Monday, July 14, 2008

Fairy Tale Re-tellings

When I was younger (like through high school), I read mysteries. Almost exclusively. I can probably count on my fingers how many books that weren't mysteries that I read for pleasure during that time (it drove my mother crazy). In college, I got on a classics kick, and read through quite a few boring books that I will probably never re-read. When I got married, I started in on fantasy books because that is what my husband likes.

Today (not actually all that much later), I read a variety of those three categories, but I've found a new genre that really appeals to me. One that I don't really have a name for, but can best be explained as fairy tale re-tellings.
*Pictured: East by Edith Pattou; Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine; Beast by Donna Jo Napoli; The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale; and Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Where an author takes an existing fairy tale and modernizes it. Since the re-tellings (at least the ones I've read) are novel-length, they also tend to give a lot more background information explaining why so and so is in this predicament to begin with. I love these stories. I don't necessarily love every one that I've read, but on the whole I love them. There is something about revisiting fairy tales from my youth (and learning about new ones!) that I really enjoy.

In the past week I've read two fairy tale re-tellings:

Princess Ben, by Catherine Murdock

I'm not sure this one actually qualifies as a re-telling because I don't think it uses any one fairy tale as a start off point, but there are lots of elements that remind you of fairy tales (sleeping princess that "can only be awakened by true loves kiss"; evil mother figure, etc).

I really enjoyed this story of Princess Benevolence growing up and becoming the princess she was destined to be. I especially loved her voice. She is quite funny and it's easy to root for her. Her forays into the wizards tower were always fun, and I loved the attitude the wizard's tower always gives her. Ben didn't get to do whatever she wanted; she had to fulfill the desires of the tower first. I did think it got a little annoying that she kept mentioning that she wasn't skinny. I realize it was probably to emphasize that what's inside counts more than what's outside, but I caught it the first half-dozen times. I didn't need to keep reading about it!

4 out of 5 stars

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Stirwaters Mill is cursed. Or maybe not, but the people that own/run the mill sure have a lot of bad luck. Like the fact that no Miller son has survived into adulthood. When Charlotte Miller's father dies, she is left with the responsibility to run the mill. Unfortunately, there is problem after problem and Charlotte nearly looses the mill due to debt. One day, a man identifying himself as Jack Spinner arrives offering to change a roomful of straw into gold. For this favor he only asks for Charlotte's mother's ring, which Charlotte reluctantly gives. Spinner helps out the Miller girls two more times, but payment his last assistance is more than the bargained for. Will Charlotte be able to break the curse in time?

I actually really enjoyed the story. A lot. There is a lot of back story to the Rumpelstiltskin character, which really added to the original story. However, I did not like Charlotte. At first her independence and strength really appealed to me. She even kind of reminded me of me - I stress about money like no one's business. But, as time continued it just got to be too much. How could you marry someone and not trust them with your secret? Maybe it's just me, but I tell my husband everything and I would be devastated if he just up and left one day because he couldn't stand my secret keeping anymore. I understand that she didn't want people to think that she had married him for his money, but it seems like he could have helped her come up with a solution to her many problems. Even if he was just there to support her decisions. It was so frustrating!

Oh, and I really like the cover for this one. There is something very appealing about how simple it is.

3.5 out of 5 stars

If you are interested, the Provo City Library has a book list called Fractured Fairy Tales, that lists all sorts of fairy tale re-tellings. I've only read a few from the list, but most of them sound interesting.

**And don't forget to enter my contest to win a copy of the Water Keep ARC by J. Scott Savage!!**


Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I just discovered this genre myself within the past three months. I had no idea that books like this even existed and now I've read about 4 -5 with many more on my TBR.

KT said...

I read Ella Enchanted a while back, but I don't think I realized it was a fairy tale retelling (maybe I'm slow). It wasn't until I started reading Shannon Hale that I really started to realize how much I enjoy the genre. I'm glad you like them too!

Jeane said...

That Curse Dark as Gold one looks lovely. As I was reading through your post I thought: what a beautiful cover, I have to see it closer. Then you mentioned how appealing you found it. There is just something striking about it.

Anonymous said...

Princess Bubble is also a retelling of an old tale.
I recently found this gem

Laura H said...

If it wasnt for book reviewers like you and others I would NEVER have read Shannon Hale. But I am finding that I enjoy these fairy re-tellings.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice review!

For anyone interested, I actually keep a list of retellings on my website. It's not comprehensive, of course, but it's a good start for things to add to the To-Read pile!