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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The Murder of Snow White

“Skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony and lips as red as blood.”

At first glance, Nele Neuhaus’ bestselling novel now Snow White Must Die seems to be a typical thriller, one full of tense narrative, dramatic conspiracies and elaborate wrongdoings – and I suppose, in a way, it is. But there is nothing of the American, stylized, sensational thriller in this novel – it’s dark , mysterious and depressing, but it’s also very human, and has nothing of the cold, easy solutions wrapped up in the usual whodunnits.

Translated from Neuhaus’ native German, the story issnowwhitemustdie one that creeps up on you as you get deeper into it, and the narrative trickles into several voices and characters, with a few sub-plots, different timelines, flash-backs which are seen in different perspectives, as well as a twisting storyline which is actually quite believable.

I’ll admit, I love my murder mysteries and thrillers, although a lot of the ones I seem to read these days are either junk-book-style or good ole’ Agatha Christy, who, as much as I love her , becomes a little predictable once you’ve read all of her books (it’s never the butler who did it, it’s usually the secretary).

Set in a small village in present-day Germany, the plot begins with a tragedy that has already taken place a decade earlier. Newly-released from prison, Tobias Sartorius returns to his home town after serving eleven years in prison for the conviction of murdering two girls, the beautiful Stefanie, dubbed Snow White, and ex-girlfriend Laura, both missing in mysterious circumstances which no one, including Tobias himself, have ever figured out. The bodies of both girls have never been found, and the village has never quite recovered from the shadows of the murder, shaping the inhabitants in ways which have changed them.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Pia Kirchhoff and DS Oliver von Bodenstein are in charge of a new case, that of a discovery of some bones dug up in a nearby quarry, thus re-opening suspicions about what really happened on the night of the double homicide. As the village inhabitants close ranks and remain tight-lipped about what they know, and the atmosphere in the tight-knit community becomes more and more strained, it becomes apparent that there is a something much more complicated going on, and suspicions that perhaps Tobias isn’t really the guilty party. Through random acts of violent, heartbreaking revenge, the false veneers of the deceiving behaviour of the villagers, and the arrival of a young girl called Amelie (who resembles the missing Snow White), it is clear that although Tobias has served his time, there are still plenty of secrets leftover, and plenty of people willing to go far to keep them.

Nele Nauhaus’ book has taken the book world by storm, and after reading it, I wasn’t surprised it had. I initially thought this was going to be a typical, dumbed-down mystery, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t – if anything, it twists several strands of genres to be more than just a typical murder mystery. It reminded me also of popular Danish series The Killing, a gritty, depressing and well-written drama which also follows several characters in the aftermath of murder. Snow White Must Die is similar in style, and in successfully creating an atmosphere which stays long after the book has ended. As one reviewer put very well, “Neuhaus is terrific at creating the complex claustrophobia of a village where the same families have lived for generations” – there’s a real sense of right and wrong being muddied, and loyalties being blurred and confused.

What I loved most about this book is that it evokes an era unique to the village and to German culture – I’m used to very English settings, American pop culture and even the usual fast-pace of thrillers and murder mysteries – but this is different, showing the livelihoods of the villagers, the close-knit community and the law and justice in this village. The end of this novel leaves the reader thinking about not only the butterfly effect of one night which ripples out into the present; but also the fact that there’s no clichéd concept of the ‘hero’ and the ‘villain’, all have been touched and damaged by the tragedy, and all have to confront the truth when it is revealed. It is certainly a good read, and one which draws you into the lives of more than one character, but it may not appeal to everyone – it is gritty and it is depressing, and there is no easy solution at its end. It draws home the fact that there is a petty, ugly side to everyone, that in the ordinary and mundane there can also be jealousy, deceit and misplaced loyalty which can  lead to something more sinister. I would definitely recommend this as something to try even if you don’t usually read murder mysteries – the characters will draw you in and there’s even a slight touch of The Count of Monte Cristo about it which resonates.

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!

Rape, Incest and Magic in a Grimms Fairy-Tale

“Leave me alive, children,
Snowy-white, Rosy-red,
Will you beat your lover dead?”

                       -‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’, Household Tales, The Harvard Classics,  1909–14, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.   

Margo Lanagan’s retelling of the classic Grimm’s tale ‘Snow-White and Rose-Red’ depicts a detailed history to the story, set somewhere in Europe (although never really pinpointed, and this surely is a deliberate move). Central character young Liga, after suffering a series of horrific abuse and violence, escapes the very fabric of reality itself with her two infant daughters, thus weaving a luxurious tapestry of fairytale world intertwined with the real. It is here that the idea of “heart’s desire” is given life, where Liga and her two daughters are able to grow undisturbed. The characters of ‘Snow-white’ and ‘Rose-red’ (known in the novel as Branza and Urrda) begin to question their reality as they develop and grown older, eventually become drawn to the hidden outside world with all its “beauty and brutality”. The novel follows the original tale very faithfully, albeit embroidering and expanding the characters’ lives, adding further details and explaining events which occur in a more convincing way. Tender Morsels becomes, then, a much darker story than the average fairytale, choosing to show the disturbing features of humans as well as the more beautiful. From the very prologue of the novel, which depicts the idea of dreams coming true and having various desires, Lanagan hints at what is to come, creating a theme which does not shy away from downfalls and dangers of being a human.

However, a warning must be given to readers that although the novel is not explicit, it opens with perversity and violence, setting a dark tone for the novel. The reader may be shielded from the graphical side of the breaking of innocence and identity, but this does not actually masking the truth of what is happening. Both the narrator and Liga carefully hide the vulgarity of the abuse she endures, preferring to cloak it with more innocent descriptions. However while the graphic scenes are missed out, the readers are left to form their own idea of what has happened, guided by the hints given. We see the reality behind Liga and her relationship with her father, so that while her innocence and naivety loosely covers the brutality of the reality of abuse she suffers, it does not attempt to hide or undermine her situation, adding a touch of modesty to Liga’s character. The theme of  ‘learning’ rules also embarks from here, with Liga feeling that her identity is shaped by everyday ‘rules’ and by certain ways to view the world. With her father inducing miscarriages for her unwanted pregnancies, we see how Liga’s perspective of herself begins to change, as events begin to quietly take a psychological toll on her. Becoming aware that she will have to make a new identity, as well as how she will be perceived by the outside world as a daughter and as a human, Liga winds herself in so tightly that when she loses her father, she becomes lost, feeling that without her father to corner and oppress her, her identity and self seeming to be “flying apart”.

Throughout the novel, even in the most powerfully emotional scenes, the author successfully harnesses a wonderfully poetic and beautiful style of language, bringing scenes alive with the imagery created. The imaginative, creative use of language is pivotal in adding feeling to the novel, from the “sidling thin black witch” used to signify physical pain, to the pure joy in watching her daughter’s wavering hands, opening and closing like “flowers on unsteady stalks”, and Lanagan captures her own beautiful dialect to speak when the characters do not. This metaphorical, descriptive language creates a whole new element to scenes, serving to strengthen emotional scenes.

Also interwoven into the fundamental functioning of the novel is the concept of magic, which are rendered in various forms such as the red and white jewels given to Liga, the ‘moonbabby’, and the alternative reality that has been created itself. It could be suggested that this can be interpreted as a metaphor for the process of disassociation, which certainly abounds in the novel as a coping mechanism for Liga. While the outside world continues about its normal business, Liga and her daughters remain in an introverted life, which allows them to follow their own rules and conventions.

The two sisters Branza and Urrda – silently recognised as ‘Snow-White’ and ‘Rose-Red’ – symbolise not only the two sides to being human, showing how there can be ‘darkness’ as well as ‘lightness’, but also the very intellect of the mind. Where the fairer, sweeter Branza delights in the innocent joys of nature, gentleness and has no desire to seek a greater world, the darker-skinned Urrda constantly pushes her boundaries, showing a great passion and determination to find out the real world and display her overt curiosity.

Similarly, the theme of ignorance and knowledge play against each other throughout the novel, showing how one is not able to exist without the other. The irony in Urrda’s realisation that she has been kept in ignorance actually serves to show her sharp intelligence. The fact that she is able to perceive this shows that she is the ‘darker’ sister in more than one way, showing that no matter how unpleasant, at least “Here [in the real world]  we have truth”, rather than ignorance and comfort.

The representation of men in the novels appears largely as being intrusive and destructive. From Liga’s father at the beginning, to the profanity spewing from the physically challenged “littlee” man, it is a significant detail that shows how men are excluded from the world that Liga has created. The only way any men are able to enter are by stumbling into the world, and on the condition that they are unable to threaten the women. Thus the men from the outside world are transformed into real bears, who, while equally still very masculine and risky, are less threatening because they are literal manifestation of Nature. Similarly, the “littlee” does not pose a real threat, therefore is able to enter the enchanted world showing how men have to have their ‘maleness’ has to be altered or stunted in order for them to be admitted. However, even this begins to show its crack, as shown in the adolescent Branza, who appears to epitomise the concept of femininity and propriety. Her vexed, charged relationship with Tessel, the aggressive bear-man from the outside world reveals her emerging sexuality, showing that this can also be a natural thing, rather than a thing of violence and horror as suffered by Liga. Similarly, it is not always the men who are able to make a strong impression, as characters such as the white witch Miss Dance who stands and appears strong “like a man”, show how it takes courage to live in a world where there is cruelty and prejudice.

Liga’s world shows that even in a magical world there is a two-dimensional feel to it that even she can sense, showing how she cannot hide in a false reality forever. The idea of the real versus the mental state is constantly explored, showing how Liga seems to slip in and out of the ‘rules’ of the everyday world and although uses her hidden world as a way to heal, she also perhaps uses it as a way to avoid confronting her past and her fears. The alternative realities could be interpreted as a sci-fi feature,  which is shown by the scientific explanation given to rationalise the ‘magic’,  and grounds itself in logic (even if it does at times feel a bit confusing!)

The idea of society and it’s rules – as Urrda finds it when she is searching for ‘truth’ – shows how it is inevitable that the ‘real’ world will emerge. Although the rules of society  seem cruel and oppressive, showing a need to conform and be shape, which is what Liga ran away from, it is also a medium to become a stronger person. By hiding the daughters away, Liga appears to have given her daughters “no kind of existence”, as they need to interact with others and experience cruelty as well as encounter the range of human emotions, develop deep relationships, and discover who they truly are.

Tender Morsels truly explores what it means to be human, as well as the idea of “heart’s desires”, showing how powerful emotions and human characteristics can shape identity and can be used to inflict both pain and joy. At its heart, it is a perceptive representation on the after-effects of overwhelming events, showing how the human mind can explicably emerge from the ashes and grow forward. This is a truly beautifully written book, despite some of the unpleasant and even at times, heartbreaking circumstances, which makes the narrative all the more poignant. As another book review summed up:

“Tender Morsels deals with rape, but it’s never actually explicit. What it does is suggest what happens, and your mind does the rest. But nothing is actually masked. Especially not the impact, physical and psychological, that this kind of violence has on Liga. I love that Margo Lanagan doesn’t ever make us pity Liga. She makes our heart break for her, yes, and she makes us love her, and respect her, and wish her the very best.”

Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels (Vintage Books: London 2010) pp. 486 £7.99