QOTW: Fairy-tale Retellings

11 Mar

This week, the we’re answering two questions! They come from Miss Rae, who asks:

What advice do you have for a writer trying to write a fairy tale adaptation? Do you have any good resources for such projects?

and Marina, who asks:

What do you think are some of the best, or your favorites, of the fairytale retellings?


Fave fairy tale tellings (I have a lot):

– ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine (Cinderella retelling) <– DUH (I’m channeling my inner Charlie Sheen)

– THE GOOSE GIRL by Shannon Hale (The Goose Girl retelling) <– I wrote a recommendation for it because it’s amazing!

– EAST by Edith Pattou (East of the Sun, West of the Moon retelling) <– read this YEARS ago, but I remember loving it

– SPINDLE’S END by Robin McKinley (Sleeping Beauty retelling) – Also read this years ago

– BEAUTY by Robin McKinley (Beauty and the Beast retelling) – And again, read this years and years ago, but it is seriously amazing

– ROSE DAUGHTER by Robin McKinley (Beauty and the Beast retelling) – Yes, she wrote TWO Beauty and the Beast retellings. Honestly can’t remember which one I love more

– SHAPESHIFTER by Holly Bennett (Irish folktale/legend retelling of Finn mac Cumhail) <– loved this so much I wrote a book recommendation!

– WINTER ROSE by Patricia A. McKillip (a Tam Lin retelling) – Beautiful prose, wonderful characters, and just all around stunning!

– Oh, and last but definitely not least, QUEEN OF GLASS by the very lovely Sarah J. Maas (a Cinderella retelling) – It is FULL of #winning! But most of you already know that!

Vanessa Di Gregorio


Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (Cinderella). I echo Vanessa on this one; Ella is one of the most memorable heroines ever, and this story is so full of humor and heart I think it might be my most favorite.

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister – Gregory Maguire (Cinderella). I love this one because I like twist endings, and I think he took this in a supremely unique (and disturbing) direction.

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip (Baba Yaga and the Golden Bird) – I read this one recently but it totally captivated me. Patricia’s portrayal of Baba Yaga was creepy and yet comforting; she was true to legend and also part of the circle of magic, a take I loved.

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman (Snow White) – This is part of a short story collection, and I bought the whole book just to have it. Snow White is undead and the ‘Evil’ Queen is the heroine. So creepy, so unique, so awesome.

-Savannah Foley


I’m seconding V on THE GOOSE GIRL. I was absolutely enchanted by it, and never wanted it to end!

THE BLACK SWAN by Mercedes Lackey is another favorite of mine. It retells the Swan Lake legend from the point of view of Odile, the “evil” black swan. I think I was 12 or 13 when I first read the book (though it’s an adult fantasy), and seeing Lackey boldly and beautifully take on the Swan Lake legend was a huge influence on my later decision to retell Cinderella and write QUEEN OF GLASS.

I recently read WILDWOOD DANCING by Juliet Marillier and thought it was an absolutely lovely retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses (set in Transylvania!!). Any of Robin McKinley’s retellings are thoughtful and magical, and Neil Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples” is beyond phenomenal. I’ve heard great things about Margo Lanagan’s TENDER MORSELS, a dark retelling of the Snow White and Rose Red legend, and Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Tower” (collection of stories).

In the research side of things, check out Joseph Campbell’s HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES (I think in order to retell fairy tales, you should first know where they come from, why they exist, and how they are structured and categorized), and if you’re looking into doing a more female-oriented retelling, check out FEARLESS GIRLS,WISE WOMEN, AND BELOVED SISTERS by Jane Yolen.

I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of fantastic books, though!

As for writing retellings…I wrote a post about it here.

-Sarah Maas


I am also jumping on the ELLA ENCHANTED bandwagon. That book basically defines my childhood. I’ve read it so many times my copy is yellowed, dog-eared, and one of the pages actually fell out. I had to tape it back in. I wanted to marry Char… and I kind of still do.

Sammy Bina


There are already so many great recommendations from the other LTWF girls that I won’t add any more! I’ll try tackling the first question instead. I’m afraid I don’t really have a resource for that sort of project (other than the link to Sarah’s great article!), but I do love a good retelling, and I can think of a few pointers…

First off, bring something unique to the retelling. That’s pretty obvious, huh? But nowadays, that’s actually pretty hard! In my mind, there are two kinds of retellings…those that stick with the fantasy setting and those that bring the story into modern times. If you’re trying to write the latter kind of retelling, then you’ve pretty obviously already got your “twist.” In that case, I’d try to remember the theme of the original fairy tale. Also, what are the main symbols? (Cinderella: glass slipper, midnight; Little Red Riding Hood: wolf, red hood; Beauty and the Beast: roses, the ‘beast’) Incorporate those into your story, but in a fresh way. And don’t be afraid to add a new symbol or motif that is all your own.

If your retelling is of the fantasy sort, it can be harder to stick with the original story without making your story…well, basically the original story. It becomes even more important to bring something new to the telling. Sometimes, this can be as simple as making Cinderella a tomboy or as big as making her an assassin ;P Remain true to the original story (unless, of course, your purpose is to twist it, and then by all means change that story around!), but breathe fresh life into it.

A fairy tale retelling is a truly beautiful thing when done well. I wish you the best of luck!

-Kat Zhang


What do you think? Favorite fairy-tale retellings? Any tips on writing one? Let us know!


32 Responses to “QOTW: Fairy-tale Retellings”

  1. kate March 11, 2011 at 3:20 AM #

    as another resource, you could check out maria tatar’s “the classic fairy tales” (norton, critical edition), which gives a sampling of versions of a number of fairy tales, and some literary criticism about cultural context and whatnot.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 11:31 AM #

      Oooh, thanks for that! I’ll definitely check that out!

  2. Aurora Blackguard March 11, 2011 at 7:05 AM #

    ELLA ENCHANTED FTW! I got the movie tie-in cover and I remember I used to pick it up every time I needed to remind myself there was magic in the world. And that was pretty often, I realized because the cover was coming off, the pages were falling out and I thought, this is what a well-loved story looks like. I second Savannah on CONFESSIONS ON AN UGLY STEPSISTER! I loved Iris and thought Caspar was adorable!

    Generally, I love anything Robin McKinley writes but SPINDLE’S END holds a special place in my heart, as does any retelling of Sleeping Beauty. DEERSKIN was also lovely but it was kind of dark which took out a bit of the wonder of it. I loved loved loved Jessica Day George’s retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL.

    WICKED. WICKED WICKED WICKED WICKED. You HAVE to read WICKED because it is kick ass. And I have to agree with Sarah, WILDWOOD DANCING was beautiful 🙂

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 11:05 AM #

      I have read ELLA ENCHANTED at least once every year since I first laid hands on it (which was over 10 years ago now!). I absolutely adore that world – and Ella – and CHAR! ❤

      I've never read DEERSKIN, but I've been meaning to. I have a tendency to love dark stuff, and I love love Robin McKinley, so I'm surprised I haven't picked it up yet!

      I really want to pick up Jessica Day George’s PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL now!

      • Aurora Blackguard March 12, 2011 at 12:25 AM #

        Char is adorable and smexy and brave and kind of dorky all at the same time 🙂 Not to mention Hugh Dancy played him in the movie so extra points!

  3. Caitlin March 11, 2011 at 10:33 AM #

    I LOVE EAST. It is one of my absolute favorite books.

    My tip for writing a retelling: don’t try and make it too complicated. My current wip was originally a Beauty and the Beast retelling; now that’s just a theme, really, because I was trying to force all sorts of other things to fit into the fairy tale framework and it just wasn’t working. Don’t try and cram tons and tons of extra stuff into it. It’ll just give you lots of headaches.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 11:08 AM #

      EAST is AMAZING! And that cover? Can we talk about how it is seriously one of the most gorgeous covers EVER?

      It’s definitely time to reread EAST for me!

      • Caitlin March 11, 2011 at 12:06 PM #

        I am so completely in love with that cover. It’s ridiculous. I bought a used hardcover copy just so I could have that cover on my shelf. Also reread the amazingly lovely story that is EAST. But also for the cover.

        • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 3:58 PM #

          It’s honestly one of my top fave book covers (and one of my top fave books).

          Pretty sure I’m going to go home tonight and pick it up to reread it now :p

  4. Rowenna March 11, 2011 at 11:35 AM #

    I’ll have to read East–Cupid and Psyche/East of the Sun, West of the Moon is one of my favorite myths/fairy tales. I like the fairy tale version better–there’s no white bear in Cupid and Psyche!

    In that vein–CS Lewis’ Til We Have Faces is a gorgeous retelling of Cupid and Psyche. If you’re looking for a slightly more grown-up work from the Narnia author, this is a beautiful book.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 5:27 PM #

      Oooh, that sounds awesome! I’m definitely putting CS Lewis’ retelling of Cupid and Psyche on my to-read list!

  5. Leah Scrimshaw March 11, 2011 at 11:41 AM #

    I have to include ‘Queen of Glass’ on my list. I read it when it was on fictionpress and it was amazing – I don’t feel I need to include much more about it. Just that I can’t wat to buy it in print.

    ‘The Goose Girl’ is definitely on my list – that’s a childhood love on mine.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m a much bigger fan of Gail Carson Levine’s ‘The Two Princesses of Bamarre’ than ‘Ella Enchanted’. It isn’t so much strictly a fairytale retelling though, but I love it so much!

    Oh, just thought of something. ‘The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents’ is a retelling of the Pied Piper. That is an amazing book – it was the one that made me fall in love wth Discworld and Pratchett’s writing.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 4:09 PM #

      I think The Two Princesses of Bamarre is an INCREDIBLE book! But I don’t think it’s based on a fairy tale, is it? (If it is, it definitely would be in my list!). That book made me cry. It’s seriously phenomenal.

      Now I want to reread that book too!

  6. Jia March 11, 2011 at 11:43 AM #

    I absolutely love Tam Lin by Pamela Dean – it’s a fairytale retelling and a college novel, 2 of my favorite things!

    Most of the Robin McKinley retellings work for me wonderfully. And reading Snow, Glass, Apples sent chills down my spine.

    Also much loved is Briar Rose, by Jane Yolen. Puts the tale of sleeping beauty in a whole new context.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 5:26 PM #

      I’ve heard of TAM LIN by Pamela Dean, but I’ve never read it. And I’ve always meant to read BRIAR ROSE, but I’ve just never picked it up. I’ll have to put both of those on my to-read list!

  7. J. Koyanagi March 11, 2011 at 1:26 PM #

    I love ASH by Malinda Lo. Gorgeous prose and one of my favorite YA love stories.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 5:24 PM #

      I’ve been meaning to pick up ASH – I always thought it sounded interesting. And I AM a sucker for gorgeous prose…

      …hmmm, looks like I’ll have to pick this book up! Thanks! 😀

  8. Beka B. March 11, 2011 at 2:50 PM #

    “After Hamelin” by Bill Richardson – it sort of retells the Pied Piper story while telling the story of the child that gets left behind in the original tale. She has to go on a journey through her deepest dreams to save the other children. So awesome, so beautifully written. It’s slightly more obscure than other books, but the author is Canadian, so I love it! 🙂

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 11, 2011 at 4:10 PM #

      I’ve picked up that book SO many times (it has a gorgeous cover), but I’ve never read it! Now I want to hit myself over the head for never getting it!

      I’ll have to make a note of going out to buy a copy now.

  9. Mac_V March 11, 2011 at 8:58 PM #

    Sammy, I do not blame you for wanting to marry Char. I did to. And totally still do. Because he was wonderful.

    Ella Enchanted is definitely my favorite re-telling, though I have heard about this awesome new retelling of Cinderella that’s coming out in 2012… something Glass. You should look that up. ;p

    I also want to point out the Once Upon A Time books. They are short retellings by several different authors (Debbie Vigue, Camryn Dokey, Tracy Lynn, Susan Weyn. I may have spelled those completely, wrong, but there they are.) The ones I have read include retelling of Snow White (Snow), Sleeping Beauty (Beauty Sleep), Little Red Riding Hood (Red Moon), and Rapunzel (Golden). There’s more, I know, so look them up!

    I love the Goose Girl. And Beauty. For the most part I’m totally just reiterating what you’ve all said…

    BUT this also helps me look into some great new books (that I haven’t read) for the Fairy Tale class I’m creating for myself this summer, so THANKS!! 😀 😀 😀

    Mac 🙂

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 13, 2011 at 9:02 PM #

      You know, I think I just might have heard of that Cinderella re-telling you’re talking about… ;P

      I’ve read a few of the Once Upon A Time books! I actually just recently reread the Little Red Riding Hood one (but my copy is called Scarlet Moon). Really enjoyed it, though I wish those books were all a bit longer! They’re so short! But I do really like them.

      And ooooh, fairy tale class!

  10. Vee March 11, 2011 at 10:11 PM #

    Ahhhh, I missed out on answering this one but I just wanted to comment and join in the Ella Enchanted love (also The Two Princesses of Bamarre love. Omg, so good!). It’s eerie how us LTWF-ers seem to love a lot of the same books.

    And I second Sarah and Sav on Wildwood Dancing (so haunting and beautiful and lovely :)) and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister 😀

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 13, 2011 at 9:07 PM #

      Gail Carson Levine = One damn brilliant writer!

      And yeah, a lot of us DO seem to love the same books. Guess we just have great taste, hahaha :p

  11. Victoria Dixon March 12, 2011 at 10:49 AM #

    I picked up an annotated copy of Grimm’s fairytales while being a vulture at a closing Borders. It’s been fascinating, though it didn’t give me as much information about Big Bad Wolves as I’d hoped. Back to research. ;D I’ve got a short story buzzing and I know how I want it to end and that’s the twist. I want to involve as many “takes” on the wolf as I can to increase the tension, though and for some reason, finding multiple, but different wolf stories has suddenly become more difficult than I would have imagined….

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 13, 2011 at 9:06 PM #

      Hmmm, really? It feels like there should be plenty! Maybe you’ll have to look into other cultures and their fairy tales and legends…

      And, well, those books have to be sold one way or another, right? Even if Borders IS closing.

  12. Caitlin Vanasse March 12, 2011 at 4:39 PM #

    Do I lose a reader card if I admit I didn’t realize Ella Enchanted was a Cinderella retelling until the third time I’d read it?

    I like many of the books you’ve mentioned here. In addition I’ve been told that Holly Black’s White Cat is a retelling, but not of any fairy tale I was familiar with. I did love the book though. I’ve got a whole stack of fairy tale retelling waiting for me at home though (my school library is LOC sorted so the retellings are all shelved together with the traditional fairy tales) so we’ll see what new wonders I’ll enjoy.

    • Vanessa Di Gregorio March 13, 2011 at 9:05 PM #

      Hmmm… depends on how old you were when you read it the first 2 times :p (i kid!)

      If you read any awesome fairy tale re-tellings, be sure to share it with us (especially ME!), cause I ADORE fairy tale re-tellings (which I suppose is obvious, since my list is so huge!).

  13. Victoria Dixon March 12, 2011 at 6:43 PM #

    Oh, and duh – can’t believe I forgot to mention it earlier: Curse Dark As Gold is a Rumplestiltskin remake.

  14. Stephanie Relf March 13, 2011 at 1:09 PM #

    This is VERY useful!! I’ve been thinking that my NaNoWriMo 2011 might be a fairytale re-telling and you’ve all just made me all kinds of excited 🙂 xxx

  15. Steph March 22, 2011 at 4:00 PM #

    I’m jumping into this a little late, but I love, love, love Ella Enchanted. That one and Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

    Although I confess I haven’t read a lot of retellings. So I’ll probably have to use this post as a jumping off point =)

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