So this week I finished reading Heartless by Marissa Meyer, it’s the story of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts before she became the Queen of Hearts. I enjoyed it, and I’ll be posting a review in the next couple of days but it got me thinking about other books that either retell a story or act as an unofficial prequel or sequel to a well known tale.
I’m sure the idea of retelling a story, or re-imagining the life of a popular character isn’t a new concept. Gregory Maguire first published his novel Wicked in 1995, and while this is the first example I’m aware of, I’m sure it’s not the first. Obviously the musical adaptation of the novel became a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic in the early to mid 2000s, and I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between the success of Wicked and an increase in the number of this type of story being produced, or if the success of Wicked just made me more aware of this concept and so I’ve noticed them more in recent years.
Some examples of the well publicised works in this genre I’ve noticed post Wicked include P.D. James’s Death Comes To Pemberley, which takes the characters of Pride & Prejudice and throws them into a who-dun-it in a sort of sequel, the BBC then turned it into their big Christmas drama in 2013; Disney released Maleficent in 2014, and I remember the BBC producing modern retellings of selected Shakespeare plays and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Hogarth are currently releasing a series of novels which are Shakespeare’s plays reimagined, I’m looking forward to New Boy a retelling of Othello by Tracy Chevalier which is due to be released in May this year.
I’ve never really thought to much on on the implications of this sort of story, I’ve just happily read them, but over the past few days I’ve found myself wondering what’s the proper etiquette from writing such a novel, is anything in the public domain fair game? If the original work is out of copyright and the estate or any living relatives can do nothing to stop the publication of a new story does it really matter what Jane Austen’s estate think about the addition of zombies to Pride and Prejudice, or if Lewis Carroll would have agreed with Marissa Meyer’s origin story for his Queen of Hearts? I wonder if I was a published author how would I feel if someone else picked up my characters and took them in a direction I never would have, or created an history that didn’t match my carefully planned, but never published, notes for a character. But then again under British copyright law I would have to be dead for 70 years before it fell into public domain, and I guess by that point I wouldn’t really care…
How do you feel about re-tellings? What do you think when you see a new book released that takes one of your favourite characters from a classic novel and gives them a new backstory? Are there any books that fall into this category that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!
7 thoughts on “The Discussion Post – The World Reimagined”
Michelle @ FaerieFits
I actually took a class where we talked about this to a certain extent. It was a “European Storytelling” class, and we studied a bunch of folklore across Europe (so mostly it a mythology class). But we had a whole unit on how folklore evolves over time and I found the discussion FASCINATING.
If you really think about it, Disney made their company out of retellings. Mostly picking on the Brothers Grimm & Hans Christian Andersen, their real money-maker classics adapted folklore and fairytales from the dark ages into something that kids could relate to in “modern” (20th century) times. The “retelling” of the story with adaptations is a natural part of story evolution. As values as a culture change and reform, it’s COMMON for stories to be expanded upon and retold.
Take Cinderella for example:
The original tale of Aschenputtel focused on societal ideals related to stepmothers (a VERY common practice due to the high mortality rate), honesty, loyalty to the crown, etc. And that deception gets you punished.
The Disney retelling focused on hard work getting you a reward, finding a man to whisk you away, etc. And the deceit of the stepsisters wasn’t harshly punished at ALL. (partially because we’re making this for children in an age where violence is downplayed, but also likely because the focus on honesty and integrity isn’t quite as extreme).
Cinder takes the same idea a step further, valuing independence, perseverance, intellect, and (honestly) the idea that anyone can do anything if they put their minds to it.
Each of these retellings is DRAMATICALLY different from its predecessor, but if you look closely enough, you can see the evidence of societal norms and expectations changing over time. And it’s one of the things I LOVE about reading retellings.
Obviously, that’s not 100% true for ALL of them, but I think if you look closely enough you’ll see it in even unexpected places 🙂
… And now I’m going to go write a post about this, because MAN the ideas are flowing now! 😉
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That’s very true. I remember being shocked at how dark some of the well known fairy tales were before they were Disney-fied.
From what I remember in one version of Sleeping Beauty she’s raped by the prince in her sleep and has twins – then the prince’s wife brings the children to their kingdom and tries to convince the cook to kill them so she can feed the prince his own children.
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I love a good re-telling, and feel that the best ones take some core, recognizable elements, but do something new and different with them. You don’t want a straight-up remake. For this reason, the main complaint I have about Matt Phelan’s otherwise wonder graphic novel Snow White is how closely it follows the Disney version, even while adapting it to 1920s New York. And I am really puzzled about the live motion film of Beauty and the Beast choosing to replicate the animated film. What’s the point?
Some of my favorites are the movie Clueless, Bridget Jone’s Diary, the Lunar Chronicles, and Cloaked In Red, Vivian Vande Velde’s short story collection of different takes on Little Red Riding Hood.
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I like it when the book isn’t a complete re-telling, but rather an extension or offshoot of the original. For example, I love the Electric Empire series by Viola Carr. It’s loosely related to the story of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, but it is an entirely new story as well. Another example of a book I enjoyed was The Collector’s Society by Heather Lyons. Many of the characters are from other stories, and the main character is Alice from Wonderland after she’s returned from Wonderland and has been institutionalized.
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