Why write fairy tale retellings?
Updated: May 3, 2021
“Why write fairy tale retellings? That’s what like most indie authors do.”
It’s a question and accompanying statement that most authors of fairytale retellings have received at some point. If you ignore the snide tone it’s usually uttered with, it’s not a bad question – why write something that’s already been done? Why do something that others have done already?
The simple answer is because it hasn’t been done your way. Because others have climbed Mount Everest, despite the treks countless others have made before them, and you desire to chart your own path, a different one.
I have made no secret of my unequivocal love for Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” – both the original and the remake. I am also a great fan of the source material, as it is one of the few stories where the heroine saves the prince. But although I adore the love/hate relationship between Belle and the Beast (it is so compelling to watch!) it still never sat well with me that she was imprisoned by him – not the best way to start an epic romance. And with every retelling I have ever read/watched, this beginning is a staple of the story. How else is it to begin?
For “The Rose and the Thorn”, my retelling actually span from a dream I had of a girl in a field of flowers, only to have them suddenly turn to dust around her. It harkened back to the tales of the fairies, to legends of illusion and trickery. What if, I asked myself, Beauty was not imprisoned by the Beast, but by magic? What if they were both prisoners, and therefore equals from the start?
I wanted a slow-burn. Too many retellings were still too swift in the romance department, had a Beauty able to shelve any worries after a few nice words were cast in her direction. I wanted a Beauty who loved her Beast irrevocably, and who we truly believed she loved, but was unable to admit it because he was still a beast and therefore any physical relationship was impossible and doomed to make them miserable. I added an extra layer to my Beauty as well, as grief at her mother’s death has rendered her afraid of love itself. I wanted this to be a relationship of equals, a meeting of minds, and I absolutely had to give Rose agency in her own story, something denied to so many heroines in fairy tales.
Aside from this unwavering desire, there can also be a selfish one; I sell far more copies of my Beauty and the Beast retelling than I do of my more original “Phoenix Project” series. Fairy tales appeal to the child in us, but retellings are often written for the more adult. I initially wrote “The Rose and the Thorn” thinking it was a YA story, but aside from the age of the central character and the fairly mild language and sexual content, there isn’t really anything that makes it a younger person’s read. I didn’t dumb down the language and I have no plans to with my future retellings.
People know that they’re getting with a fairy tale retelling. They don’t have to trust a new author knows what they’re doing with the structure – it’s already there. They’re almost guaranteed a happy-ever-after. People often like at least some level of predictability; it’s safe and comforting and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
So I will be working my way through other famous tales. My staples are fierce heroines, girls with agency and desires outside of romance, supportive love interests devoid of any type of toxic masculinity, great family relationships/relationships outside of romantic entanglements, and absolutely no "instalove". I want to make people believe in the love between the two characters, to add layers and depth to the delicious paper-thin stories of our youth. I want to make people believe in true love, not because they are told to, but because they can see it blossoming before their eyes.
And I wish absolutely everyone else success in their endeavours rewriting these beautiful tales, because I for one will never stop reading them.