I’m really excited to present this guest post from Jenelle L. Schmidt, author of three fantasy novels: King’s Warrior, Second Son, and Yorien’s Hand, as well as a short-story retelling of Beauty and the Beast entitled “Stone Curse” that can be found in the Five Enchanted Roses anthology by Rooglewood Press.
Fairy tale retellings have become quite popular in recent days. Though, if we’re honest, fairy tales never really seem to go out of fashion. The simple structure, few characters, moral lesson, and neat little “happily ever afters” warm our hearts. It helps that many of these stories are also introduced during childhood, which means they resonate in our memories with a nostalgic glow.
Retellings of fairy tales also appear to be widely beloved. And I believe that this happens for one simple reason: they let us experience some of our favorite stories again… for the first time.
There is nothing quite like reading or hearing a story that you love for the very first time. You listen avidly or read as fast as you can on the all-important quest to discover the answer to the vital question of: “What happens next?” and “How does it all end?”
But though re-reading a favorite story can be enjoyable. Though you can find new favorite lines and phrases throughout the story, and meanings can change as you age and gain new life experiences… you never quite get that initial feeling of “aha!” back. And this is why I believe fairy tale retellings (and retellings in general) tend to do so well. They let us revisit a favorite story without quite knowing all the twists and turns of the road by heart. It also explains why retellings often evoke extremely strong emotions either positive or negative. If the story does not “live up” to the expectations of the audience, it will be met with disproportionate backlash if it is a retelling than if it had simply been another mediocre original story.
Because of this potential for vast positive OR negative feedback, the idea of retelling a fairy tale is both exciting, daunting, and overwhelming.
So, how does one set about attempting to rewrite something so beloved?
The best retellings that I have read have all had a few things in common:
The first thing is that the authors treated the original tale with respect. Now, before I go further, I do understand that “original” can be a polarizing word with respect to fairy tales, and that many of these stories we do not actually even have the original for… so when I use the word “original” can we just accept that I mean “older version”? Thank you. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. I am not sure I can quite define what I mean when I say that the authors treat the original tale with respect. This does not mean that nothing is changed… in fact, it may look totally different. Cinderella may appear as a miner of a rare metal in the depths of space, Beauty and the Beast may take place aboard a cursed pirate ship, Sleeping Beauty may be able to walk through her dreams to find a prince and bring him to rescue her… these are major deviations from the classic tales… but they all work, because they all stay true to the heart of the original story. This doesn’t mean that they all follow the same formula or even have all the same plot devices. Far from it! They don’t even always have to teach the same main moral lesson as the original (though if it isn’t at least a part of the story, readers will probably feel more negatively against it).
For example: when I wrote Stone Curse — my own re-telling of Beauty and the Beast — the main lesson of the story was not “don’t judge a book by its cover.” That lesson does reside within the story in various ways, but it isn’t the main theme, or at least, not the way that it is intended to be in the original tale. In my version, the theme of “don’t judge a book by its cover” is woven around the “beautiful” character, whose actions and inner self do not reflect that characters outward pleasant appearances. The main theme, however, is about forgiveness, and how even the most beautiful outward appearances can be warped into something hideous and sinister by bitterness and a lack of ability to forgive.
The second thing that successful retellings have in common is that they offer something new. They include something surprising or unique, or they twist the story on its head in some interesting way. Part of the fun of writing a retelling is that the author gets to look at an old tale and ask, “What if?” Thathat is part of the fun of reading a retelling, as well, the reader gets to ask the same question and then ride along to discover the answer.
The third thing that most successful retellings I have read have had in common is that they sought in some way to “solve” the loopholes or plot holes of the originals. They often attempt to answer questions such as: if the prince was 11 when he wouldn’t let the creepy old lady into his house in the middle of the night, why must we jump to the conclusion that he was a jerk? Why can’t we just assume he was being responsible? And where were his parents, anyway? Or: what, so Cinderella is the ONLY person in the kingdom that shoe fit? How does that happen? Or: why didn’t everyone just wait until the day AFTER Sleeping Beauty’s birthday to reunite her with her family… she could have grown up thinking her birthday was on the 21st instead of the 20th and all this mess could have been avoided! Because fairy tales are often so short and basic in their original forms, we have to admit that sometimes they do require a large amount of suspending one’s disbelief, and the best retellings always seem to attempt to narrow that gap.
Of course, we all bring our own experiences to the table. These are merely some of the things I appreciate when reading a retelling. What about you, dear Reader? Do you enjoy retellings? Why or why not? For the retellings you enjoy, what elements make you enjoy them more than others? I would love to hear from you!
While there’s no magic formula for the perfect retelling, I think that Jenelle’s points are definitely important things to consider anytime you want to take a stab at rewriting a story that’s already been told before. You’re adding a new layer to something familiar, and it’s up to you whether you want to see through it to the framework underneath or it transforms the story into something totally unique and new!
Please help me thank Jenelle for stopping by.
If you want more from Jenelle you can visit her blog at http://jenelleschmidt.com
Want to get your hands on her novels? You can find them at: http://jenelleschmidt.com/novels/