Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night...

So the crux of this post is retellings of known Fairy tales. Do you like them or not and why?

I ask because I love the idea of taking an already known and loved story and making it your own. After all, verbal histories are vital. And one of the most obvious examples of this is telling stories and legends. My favorite 'classic' Fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast. But even when I was a young child, I hated the ending. I would get so angry when it got right down to the wire and Beauty professed her love to the Beast, only to have the Beast whisked away and replaced by a 'charming' Prince. Charming Princes are well and good in their own right, but I maintain that I prefer the Beast to any 'charming' Prince.

One of my current WIPs is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I've wanted to write one for years even assuming that it would never get published. Then recently Malinda Lo turned me on to two retellings of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, and Rose Daughter.

Let me digress and devote a moment to squeeing over Malinda Lo! She's the author of Ash a retelling of Cinderella. It is a totally awesome book, squee squee squee. But beyond the squee, Ash is beautifully written and one of the best reads I've had all year. By the end of the book I was in an utter state of madness over what might happen to the three main characters. I was SPASTIC. It was wonderful. I've seldom been so torn between characters and possible outcomes. Ash is a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award. Rock on Malinda Lo!

But back to retellings. After Ms Lo so kindly directed me to Robin Mckinley's retelling works based on Beauty and the Beast, I immediately read them both. I WANTED to like Beauty: A Retelling, especially because it's written in first person, which was something totally new. However, it so closely followed the original Fairy tale that I failed to get attached to the book at all. Rose Daughter on the other hand (and Ms Lo had said it was her favorite of the two) was a well done, unique version of the tale. Beauty isn't all that beautiful. Her sisters aren't awful at all, although they don't spend much time thinking about anyone but themselves at least to start with. And the Beast is wonderful in a beastly way. Then ending is perfect. I loved it.

There are many retellings of Fairy tales out there. But what makes them work, and what makes them fail? For me, there has to be a distinct difference in the retelling from the original, but it can't stray so far that calling it a retelling is a stretch. At the risk of getting thrashed by someone, I'll use Anne Rice's The Taking of Sleeping Beauty for an example of didn't work. Besides the fact that the books in that series are smut (I don't mean that derogatorily, that's how it's described, as 'tasteful smut') there is little plot BEYOND the smut factor. I've only read enough of them to be totally ickyfied. Anne Rice is an accomplished writer, and I love many of her books, but the Sleeping Beauty retellings... negative.

In my own retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Thornbriar, Lady Beauty is beautiful but spoilt. Her father is rich and she wants for nothing. Rather than exchanging her life for her fathers, she's betrothed to the Beast (although Beauty's own people presume that the King being a Beast is just a rumor) for a great sum of money. She's married to the Beast from very early on in the story and instead the pivot point is on her willingness to prove her love for him and his country. Accustomed to being admired and getting what she wants, Luminre (Beauty's real name) must grow and learn to take on responsibilities and think of others if she's going to discover how to break the curse that's been cast over her Beast husband and his kingdom.

What about you? What retellings are out there that you like? What ones don't you like? Have you ever written a new take on your favorite Fairy tale?