Jump to content

Recommended Posts

a black and white image of two musicians in an irish pub. Both are wearing sweatshirts. One plays a whistle and one the fiddle.

Musicians in The Cobblestone, Dublin, Ireland by Giuseppe Milo

Recently I had the good fortune to listen to traditional live music at a bar in Dublin, Ireland. The fiddlers were in fine form and the whole bar was tapping along to the beat, myself included, although I didn’t recognize a single song being played. But then the leader of the band struck up a tune I was sure I knew, even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. And suddenly and all at once, the way illumination often strikes, it came into focus — the band was playing Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah.

Positive I was going crazy, I glanced around for confirmation. The older gentleman next to me leaned in. “From Ireland to Appalachia and back again,” he confirmed.  

This happened time and again on my trip. A street busker’s howling harmonica opening, twisty and dark, turned into a gorgeous rendition of Valerie. Rhythmic tapping on a guitar case opened a moody version of If I Go, I’m  Goin. Everywhere I turned, it seemed, the Irish were taking my favorite songs and making them their own. And each time, the transformation hooked me viscerally with recognition and delight.

I feel the same way, it turns out, about story retellings. There’s something inexplicably captivating about diving into a new work and recognizing an old friend beneath its surface. And clearly I’m not the only one who feels that way: Witness the success of stories like Madeline Miller’s Circe and Song of Achilles, Naomi Novik’s refreshed Rumpelstiltskin in Spinning Silver, and Barbara Kingsolver’s  Demon Copperhead, a retelling of David Copperfield.

 I’ve done a lot of thinking about retellings, in part because my latest book Darling Girl is one. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on what to keep in mind if you’re attempting this literary feat.

Some pros and cons of doing a retelling: 

Depending on the story, a retelling may be considered ‘higher concept’ which can make it easier for marketing teams to get a hook into how to position the story. And news of the book can spread easily through word of mouth. The flip side of that, of course, is that readers may not take kindly to a novel that messes with a beloved tale.

So it’s important to understand how a retelling can pull a reader in, and why. 

  • The pull of the familiar … There’s something comforting about sinking into a story we know well, a story we’ve heard or read so often it is a part of our bones. Especially with fairytales or novels we’ve studied in school, turning to an old but updated classic allows us to return to a period when the world felt easier, or perhaps more joyous, to recapture the magic we used to feel when someone uttered those transporting words ‘once upon a time…’ 
  • The lure of the new… At the same time, retellings also offer us the thrill of something different. There’s a certain enjoyment in thinking we know exactly what will happen, only to be surprised by a twist in the plot or a turn in a character’s development. 

The question then becomes, what can you as a writer bring to the familiar story that’s fresh? For me as a writer, that means starting with a story I’m passionate about as a reader and have already wondered about. How might it have ended if the main character had had a different set of circumstances to choose from? What happened before the story captured on the  page to create this particular configuration of events? What might have occurred after the last page was turned and the book shut? Where is there space for me to imagine this story from another angle or point of view?

 For example, author Natasha Bowen uses West African mythology in her novel  Skin of the Sea to retell a fairytale — The Little Mermaid — more familiarly associated with the  Eurocentric tradition.  In The Witch’s Heart, author Genevieve Gornichec focuses on a minor character in Norse mythology — Angrboda, one of Loki’s wives — to create a new viewpoint from which to explain and witness Ragnarok, the Norse end of days.  And in the very dark retelling Snow, Glass, Apple, Neil Gaiman takes the basic tenets of the origin Snow White — a princess in a coffin who does not age — and goes somewhere so brilliant and yet so obvious you’ll wonder how you never saw it before.

It’s all a matter of perspective. 

Once you’ve  found your story, the skill rests in finding the right balance — the fulcrum between shiny new story and beloved old tale. In my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need a character-to character correlation. Rather, if you are true to the story’s essence, you can give readers just enough glimpses of the old that they can find their way through the undergrowth of the new — the same way the Irish song in the pub had just enough of the original notes for me to recognize its homage. In A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, you may have to squint to see Beauty and the Beast, but its shadows are there.

Remember, too, that fairytales and myths have been around so long not just because they are entertaining, but because they tell a universal truth. Don’t stray from the path. Stay out of the woods. Kindness and hard work will be rewarded. Love conquers all. So be aware of your origin story’s center, yes, but don’t be afraid to turn it on its head, blow it up, make it your own. Hum a few bars and we’ll try and recognize it.

This is your story now. 

Now it’s your turn. What do you think drives the current craze for retellings? What makes a great one? And what are some of your favorites? Please share in the comments below.

[url={url}]View the full article[/url]

AC Admin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 0
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Top Posters In This Topic

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



WTF is Wrong With Stephen King?

  • Create New...