Hello, and welcome back! It is I, the self-declared queen of retellings. Ha! Kidding. More like your resident retelling fangirl, but same difference. If I’ve made three things clear during my six (eight months??? idk what is time??) months blogging it is as follows:
- Me like pirates
- The times that my expectations have destroyed me are far too many. At this point expectations should just be banished to the stomach of a human-eating gremlin, never to be heard from again.
- Retellings >>>
Today, we’re going to be talking about lucky number 3!
Phoenix @ Books with Wings and I collaborated on this ever lovely discussion post. We’ve gone full jigsaw puzzle and each posted half of the questions on our blogs. You don’t need to read one half to understand the other, but I highly recommend you check both out! After all, you can never have too much talk about retellings. Find the other section (plus more recommendations!!!) here.
Okey dokey. Let’s hop right in!
If you’ve read the other half of this post, this will be a bit of a repeat. But it’s a good jumping off point for the rest of the post, so we’re going to engage in the formality of a definition anyway.
You’d think between the two of us, that we could come up with a semidecent definition for a retelling. But no. No such luck. Turns about writing definitions is an art form neither of us have mastered. Even good ole Google let us down! Google’s definition is as follows: to tell [a story] again or differently’
Here’s what we came up with: A retelling is a story in which an original story, usually a fairytale, classic, or legend, is taken and written again with a twist. Certain elements are changed in order to create a fresh perspective. Some of these elements could be setting, maybe a few minor plot points, character names and personalities, etc.
This question isn’t a one glass slipper fits all sort of situation. It varies depending on a person and their tastes, but let’s break down what works for us.
Phoenix: First of all, a change in characters. Nothing against characters from classics or fairytales, but–okay, actually, everything against characters in classics and fairytales. In a lot of these older stories that are usually the stories retellings are told about, there’s a lot of, I don’t know, helpless princesses, stories revolving around love and strong princes saving these princesses. Or just a guy who’s usually the more powerful one, or the female character is just presented as…weaker.
April: We do not stan the damsel-in-distress trope thank you very much
Phoenix: When a retelling has taken one of these weak female characters and made them stronger, able to hold their own, especially able to use some sort of weapon or can win in fights is really compelling to me.
April: I’d also like to add the lack of characterization in some of the female characters. In a lot of the oldies, the princess was just there to be saved. I appreciate more of the much deserved depth and page time.
Along with that, I’d say that the fresh twist is something that makes for a great retelling. I want to be dazzled by something totally unheard of in the realm of retellings with all sorts of new creative additions.
A literal clone of the original story is a no. I’m sorry, but where exactly did I sign up to read a carbon copy of the same story?????????? I want a new spin on the story, not cardboard cutouts of the same characters. Bring something fresh, spice it up
Phoenix: My best (and only) example of this is a book I read in January, Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly. Now, looking back on the reviews that people have written, it’s supposed to be a more feminist retelling of Snow White. And I don’t know the story of Snow White as much as I usually do. But…I really didn’t find much difference. Okay, so she didn’t get woken up with a prince’s kiss. In fact there was no prince. And at the end, I will admit that Sophie became much more able to hold her own. But the rest of the book was basically the same! I have nothing against feminist books but I’d have LOVED if there could just have been a change in setting or something…because the setting, most of all, made it feel exactly like the original book. I also don’t like it in retellings when characters (especially female characters) are still passive, nor do I enjoy more ‘prince will save you’ stories.
April: The opposite is also true. If I have to read a book, and only find out it’s a retelling after the fact, then it isn’t a compelling retelling (looking at you Throne of Glass). If you explicitly have to bring up oooh it’s like you are my fairy godmother then the reteller has not done a thorough enough job. There need to be elements added beyond verbal cues in order to be a solid retelling.
Less of a dealbreaker and more of an annoyance, but constant references to the original story is a no for me. I don’t know, but something about it just seems… wrong. The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club, as the first rule of retellings is you don’t talk about the book you’re retelling.
During the writing of this post, Phoenix brought up a really good question that I hadn’t thought about. This is a question that I’ve been really curious about and interested in answering and I really want to see what everyone thinks in the comments! So basically, where does ‘retelling’ end and ‘inspiration’ start?
Apparently we have some ~thoughts~ about this question because it is nearly as long as my normal post eeeek. We’re all good, this is where my sublisting genius comes into play. *deep breath*
In your eyes what does inspired mean and what does retelling mean??
A fairytale inspired book and a retelling are two totally separate things. Retellings are woven into the very essence of the book, not some embellishments to be tossed on top. Retellings as the base of a salad, the lettuce per say, not the croutons you sprinkle on top (what even is that comparison lol, but my point stands).
Inspiration, on the other hand, has some similar components, but it diverges further from the story. There are elements of the original story, but it doesn’t stay within the blueprint. There are obviously creative liberties to be taken while writing retellings (I mean, that’s basically in the definition), but there is a point in my mind where a story can diverge far enough from the original not to be considered a retelling anymore. The question is, how far is too far????
How do you know if a book is a retelling or simply inspired by the book?
Well actually, right there is a big clue. The ‘how do you know’. If you can’t tell then…it’s probably not a retelling. Usually, retellings will be obvious right off the bat because the plot will VERY closely follow the original story…not to mention that, well, you’ll probably see that it’s being called a retelling if you’re on any reading sites anywhere.
BUT even those sites can be misleading or even wrong (*gasp* the internet can be wrong sometimes). Maybe it’s claiming to be a retelling but you read it and…it’s really not. What’s the farthest ‘retelling’ can be stretched?
April: *raising her hand enthusiastically* I have an example of this!! First & Then by Emma Mills (underrated gem by the way! check out my full review here) is labeled as a Pride & Prejudice retelling and it’s really not. I mean, it has rivals-to-lovers romance and uses a couple lines from the book, but that hardly makes it a retelling. I would classify it as more of a story inspired by Pride and Prejudice than a full blown retelling.
Phoenix: Really, it’s up to the reader in my opinion. To someone, a book about Cinderella but her stepmother and sisters are actually nice and the prince is forcing Cinderella to marry him* might still be a retelling! I mean, you have the main character and all the other characters in the original tale (yeah, let’s say the fairy godmother is there as well, I just didn’t mention her). But to others…the characters are completely different! The PLOT is probably different and this sounds like a tale that has been INSPIRED by Cinderella. Maybe it was a retelling at one point in the writing of the book but now it’s morphed into something else.
*I swear, I didn’t think of Cinderella Is Dead till after I wrote this.
April: Ooh that’s a really good point! I would also like to add that having certain similar elements doesn’t automatically make something a retelling. Not every book with a ball is a Cinderella retelling. Not every book with witches is a Wizard of Oz retelling. Not every book with a family rivalry is a Romeo and Juliet retelling. Common tropes or character traits do NOT equal retellings.
There is a retelling out there for all types of tastes. You just need to find it (Aprilism no 3). Here are some of my favorites, but if you need even more recommendations be sure to check out Phoenix’s part of the post!!
Do you like mysteries with a side of retellings???
A Study in Charlotte by by Brittany Cavallaro… A retelling of the good ole Sherlock stories mashed into one glorious book, set at a boarding school, and with the grandchildren of the famous detective duo.
Or are you more of a contemporary retelling person???
Geekerella by Ashley Poston… I can best describe this as Cinderella but with fandoms and all around geekiness.
If I’m Being Honest by by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka… a modern retelling of Taming of the Shrew! This right here is what we call peak character development.
Alright then. With that, we are going to call this half of the discussion post a wrap! Do be sure to check out the other half of the post for more retelling talk and fabulous reccomendations!!
Do you like retellings? What makes a compelling one, in your opinion?? What makes a not so hot retelling?? What are some of your favorites??