In 1909, G.K. Chesterton wrote “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.”
It’s 2016 now, and it’s pretty clear from the recent wave of fairy tale retellings that they’re still resonating with people: there’s still some magic left out there. Fairy tales combine a clear sense of good and evil with a (usually) happy ending, even if it can be pretty grisly (I’m lookin’ at you, Brothers Grimm). Plus, there’s something incredibly fun about finding the elements of the original story reworked in a new context. Fairy tale retellings are one of my favorite type of stories, so without further ado, here are some of the best of the best!
- The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer
I’m guessing you’ve at least heard of The Lunar Chronicles in the past few years. The first book in the series follows Cinder, a brilliant cyborg mechanic who is also casually Cinderella. She’s got it all: wicked stepmother, problematic, uh, footwear, and a charming prince. Meyer excels at creating memorable, distinct characters, and steers clear of cringeworthy YA clichés. (No love triangles. Hallelujah.)
Each book in the series is fantastic – there might be a post coming on just the Lunar Chronicles, because they’re just that good. One of the most fun aspects of the series is seeing Meyer weave details from the original fairy tales. For example, Thorne’s spaceship is called the Rampion… which is the herb that Rapunzel’s mother craves in some versions of the story.
Marissa Meyer, you’re a champ.
2. Sisters Red, by Jackson Pearce
A retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Scarlet March was left brutally scarred when the Fenris (werewolves) killed her grandmother, and she’s dedicated her life to hunting them. But her sister, Rosie, isn’t so sure that hunting Fenris is what she wants most for her life. As Fenris attacks increase in number and ferocity, both sisters struggle with their changing relationship and choosing their own paths.
I love this book for the fantastic dynamic between the sisters. Don’t be fooled: there’s romance, but the relationship between the sisters is what drives the story. Sisters Red explores the idea of truly loving someone very different from you, and of having the courage to walk your own path in life. For bonus points, it’s set in Atlanta, Georgia, and has a Southern Gothic vibe going on.
3. The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale
In this lesser known fairy tale, Shannon Hale retells the story of a princess overthrown by her lady-in-waiting. Anidori (-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, not like I have that memorized) is sent to a foreign land to marry a prince she’s never met. But along the way, a brutal uprising sends her into hiding, and she must face one of the most terrifying villains ever: Selia. *shudders*
Where this novel really shines is in the characterization. Hale paints likable, three-dimensional characters that grow and change as the book/series progresses. Isi isn’t a kick-butt-take-names warrior, but she’s strong as iron all the same. Razo (one of my favorite characters) is effervescent and irrepressible. Enna is exciting, passionate, and impulsive. The friendships between the characters – the pranks they play, the stories they share, the way they protect each other – are this book’s real magic.
4. Thorn, by Intisar Khanani
Another goose girl retelling. The basic structure is the same (overthrown by lady-in-waiting), but beyond that, all bets are off. Princess Alyrra’s adventures in her new city might be my favorite part of this book: among other things, she gets adopted by a family of hostlers and accepted into the inner circle of a ring of thieves.
This book is also wonderfully realistic. Yup, it’s got magic and a talking horse and a family curse. But the people themselves, they’re realistic: in the way they get to know each other, the way they grieve, the way they forgive. When a character hurts another, there are genuine consequences. It takes a while to build up trust again. Alyrra had a rough childhood, and that had a lasting and very real effect on her. Intisar Khanani excels at writing fantasy stories with authentic, honest characters.
5. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin
Deeply inspired by Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a Wizard of Oz-type romp through the Chinese countryside. With a flightless dragon as her travelling companion, Minli sets out to change her family’s fortune, by asking the Man in the Moon. I mean, isn’t that what you do when things aren’t going your way?
Sweet, funny, and touching, this book is reminder of the things that really, truly matter. If you’re not familiar with Chinese folklore, brush up before reading, and then see how many references you can spot!
6. Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, by Christine Heppermann
Obviously, I like fairy tales. They’re great! But real life is nothing like a fairy tale, right? Christine Heppermann disagrees. The world is still a wild place: it can still be marvelous, it can still be dangerous. Aren’t we taught that fairest is best, just like Snow White’s stepmother? Aren’t some of us trapped in towers of silence and isolation, like Rapunzel? For a sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking look at our fantastic world today, check out Poisoned Apples.
So, do you have any books to add to your TBR pile? Are there any great retellings that I missed? Let me know below!