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Embracing the Echoes: The Significance and Allure of Literary Retellings

Rumaisa Khusru considers some examples of the increasingly popular genre of literary retellings.

The concept of reimagining an existing story is relatively new in the context of storytelling, emerging more prominently in recent years. And while some people love retellings, others may find them unnecessary or redundant. They believe that the original stories already hold timeless value and don’t require reinterpretations or adaptations. I may also have been apprehensive at first, but over the years, I’ve grown fond of many retellings and have seen and appreciated the beauty of looking at classic stories from a new and fresh perspective. Retellings can be a celebration of those original stories, breathing new life into them and allowing them to resonate with a contemporary audience.

Here are some retellings that have altered my perspective on the genre and, hopefully, will help you do the same:

Tiger Lily was the first retelling I read. It puts a spin on the classical Peter Pan story and narrates the plot from Tiger Lily’s perspective. The retelling made me realize how misunderstood a character can be when portrayed in a slightly different light. It opened my eyes to the beauty and complexity of retellings and how they can challenge previously held opinions and beliefs.

Jodi Lynn Anderson skillfully weaves a tale that explores the complexities of love, identity, and societal expectations. Through Tiger Lily’s eyes, we see the challenges she faces as a member of a marginalized indigenous community, her fierce loyalty to her people, and her love for Peter Pan. By shifting the narrative perspective, Tiger Lily confronts preconceived notions and offers a fresh depiction of the characters we thought we knew.

The Song of Achilles remains one of my all-time favorite books! A vast array of Greek mythology retellings explore the realm of magnificent gods and glorious wars, and The Song of Achilles is a beautiful narration of the Trojan War from the perspective of a young-prince-turned-exile, Patroclus.

What sets the novel apart is its poignant and intimate portrayal of the Trojan War through the eyes of Achilles’ closest companion. Madeline Miller’s exquisite prose brings forth the emotional depth of Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship, capturing the tenderness, sacrifice, and tragedy that unfolds amidst the backdrop of the war. Through this retelling, Miller delves into the intricacies of the characters, exploring the motivations and vulnerabilities of Patroclus and Achilles. The story humanizes these legendary figures, peeling away their divine status by shedding light on their inner conflicts and desires in ways the Iliad never portrayed. 

A House of Salt and Sorrows strays the furthest from the original version of the three books. Erin A. Craig adds a layer of twisted horror and gore to the children’s fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It was fascinating to read as she expertly combined elements of dark fantasy, mystery, and suspense.

The retelling’s shift from the traditional fairy-tale narrative allowed for a deeper exploration of the characters’ emotions and incentives. Annaleigh Thaumas, the protagonist, became a multi-dimensional character haunted by grief, suspicion, and a relentless quest for the truth behind the mystery surrounding her sisters’ deaths. While it may have deviated significantly from the original tale, the novel stood out as a bold and ingenious retelling. It pushed the boundaries of the source material, giving it a distinct essence that will resonate with those who enjoy darker narratives.

If you remain hesitant about reading a retelling because you are afraid of “ruining” your perceptions and nostalgic attachments towards the original works… don’t be! I’m sure some of your new favorite novels will be found among retellings. Rather than thinking of these retellings as attempts to alter the original texts, it is helpful to view them as authors exercising creative freedom to offer a fresh perspective on classic tales and to reveal unexplored facets that could have existed. Similar to the way Anderson highlights Tiger Lily in the retelling when the original cast her aside, or how Miller illustrates the parts of Achilles that existed beyond the battlefield that Homer’s Iliad did not explore, or how Craig turns her version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses into something much more sinister and laced with horror – retellings have the ability to dig into the depths of secondary characters or reinvent settings and themes in ways the original tales couldn’t.

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