Witch Week: A new take on old stories

This post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors hosted at Emerald City Book Review. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

Folktales and fairy tales are an enormous part of my internal landscape–it’s almost impossible to overstate how important they’ve been to me since childhood. My mom had a huge Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales and I read all of it at least twice. Later, I grew to love modern retellings, starting with Robin McKinley’s Beauty.

Most often, I tend to like the retellings that thoughtfully examine the original story rather than reversing it completely. But I’ve also found some retellings that come at the story slantwise. These don’t so much destroy the original as remake it. I’m going to talk a bit today about three novels and one short story that I think do this and that I love.

winter princegirls at the kingfisherbone gap

The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein: This is Wein’s debut book, and it’s a retelling of the Arthurian legend from Mordred/Medraut’s point of view. But it has more in common with Rosemary Sutcliff than with Merlin; it’s dark and twisty and shows a world that’s full of texture and vibrant personalities. For me, it both humanizes Medraut and also still gives us the kingly Arthur of the myths. I am slightly overcome by how much I love this book just thinking about it now. Also, it gives us Goewin, and I LOVE Goewin.

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine: A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” which is one of my absolute favorite fairy tales ever of all time ever. It’s set in the 1920s and it includes no magic whatsoever, but it keeps the structure and heart of the story, while at the same time using it as a way to talk about family and fathers and abuse and love. I’ve been going on about this one since I read it and I want everyone in the world to try it.

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby: This is a 2015 YA which has been getting a lot of attention and rightly so–it’s a stunning, complex look at the dark side of the Persephone/Beauty and the Beast story. I truly love both the myth and fairy tale, and many of the newer stories that have echoed them. But I also truly loved this story, which reminds us of the possible darkness inherent within those stories. Roza, the heroine of this story, is a wonderful character in her own right as well.

The Queen of Atlantis” by Sarah Rees Brennan: I’m a big fan of Sarah Rees Brennan’s work in general, but this short story is one of my all time favorite things she’s written. One of the things I love most about it is that, as a friend pointed out, Mede is a name that has echoes in Greek mythology. But is it Andromeda or Medea? We never know; we never quite find out. While SRB doesn’t directly quote any one myth, the whole story feels like it has echoes and beats that evoke them.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Witch Week: A new take on old stories

  1. I read The Winter Prince and its sequels quite a while ago, and I remember loving it and being devastated by it, which pretty much describes my reaction to everything she writes! Kingfisher Club has been on my TBR for a while now, and everyone is talking about Bone Gap, so I need to get to those ones.

    Thanks for the link to SRBrennan’s story: I didn’t know about it!

    • Maureen Eichner

      I remember loving it and being devastated by it, which pretty much describes my reaction to everything she writes!

      YEP!

      I feel like SRB’s story went very much under the radar, which is a pity.

  2. I love The Winter Prince, and now I absolutely must read Kingfisher Club and Bone Gap! Thank you also for the link to the story, it’s great to be able to read it without needing to hunt down some anthology. And thanks so much for participating in Witch Week. These are wonderful additions to our list of “New Tales from Old.”

    • Maureen Eichner

      I’m not sure it’s available anywhere aside from that link! And thank you for organizing it–it took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to write about but I really enjoyed it.

  3. I really need to read The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. And thanks for the heads up on The Queen of Atlantis, I haven’t heard about it before.

    • Maureen Eichner

      I hope you like it! There was a point where I was worried that it would be a really depressing story, but I ended up being very glad I kept reading.

  4. I am such an Arthurian geek, how did I miss this one? I am excited to see it is a good length series!

  5. Pingback: November 2015 round up | By Singing Light

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