this old story.

| Sunday, December 13, 2009
The other day, I got to thinking about retellings of classic (or sometimes not-so-classic) stories. There are all sorts of them, with more coming out all the time - a reworking of a fairy tale, a new perspective on an old story, using a familiar plot in an unfamiliar way. I love retellings, though I think they can be abused. If we're not careful, they can seem an awful lot like a crutch, and if the story isn't fresh enough, we risk the reader becoming bored and thinking, "I know how this ends, I've read it a million times."

But, really, I'll be honest. I wanted to write about new twists on old stories because I wanted to post this clip from O Brother, Where Art Thou?. And this one. Aaaaaand this one. Because I love that movie super hard. In case you were unaware, it's a retelling of Homer's Odyssey, and a really fun and well-done one at that.

I'm especially fond of reading stories from the perspective of a party we never heard in the original tale - the evil step-mother from Snow White, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Big Bad Wolf. It's a relatively straightforward way to make the story fresh, and plays into the old adage "the truth is in the eye of the beholder." It makes the audience view the tale in a new light, and twists their mind around a little bit. I love that.

There does seem to be quite a bit of balance between infusing enough of the author's voice, new twists and story elements while maintaining the original "feel" of the story. If the story follows too closely to the original, that's when it starts to feel like a crutch. If the story is absolutely nothing like the tale it's supposedly based on, it seems like the author is banking on the familiarity of X story to get people to read theirs. I tend to cringe when I see stories referred to as a "modern day Romeo & Juliet" or what have you, only to read it and find a typical romance where they're married and happily-ever-after at the end. Having a disapproving daddy does not Romeo & Juliet make. I'M LOOKING AT YOU, TAYLOR SWIFT.

When story retellings are done well, they rock. When they're done poorly, they fall really, really flat. They even risk being yawn-worthy. We definitely don't want that! It's hard enough to write a new story, let alone writing an old one and trying to weave in a new element that will keep our audience interested. They must be treated with care.

Do you have a favorite old-story-made-new?


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