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The fantasy genre is, and always has been, my go-to for reading. In fact, you’d be hard fetched to find contemporary fiction anywhere on my shelves.
In recent years, “fairy tale retellings” have become a popular trend in fantasy, to the point where the market is saturated with them. Should this be seen as a great way to see our favourite childhood stories in a new light, or is this the beginning of the end of original ideas?
One way of framing a retelling is through the eyes of the villain. Sounds interesting, right? Let me direct your attention to the Villains series by Serena Valentino. These are books that give backstory to the villains of Disney, such as the Wicked Queen and Mother Gothel. But boy, do they take the villainy out of the villain. For the first three quarters of Fairest of All, the Queen (or as I now like to call her, Nicey McNice-Face) is about the most boring character you’ve ever come across! She loves Snow White, she loves her husband, and she loves her people. I don’t want to come to the realisation of “Oh, they were just misunderstood!” I want raw grief, thirst for power, and a twisted mind.
A villain backstory that gives me these things is Heartless by Marissa Meyer, who delivers the story of the Queen of Hearts in such a gut-wrenching way that by the end I was sobbing. It’s a story of a rebellious daughter with a socialite mother, who falls in love with someone she really shouldn’t have. On a side note, we also get multiple answers to the Mad Hatter’s age-old question, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”
I would now like to introduce you to the tragically lesser-known author Christina Henry, whose retelling of Peter Pan is just *chef’s kiss*. Lost Boy tells the story of Peter from the perspective of Jamie, who is Peter’s favourite. This book really gives meaning to that quote from the original J. M. Barrie story, “when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out.” I personally find it so believable in relation to the original book. I highly recommend this read, as well as Henry’s other books, where she puts Little Red Riding Hood in the apocalypse and Alice in Wonderland in an asylum.
There are, of course, other retellings not necessarily from the perspective of a villain. A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Bridgid Kemmerer uses her retelling of Beauty and the Beast to give us some disability representation which, I’m always here for. House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig (retelling the Twelve Dancing Princesses) and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (A retelling of Beauty and the Beast) are based on their original fairy tales in the loosest sense. I didn’t even realise A Court of Thorns and Roses was supposed to be Beauty and the Beast until someone pointed it out to me, and House of Salt and Sorrows can only call itself a retelling because there are twelve sisters (though I believe almost half of them are dead at the start anyway). But even in these books we can see the fantasy genre slowly being taken over by a handful of stories being told in slightly different ways.
I would hardly call the influx of retellings in recent years a death of originality, though. Yes there are some that seem to try to justify the villains, and some that seem to only be calling themselves a retelling in the hopes of increasing sales but, I feel like the vast majority are offering a new, fresh take on classics and, in my not-so-humble opinion, are even improving them.