Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dissecting Genre: Fairy Tale Re-Tellings

Tale(s) as old as time…

For many of us, watching Disney movies is the first recollection we have of fairy tales. Watching beautiful princesses find their true love and embrace their destiny all while dressing like a million bucks and singing catchy tunes with the household objects/animals/local fairies. And as Disney movies have been around for many, many years (the first Disney movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was released in 1936), fairy tale re-tellings are not a new trend.
In YA literature, however, they have become a genre all their own over the past few years. That’s not to say that there were never any YA fairy tale retellings before, but now more than ever you can walk into a bookstore and, if you so desire, walk out with a pile of YA fairy tale retellings that rivals Gus-Gus’ armload of cheese nibblets.

The great thing about this explosion of fairy tale reinventions is the spectrum of genres they span. While some fairy tale retellings remain light and happy, a homage to the warm and fuzzy feelings of those childhood movies, others dare to go darker in a tribute to the darkness of many of the original tales. All of them bring us closer to the child within us, reminding us of the first time we heard or saw that story and expanding our imaginations by challenging us to re-imagine those long-held memories of the characters in new and magical worlds and situations. They bring back the relationship we have to those iconic characters but in a way that allows us to re-discover those roles and connect with them on a more relatable level as we see the stories through the eyes of characters our own age (or an age we have been). This is especially true of contemporary re-tellings, which share well-known stories in the framework of our everyday lives, and the best of these help to illuminate the magic that is possible in our everyday lives. 
Some of my favorite fairy tale re-tellings recently have incorporated multiple well-known fairy tales into a world where our old friends continue on past the stories we know and love. Others bring to life fairy tales I never heard as a child, stories from other countries and cultures that find a place in my heart alongside the stories I’ve known all my life. 
This trend toward re-imagination of classic stories has also directed attention towards authors who have taken the genre a step further and given us brand new fairy tales that allow us to experience the joy of reading a fairy tale for the very first time. These stories are not always branded with a FAIRY TALE stamp, but you know them when you read them by that feeling they give you – the one that makes you curl up in a corner and feel like a kid embarking on a magical journey and then leaves you believing in happily ever after (or in the case of some of the darker tales, that justice catches up with the wicked.)
As much as I loved discovering fairy tales as a child, I think I enjoy discovering and re-discovering these stories even more as an adult. There’s a magic in fairy tales that you just can’t find anywhere else in literature and I hope I’ll always be able to find it – in stories, new and old.  
Some of our favorites:
Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge (Adult poetry re-tellings. Creepy and fabulous.)
Once Upon a Time (TV SERIES – cheating, I know, but it’s JUST. THAT. GOOD)
The Tenth Kingdom (Miniseries, now on Netflix – also cheating and also JUST. THAT. GOOD.)

What are your favorite fairy tale re-tellings? Any favorite fairy tales you'd love to see as a YA novel?

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you asked... I fell in love with Heather Dixon's book ENTWINED this year and would recommend to all and sundry :-). It's a retelling of the Twelve Princesses and has everything that's right and good about a fairy tale spun into a fantastic story. AND, there's *dancing.* The fairy princess in all of us likes that.

    On a grown up level, I think Marion Zimmer Bradley's retelling of the Arthurian myths are brilliant. Year in and year out, The Mists of Avalon is so good.