Friday 15 March 2019

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What Do We Want From Retellings? Part 2

What Do We Want From Retellings? Part 2

Ad: Titles with an asterisk (*) were gifted to me by the publisher for the purpose of an honest review.

Today, I am back to continue with my What Do We Want From Retellings? discussion, after quite a long wait. If you haven't yet read it, do check out What Do We Want From Retellings? Part 2, where I discussed what I want from straight retellings and reimaginings. Today, I'll be talking about prequels and sequels, different POVs, and thematic retellings.

Prequels and Sequels

Prequel and sequel retellings are stories set before or after the original story. Prequels, obviously, generally show us an author's idea of what may have led to the events of the original story, and from what I've seen, more often than not, they tend to be from the perspective of the villians, giving us their origin story - I'll talk more about these when I discuss different POVs. And prequels show what might happen after the original story, continuing it on to see what could happen next. There has been quite a slew sequels published recently in the UK when it comes to children's classics, like Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders and Four Children and It by Jacqueline Wilson, sequels to Five Children and It by E. Nesbit, and Return to the Secret Garden by Holly Webb, a sequel to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, among others, but generally for younger readers.

Stepsister by Jennifer DonnellyI personally have read more prequels than sequels, and as I've said, they tend to be villain origin stories. But what I expect from prequels is to see, over the course of the story, events that have consequences - either in regards to the world or effects on the characters - that, when the book is finished, the setting and characters are as they should be at the beginning of the orginal story, so you can imagine the original simply beginning. It doesn't necessarily need to be one big Event, but maybe a small thing here, a small thing there, that don't seem like much, but as a reader who knows the original story, I can see how those things will lead to the original. When it comes to the story, anything goes, just as long as, by the end, the setting and the characters are what and who they should be in the original. And the same goes for sequels, really; the story must begin as the original ended - the setting and the characters are what and who they should be, and then the story continues from there, but in a way that is believable for who we know these characters to be. Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly* - which is a sequel to Cinderella, from the perspective of Cinderella's stepsister, Isabelle - looks to be this kind of story, and I am really excited to read it!

So, for me, I don't want contemporary, furtistic, or some other twist on the original story here - I want it to be set in the same time as the original story. I don't think I'd mind the prequel/sequel set in or inspired by the culture of another country, as long as there are strong recognisable elements. For the most part, this is in regards to Western stories, but there are so many other stories out there, from other cultures, to be retold or have a prequel/sequel written about them. But for original stories from other cultures, I don't think should be changed; I don't want a prequel or sequel to the A Thousand and One Nights set in America, you know? Some things should just stay the same. I think you can play with Western stories, but non-Western stories shouldn't be messed with and put in a Western setting - at least not by white authors. I'd trust POC authors to do this better than white authors, but at the same time, we have so many books in a Western setting, I can't imagine POC authors wanting to set their retellings/prequels/sequels anywhere other than where the stories originated from.

Different POVs

Retellings from different characters' perspectives are just so awesome! There's so much more you can get from an original story, just by switching the perspective. Not only may we possibly see things that we don't in the original, but the original story's main character was somewhere else when certain things happen, but we also get the thoughts and opinions of a different character on what is happening. However, in these stories, I don't necessarily just want the original story told from a different perspective; these stories still need to expand on the original, and give us something new. Unlike The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross*, which is Beauty and the Beast from the Beast's perspective, but where absolutely nothing happens but playing the virginal, reading, and drawing. There needs to be more.

Prince of Shadows by Rachel CaineWhich is why I love Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine* so much! It's a retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but from the perspective of Benvolio, Romeo's cousin. Caine gives backstory - or just a story in general - to Benvolio and Mercutio, a friend of Romeo and Benvolio. This story is so intricate and complex! In Prince of Shadows, the love Romeo and Juliet feel for each other is not genuine love, but a curse, a curse to bring about tragedy. And the curse is brought about by actions and decisions that have a butterfly effect. Prince of Shadows is so much more than a tragic love story - Romeo and Juliet's story is only one part of a larger story; it's still a tragedy, but it's not the one you expect. I don't want to tell you too much more, because if you've not read it, it's a story you should discover as you read, but it is incredible.

But then we have the villain origin story prequels. I absolutely love these. Here are the characters we absolutely love to hate, abhor completely... and now we're going to get their story, see why they are who they are. That is what I want. I want to know why they become the villian they become. I don't necessarily need to like them, as anti-heroes are really interesting to read about, but I do love it when an author is able to turn things around and have me love a villian, feel empathy for a villian and their plight; understand what's happened to them, and why what they experience may change them. Or maybe just give us a different side to the villian completely, and they're not quite as bad as we originally thought, that what they're doing is actually the right thing from their side of the story.

Sea Witch by Sarah HenningSea Witch by Sarah Henning* was a really interesting villain origin story, where the sea witch from The Little Mermaid was originally a human witch. In some ways, it closely resembles the original The Little Mermaid, in that a mermaid becomes human in order to marry a prince, and will die if she doesn't get him to fall in love with her... and Evie, the witch's part in trying to get this to happen, as she is pretty sure that the mermaid, Annemette, is actually her childhood friend, Anna, who drowned, and wants desperately to save her this time. But there is so much more going on, and the way human Evie ends up becoming a non-human witch who lives in the sea, and what leads to that, is just so fascinating. Although I felt there was a bit of lull in the middle of the story, Sea Witch was still a fascinating read, and gave me what I wanted from this origin story; a sea witch I empathised with, a sea witch who wasn't all bad, a sea witch who had her own tragedy, a sea witch who believes she is doing the right thing, when she meets The Little Mermaid from the story we know. (And I have just discovered there's going to be a sequel! Sea Witch Rising! Out in August!)

There are so many other villian origin stories that I am so excited for, such as the Evil Queen from Snow White in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao and Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, and the wicked stepmother in Cinderella in All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller! These are stories I just can't get enough of!

Thematic Retellings

The Seafarer's Kiss by Julie EmberNow, thematic retellings are retelling that I don't really have any interest in, because they're not so much retellings of an original story, but more inspired by an original story. There are a lot of people who love this kind of retelling. In my Once Upon a Retelling feature, where I interview authors about the retellings I've written, a lot of authors have stated that they prefer retellings that don't stick too closely to the original story. For example, when asked what she thinks makes a good retelling, Julie Ember - YA author of The Seafarer's Kiss*, a The Little Mermaid retelling, and it's companion novel, The Navigator's Touch, a gender-reimagined retelling of Peter Pan from Captain Hook's perspective - said:

"I really love retellings that challenge my expectations. I don’t tend to love retellings that follow the original (or DISNEY) too closely because then I’m left with the feeling of reading something predictable. My favourite retellings start in a familiar place, and set you up to think that they will follow a story you already know, then diverge wildly!"

What's interesting, is that when asked what was difficult about writing a retelling of a story already known, Ember also said:

"...a lot of readers do have very specific expectations of retellings because everyone has a different aspect of a story that makes it a favourite. For me, with The Little Mermaid, my favourite aspect was always the question of voice and agency. As a kid, I used to get really riled up watching the Disney version because I couldn’t believe Ariel would trade her voice for a man! (Maybe if Eric had been a woman, I would have understood a little better, but still). In The Seafarer’s Kiss, I wanted to ask those same questions about voice and agency, but do so in a way that made it about the character’s own ambitions."

I, myself, wasn't a fan of The Seafarer's Kiss, because it was a thematic retelling. It was the mermaid's story, the plot, and the tragedy, that I loved so much, and in that regard, The Seafarer's Kiss is completely unrecognisable. I even said in my review that it was misleading to call The Seafarer's Kiss a retelling of The Little Mermaid, because the heart of the original story is completely missing. I think I was perhaps a little harsh - at the time, I didn't know about thematic retellings. But they're definitely not for me. I want to see the landmarks I mentioned in Part 1 of this discussion, and I don't get them in thematic retellings.

Last of Her Name by Jessica KhourySimilarly, when asked the same question in her interview, Jessica Khoury - YA author of Last of Her Name, a retelling of the legend of Anastasia - said:

"Good retellings have to surprise you. If the story follows the same emotional beats and reveals as the original, why tell it at all? When I pick up a retelling, I want to see how the writer will change some key elements in a way that makes me look at this story in a whole new light."

And I agree, in part. There has to be something new, in some way. Seeing at a story in a new light is a must. But I don't see why that means diverging from the core of the original story. It can be done - you can have a story stays very, very true to the original, but also gives us so much more. The "why tell it at all?" could also be "Why read it?" Because that's what I, personally, want from a retelling. I want to recognise the story. I have The Cold Was in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale*, a retelling of Medusa, which I was so looking forward to, but after read this interview with van Arsdale on Arctic Books, it may be more of a thematic retelling, which I'm a bit bummed about. I'll still read it, the story itself sounds interesting, but it's not going to be the retelling I was expecting, that I wanted.

So you know, for me, I'm not a big fan of these kinds of retellings. The question this discussion asks is what do we want from retellings? And when it comes to these particular retellings, I don't want them at all. But that's just my personal preference. Obviously, a lot of readers - and authors - love these kinds of retellings.

Over to you graphic

What are your thoughts on these kinds of retellings? What's your favourite kind of retelling overall? HAve you read any of the books mentioned here? What did you think? Do you have any YA prequels/sequels to recommend me? Or stories from different POVS? Especially villain origin stories, I love them! Let me know all your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. Love this, I think with prequel and sequels though what annoys me most is when the author tweaks something about the original to fit better with their story, when it would more interesting if they didn't. Like with villain stories where they don't actually let the villain become evil in the end. I like when it's still plausible with the canon :)

  2. I tend to like retellings of ALL types, but I agree that some thematic retellings are basically unrecognizable. I'm sort of writing one now, though, so I guess I can't complain about that. LOL!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction