Twice-Told Tales | Collection Development: Retelling the Classics

 

Everything old is new again when it comes to fresh retellings of classic literature. Taking famous story lines and characters and adding new, unexpected elements such as a different setting or a varied narrative perspective is an interesting challenge that has attracted generations of writers. Perhaps the most famous reteller in literary history is William Shakespeare; one of his most popular plays, Romeo and Juliet, is a dramatization of Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet.

In turn, Shakespeare left a body of work that has inspired countless reinterpreters, including Jane Hamilton, who moved King Lear to Iowa farm country in her 1991 Pulitzer Prize–winning A Thousand Acres. In 2015, Penguin Random House’s Hogarth Press launched a Shakespeare-inspired series of novels. The ongoing Hogarth Shakespeare project enlists acclaimed contemporary authors to reimagine a particular play. The current list of titles include Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale); Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name (The Merchant of Venice); Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew); Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (The Tempest), Tracy Chevalier’s New Boy (Othello), and Edward St. Aubyn’s Dunbar (King Lear).

Literary Roots

Another rich source for retellings is the literature of 19th-century Britain, most notably the novels of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. From Jean Rhys’s 1966 Wide Sargasso Sea, which narrated Jane Eyre from the first Mrs. Rochester’s point of view, to Helen Fielding’s 1996 best seller Bridget Jones’s Diary, which launched numerous Pride and Prejudice reboots and mashups, including Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 dark, action-packed parody, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, these two classic authors have stimulated a cottage industry in revisionary adaptations.

Among the most successful contemporary authors to specialize in retellings is Gregory Maguire, who established his talent in 1995 with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a revision of Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He further explored Baum’s world in three other books in his “Wicked Years” series: Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. ­Maguire’s more recent novels also reinterpret popular fairy tales and classic works of literature.

CORE AND CROSSOVER

In order to present a manageable list for consideration, the titles selected here have generally been published within the last decade and the underlying classic story or characters remain fairly recognizable. Most will fit into a general fiction collection and attract a wide readership. Although the focus is on newer novels, there are classics (among classic retellings), such as the aforementioned works, that should also be included in a core collection.

Sf and fantasy is rife with mashups of classics and imaginary worlds, but they have been purposely limited to a select few titles. The mystery genre, home to one of the most recognizable and reimagined characters in literature, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, also lends itself to this process.

An excellent motivation for starting and maintaining a strong retelling collection is the crossover appeal many of these books have with young adults. Building a connection between Marissa Meyer’s Heartless and Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, both based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, will help retain and transition teen readers.

Still, it can be a challenge to find new titles in this area as there isn’t one central source or publisher to check for updates. For specific interests, finding a group dedicated to the works of a particular author will offer reviews of upcoming titles. The Jane Austen Society of North America (jasna.org) and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London (www.sherlock-holmes.org.uk) are good examples.

Starred (redstar) titles are essential purchases for most library collections.

A reviewer for LJ since 2008, Stacey Hayman is currently the Programming and Digital Services Coordinator, Rocky River Public Library, OH. She is coauthor of Better Serving Teens Through School Library-Public Library Collaboration (ABC-CLIO, 2013) with Cherie Pandora and a recent member of RUSA’s Notable Books Council

CLASSIC TALES, NEW VIEWS

A novel setting, a different perspective, or even a different genre can offer unexpected insights into established stories.

Baker, Jo. Longbourn. Knopf. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780385351232. $25.95; pap. ISBN 9780345806970. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780385351249.

Baker reimagines Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the downstairs point of view of the servants who keep the Bennet household running smoothly. The difficulties faced by even well-treated staff make a great choice for book clubs. (LJ 8/13)

Coover, Robert. Huck Out West. Norton. Jan. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780393608441. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393608458.

In this postscript to The Adventurers of Huckleberry Finn, a now adult Huck heads west, working as a Pony Express rider with his friend Tom Sawyer before encountering the Lakota Sioux and General Custer. Coover respects the original nature of Mark Twain’s iconic characters while speculating on the next chapters of their lives. (LJ 10/1/16)

redstarGay, William. Little Sister Death. Dzanc. 2015. 224p. ISBN 9781938103131. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781941088586. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781938604669.

Hoping to find creative inspiration, Chicago writer David Binder moves his family back home to Tennessee to research a local ghost story, which soon turns into a dark obsession. Inspired by the haunting of John Bell in 1817, otherwise known as Curse of the Bell Witch, Gay has transformed a Southern folktale into something modern and foreboding.

Levine, Daniel. Hyde. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780544484023. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544190511.

Narrated by the dark alter ego of Robert Louis Stevenson’s protagonist in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Levine’s reinterpretation offers a more complete portrait of an experiment gone terribly wrong. (LJ 1/14)

McDermid, Val. Northanger Abbey. Grove. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780802123800. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780802180391.

Naive and impressionable Cat Moreland heads to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival as a guest of the Allens, friends of her parents. Smartphones, vampire fantasies, and a good dose of misdirection mark this fresh yet still familiar update of Austen’s 1818 gothic parody. (LJ 4/1/14)

Miller, Sarah. Caroline: Little House, Revisited. Morrow. Sept. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062685346. $25.99; ebk ISBN 9780062685360.

Authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, Miller’s novel reveals the real “Ma” in this retelling of the Ingalls family’s 1870 wagon train journey to the Kansas territory from the perspective of Caroline Ingalls. Readers of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie will be intrigued. (LJ 8/17)

Park, Patricia. Re: Jane. Penguin. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780525427407. $27.95; pap. ISBN 9780143107941. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780698170780.

In Park’s contemporary version of Jane Eyre with a Korean American twist, her orphaned heroine accepts an au pair job with English professors Beth and Ed. Beth wants to help Jane understand feminist empowerment, but Ed is more interested in Jane’s feminine side. (LJ 6/1/15)

Patrick, Anna. Meditations in Wonderland. River Grove. 2015. 232p. ISBN 781632990457. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 2940151215305.

In a metaphysical twist on Alice in Wonderland, Elizabeth travels through the rabbit hole during her morning meditation. Running into familiar Wonderland characters as she seeks a way out, Elizabeth must decide if she should trust the advice of others or her own mind.

Shoemaker, Sarah. Mr. Rochester. Grand Central. May 2017. 464p. ISBN 9781455569809. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781455569823.

The first Mrs. Rochester had her say in Jean Rhys’s classic Wide Sargasso Sea. Now it’s Charlotte Brontë’s brooding hero’s turn to recount his life story. A sad and difficult childhood, followed by bad choices and bad luck provide a deeper context for his situation when he meets Jane Eyre.

redstarSittenfeld, Curtis. Eligible. Random. 2016. 512p. ISBN 9781400068326. $28; pap. ISBN978081298034. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780812997613.

In this deft 21st-century reboot of Pride and Prejudice, Jane (a yoga instructor) and Elizabeth (a magazine editor) return to their Cincinnati home from New York City after their father is hospitalized. There the Bennet sisters meet Dr. Bingley and Dr. Darcy, and all the appropriate sparks fly. There’s enough homage for Janeites to be happy but not so much as to be a dull copy. (LJ 2/1/16)

Smith, Alexis M. Marrow Island. Houghton Harcourt. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9780544373419. $23; pap. ISBN 9781328710345. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544373426.

Two decades after the earthquake that killed her father and caused the toxic chemical spill that destroyed the ecology of nearby Marrow Island, Lucie finally returns home and is surprised to find people living on the island, bent on reclaiming this creepy, unnatural world created by humanity’s thoughtlessness. A provocative take on H.G. Wells’s disturbing The Island of Dr. Moreau. (LJ 3/1/16)

St. Aubyn, Edward. Dunbar. Hogarth: Crown. (Hogarth Shakespeare). Oct. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9781101904282. $25; ebk. ISBN9781101904299.

In this contemporary King Lear, Henry Dunbar, focused on ensuring his media empire will survive him, chooses his two older daughters to succeed him. But the ruthless qualities he admires in his future heirs are turned against him when he is committed to a mental institution. (Xpress Reviews 9/29/17)

redstarThomas, Sherry. A Study in Scarlet Women. Berkley. (Lady Sherlock, Bk. 1). 2016. 336p. ISBN 9780425281406. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780698196353.

Miss Charlotte Holmes, pursuing self-employment for financial independence instead of marriage, reinvents herself as master sleuth Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Thomas’s twist on the Holmesian mythos will intrigue fans of the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories. (LJ 10/15/16)

redstarWatts, Stephanie Powell. No One Is Coming To Save Us. Ecco: HarperCollins. Apr. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062472984. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062473004.

Transplanting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to the contemporary South, Watts retains that classic novel’s sense of longing for connection. J.J. Ferguson returns home to Pinewood, NC, to display his acquired wealth. He plans to build a mansion and win over Ava, the girl of his dreams. But Ava is focused on having a baby, even though her husband treats her poorly. (LJ 2/1/17)

MYTHS & FAIRY TALES

Alameddine, Rabih. The Hakawati. Anchor. 2009. 528p. ISBN 9780307386274. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307269270.

Osama al-Kharrat returns home to Beirut to sit by the bedside of his dying grand­father, a legendary storyteller, or hakawati. Recalling the fantastical stories Osama was told as a child, mixing in tales of his present-day family, and of the political landscape of Lebanon during 2003, this is a modern take on the Middle Eastern folk tales in One Thousand and One Nights. (LJ 3/1/08)

Greenberg, Isabel. One Hundred Nights of Hero: A Graphic Novel. Little, Brown. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780316259170. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316259163.

A bet between two men over a wife’s virtue results in a Scheherazade-style bout of storytelling. Hero, the wife’s maid and lover, spins enchanting tales for the next 100 evenings.

Hines, Jim C. The Snow Queen’s Shadow. DAW. (Princess Novels, Bk. 4). 2011. 352p. ISBN 9780756406745. pap $7.99.

When Snow White’s spell shatters her enchanted mirror, a demon sowing discord and chaos is released; even Snow White sees the worst in everyone. (LJ 7/11)

redstarIvey, Eowyn. The Snow Child. Little, Brown. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780316175661. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316192958.

Ivey transports a Russian fairy tale about a child made of snow by a childless couple to the 1920s Alaskan frontier. A harshly beautiful setting; engaging, sympathetic characters; and a bit of philosophy combine into a moving read. (LJ 9/15/11)

redstarMcGuire, Seanan. Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Tor.com. Jun. 2017. 192p. ISBN 9780765392039. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765392046.

Twins Jacqueline and Jillian escape their self-centered parents through a secret staircase that leads to another land. There they must choose the mentors who will determine their future. McGuire blends her own style with classic fairy tale elements—Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and the Tiger and the Lady—for an enthralling read. (LJ 4/15/17)

Ness, Patrick. The Crane Wife. Penguin. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780143126171. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101613481.

When George saves the wounded crane in his yard, he changes the course of his life in this modern retelling of a traditional Japanese folktale. Ness’s bittersweet fable offers insight into undefinable human emotions, the consequences of not being engaged in your own life, and ultimately the gift of forgiveness. (LJ 1/14)

The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. Saga: S. & S. 2016. 400p. ed. by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe. ISBN 9781481456128. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481456142.

Eighteen writers offer their own unconventional retellings of familiar fairy tales from different countries and time periods. Notes from the authors reveal why the writers chose a particular tale and how each approached their version. (LJ 8/16)

Willingham, Bill & James Jean (text) & Alex Maleev (illus.). Fables: Legends in Exile. Vol. 1. DC. 2012. 144p. ISBN 9781401237554. pap. $12.99.

With a total of 150 issues published in the series, Willingham experimented with different genres and collaborated with a range of illustrators. The lead characters were drawn from fairy tales but placed into new roles. This tenth-anniversary edition celebrates the enduring appeal of this graphic novel series. (LJ 2/1/03)

RETELLINGS ON SCREEN

Beastly. Daniel Barnz, dist. by Sony. 2011. DVD UPC 043396335301.

An update of the French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast set in New York City.

Clueless. Amy Heckerling, dist. by Paramount. 1995. DVD UPC 032429256607.

A delightful reboot of Jane Austen’s Emma in a Beverly Hills high school.

Easy A. Will Gluck, dist. by Sony Pictures. 2010. DVD UPC 043396362796.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is transformed into a teen comedy.

Grimm. Universal Television. 2011–17.

In this dark and sometimes intense TV series, the Grimm family line is charged with keeping the peace between humans and fairy tale creatures.

Into the Woods. Rob Marshall, dist. by Disney. 2015. DVD UPC 786936845884.

The film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award–winning musical draws on the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault.

Lost in Austen. Dan Zeff, dist. by Image Entertainment. 2009. DVD UPC 0014381518726.

A modern Englishwoman switches places with Elizabeth Bennet, a transition that doesn’t go smoothly.

Maleficent. Robert Stromberg, dist. by Disney. 2014. DVD UPC 786936827903.

Inspired by Disney’s 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty, this interpretation of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale is told from the perspective of the eponymous antagonist.

Once Upon a Time. ABC Studios. 2011—. DVD.

A mashup of classic fairy tale characters all living in the same coastal Maine town.

Oz the Great and Powerful. Sam Raimi, dist. by Disney. 2013. DVD UPC 786936834505.

How the Wizard in Oz came to be, 20 years before Dorothy’s house killed the Wicked Witch of the East.

Roxanne. Fred Schepisi, dist. by Mill Creek. 2015. DVD UPC 683904538789.

Cleverly adapting Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac with wit and style.

The Developing Schedule

DEC 2017 GRAPHIC FICTION & NONFICTION
JAN 2018 FAKE NEWS & MEDIA LITERACY
FEB 2018 SUSTAINABLE LIVING
MAR 2018 FEMINISM
APR 2018 INCOME INEQUALITY
MAY 2018 SF ROMANCE

To submit titles (new and/or backlist), contact Barbara Genco four to six months before issue dates listed above (email: bgenco@mediasourceinc.com)

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