A while ago (as I post this; not so much as I write this) I discussed some of my favourite fairytales. This time around, as I hinted at then, I’d like to discuss some of my favourite retellings as well as spend some time nattering about some of my own attempts. That’ll be interesting. For this post I’ll make things a little broader in that I don’t want to rely solely on retellings of Western European fairytales. For one this allows me to include Tam Lin retellings, which are some of my favourites. (I have a Theory about Tam Lin retellings. One day I will reassemble my collection, reread them all and natter about this theory. Maybe. We’ll see. But so far I have yet to read a retelling that failed to live up to the Theory.)
I feel a little odd naming these as my favourite retellings, actually, since by and large I often haven’t read these books more than once yet. I just fell in love with them when I did and I am filled with squeefulness that has me pass these suggestions on to everyone I can when the topic comes up. This post is still written in honour of Once upon a Time season. I hope everyone’s been having a great challenge! We’re… about halfway through when I’m posting this, I think? Time sure does fly! :O
Because this is a two-part post, I shall be using subheadings to divide the two. Fun times!
Like many, I grew up on fairytales. Inspired by a guest post on Tales of the Marvellous and because it’s Once upon a Time season, I thought I’d ramble on about fairytales and my relationship to them. I may, or may not, at some point make a list of favourite fairytale retellings. For the purpose of this post, I’ll stick to what are canonically considered Western European fairytales. A large part of the reason for that is that, though I grew up with some exposure to non-Western European tales (fairytale, folktale, mythology or otherwise) it wasn’t a lot and my favourites are all going to be Western European.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that, growing up, I was surrounded by many of the most well-known fairytales: Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. They’re stories that have endured and continue to endure for a reason. Some of that is that they’re good at what they do. They take a couple of fairytale elements and do them well. Unlike some other tales which gather up a mishmash and do them badly. Some of that is that they’re so well-known. Some of that is that they’re genuinely more coherent and possess more character than some of the others without needing too much adaptation to be suitable to small children. Jorinde and Joringel is lovely tale on its own, but it’s a bit sparse on motivation even for a fairytale and it’s not particularly memorable compared to some of the others out there. The Juniper Tree is one of the more detailed fairytales, but whichever way you twist it it’s a gruesome tale. It remains a story about a stepmother who beheads her stepson, makes her daughter think she did it, chops the dead boy up for supper, and then gets murdered by the dead-boy-turned-bird by having her head bashed in. There isn’t much you can sanitise and keep the plot intact. Sleeping Beauty is fairly easily sanitised and turned into a chaste kiss without touching much of the rest of the story at all. Rapunzel gets a little more complex. The story I grew up with took out the suggestion that she and the prince have had sex, but left in the kids she’s given birth to in the end. As a child I just rolled with it. As an adult, I kind of want to explore what happened to Rapunzel because she sure wasn’t pregnant when she parted from her prince. Perhaps one day I will.
I was talking about spoilers on other people’s blogs and got a bit tangled in all I wanted to say in a “Reply to a comment” format. Spoilers are interesting things because stories are weird. Sometimes, knowing how a story will turn out significantly increases my enjoyment of it. Sometimes it doesn’t.
A good example is one of the stories I Beyond Binary which I’ve tried to word a comment on (in relation to some of the other stories in the anthology) without giving a part of the central device away. It’s not an unexpected device — in fact, it’s incredibly obvious once you start reading — but the thing that gave the story the kick it had was the fact that I had no outside corroboration of that device. It’s slowly revealed throughout the story and a great deal of my pleasure came from collecting up clues to prove it right. It’s not a mystery story, though those are another good example of stories where I do often find spoilers… not necessarily detracting from the story but changing the way I read it. If I don’t know what the mystery is, I get to guess at it and piece the clues together. If I do know what the mystery is, I read for how the characters piece it together or how the author framed it or the world-building or the characterisation or whatever else I find intriguing about the story. It’s a very different experience and a lot more like rereading. (In the case of Beyond Binary, the knowledge would have ruined the story for me because it would have taken away the one thing I connected to.)
GalleyCat posted a brief article about the books that scared us as children a little while ago. (You can read it here) and I thought, hey, why not? It could be an interesting topic to talk about.
Unfortunately, my memory of my childhood reading is incredibly spotty and I avoided horror books as much as I possibly could. I was a scaredy-cat. Still am, comes to that. So you’d think that I wouldn’t have a whole lot of interesting answers to give to the question of what books scared me as a child.
Because it’s been on my mind a bit, courtesy of some recent discussions on my twitter timeline (or whatsitcalled? I’m still a twitter n00b).
This blog post by Peter Ball fills me with the desire to quote all the lines. Well, not all of them. And I haven’t read On Writing, so I can say nothing about the book either way, but. Here, let me just quote bits. It’ll be easier. Read More