A Tale as Old as Time

A spell cast. An enchanted castle. A lost traveler. A promise made. A promise kept. A spell broken. True Love.

I have enjoyed fairy tales since I was a young child. Among my favorite tale is “Beauty and the Beast.” As a young, bookish girl, I admired Beauty’s quest for knowledge and love of reading. In a genre of helpless maidens needing to be rescued by handsome princes, Beauty was a breath a fresh air because after all she was both beautiful and smart – thus proving the two are not mutually exclusive.

As a young adult, I fell in love with Disney’s version on the big screen, and I applaud Disney for keeping Beauty’s bookish demeanor when they created Belle.

Now as an adult reader of YA, I’ve found myself drawn to YA retellings of “Beauty and the Beast.” Beastly by Alex Flinn is a modern retelling told from the beast’s point of view. Instead of the beast living in an enchanted castle in the middle of an enchanted forest, the modern day beast is living in a brownstone in Brooklyn. Flinn follows the fairy tale very closely in her retelling.

Beauty by Robin McKinley is also a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” McKinley weaves her poetic prose into a novel length tale. Like Flinn, McKinley follows the tale very closely, and, in fact, both authors use the French version of “Beauty and the Beast” in crafting their novels.

As much as I love “Beauty and the Beast,” I was initially disappointed in the tales. I say initially because I felt that reading the tales close together was important in understanding my response to the novels, and because I read the tales close together, my initial response changed. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t so disappointed as to not recommend the books; I do. They were comfortable. Reading both of these novels was like settling into a comfortable chair, snuggling under an afghan, and enjoying a mug of tea. They were soothing to the soul. They were exactly what I needed to read this week. But upon finishing them, I was left wanting something else.

And then it hit me.

Hard.

I was defining retelling completely differently from the authors. When I thought of retelling, I thought of a new, different way to tell the same tale. If you’ve read Elizabeth C. Bunce’s A Curse as Dark as Gold, you’ll understand a bit of what I was thinking. Bunce retells “Rumpelstiltskin,” so that the miller’s daughter is not a sniveling helpless girl who can’t complete her task. Instead, Charlotte Miller finds herself trying to save the family mill after her father dies suddenly, leaving Charlotte and her sister with debt. Charlotte is a strong female protagonist who is able to handle Jack Spinner (Rumpelstiltskin) and his tricks. Reading Bunce’s retelling, I saw the familiar elements of Rumpelstitlskin but with a whole new twist on the tale.

And so, with this idea of a retelling in mind, I sat down with Beastly. I was immediately drawn into the story and read the novel in one sitting. Upon finishing, I was disappointed because the retelling only (as my mindset had not yet changed) changed point of view and setting.

A few days later, I picked up Beauty, and like Beastly, I found myself lost in the book. And it was upon finishing Beauty that I realized I needed to rethink my definition of retelling. As I said before, I realized that I was thinking something new. Retelling in it’s simplest form is telling a story again. McKinley does just that. Flinn tells the story again and updates a bit. In rethinking the definition of a retelling of a fairy tale for YA audience leaves me to wonder what will sell.

Looking at copyright, McKinley first published Beauty in 1978 and Flinn’s Beastly was published in 2007. What does that matter? To the adult reading YA, it probably doesn’t matter much. To the current young adolescent reading YA, I think it might matter a great deal. I theorize that Beastly will find a wider audience in my class library because of the updated setting, changed point of view, and first person narration, and the fact that this is coming out as a motion picture won’t hurt either. I believe that McKinley’s beautiful prose and intricate description will alienate the majority of my current readers. But only time will tell. I already have a few readers in mind for both of these books.

Until next time. . .  see YA!

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3 Responses to A Tale as Old as Time

  1. bonny says:

    Thank you for see YA; I look forward to more posts. I’m especially glad for your recommendation of A Curse as Dark as Gold. I love Rumpelstiltskin, and am excited to read Bunce’s retelling as the first book on my Kindle! Thanks and keep up the good work!

  2. this post is very usefull thx!

  3. Ron Tedwater says:

    Great work keep it coming

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