From fractured fairy tales to a cyborg Cinderella, authors have re-imagined fairy tales and folk lore, providing young readers with a fresh approach to a familiar story. They rewrite or flesh out characters and plots for various reasons: as challenge to update or explain an archaic setting or milieu, or to take an already great story that has stood the test of time and turn it on its head. Expanding the simple fairy tale can allow the author to imbue it with a deeper, perhaps more relevant theme. Gregory Maguire, in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, asks how to assess the relative values of beauty.1 Tales by the Brothers Grimm, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Merlin, Robin
Hood, and the modern classic, the Wizard of Oz, are especially popular stories for authors to explore.
Maguire’s book, Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, is the best known adaptation of the modern classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It tells the story of Elphaba before she became the Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz. The novel traces her career as nun, nurse, pro-democracy activist and animal rights defender. Doesn’t sound quite like the theatrical production? Walk a bit further down the yellow brick road and read the story of Wicked.
In Alex Flinn’s latest, Mirrored, beauty is seen as a curse and an obsession. These updated fairy tales have contemporary settings and issues, often with a fair amount of teen romance: Beastly, A Kiss in Time, Cloaked (Frog Prince), Towering.
A high tech Cinderella starts the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. In a future-world Beijing, Cinder is put to work by her stepmother repairing all the technology gadgets and droids. It’s not her slipper she leaves behind at the ball, it’s her outgrown cyber foot. As the series progresses, Cinder is joined by Scarlet, the Big Bad Wolf, and Cress (Rapunzel in an isolated space capsule) as she seeks her true identity and battles the evil Lunar Queen, who can’t have mirrors around.
Robin McKinley has retold the love story of Beauty and the Beast twice: Beauty and Rose Daughter. She has also ventured into Sherwood Forest to discover the beginnings of Robin Hood and the other denizens of Nottingham.
In the series beginning with A Tale Dark and Grimm, Adam Gidwitz elaborates on and concocts a tale taken from the folklore collected by the Brothers Grimm. However, Gidwitz assures and warns the reader, these are the original, bloody, scary adventures, not for the timid of heart. Middle school boys ( and girls) will revel in this gruesome, yet humorous retelling of Hansel and Gretel as the two children travel through the kingdom of Grimm. The narrator keeps a running dialogue with the reader, commenting on the events as they unfold. AND, there be dragons.
The Arthurian legend of Merlin & King Arthur has been covered in a series by T.A.Barron. Focusing on the origins and life of young Merlin the wizard (the "lost years"), Barron has written a rich fantasy on the mystical character. It’s almost like witnessing Harry Potter grow up to be Dumbledore.
Stop by the Children’s Circulation Desk for our bookmark of fairy tales told anew, or see an annotated list in Children’s Reading Lists on our web site.
1 Gregory Maguire, "Hijacking the Pumpkin Coach", Horn Book, May/June 2015: 17.