Fairy Tales

10 New Tellings of Classic Myths and Fairy Tales

1) ‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey

This magical novel takes a Russian fairy tale and sets it in 1920’s Alaska. I found it a bit slow and ‘wagons and homesteads’ to begin with but was drawn in and, like everyone else, fell in love with Faina. Wonderfully snowy, this is my book club‘s January read and I am expecting it to be very popular. It also has a very beautiful trailer that you can see here.

2) ‘The Penelopiad’ by Margaret Atwood

My favourite from the Canongate myth series from one of my favourite authors, this one tackles Penelope’s experiences during the Odyssey and deftly handles double standards between the sexes. Atwood also wrote ‘The Robber Bride’, the title of which references the Grimm fairy tale ‘The Robber Bridegroom’. Other titles in the myths series included ‘Weight’ by Jeanette Winterson, ‘Girl Meets Boy’ by Ali Smith and ‘The End of the Gods’ by AS Byatt.

3) ‘Gods Behaving Badly’ by Marie Phillips

I loved this very hilarious book so am super excited to find that it’s being made into a film starring Christopher Walken and Sharon Stone! Here’s an interview with Sharon on set! Bookmarks Magazine say: “Reviewers almost unanimously praise Phillips’s daring, high-concept premise and the wit and cleverness with which she recycles mythic tales and gives them a postmodern twist.”

4) ‘Tender Morsels’ by Margo Lanagan

A dark, dark retelling of the Snow White, Rose Red fairy tale, be warned, this is not a novel for the faint of heart, with rape, bestiality and sodomy as themes and no Disney style ending, it’s a book that lives with the reader for a long time after. Publishers Weekly said: “Writing in thick, clotted prose that holds the reader to a slow pace, Lanagan explores the savage and the gentlest sides of human nature, and how they coexist.”

5) ‘Oh My Gods’ by Phillip Freeman

Oh My Gods is a contemporary retelling of some of the most popular myths by Philip Freeman, a noted classicist. These tales of errant gods, fantastic creatures, and human heroes are brought to life in fresh and modern versions. Powerful Zeus; his perpetually aggrieved wife, Hera; talented Apollo; beautiful Aphrodite; fierce Athena; the dauntless heroes Theseus and Hercules; and the doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice still inspire awe, give us courage, and break our hearts.

6) ‘New World Fairy Tales’Cassandra Parkin

I first stumbled across Cassandra when I discovered her acerbic and incredibly hilarious explanation of everything that is wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. I had an inkling then that I was going to enjoy this, her first published book of prize winning short stories from Salt Publishing. And I did, enormously. These are very, very modern retellings of various fairy tales – beautiful, sexy and compelling.

7) ‘Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’ by me

This is a contemporary retelling of the classic Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice set in a menagerie in a rundown country estate in Sussex which turns upside down with the arrival of a new family of rock stars set on change. Readers love Herbert – the main narrator of the book who is a giant land tortoise. You can be friends with Herbert on Facebook here. You may also find him blogging on this site quite regularly.

Fairy Tales8) ‘Grimm Tales – For Young and Old’Phillip Pullman

Well the title says it all really! I bought these for my six year old niece for Christmas. Unfortunately I’ve been in the French alps (poor me!) over the festive break so I am yet to have a read of them but am looking forward to it very much. I love Pullman’s writing, in particular the Northern Lights trilogy – me and my cat were likened to Lyra and her daemon by a friend once which made me smile a lot. He is also very good friends with Neil Gaiman from what I understand who deserves a mention here for his masterful ‘Stardust’.

9) ‘The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories’ by Angela Carter

Ian McEwan (and I love his writing) described this as: “Magnificent set pieces of fastidious sensuality”. These are fairy tales retold and interwoven by a master of seductive, luminous storytelling – The Times said: “She can glide from ancient to modern, from darkness to luminosity, from depravity to comedy without any hint of strain and without losing the elusive power of the original tales.”

10) ‘Beauty’ by Robin McKinley

“The best-known and best-loved of Robin McKinley’s books is also one of the best of the fairy-tale retellings — “Beauty,” a more enlightened, fully-drawn version of “Beauty and the Beast.” There’s a depth and a richness to the story and characterizations, as well as a beauty of atmosphere and writing.” E A Solinas – Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer

Do you know of any more to add to the list?

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    5 thoughts on “10 New Tellings of Classic Myths and Fairy Tales

    1. Alison

      Well – as this is one of my favourite topics… I thought I would suggest a couple. Beauty – by Sheri S Tepper, weaving futuristic, time travel, SciFi and the Glamour of Faerieland into a tale of how to save the world. Distopia meets Grimm. Love it.
      The Daddy of them all Neil Gaimen’s – American Gods – perhaps not quite as Fairy like, but certainly the retelling of a number of Folklores with a modern Twist.

      I’m off now to peruse my bookshelves, may be back with more shortly.

        1. Helen J Beal Post author

          I shall add them to the lists! That does look good – Once Upon a Time – I love Ginnifer Goodwin. Maybe will download…

    2. idebenone

      Winterson’s work is always beguiling, and here she proves that often, less is more, especially with a story that she emphasizes again and again has been told before. She wants to tell the story again, and this might be the best retelling of them all. Atlas, a titan among the Titans, has been sentenced to hold the weight of the world on his immensely strong shoulders for pretty much the whole of time (time being relative and unimportant in the long view, we might as well say he must carry the world for all eternity). He spends his time reflecting on past loves, past mistakes, and, of course, the weight. One day, though, a reprieve comes in an unlikely form: Herakles. Winterson’s Herakles is as un-Kevin Sorboish as one can imagine. He’s a drunken, oversexed oaf with an Oedipal fixation on his beautiful stepmother, Hera. He is also by far the funniest and most lively character in this novella. He’s getting close to the end of his Twelve famous Labors, and he needs Atlas’s help. In return, Herakles will hold up the world for just one day.You probably know how the myth ends. After all, we don’t talk about how Herakles shoulders the weight of all Creation, now do we? But then what happened, when Atlas took up his burden again? Winterson does bring the story into the 20th century, although this is not precisely a “modern retelling” as the jacket description would have you believe. She brings an intriguing twist into the story that, as a devoted dog-person, had me smiling for about a week. For any fan of Jeanette Winterson, classical lit, history, dog-lovers, and sufferers of Atlas-complexes, this book is a must-have.


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