When looking into the fantasy elements of YA, it is common to find books and films that can be considered to be ’fairy tale retellings’. Goodreads has whole lists with hundreds of entries dedicated to this sub-genre but there is a question as to how many of these books can really be original. How many times can you rewrite the same story?
Fairy tales are timeless. Told to us from childhood, they serve to teach important moral lessons and ignite imaginations. Fairy tales are one of the things that make us feel the most nostalgia and even as we grow older, we continue to rehash our favourites as well as add new ones to our collection. They have everything any good story should have; action, adventure, romance and, most importantly, that special element of magic that nobody can resist. Talking animals, fairy godmothers, and wicked witches, anything you can imagine can be found in a fairy tale.
As you can tell I am an obvious fan of the genre, even the darker versions they derive from by the Brothers Grimm, but I do have to question the logic and need in them being retold repeatedly in different contexts. Sure, it’s always interesting to read or watch from another perspective or a different general plotline but I can’t help but feel every time I sit down with a ‘new take’ on Cinderella that I’m reading something that lacks creativity. In most novels, the key plot elements are near enough the same as the originals so what’s more is that readers already know how the story ends before they finish the first page. For me, that takes away a key point to reading or watching something because it lacks that obsessive immersion you get when you are kept guessing.
In the publishing and film world, the bottom line for them is profit; if it won’t sell they won’t make it. But as fairy tales are one of the few things we universally know and (sometimes secretly) love the money makers will swarm at the chance to make something that pulls at those emotional heartstrings, something that will instantly gain a universal and multi-generation audience. Some are done well to give them credit, such as Maleficent that was brought out last year, but others are just unnecessary. For example, take the new Cinderella film and the just-announced Beauty and the Beast movie – they have already been made before. It has been done. Why do the same thing over and over again? Doesn’t it bore you? It definitely bores me.
I’m not saying that every retelling ever has been terrible or a waste of time. I thoroughly enjoy The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, for example, because it brings a unique element to classic tales that differs from the cliché, overused plotlines mainly produced before them. However, if most of the fairy tale retelling genre is made up of the same old thing, it is wasting the great potential the subgenre has in the YA world. I think there is a real chance for this genre to thrive, but it never can if this is as good as it gets.
Should fairy tale retellings exist or is one version enough? What do you think?