I count 20 books in this picture. 20. That’s twenty retellings (and additions to existing stories, like the DC Icons books). And that’s only my London shelves. I can think of a few more up in York, and there’s more if I cross into my sister’s room or climb into the loft.
Most of these books, I loved. A few I didn’t, but by and large these books are great. However, there’s a lot, and I can think of a few dozen more off the top of my head.
The market, particularly the YA market, is saturated with them, and it’s boring me.
What started with fairy tales has now spread to ancient epics – like the Iliad or the Mahabharata -, to legends – like Robin Hood or Medusa -, and classic works of literature – like Les Miserables or King Lear. Even Hollywood’s in on it, remaking ‘classic’ movies (looking at you Disney).
Many stories have multiple retellings. How many Beauty and the Beast retellings can you name off the top of your head? I can name 3: A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES, A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY, and THE BEAUTY OF THE WOLF. However, there’s a Goodreads list with 157 books. 157, I’ll let that sink in.
With so many books out there, the retellings feel unoriginal. Old. Stale. I know the main beats of the story down to a ‘t’. Beauty and the Beast? Guy kidnaps girl, but he has a curse/affliction which can only be broken by true love. However, the curse has also made him ugly and unbearbale so she has to fall in love with his personality, forcing him to change. Except sometimes he’s not ugly – ACOTAR and ACSDAL – and don’t try to tell me Feyre fell in love with his *sterling* personality. And, of course, she will fall in love with him at the last moment.
Not to mention many of these old stories are so problematic. Beauty and the Beast has a kidnapped girl falling in love with her kidnapper while she’s unable to leave his home. Tell me as many times as you like that Belle isn’t suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, because she’s still independently minded, but until she is able to leave, it’s not right. And she rarely leaves until after she’s in love.
I do love some of these retelling, but I’d love to see more unique ideas that keep me on my toes. I’m loving that some retellings are using these stories as a starting point, a spring board to launch into something that’s far more than a retelling.
In THE PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE, while the myth of St George and the Dragon is the clear inspiration, there’s so much more to it. There are Japanese myths woven in, and Shannon is purposefully deconstructing the myth and calling out its problematic elements.
We’re also, finally, starting to give stories beyond the western fairy tales the attention they deserve. I mentioned the Mahabharata earlier, and there are two YA retellings coming out soon that I’m aware of: A SPARK OF WHITE FIRE and UPON A BURNING THRONE.
Am I saying we should stop publishing retellings? No. Not at all. However, we need to find new ways to retell these stories as well as asking ourselves why we’re retelling them. What do we want to add? What message are we selling?
What do you think of retellings and the current saturation of the market?