Why do we love retellings?

16/09/2019 Reading 14

Why do we love retellings?

I’m a sucker for a good retelling, and judging by the number that have been released in recent years, so are a lot of people.

But what is it that we love so much about seeing the same stories retold over and over again? We all know the stories of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast and King Arthur, so why do we want to keep reading about them over and over?

Well, as an avid lover of retellings, I have a few ideas on that matter:

We like familiarity.

Whilst we might say we don’t want to keep reading the same old thing, on a human level, we all crave familiarity. We like recognising the patterns of a story because it’s comforting, which is probably why there are supposedly only 7 different story plots in existence (so I guess everything is a retelling technically?).

The book industry itself recognises our craving for familiarity as you can see from the number of book covers that claim the book in question is for ‘fans of [another book]’, or ‘a cross between [x book] and [y book].’ Whilst we want to read lots of new and different books, we also want to know that we’re going to enjoy the story, so a certain level of familiarity is required, and retellings are by their nature a familiar entity. Through them we can experience the nostalgia of the stories we were told in childhood, but through a different lens.

We like seeing the differences and twists.

Yes, I’ve just said we like familiarity, but we also like to see how a familiar tale can be flipped on its head or twisted. Surprisingly, retellings can be some of the most creative tales, with authors changing the classic settings, character genders or character roles in incredibly imaginative ways.

Coming into a retelling we know the basic story we’re going to be getting, but we want to see how this version is going to surprise us!

We like seeing more of the characters the original story consigned to the background (or cast as the villains).

In every fairytale there are characters that are in the background, that we know little about, and of course there’s also those intriguing villains! And maybe that side character had an interesting take on events or had their own equally interesting story? And perhaps the villain wasn’t actually the villain at all, or not in their own eyes anyway!

Retellings often give us fresh and unexpected perspectives on these age-old stories and shows us the depths of character that the classic fairytales lacked.

They often have strong concepts that grab our attention.

Publishers and authors want to get their books into our hands, and one of the easiest ways to have us adding them to our TBR lists is to have a strong and exciting concept. So something cool that can easily be summarised in a few words is a great way to get people buzzed about as book.

So take Cinder by Marissa Meyer: ‘cyborg Cinderella.’ Who isn’t going to be excited and/or intrigued by that? Once and Future by Amy Rose Capetta: ‘Female King Arthur in space’. Now that sounds exciting! It’s these kinds of strong, easily summarised concepts that make retellings an easy sell for publishers. And intrigues us enough to get us reading!

So why do you think retellings are so popular? What do you love about retellings, and what are some of your favourites?

14 Responses to “Why do we love retellings?”

  1. Angela

    I like them because they’re familiar stories told in a brand-new way. I love when really old stories or classics are updated to modern times; it really shows how some things never change! I too like when retellings focus on more of the side characters; it gives a whole new perspective.

    • Laura

      I love old stories being updated to modern times too! It’s crazy how these stories still work in most settings, and I love seeing how different authors reimagine them.

  2. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Great post. For me, retellings are great because they’re a little familiar but they’re not, they bring something new to a story I already enjoy. I love retellings that you can see hints of the original inspiration but are very much their own story. And retellings allow for secondary characters or even the villain of the original to get a new story, it’s almost like fanfiction for the original and we all know folks create storylines which were never intended but work but so well they should have been in the original.

  3. Veronika @ Wordy and Whimsical

    I definitely agree with everything you mentioned, especially that it’s so fun to see something familiar, BUT twisted and changed in new and exciting ways. Cinder is a great example for a retelling, imo – why it doesn’t have great representation, it’s a wholly unique concept. I love how there’s this whole new plot going on that is unrelated to the original tales, but there are a lot of elements that reappear from the originals. Great post!

    • Laura

      I liked that mix of the familiar Cinderella storylines plus new, unrelated stuff in Cinder too. It definitely did a good job of combining a familiar storyline with plenty of interesting twists! 🙂

  4. Belle

    These are all fantastic points! That’s so interesting that there’s only apparently 7 plot lines in existence 😮. I have to look that up now! Also, I love learning more about the side characters and especially the villains—Fairest by Marissa Meyer is probably my favorite villain retelling!
    And I saw someone mention this already, but I really like retellings because they can be updated to fit modern times better. Like, maybe there were some aspects in the original story that were backwards or offensive and modifying those things makes the story all the more better 🙂.

    • Laura

      Yeah, I think the seven plots thing is just basic story structures that you get in all stories, which is super interesting. Especially when you start thinking of stories you know, and you find it does fit into one of the categories!
      And I definitely like how retellings can update old stories for modern times too! 🙂

  5. Caitlin @ Caitlin Althea

    This was such a great discussion—I never stopped to think about why people love retellings! I think that you mentioned all the reasons I could come up with. I love seeing how the author incorporates parts of the original text in the book—marissa Meyer did such a good job with this in The Lunar Chronicles. That being said, I honestly don’t care much for retelling :”) I don’t really know why

    • Laura

      I really like seeing how authors incorporate parts of the original text in their retellings too!
      Personally I love retellings, but I can see why you might not. It is basically just reading the same story over and over again! Plus there’s so many that have come out in recent years that it probably will get to the point of over saturation.

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