probably from the Red Riding Hood story:

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang, bang, bang, she shoots him dead.

Classic stuff. Read the poems online here, or otherwise at your local bookstore/library/nephew’s house, you cheapskates.

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3. Spindle’s End – Robin McKinley
This story is one which I’ve read and re-read quite a few times, because I loved the beautifully captured characters in the story. Sleeping Beauty has always been a story which intrigued me as a child, partly because of the scary evil fairy and also partly because of the whole intrigue of a fairy hidden away to save her life. In this story, she is hidden away in a small town, “as safe as ordinariness can make her”, and turns into everything but a typical princess – she hates singing, dancing or needle-work and loves following the blacksmith around, befriending animals and has short hair – exactly what makes a loveable, clever and even brave character. There’s a great twist to the tale at the end, which also adds a whole new depth to the story and makes it even more brilliant for me. This was the first book I read by McKinley, and it’s also my favourite of  hers, since it’s one she really makes her own in an original way.

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2. Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan
I absolutely love this story, and it was a very close contender for the number one spot, simply because of how much I liked this story about the two sisters, Snow White and Rose Red. It’s not an easy read, and one which does not shy away from difficult topics like rape, incest and violence, yet does so in a very classy way which focuses the story on its magic, and the amazing characters. This was a really strong feminist story, in my view, which teaches about women being independent and strong despite difficult circumstances, and also the idea of love and family prevailing over all. I’ve recommended this book to (and practically forced it onto) several friends and sisters, to get them to be as enthralled as I was with this book, partly because reading it made  me realise why I loved reading and fairy tales so much.

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1. Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier
This is probably the book which I read as a young teen and which captured my heart with fairy re-telling, and I’ve never looked back since. This story is based on a classic one about a sister and her six brothers (although various stories have more brothers or don’t involve swans) who are targeted by their evil stepmother, the brothers turned into swans and the sister chased away. Marillier completely develops this story so that it is set in old-time Ireland, where the protagonist is Sorcha, only daughter of a Gaelic chieftain who has to fight for her brother’s lives when they are endangered. There is plenty of subtle magic, romance and eeriness in this novel, and also plenty of flaws in each character – which is made all the more readable by the amazing research and detail put in by Marillier about this period. While this follows the lines of a traditional fairy tale, it is so much more than this – there is a lot of emphasis on the cruelty of humans and well as their love, and the fact that Sorcha is a young girl who is at a turning point of her life which changes her life. I think I related to this as a teen because her character is a ruly, grubby tomboy at first, something which girls can imagine rather than being royal princesses – and it is this which made her more realistic. This is another story I’ve been trying to force on others for years, and which I won’t stop recommending because of how amazing it is.

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There’s lots more books to check out which re-tell fairy tales (I haven’t even read a lot of these, but they’re all on my reading list!) – they all have different takes on the fairy tales and a lot of these have had good reviews.
  • White as Snow – Tanith Lee
  • Rose Daughter – Robin McKinley
  • Mirror Mirror – Gregory Maguire
  • Jane Yolen – Briar Rose
  • Strands of Bronze and Gold – Jane Nickerson
  • Zel – Donna Jo Napoli
  • Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice (be warned, this is more 18-rated!)
  • Rose Daughter – Robin McKinley
  • Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow – Jessica Day George
  • Beauty Sleep: A Retelling of “Sleeping Beauty”- by Cameron Dokey
  • Wicked – Gregory Maguire
  • East – by Edith Pattou
  • A Curse Dark As Gold – Elizabeth C. Bunce
  • Enchantment – Orson Scott Card
  • Goose Girl – Shannon Hale
  • A Kiss in Tim – Alex Flinn
  • Golden – Cameron Doke

Please feel free to tell me about any you’ve read that you would recommend!

Sleeping Beauty re-written: An animal-loving, magical tomboy

A wondrous future lies before you – you, the destined hero of a charming fairy tale come true. And in yonder topmost tower, dreaming of her true love, the Princess Aurora! – Sleeping Beauty, Disney

Robin McKinley’s Spindle End is one of those books which makes you want to read everything written by the author, simply because of how much she makes you fall in love with the characters, the heart-warming storyline, and the curious magical-ness of it all. Spindle’s End brings to life the story of Sleeping Beauty, in a kingdom set where magic is so thick it “settles like chalk-dust everywhere”, and it’s an ordinary occurrence to ‘de-magick’ your kettles of magic, to stop your bread turning into larks, your clothes from running away, where it is illegal to have dealings with fish, and where fairies make an honest living in local villages. And yet the story has a traditional, just King and Queen who strive for a child, and after many years, manage to have a beautiful baby girl, celebrating the occasion with a grand ‘Name-Day’, inviting twenty-one (not three, Disney!) fairies to bestow gifts.

And gifts are bestowed, must to the disgust of one of the main characters, young fairy Katriona, who listens to “pearly teeth”, ‘golden hair” and “a sweet singing voice” being given, until the inevitable, a jealous evil fairy, here named Pernicia, gate-crashes with her own gift, a dangerous sleep for the newborn when she turns twenty-one. It is here that the life of the novel really begins, in the race to protect the Princess, she is smuggled away and raised by Kat in a secret life, “as safe as ordinariness can make her.”

Rosie, as she is lovingly named, becomes a creature to test her adoptive family as well as capture their hearts: she may have a voice like a bell, but it depends on how loud and robust the bell is; she may have a talent for dancing, but you’d have to convince her to dance first, and she may have golden ringlets like corn, but it’s difficult to see the curls after she chops all her hair off. Rosie, then, becomes a feminist in her own right, insisting she is not ‘pretty’ but intelligent, she doesn’t need to wear dresses when she can run after animals in breeches, and insisting that she will have her own career rather than settle down. Deeply entrenched in a lifestyle of her magic-using ‘Aunts’ and her family of animals and male friends, Rosie goes against every archetype of being a Princess, perhaps so because she remains blissfully ignorant of her true identity.

Weaving together the practicalities of magic, the complications of growing older, and the ever-questionable concept of ‘happily-ever-after’, McKinley shows how appearances are not always what they seem. Always through the novel is the underlying threat of the malevolent Pernicia, always searching and always threatening to change their fragile lifestyle, with McKinley creating some tense atmospheric scenes which really show the strengths of characters, putting to test their love for each other.

Rosie, remains, at the heart of all this, an ordinary, confused young woman, constantly re-shaping her identity, her perceptions of family, and the idea of destiny and grand love. While at the forefront, she remains an unusual character who refuses to conform to societal values of what it is to be a young woman, the vestiges of  fairy-tale era still remain – we see how family can mean different things to different people, how duty is perceived, and above all, the idea of Good being expected to triumph over Evil.

This is a novel which makes you fall in love with Rosie, as a Princess, as an unruly child, and as a brave, old-style heroine – and it is not the idea of being a singing, pearly-teethed young woman who remains, but an ordinary (and ironically magical) sister, daughter and fierce friend, who fights for her family and friends as much as she tries to determine her own fate. A recommended book for all, especially if you like fairy-tales with a bit of a kick in them.

“You don’t get something for nothing”

“Ah Faustus,
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then thou must be damned perpetually.”
– Doctor Faustus,  Christopher Marlow

Carlo Ruiz Zafon’s debut novel, ‘The Prince of Mist’ originally published as ‘El Principe de la Niebla‘ in 1993, appears to be, on face value, a modern reworking of parts from the Faustian Bargain tale. Protagonist Max and his family move to a new house in the midst of World War Two, and begin to discover sinister echoes of a tragic past, as well as a series of disturbing events which threaten to pervade the lives of the children. Although described as a mystery and horror novel, there is much more to this novel; it is also a tale about growing up, with more universal values, regardless of the era it is set in. Throughout the novel the author establishes the idea of layers – of time, people, and even secrets, which are slowly unravelled through the novel, while alongside this the layers of the main characters are slowly developed as they begin to mature.

Throughout the novel, the author uses a whimsical style, and a gently warming humour, in which the narrative comes across as amiable. Right from the smaller details in the beginning such as the “eviction notice” being served to the spiders in the new house, an appealing atmosphere is created, also depicting a close-knit family. The novel may be set in a serious era, that is, the World War, and the family may be shown as having financial constraints, yet the tone of the novel does not feel burdened by this, preferring to take a lighter tone. Also a point to consider is that although the novel features elements of horror, it also intertwines itself with a gentle romance, which some readers may consider as more realistic and more lasting.

Primarily this novel explores the idea of characters striking a deal with the Prince of Mist to get their desires, but inevitably this comes at a price. Thus the idea of choice given alters the meaning of ‘evil’ applied here, since the characters who make these ‘deals’ are made aware from the start that they will have to fulfill their part. As the saying “You don’t get something for nothing” states, Cain is firm in his belief that he can rightfully claim repayment for ‘debt’. Also something to consider is the idea of “interest” being accumulated on deals to justify murder when the human do not meet their side of the bargain. This also brings into question whether justice can prevail, as well as who is to blame in this situation, as no participant in these deals appear entirely innocent.

Also important to recognise is the feature of scenery and landscape in this novel – such as the shimmering sea, tangled grass, the beach – and is a plot device used by author to set up various moods. Several of these are metaphors that are well recognised in the literary world, such as importance of storms and bad weather, which signifies danger.  Similarly the hidden garden of statues which Max discovers act as a focal point for a hidden reality which allows the supernatural to function. It is here that the statues move, change position and even disappear. There is a sense of the unreal, a space that is removed from the reality of the everyday world, which serves to act as the link to unite the ‘real’ world and the supernatural.
The shipwreck Orpheus further adds to the idea of a Faustian bargain theme, bringing to mind the Greek tale of Orpheus bargaining with the God of Underworld Hades.  Thus the significance of the naming the ship Orpheus takes on a more sinister tone, suggesting that the characters may not prevail in this battle against a cunning entity, perhaps even due to their own human fallacies. Symbolism is also rife throughout the novel, ranging from the motif of the black cat, which is malevolent omen-like, in its infiltration of the family’s home. Also present is the symbol of the six-pointed star, which subtly hints to the darker side of the occult.

The Prince of Mist figure, or Cain, as one of the names he takes on, is presented as inhuman and supernatural, which is heightened by mystery and ‘magic’ – and fundamentally the complete opposite of the human protagonists. However, it can be argued that this rendition of Cain as the ‘devil’ figure is not entirely successful, since it falls a little flat at times, failing to give some  volume to his character. The changing guises of the human presentations of Cain, as a gentleman, a magician, a fortune-teller, clown are all interestingly forms of entertainment, suggesting a superficial front which relies on illusion. Similarly, his supernatural manifestations follow a pattern of haunting omens, such as a cat, a mist, an underwater presence, a symbol of the start, a voice in the dark, the re-animated form of the Orpheus and a statue of the clown. Zafon’s portrayals of Cain is significantly haunting, yet some could argue that some of the embodiments and techniques used are slightly clichéd. There is a significant gothic influence here, yet it does not always follow with the mellow tone of the novel.

This is a deliberate contrast to the ongoing figure of Viktor Kray, who is shown in various scenes and ages, and presents himself as a stable voice of experience, thus embodying human qualities. However, even this character is consumed by his past and this prevents him from moving on with his life onto more positive aspects. This is also reflected in the identity of Roland, one of the main characters in the novel. There is a constant underlying sense of mortality emanated, due to war and that fact that he is due to be conscripted soon. Roland too, like Max, is at an age verging on adulthood, which complicates his perceptions when faced with tough decisions.

The ongoing theme of time woven throughout the novel, which adds an element of unrealness, suggesting that the events that occur are outside the barriers of time in both the past and presence. It is no accident that Max’s dad is a watchmaker, and there are other elements shown in the novel, such as time going backwards with the Town clock, as well as the significance of Max’s pocket watch. Time going back causes a sense of anxiety, and the Prince of Mist certainly takes advantage of this. Cain’s assertion that “Time, dear Max, doesn’t exist; it’s an illusion” only serves to underline this issue. It can be argued that Cain’s belief of this ‘illusion’ keeps him impervious to it, acting as a medium to keep him immortal even when he is physically (and perhaps logically) meant to be dead. Time does not prevent him from reaching out over time and through different generations, suggesting that those who have a debt with him are not protected within the traditional confines of time. By making time a fluid concept, Zafon is able to heighten the mystery, having the effect of inescapability.

Ultimately, although we are left with a sense of impending sacrifice, the novel focuses on the closer bonds in the brother and sister in the novel. We are left with the conclusion that they have left their childhood behind, and lives have been changed forever. Max’s perspective adds sense of innocence, such as in the case of his sister Alison’s and Roland’s budding relationship, but this does not mean he is stupid or naive, and it is this which is admirable in the author’s portrayal of the characters. The events which occur, are ironically during a time of major upheaval and loss in the War,yet the focus is not on this. Above all, the readers are left agreeing that this was “a summer in which they had discovered magic together”.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Prince of Mist, (Wiedenfeld & Nicolson: London 2010) pp. 202, £9.99