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Over the past few years, the number of movies and books that are retellings of well-known stories has grown exponentially. At first, it had its phases – the Snow White phase, the Cinderella phase, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales phase… Now that the hype is over, though, we still see a lot of writers retelling fiction and nonfiction. By doing so, many authors include people and characters that have been long ignored in the past, such as people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.
These are 3 retellings that will make you question everything you think you know about these classical stories, and make you wonder if it is possible for a retelling to be better than the original.
And I Darken by Kiersten White
I could not make this list and not include one of the many retellings Kiersten White has published over the past few years. In Book One of The Conqueror’s Saga, White turns Vlad the Impaler (aka the inspiration for Count Dracula) into Lada, a teenage girl. Lada is fearless and ruthless – just as the original Dracul was, but being a woman in the 1400s is just as bad as you can imagine. Lada and her brother Radu are forced to live with their enemies, the Ottoman court, until the day their father will make use of their presence there.
He’s counting on Radu, the firstborn son and heir to the throne of Wallachia to lead this movement. However, Radu is the exact opposite of Lada – a non-violent, serene, and gentle boy. Through Lada and Radu’s personalities, their relationships, and slightly altered historical events, White manages to discuss and address gender roles, sexism, islamophobia, war and LGBTQ+ romance in the 15th century.
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows
I am all in for dark and twisty retellings, but finding a comedy in the middle of it all was a blast. Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England and Ireland… for 9 days (that’s true, look it up!). Time-wise, her contribution to history is small, but these three best-selling authors decided to tackle Jane’s story with elements of magic like you’ve never seen it.
You see, during that time, the British Empire was dealing with the Catholics vs. Protestants conflict, and the authors felt they couldn’t leave that part out of the story, but what if this wasn’t a religious dispute. What if some people were “naturally” different than others? What if they could turn into animals? Yep. That’s right.
It seems crazy and unlikely to make sense, yet My Lady Jane is to this day one of the funniest and most well thought out retellings I’ve ever read! Really, who said history can’t be fun?
Circe by Madeline Miller
We’ve all heard about Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, and about Odysseus (or Ulysses), the great hero that journeys the seas for 10 years to return to his homeland, Ithaca. One of the many characters Odysseus finds during that time is the goddess Circe, whose portrait in many stories is as a jealous and treacherous witch. Her story, as well as many women’s stories have been told over and over, but they never got a chance to tell it themselves.
That’s what Miller does. She gives Circe her voice back, and thanks to that, we get to see Circe’s whole life, from a young girl seen as a lesser god (because she is half nymph and has a humanlike voice), through her exile and years of solitude in Aiaia, and way beyond her encounter with Odysseus.
Also, we see snippets of other great stories and characters from Greek mythology, such as the Minotaur, Achilles, Hermes and Daedalus and Icarus. I’m not going to lie: it’s a big, big book – but by the time you finish it, all you can think about is picking up Miller’s next book.
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