Friday, December 11, 2015

Fairy Tale Retellings: Are We Getting Tired of the Same Old Stories?

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Fairy tale retellings are insanely popular. From Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicle series to Alex Flinn's Beastly, fairy tales are being revamped, remodeled, and retold to better suit today's readers. But one has to wonder: Are we getting tired of all of these retellings?

Fairy tale retellings appeal to many adults because they remind us of stories we encountered in childhood (thanks, Disney). However, when it comes to exploring the "whys" behind our attraction to fairy tales, opinions vary widely .

Some scholars and authors like Phillip Pullman (author of His Dark Materials) believe our attraction to fairy tales lies in the simplistic nature of such stories. On the other hand, scholars like Jack Zipes in Why Fairy Tales Stick, believe fairy tales appeal to us on genetic, linguistic, and evolutionary levels. 

My opinion aligns closely with that of Bustle writer JR Thorpe, who states the following in her article "12 Contemporary Adult Fairy Tale Books For Grown Women:" 
[P]erhaps we love [fairy tales] because they're all about shifting: prince to pauper, straw to gold . . . Adulthood is, on my very crude estimate, 97.5 percent change. If fairytales can help us deal, then we need as many of them as possible.
While I don't love every adaptation that comes out, there are some really great "modernized"/revamped fairy tales out there. And, as Thorpe alludes to, fairy tales were the perfect stories for us as children because they provided guidance in the form of metaphors and allegories (i.e. messages we had to figure out and that stayed with us because of the nature of the telling). As adults, many of us still need some form of guidance. What better method of obtaining that guidance than by reading amplified versions of the stories that helped us understand the world as children?

Whether we love fairy tale retellings because of some inner desire to relive our childhoods or because, well, our darn brains just can't help it, one has to admit: the allure of modern, revamped fairy tales can be tempting.

Take Marissa Meyer's young adult series, The Lunar Chronicles, for instance.

While The Lunar Chronicles has its own overarching plot involving magic, political intrigue, and a war between the rulers of the Earth and the moon, we also see a futuristic adaptation of beloved tales like Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.

Meyer structures the series around such tales, with each book focusing on and being told from the Point of View (POV) of each respective heroine. For example, the first book – entitled Cinder – is told from the POV of Cinder, the cyborg stepchild of an evil woman who, because of oddly "old world" laws, has permanent legal ownership of her part human/part machine stepdaughter. Which fairy tale does this remind you of, already?

While I haven't torn through the most recent books, I am in love with the concept behind the series and would most heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a good dystopian/scifi/fairy tale read.
Here is a list of the books in the series:

While many fairy tale retellings like The Lunar Chronicles are primarily marketed to young adults, some authors have spiced up the fairy tale world with "adults only" versions.

Fairy tale adaptations written for adults explore the "grey areas" of life, from relationships to inner turmoil to sexual attraction. One of the most "adult" fairy tale adaptations has to be Anne Rice's erotica series, The Sleeping Beauty Quartet.

Throughout the course of the four novels comprising The Sleeping Beauty Quartet, Rice takes the general framework of the classic fairy tale and incorporates erotic elements like sexual exploration and BDSM. Unlike the childhood version, Rice's Beauty is awoken by penetration, not a kiss. The Prince then takes Beauty back to his kingdom as a sex slave to learn the "pleasure arts." Throughout the series, Beauty has both forced sexual encounters and encounters of her own choosing.

If you aren't bored or sick of the fairy tale genre, a slew of other retellings/adaptations are out there. Below are a few that recommend because I have read them/have them on my own reading list for 2016:

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block

Beauty by Robin McKinley

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

I also strongly recommend this book of modern fairy tales by author Micah Dean Hicks: Electricity and Other Dreams. Read my review of it here.

Interested in the history and study of fairy tales? Check out this brief Wall Street Journal article surveying several scholarly texts, or look at the list below for books on the subject:
Fairy Tales: A New History by Ruth B. Bottigheimer

What are your thoughts on fairy tale retellings? Are you getting sick of the adaptations, or are you thrilled that authors keep finding ways to make your childhood favorites fresh and interesting again?
Tell us in the comments below!

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