Insightful or Redundant? Retellings of Famous Tales

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I’ve always been a complete sucker for retellings of famous stories. Some of my favorites include:

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire (Cinderella)

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, by Louise Murphy (Hansel and Gretel)

Birdwing, by Rafe Martin (Seven Swans, also the Goose Girl)

Beauty, by Sherri S. Tepper (pretty much every fairy tale in existence)

Sword of the Rightful King, by Jane Yolen (King Arthur)

*and*

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski (Hamlet)

 

I’m not entirely sure why I love these retellings so much. Maybe it’s because I already know the plot, sort of, so I can really focus on the writing. Maybe it’s because of the differences from the original stories—ie, is the witch really so bad? Is the prince as dumb as he is charming? Why does the parent remarry if they loved the first spouse so much? Often, I find that the retellings actually explain a lot of things that confuse me about the original tales.

Food For Thought

Why does Gertrude remarry instead of just handing the throne to her son? (Hamlet)

Are evil stepmothers really evil? (Hansel ad Gretel, Cinderella)

Why is Arthur the only one capable of pulling the sword from the stone? (King Arthur)

What’s the deal with fairies, anyway? (Beauty, Seven Swans, Goose Girl)

Being a girl in the middle ages doesn’t sound very nice at all, so how come we have such idyllic fairy tales built around them….? (Beauty)

 

I’ve been asking these questions for as long as I’ve been able to come up with them, and I think that retellings of famous stories provide some of that closure that I have been lacking.

What do you think? Are retellings insightful or repetitive/redundant? Do you like them, or avoid them? Let me know in the comments below!

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