Once Upon a Time: 6 Fairy Tale Retellings

Fairy Tale Castle
Photo courtesy Dobre Cezar via Wikimedia Commons under CC License.

Fairy tales permeate our storytelling culture, with many writers drawing from the fairy and folk tales of many different cultures around the world. These stories, with their familiar structures and archtypal characters, form the foundation of many of our writing traditions. While many stories draw from fairy tales to a greater or lesser degree, all of the books below are fairly direct retellings of different fairy tales. While some set the stories in a land similar to that of the original tale, many transplant the tales to a time or place far from the story’s origin.

The Bloody Chamber book coverThe Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

In this collection of short stories Carter retells several familiar fairy tales in a dark and sensual style. Bringing a feminist spin to these retellings, she delves deeply into the ancient and bloody roots of the stories and creates new tales from her own perspective that lie far from their Disneyfied forms. Looking at Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, Puss-in-Boots, as well as vampire and werewolf mythology, Carter has created a collection of tales at once disturbing and enthralling.


The Snow Child book coverThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska in the 1920s is a hard and unforgiving place to try to create a life in the wilderness, and is even more so for childless couple Jack and Mabel whose relationship is slowly breaking under the weight of their loneliness and isolation. One day, in a light-hearted moment they build a child out of snow and the next morning, the snow child is gone and they see a young girl in the forest. The girl calls herself Faina and she seems to be a creature out of a story, running with the foxes and unbothered by the snow and cold. As Jack and Mabel welcome the girl into their lives and begin to love her as their own, they also begin to learn more about her and the truth about Faina could change their world forever. The Snow Child is based on the Russian folktale of The Snow Maiden.

The Fairy Godmother book coverThe Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

In the Five Hundred Kingdoms life is ruled by Tradition, the fairy tale-determined rules that lay out the destiny for every citizen. Tradition has determined that Elena Klovis is destined to be the Cinderella of her kingdom and be forced into servitude under her wicked stepmother until a prince marries her. Elena however has no interest in cleaning house for an evil stepmother or in marrying a prince so her fairy godmother offers her another option, become her apprentice and learn to be a fairy godmother and make sure that evil does not subvert Tradition. Fairy godmothers though are not allowed to fall in love, a rule that Elena becomes infinitely more aware of when she is sent to teach an arrogant prince a lesson. Soon Elena will have to choose whether to follow the rules of the kingdoms or follow her heart. The Fairy Godmother is the first in the Five Hundred Kingdoms series from Lackey, in which each of the six books adapts a fairy tale into a romantic fantasy novel.

Daughter of the Forest book coverDaughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

A retelling of the Wild Swans fairy tale from Hans Christian Andersen, this story draws on the older Celtic traditions of the tale that Anderson retold with a story set among a large family in an ancient Ireland steeped in magic and legend. Sorcha is the youngest child of seven and the only daughter in a family of sons. Since her mother died when she was born, she has been raised by her six older brothers who treasure her and are determined that she never want for anything. Their happy lives are destroyed however, when the new wife of their father enchants him and turns Sorcha’s brothers into swans. Only Sorcha has the power to break the spell and save her brothers, but she can only do so by remaining completely silent until she fulfills the tasks set to her by the Fair Folk. When Sorcha is captured and taken to a foreign land she must make an impossible choice between her chance at love and her ability to save her family.

The Girls aThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club book covert the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

Valentine presents a reimagining of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses here set in the Roaring Twenties. Jo is the oldest of twelve sisters and the closest thing they have to a caring parent. It is Jo who cares for them, teaches them to dance, and leads them every night to sneak out of their father’s house to go dancing at one of the many clubs and speakeasies offering them excitement and freedom from their overprotective father. Everything changes when they are caught in a raid and separated and Jo finds her herself back in the company of Tom, a bootlegger that she knew ten years ago. Jo must decide where her future lies and how to balance the needs of her father, her sisters, and herself.

Fables Vol. 1 book coverFables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

Years ago a powerful figure known only as the Adversary marched through the realms fables, fairy tales, and imaginary lands, forcing the characters living there to flee to the human world where they now live in their own neighborhood in New York City, which they call Fabletown.  When it appears that the sister of deputy-mayor Snow White has been murdered, it is up to her and the Fabletown sheriff, Bigby Wolf, formerly The Big Bad Wolf, to find the culprit. This is the first volume in a 22 volume graphic novel series, the final two volumes of which should be released later this year. While the first volume starts small in scope, the history and culture of Fabletown and its residents are explored in depth in later issues and draw from fairy tales and fables from all over the world from Cinderella, to Pinocchio, to One Thousand and One Nights. There are several single story spin-off graphic novels set in the same world as well as a spin-off series centered around Jack the Giantkiller.