This week I read Gerald Morris's latest book, `Legend of the King,' the final installment in his humorous `Squire's Tales' series. In the series, Morris retells stories about the knights of King Arthur. The books are funny and engaging whether or not one is familiar with the stories they're based on, but for people who have read some of the original stories, the humor takes on added layers. There's a hilarious passage in the second book describing a shield that always has me in stitches -not just because of the way its written but also because I recognize the passage it's based on -the only dull section in an otherwise gripping 14th century poem called `Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'.
So much power in a retelling comes from the audience's knowledge of the source material. You can twist a familiar story to surprise your audience. You can create suspense just by mentioning a character the audience knows is going to play a nasty role. (The BBC TV show Merlin is fond of that tactic.) Often the original fairy tales or legends are just the bare bones of a story. The fun is in the telling, and sometimes the audience forgets that they know the outcome. Shannon Hale's `Goose Girl' and Gail Carson Levine's `Ella Enchanted' are both that way. They make you forget you know the story, so the end is comes as a surprise. Sometimes the original story just serves as a backdrop to the author's real story, so what happens to the characters is not predetermined by the tale after all, like Tia Nevitt's `The Sevenfold Spell' (the only story I mentioned here that isn't mid-grade or young adult.)
What are your favorite retelling, and why?