Retellings: Another Type of Fanfiction?

Fairy Tales like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are so old that no one even knows who originally told these tales. In fact, I don’t think anyone really knows what the original versions are.

These stories have been retold an x number of times that new versions inevitably appear with each retelling. Now in present day, we even get to read published books that pretty much reinterpret or subvert the tales our parents/grandparents/nannies told us in our childhood.

So how many different versions could there be of one particular fairy tale?

Take Snow White for example. We all know about the stepmother, the poisoned apple, the 7 dwarves and of course the skin as white as snow.

But did you know that the much older version of the tale actually has Snow White’s own mother fulfilling the role of the stepmother? Yes, folks. Snow White’s mom was so jealous of her beauty that she was willing to kill her own flesh and blood daughter. And Snow White is no pure princess of goodness either. Because in this version, Snow White (after she woke up and married the prince) had her mother/stepmother invited to the wedding, taken captive and punished by having her mother/stepmother wear really hot iron shoes (which made the mother “dance” until she died).

How far is it from the storybook versions you’ve read or the Disney version or the modern YA retellings? I’ll let you decide.

Now let’s take a look at Cinderella

We all know about a fairy godmother helping her get a dress and glass slippers and a warning to get back by midnight. And how the prince tried to find her by the remaining glass slipper Cinderella dropped.

But an older version featured so much mutilation that I couldn’t believe (at first) that people told their children this story. Because as the story goes, the remaining shoe (that wasn’t even made of glass) was the yardstick for who the prince will marry. If the shoe fits, you’re it. As we all know, the shoe was too small for the stepsisters. But did you know that the stepmother actually told the stepsisters to cut a toe or a heel to make it fit? Woah, that’s hardcore IMO

I can tell you more about Sleeping Beauty. But I think I’ve proven my point.

There are so many versions of the original story that no one really knows what the original actually is.

Even Beauty and the Beast which was said to be written Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in the 1700’s has eerie similarities the practically ancient story of Cupid and Psyche and the Norwegian Fairy Tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Which brings me to the question: Are these fanfiction? The ones a lot of fans take time to write based on characters/stories of popular media and post on the internet for everyone to read and enjoy?

I think yes. From my point of view, Fairy Tale Retellings are just another word for Fairy Tale Fanfiction. Only difference is that no one knows the original author or the original version of the said fairy tale.

In that sense, there’s nothing new under the sun. Because a lot of tropes and plot points gets re-used over the years. But I don’t think that would count as plagiarism. Yes, retellings may be based on another’s work. But the stories I’ve read on the shelves of libraries or on fanfic hosting sites are unique in their own right. Our present writers have put their own unique and personal twist to the story that the modern retelling becomes a story unto itself.

So here are some of my favorite fairy tale retellings. For Beauty and the Beast retellings, please refer to my previous post HERE.

But for the other retellings, please refer to the below:

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman

This is a short story that can be found in Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors

A retelling of the Snow White story. Only in the POV of a much more sympathetic stepmother. Be warned of triggers such as incest and necrophilia. One of the best retellings I’ve read.

The Company of Wolves by Angela Carter

This is a short story found in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

My favorite Little Red Riding Hood Retelling. Warning: nudity and dark themes ahead. But given the author is Angela Carter, expect kickass themes of feminism in this short story

The Scarecrow King by Jill Myles

A retelling of King Thrushbeard. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it’s about a spoiled princess who rejected all her suitors. Her father the king thus decided to marry her to the next man who visits the palace. This turns out to be a mere commoner. But we find out later that the commoner is really a king in disguise.

Jill Myles’ version follows almost the same pattern. But with more fantasy elements and a more modern point of view mixed in. I highly recommend it for those who enjoy more light-hearted retellings.

Deathless by Catherynne M Valente

This is actually based on the Russian Fairy Tale “The Death of Koschei the Deathless”

Admittedly, I was not aware of the tale’s existence prior to reading Deathless. But basically, the main character of the original fairy tale is Ivan who marries a kickass warrior princess named Marya Morevna. Due to his curiosity, he frees Koschei who was imprisoned in the palace dungeons (against Marya’s instruction to leave the dungeon alone). Koschei takes Marya away and Ivan has to go and rescue her.

In Deathless, let’s just say that while the main players are still there, the main focus of the story is Marya Morevna. And it’s a mixture of history and fantasy. With some of the book being set during the siege of Leningrad and the other parts of the book set in Koschei’s magical kingdom.

Fans of dark romance would love this book. And it is indeed one of the most marvelously written fairy tale retellings I’ve read so far. So I think it is certainly no waste of time and effort to try this book out

Stitching Snow by RC Lewis

Basically Snow White in space. With a more kickass Snow White and Prince Charming. Though definitely nowhere near as dark as Neil Gaiman’s story.

I love it because Snow White is a mechanic/fighter/princess-in-hiding. And I like how she and the Prince Charming character are sort-of enemies turned friends

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Very creative re-imagining of the Cinderella story set in the distant future where robots and other advancements in science already exist. And there are people who live on the moon that are considered to be “apart” from regular humans.

Cinder (the Cinderella character) is a mechanic with a prosthetic leg who happens to meet the crown prince due to her much-deserved reputation for fixing robots.

Let’s just say that this book appeals to the Sailormoon fan in me. I’m not all that invested in the romance (and I think it might just be me). But I really like the world Marissa Meyer created in this book.

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay

In an older story of Sleeping Beauty, the prince was already a king when he found Sleeping Beauty and had twins with her. Unfortunately, the king’s mom or wife (it depends on which version you read) doesn’t approve.

Princess of Thorns is pretty close to that version of the story . But it is centered on Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, Aurora. Aurora is disguised as a boy and wants to free her brother from the evil queen. Prince Niklaas wants to marry Aurora, not knowing that the “boy” he met is Aurora.

Personally, I love Aurora and Niklaas. And their developing romance is my main draw to this book. Expect another enemies to lovers trope.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Based on The Wild Swans, wherein an evil queen stepmother has turned her stepsons into swans. And the only way to break the curse is for their sister to make shirts out of nettles (prickly painful things) for each of them without making a sound.

Juliet Marillier’s version is set in ancient Ireland. And pretty much stays true to the fairy tale. But be warned of trigger warnings such as rape. The heroine Sorcha has to endure much to help her brothers. She even had to stay with people who were originally enemies of her people and marry the leader.

I devoured this book from cover to cover when I first read it. Suffice it to say that it is an excellent retelling with magic and romance. And I really loved the strength and perseverance of this heroine. This is the sort of book I would use to squish people’s cheeks to try to force them to read it. LOL

Cinder & Ella by Kelly Oram

The Cinderella story for the modern world. Complete with blogs and comic cons. Ella’s accident left her with scars, burns and a limp. Having lost her mother and having to live with her dad and his new family, she feels isolated. And thus eventually decides to reconnect with her best friend (who she never met in real life), Cinder. Brian is on his way to the “big leagues” with getting the lead part in a highly anticipated movie adaptation of a very successful book series. But he’s been feeling lost since losing contact with Ella (the best friend he met through the internet). He is about to go through with a fake engagement/marketing ploy when he suddenly received an email from a familiar name…

Go try this book out. The characters, especially the stepfamily are very well-fleshed out. And while this book deals with the effects of the media, public perception and bullying, it is an over-all lighthearted book. And I really love the author’s creative retelling of Cinderella through this medium

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s take of Norse Mythology. For purists, I’d say not to worry.  He stays true to the myths (from what I’ve read of the “original” Norse Mythology). If any of you readers are like my Dad (who pretty much doesn’t need a synopsis to read a Neil Gaiman book), I think you’ll be well rewarded for your faith in his skills.

Yes, the book stays true to the original. But Neil Gaiman has added his own style to it. Making stories a lot funnier and enjoyable.

Indexing by Seanan Maguire

This book takes retellings to the next level. In this world fairy tales are dangerous enough to take over people’s lives (eg. a girl and her whole town sleeping until they died of dehydration and lack of nutrition, a comatose girl giving birth to twins, etc). And the main characters are there to help break the hold these stories have on the people.

Personally, I initially found the book slow. But as each chapter/issue went by, I started getting more and more familiar with the main characters. And in the end loved them enough to feel like I want to see how their “adventure” goes. If asked to describe this book, I’d say it’s the result of a threesome between TV Tropes, Once Upon A Time and Grimm. LOL

I found it to be a funny and smart book that appeals to the trope-lover in me.

Final words:

I know each author’s reaction to fanfic (of their own works) vary. Personally, I love fanfic because of its potential to explore avenues that canon might not have the time go through for whatever reason.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Pride and Prejudice-inspired books lately. And I’m ashamed to say that I initially derided it as unoriginal “fanfic.” But thinking about it, a lot of books and series were based on other works too. And those were even books that I’ve enjoyed and loved.

So I decided to try out some of the P&P inspired books (eg. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Unequal Affections, etc). Let’s just say that my reactions were mixed. I hated some. But I loved others.

So you never really know if you don’t try. Sure you might save time from reading badly written works. But you might also be missing out on what could be a very cherished book for all time

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