Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Favorite retellings

Here’s a post by Ilana C. Myer at tor.com that seems in keeping with the recent McKinley emphasis here: Five Gorgeous Classic Retellings

Just five! I do feel anyone should be able to come up with ten. Shoot, anyone could manage “Ten Great Beauty and the Beast Retellings,” never mind ten total for all retold fairy tales and myths and so on. Nevertheless, it’s a a list I can get behind.

McKinley Beauty is on it, of course. That’s on practically every list of favorite retellings, and of course with good reason.

Ilana Myer also includes The Outlaws of Sherwood, which (I feel I should emphasize) I do like a lot; it’s my favorite version of Robin Hood just as McKinley’s Beauty is my favorite Beauty. I just feel the ending is weak.

Then Myer goes on to mention three others, one of which is a GREAT CHOICE that you don’t see mentioned nearly as often.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

and, drumroll —

The King Must Die by Mary Renault

Bluebeard is never going to be my favorite anything, because it’s fundamentally Gothic horror and my taste for that is limited. I did like Strands of Bronze and Gold quite a bit for its atmosphere, but I have no urge whatever to seek out Bluebeard retellings.

The Once and Future King is, perhaps oddly, both too silly and too tragic for my taste.

But The King Must Die! There’s a wonderful story. Mary Renault does such a lovely job with Theseus and the Ancient Greek setting. Plus she handles the tragedy in the way that works best for me: she cuts the story in half and puts the tragedy in the second half (The Bull from the Sea) where I can easily ignore it.

Here is what Myer says of The King Must Die:

This rendition of the myth of Theseus is powered by some of the most exquisite writing I’ve ever encountered. From the origins of Theseus in his home village of Troizen, to his intrigues in the royal palace of Athens, and—most of all—to the maze of the minotaur on Crete, Renault immerses the reader fully in a world that feels grander and more real than our own. This is the essence of epic: To make what is past, and strange to us, take on overpowering life.

Renault writes utterly convincingly of the Minoans, about whom we know so little; of bull dances, of the splendor of Minos’s palace, of Theseus’s adventure at the heart of the maze. She took an immortal myth and from it made a book deserving of similar immortality, because it is that good.

I’ve read The King Must Die multiple times; The Bull from the Sea just once. Both are beautiful, so whether you read the entire duology depends entirely on your tolerance for tragedy.

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12 Comments Favorite retellings

  1. SarahZ

    Apparently I have 48 books tagged “fairy tales” on goodreads, so here’s the highlights:

    Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
    Six Gun Snow White by Catherine Valente
    The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
    Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
    The Princess Curse by Marie Haskell
    Tithe by Holly Black

  2. Rachel

    Sarah, of your list, I’ve read four — Marillier, Valentine, Yolen, and Haskell. I absolutely agree that all four belong on any list of great retellings, which suggests that I should hurry up and read the other two on your list!

    I’ve got Entreat Me somewhere … I think in my Beauty and the Beast folder on my Kindle. What? Doesn’t everyone have such a folder?

    I can easily imagine Bluebeard making for great opera. All that Gothic melodrama!

  3. Elaine T

    The Teen offers Gail Levine’s work, especially THE FAIRY’S MISTAKE, which is a Toads & Diamonds retelling.

    We both suggest Wrede’s Snow White & Rose Red and Dalkey’s Nightingale.

  4. SarahZ

    Tithe is a looser retelling than the others, but definitely draws on Tam Lin and I just really love her fairy books.

  5. Kathryn

    The retellings that I’ve read most often, other than McKinley’s, are probably Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Branch of Silver Branch of Gold and the Five Something Something anthology series… Who wouldn’t like to read a version of Beauty and the Beast that takes place on a pirate ship that may not exist? (Five Enchanted Roses) Or a version of Sleeping Beauty in which a tomb robber accidentally wakes up a prince who was in suspended animation? (Five Magic Spindles) So fun!

  6. Rachel

    Thanks for the tips, Kathryn! I’ve added samples of both to my Kindle so I don’t forget to check them out. 12 Dancing Princesses is a favorite of mine.

  7. Elaine T

    I’ve remembered another: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston.
    Sheharazade with a strong flavor of Beauty and the Beast as well. And a strong sisterly bond. I always appreciate when family members matter.

    The author’s other retelling Spindle didn’t work nearly as well.

  8. Rachel

    I think you’ve mentioned A Thousand Nights before. It does sound like my kind of thing. I wonder if I already have it … looks like no. Well, I do now.

  9. Kim Aippersbach

    Oooh, I remember The King Must Die. Really liked it. Never read the sequel. (Probably never will!)

    Ann Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is an absolutely gorgeous retelling of The Snow Queen.

    E. K. Johnston also retold Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale in her brilliant Exit, Pursued by a Bear.

    Now I have to go find Anne Elisabeth Stengl, because I definitely want a Beauty and the Beast with pirates!

  10. Rachel

    I’ve certainly heard of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, but I didn’t realize it was a retelling. How interesting! And what a neat title.

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