Blog Hop: How Shall I Retell Thee, Let Me Count the Ways…

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: Do you enjoy reading retellings of, or ‘sequels’ to, classic novels? Why or why not?


Oh, now that is a very, VERY tricky question.  Retellings are both my favorite and least favorite books to read.  When they are good, they are very good, and when they are bad, they are maddening.  So let’s parse this out.

Retellings and sequels are not the same thing, to begin with.  Sequels are a harder sell, because they are generally an adding-on rather than a reinvention, and that is much harder to do successfully.

On at least one occasion I opened a “sequel” to a classic novel written by a new author, read a paragraph or two, said, “Nope” and put it back on the shelf.  It is very, very hard to convincingly duplicate a classic author’s style in a way that works for me.  I don’t care what anyone says, there are only 14 Oz books–if it wasn’t by Baum, it doesn’t count.  On the other hand, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean is an absolute delight of a sequel.  She knew her source intimately and she pulled it off masterfully.  That is hard and rare.

So with regards to sequels, the answer is no, I don’t like them–with an occasional, exceptional exception.

Now, retellings.  Here we’re in my home territory because that’s what I write.  Retellings of classic stories, folklore or fairy tales are easier than retellings of novels.  There may be significant versions of, say, Cinderella, but there are ALSO many, many valid versions that exist in the literary canon.  Since there isn’t one definitive one, the field is open for any writer to bring their own style and their own twist to the story.  I love retellings of fairy tales, and what I love most is seeing all the differences that can be woven out of the same foundational story.

Retellings of novels, where there IS one original source…that’s a challenge.  I live here too, since one of my major works is a retelling (although I sort of like “reinterpretation”) of The Phantom the Opera, which did begin life as one novel by Gaston Leroux.  Phantom is an unusual one, though, in that the last century has seen so many retellings that it’s almost entered a folklore-like state, where I actually love seeing the many different approaches.  It may, in an odd way, help that the Leroux novel is, well, not my favorite.  So I don’t get into a righteous indignation about changes to Leroux’s work.

Which brings me to retellings that don’t work.  When the original is delightful and beloved and wonderful, it then becomes very hard to retell it.  It can be done, and I think there are more successful retellings than successful sequels, but it’s still tough.  It’s easy to stir up my knee-jerk “but that’s not how it IS” reaction.  A successful retelling requires a deft touch and a great respect, knowledge and affection for the original version from the writer.  Prove to me that you know your source material and I will ride along with changes; get it wrong because you don’t actually know?  That’s a hard stop.  And start your book with an explanation about how the original got it wrong and this is the corrected version?  No no no no no!

So the answer to the original question is an emphatic yes.  And an equally emphatic no!  🙂 Where do you stand on retellings or sequels to classic works?

One thought on “Blog Hop: How Shall I Retell Thee, Let Me Count the Ways…

  1. dianem57

    It’s interesting how some stories, especially fairy tales and legends, lend themselves to retelling. Other books are written once, set the standard, and are done as far as sequels and retellings. “Gone With the Wind” comes to mind. I know there was a sequel written years later, but I don’t recall it being very successful. And a retelling from one of the slaves’ point of view, “The Wind Done Gone,” was, I believe fiercely contested regarding publication and copyright by the estate of Margaret Mitchell. The lawsuit ended with the later book having to put on its cover, “An Unauthorized Parody.” Of course, if you’re going to do a sequel or a retelling, it helps if the book is already in the public domain!

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