Monday, January 9, 2017

Fairy Tale Retellings: The Space Between Spells

Can I just say how much I love fairy tale retellings?

This comes about because I just read Beauty by Robin McKinley for about the eightieth time on my flight back to Utah. As I read it and enjoyed the story I've read many, many times (it's a favorite travel book, and I love to travel), I started thinking about retellings, fractured and otherwise, and how they allow writers to explore some of the weirdness and empty spaces left in folktales.

I also reread Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, which kept that train of thought going.

If you've never read the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, please do. They're entertaining and very clever, and Wrede uses fairy tales well.

I love fairy tales, and one of the things I love about them is how spare they are. We don't get any more than the bare bones of the story; Cinderella goes to the ball, but why did she want to go? Where did this fairy godmother come from? What happens to the animals after being other creatures for a night?

Retellings are fun because even though I know these tales well, I can see how different writers interpret the same tale. With "Cinderella," we get books like Ella Enchanted that answer questions about how Ella knows the prince and why Ella would wait on her horrible stepmother and stepsisters anyway.

Some tales, like "Rumpelstiltskin," are really problematic and draw writers to them. Why would Rumpelstiltskin even offer to help the miller's daughter? Why does he want a baby? Who's the real villain (Rumpelstiltskin honored his deal, after all)?

Can I just stop and say how annoying it is to type "Rumpelstiltskin" over and over? Sheesh.

I also love fractured fairy tales, like the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, because they point out these questions and weird things and write a new tale that might make more sense.

I think this is why fairy tales survive. They're spare, so readers and tellers can reinterpret them for a new audience. They're a form of living story, not pinned down. In a class on fairy tales and folklore, I learned that it's just about impossible to pin down an "original" tale because even before the Grimm brothers and Perrault and other tellers wrote these stories down, people had been telling them and altering them for their listeners.

Retellings of these tales just keeps the story alive and changing. As long as the stories are told well, changes and additions and all, I see myself continuing to enjoy the tales from whoever tells them.

I gotta say, Disney's certainly working hard at adapting fairy tales. It's practically their thing.

There are a bunch of writers debuting this week, all young adult writers. See the list below, and if you're intrigued, go check it out on Goodreads (The Bear and the Nightingale is even a fairy tale retelling!).

Young Adult:
Jamie Mayer - Painless (1/10)
Kristen Orlando - You Don't Know My Name (1/10)
Breeana Shields - Poison's Kiss (1/10)
Katherine Arden - The Bear and the Nightingale (1/10)
Robin Roe - A List of Cages (1/10)
Ellie Blake - Frostblood (1/12)

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