Retellings have become hugely popular in the book world over the past few years. Many of them fall into the “fairy-tale retelling” category, and are retellings of fairy tales told as new fairy tales. But many authors have also chosen to retell other stories, ranging from classic novels to famous legends. Today, retellings range from fairy tales retold as contemporary romance, to classics retold as science-fiction.
But what is it about retellings that has made these genre-hopping books so popular?
I think we can at least partially answer this question by thinking about why we read much-loved books (or watch favorite movies) over and over again. There’s a lot of comfort to be found in a familiar story. If a story’s characters and their struggles resonate with you, revisiting that story can feel like coming home. Retellings pair that comfort of familiarity with the excitement of experiencing something new.
There are, of course, some risks that an author takes when retelling a familiar story. If a retelling sticks too closely to the familiar, it might not satisfy its audience. If nothing new is brought to the table, why not simply read the original again? But conversely, if the retelling doesn’t retain enough of the original, the audience might have a hard time finding that feeling of familiarity that they were seeking in the first place.
A good retelling does two things well: It revamps a favorite story so we still see the things we loved in it; and it allows us to fall into the suspense of not knowing for sure how things will turn out this time. Have you ever watched a movie for a second time and found yourself hoping, just a little, that a character would make a different decision? In a retelling, maybe she will!