Thursday, March 6, 2014

Get Genrefied: Fairy Tale Re-tellings

Fairy tale re-tellings never go out of style. They were huge when I was a teen and they continue to be in demand now, though it seems the trend has shifted some from outright fantasy to a more science fiction-inspired flavor. Authors are also trying their hand at re-telling fairy tales in a completely realistic way, eschewing any sort of magic or futuristic technology. (Jane Nickerson's historical re-tellings of Bluebeard and Tam Lin are good examples.) So while fairy tale re-tellings are most often a subgenre of fantasy, that's not always the case. Like many of the other genres we've written about, fairy tale re-tellings can and do cross genres.

It's no surprise that fairy tale re-tellings have tremendous staying power, given how versatile they can be. As readers, I think we like the combination of the familiar and the strange; we are naturally curious to see how an author can transform something so old and well-known into something new and unusual. There's also something timeless about the original, bare-bones stories themselves. In many ways, fairy tales are the most basic of our stories, and even the most intricately-plotted of our modern tales usually draw from some sort of trope first found in a fairy tale or folk tale.

In my experience, teens are drawn to fairy tale re-tellings for the romance and adventure. The protagonists usually also go from a place of no power to a place of tremendous power, whether through the use of magic or simple resourcefulness. This is incredibly appealing to teens who may feel that they have zero power over their own lives.

While this guide will focus primarily on fairy tale re-tellings, teens who read them may also enjoy re-tellings of other classic stories, such as mythology, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Shakespeare, Bronte, and others. Epic Reads has created a truly Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings that covers a lot of this territory. It's well worth a look.

A few authors who are known for writing fairy tale re-tellings include Donna Jo Napoli, Robin McKinley, Cameron Dokey, Alex Flinn, and Jackson Pearce. Some of their books were published when I was a teen (or before!), but fairy tale re-tellings tend to stand the test of time a bit better than other sorts of stories. Their source material is timeless, after all. Provided they're not modernized re-tellings or saddled with dated covers, even 10 or 20 year old books should suit teen lovers of the genre just fine.

Simon Pulse published about 20 fairy tale re-tellings for teens between 2002 and 2010 written by various authors including Suzanne Weyn, Cameron Dokey, Debbie Viguie, Tracy Lynn, and Nancy Holder. A full list of those titles can be found at Simon and Schuster's Once Upon a Time website.

Below are a few YA fairy tale re-tellings published within the past five years (roughly), grouped by original story. Descriptions are from Worldcat or Goodreads. Are there any glaring omissions?

Beauty and the Beast

Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay
When nineteen-year-old Gem of the Desert People, called Monstrous by the Smooth Skins, becomes the prisoner of the seventeen-year-old Smooth Skin queen, Isra, age-old prejudices begins to fall aside as the two begin to understand each other.

Beastly by Alex Flinn
A modern retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" from the point of view of the Beast, a vain Manhattan private school student who is turned into a monster and must find true love before he can return to his human form.  

Belle by Cameron Dokey
In this retelling of the traditional tale, Belle, a skilled woodcarver, must carve the the legendary Heartwood to repay her father's debt to a fearsome beast that gave him shelter during a terrible storm.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom -- all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him. With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people. Kimberly's review

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
Sybella's duty as Death's assassin in 15th-century France forces her return home to the personal hell that she had finally escaped. Love and romance, history and magic, vengeance and salvation converge in this sequel to Grave Mercy. Kimberly's review


Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson
After the death of her father in 1855, seventeen-year-old Sophia goes to live with her wealthy and mysterious godfather at his gothic mansion, Wyndriven Abbey, in Mississippi, where many secrets lie hidden. Kimberly's review


Ash by Malinda Lo
In this variation on the Cinderella story, Ash grows up believing in the fairy realm that the king and his philosophers have sought to suppress, until one day she must choose between a handsome fairy cursed to love her and the King's Huntress whom she loves.

Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey
In this retelling of the Perrault fairy tale, Cendrillon's father, grief stricken over the death of his wife, leaves his baby daughter to be brought up by servants together with an unidentified infant boy until the day, sixteen-years-later, when a new stepmother with two daughters arrives and changes their lives forever.

Bewitching by Alex Flinn
Tells the story of Kendra, a witch, and the first three-hundred years of her life, including takes on a classic fairy tale, the 1666 plague in Britain, the Titanic disaster, and the story of a modern-day, plain stepsister.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
As plague ravages the overcrowded Earth, observed by a ruthless lunar people, Cinder, a gifted mechanic and cyborg, becomes involved with handsome Prince Kai and must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect the world in this futuristic take on the Cinderella story. Kimberly's review

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott
Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume, who is able to re-create herself in any form, is destined to use her skills to steal the heart of a prince in a revenge pot. Kimberly's review

Wayfarer by Lili St. Crow
In this retelling of Cinderella, Ellen Sinder's violent stepmother terrifies her, her plan for surviving and getting through high school quietly begins to unravel, and Auntie, an odd old woman who takes her in, may not be as kindly as she appears.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

East by Edith Pattou
A young woman journeys to a distant castle on the back of a great white bear who is the victim of a cruel enchantment.

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst
A modern-day retelling of "East o' the Sun, West o' the Moon" in which eighteen-year-old Cassie learns that her grandmother's fairy tale is true when a Polar Bear King comes to claim her for his bride and she must decide whether to go with him and save her long-lost mother, or continue helping her father with his research.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George
A girl travels east of the sun and west of the moon to free her beloved prince from a magic spell.

The Frog Prince

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
When Sunday Woodcutter, the youngest of seven sisters named for the days of the week, kisses an enchanted frog, the frog transforms back into Rumbold, the crown prince of Arilland--a man Sunday's family despises.  

Water Song by Suzanne Weyn
Stranded in war-torn Belgium, Emma Pennington finds a wounded American soldier carrying vital information for the Allies and protects him from the Germans occupying her family estate.

The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
On her way to marry a prince she's never met, Princess Anidori is betrayed by her guards and her lady-in-waiting and must become a goose girl to survive until she can reveal her true identity and reclaim the crown that is rightfully hers.

Hansel and Gretel

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
When the owner of a candy shop molds magical treats that instill confidence, bravery, and passion, eighteen-year-old Gretchen's haunted childhood memories of her twin sister's abduction by a witch-like monster begin to fade until girls start vanishing at the annual chocolate festival. 

Jack and the Beanstalk

The World Above by Cameron Dokey
When her twin brother, Jack, disappears after scaling a magical beanstalk in an effort to reclaim their destitute family's riches, Gen enters the mysterious "Land Above" and confronts a dangerous giant, in a reimagining of the classic tale, "Jack and the Beanstalk."

The Little Mermaid

Fathomless by Jackson Pearce
Celia, who shares mental powers with her triplet sisters, finds competition for a handsome boy with Lo, a sea monster who must persuade a mortal to love her and steal his soul to earn back her humanity.

Midnight Pearls by Debbie Viguie
A retelling of "The Little Mermaid" in which Pearl, a teenaged girl who was discovered in the sea as a small child by a fisherman and treated with scorn by the villagers ever since, falls in love with James, a prince, and faces powerful forces--human and magical--determined to tear them apart.

Little Red Riding Hood

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Scarlet Benoit and Wolf, a street fighter who may have information about her missing grandmother, join forces with Cinder as they try to stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana in this story inspired by Little Red Riding Hood. Kimberly's review
Scarlet Moon by Debbie Viguie
Ruth's grandmother lives in the forest, banished there for the "evil" that the townsfolk believed she practiced. Amidst these dark days, a new man enters Ruth's life. William is a noble with a hot temper and a bad name, and he makes her shiver. But the young man is prey to his heritage, a curse placed on his family ages ago, and each male of the family has strange blood running in his veins. Now Ruth must come face-to-face with his destiny at Grandma's house.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
After a Fenris, or werewolf, killed their grandmother and almost killed them, sisters Scarlett and Rosie March devote themselves to hunting and killing the beasts that prey on teenaged girls, learning how to lure them with red cloaks and occasionally using the help of their old friend, Silas, the woodsman's son. Kimberly's review

Maid Maleen

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Fifteen-year-old Dashti, sworn to obey her sixteen-year-old mistress, the Lady Saren, shares Saren's years of punishment locked in a tower, then brings her safely to the lands of her true love, where both must hide who they are as they work as kitchen maids.


Cress by Marissa Meyer
Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they're plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and prevent her army from invading Earth. Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl trapped on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company.

Golden by Cameron Dokey
Rapunsel has only two nights and one day in which to free a girl from a curse.

Towering by Alex Flinn
A contemporary retelling of Rapunzel told from the alternating perspectives of three teens whose fates unknowingly bind them together to destroy a greater evil.


The Crimson Thread by Suzanne Weyn
It is 1880. Bertie has recently emigrated to New York from Ireland. Struggling to make ends meet and care for her younger siblings, Bertie finds work as a seamstress for textile tycoon, J.P. Wellington. When the Wellington family fortune is threatened, Bertie's father boasts that she can save the business. She can "practically spin straw into gold" Amazingly, overnight Bertie creates exquisite evening gowns, but only with the help of a mysterious man who uses an old spinning wheel. With dazzling crimson thread, he makes the dresses look like they are laced with real gold. Bertie would do anything to pay this man back for his help. When he asks for her firstborn child, Bertie agrees, never dreaming that he is serious.

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Upon the death of her father, seventeen-year-old Charlotte struggles to keep the family's woolen mill running in the face of an overwhelming mortgage and what the local villagers believe is a curse, but when a man capable of spinning straw into gold appears on the scene she must decide if his help is worth the price.

Sleeping Beauty

Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey
Princess Aurore learns that the curse that was placed on her at birth may hurt others, so she goes on a quest to end the evil magic.
A Kiss in Time by Alex Flinn
Sixteen-year-old Princess Talia persuades seventeen-year-old Jack, the modern-day American who kissed her awake after a 300-year sleep, to take her to his Miami home, where she hopes to win his love before the witch who cursed her can spirit her away.
A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Sixteen-year-old Rosalinda Fitzroy, heir to the multiplanetary corporation UniCorp, is awakened after sixty years in stasis to find that everyone she knew has died and as she tries to make a new life for herself, learns she is the target of a robot assassin. Kelly's review

The Snow Queen

Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce
When her boyfriend disappears with a mysterious girl, seventeen-year-old Ginny leaves her hometown of Atlanta and fights wolves, escapes thieves, and braves the cold to rescue him.

Winter's Child by Cameron Dokey
A retelling of the Andersen tale in which childhood best friends, Kai and Grace, grow apart as teenagers after Grace spurns Kai's declaration of love, and a dejected Kai is lured away by the mysterious Snow Queen, leaving Grace to realize her loss and determined to find him and bring him back.

Snow White

Nameless by Lili St. Crow
In this retelling of Snow White, sixteen-year-old Cami, a mortal raised by one of the powerful Families that rule magic-ridden New Haven, begins to uncover the secrets of her birth and why her past is threatening her now.

Snow by Tracy Lynn
A retelling tale of a princess who takes refuge from her wicked stepmother by fleeing to London. Story inspired by brothers Grimm.

Twelve Dancing Princesses

Entwined by Heather Dixon
Confined to their dreary castle while mourning their mother's death, Princess Azalea and her eleven sisters join The Keeper, who is trapped in a magic passageway, in a nightly dance that soon becomes nightmarish. Kimberly's review

The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn 
A knight falls in love with the youngest of twelve sisters, but they can only marry if he can discover where the sisters secretly go to dance. Inspired by the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
A retelling of the tale of twelve princesses who wear out their shoes dancing every night, and of Galen, a former soldier now working in the king's gardens, who follows them in hopes of breaking the curse.

Short Stories/Anthologies

The original stories were short stories, so it's natural that anthologies of fairy tale re-tellings abound as well.

Faery Tales & Nightmares by Melissa Marr
A collection of short stories featuring tales of characters from the Wicked Lovely novels that mix with accounts of new characters.
Grim edited by Christine Johnson
Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today.

Rags and Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt
In this collection, award-winning and bestselling authors reimagine their favorite classic stories, the ones that have inspired, awed, and enraged them, the ones that have become ingrained in modern culture, and the ones that have been too long overlooked.
The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block
Nine classic fairy tales set in modern, magical landscapes and retold with a twist. 

A Wolf at the Door edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
What ever happened to the seven dwarfs after Snow White ditched them? What was life like for the giant above the beanstalk? Readers need wonder no more. This collection of 13 fantasy short stories takes favorite folk tales on a wild spin through the imagination. The roster of authors includes Michael Cadnum, Jane Yolen, Garth Nix, Tanith Lee, and Gregory Maguire. (Datlow and Windling edited at least two more anthologies of retold fairy tales for younger readers.)
Datlow and Windling also edited a number of anthologies of fairy tales retold for adults, beginning with Snow White, Blood Red. I've read a few of the collections, and if my memory serves me right, they're don't skimp on sex and gore, so hand them only to your most mature readers. 


The Mirk and Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson (March)
Seventeen-year-old Violet Dancey is spending the Civil War with a new stepmother and stepsister and her young cousin when she comes upon a wounded Yankee soldier, Thomas, who is being kept alive by mysterious voodoo practitioners. [Tam Lin]
Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay (December)
Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora's throne ten years ago.
Winter by Marissa Meyer (2015) 
This concluding volume re-tells Snow White.  


  1. For Snow Queen, I'd include Wendy Delsol's Frost as well.

  2. Dowe and Windling are two of my favorite anthologists. They do have a YA series of anthologies - The Green Man, The Faery Reel, The Fox Road, The Beastly Bride - that are amazing and far more appropriate for a teen collection than their adult fairytale anthologies. (I mean, I don't talk about appropriateness much, but I'm still scarred by that one necrophilia story.)

    1. I agree, the adult ones are definitely adult. I didn't know they had teen anthologies, I just knew about the middle grade and adult ones. Datlow and Windling do some great work, their collections are really the only short stories I'll bother reading.

    2. Haha, I am a huge fan of their teen anthologies and recommend them whenever I can. I think that those are their best work as anthologists (saying A LOT) and their introductions to those works are second-to-none. Hugely informative.

  3. I've done some work putting together classic retellings in a big list here:
    Also I put together a list of fairy tale retellings but it's in sore need of updating:

  4. Another one for the list that comes out in Winter 15 is Tiffany Schmidt's "Hold Me Like a Breath," and it's a retelling of The Princess and the Pea:

    1. That's not one you see often. Sounds fascinating!

  5. I have entered a time warp where my books no longer seem to exist in the fairy tale retelling genre! Hmmmmm.

    Jane Yolen

  6. I think DARK TRIUMPH works as a Bluebeard myth, too...Doesn't LaFevers have something about it in the Author's Note? Lent my copy to my mom, so I can't run and check...

    1. It definitely does. Actually, a lot of these incorporate multiple fairy tales. Enchanted has a bunch of em (it's kind of a mash up of several), and Cruel Beauty has elements of Rumpelstiltskin too.

    2. There were bits in Cruel Beauty that felt very Tam Lin-ish too. I loved how it managed to incorporate a bunch of different stories to create a whole new one.

  7. Stitching Snow by RC Lewis is kinda "Snow White In Space" -- coming in fall from Disney-Hyperion. :-)

  8. I am super excited for Stitching Snow!


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