Saturday, January 22, 2011


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?


  1. I have to mention Kawelo: Roving Chief by Vivian Thompson. She's my first out-of-family writing mentor, but that's not why. I just loved seeing a Hawaiian legend developed in a way so often saved for King Arthur and Robin Hood. I loved that enough, Kawelo joined Issunboshi as my non-European "boys." {SMILE, wink}

    I also love Mercedes Lackey's Hundred Tales series with Luna. She usually combines two or three familiar tales in ways I'd never expect to fit together as well as they end up doing. {SMILE}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  2. I've never heard of Vivian Thompson's book. It sounds like it'd a fun one to look into. Speaking of non-European retellings, have you read `Redemption in Indigo'? Tia interviewed the author over on Debuts and Reviews a little while back. The book is just lovely.

  3. Vi Thompson did two short-book retellings, Kawelo, Roving Chief, and Aukele the Fearless. She also did three books of collection of shorter retellings. I like them a lot. {Smile}

    I have Redemption in Indigo. I'm afraid it's half read. I'm afraid I kind of got distracted by another book while the heroine was learning how to use that choas stick. Thanks for reminding me about it. {SMILE}

    I really need to get back to it. I'd also like to finish Michael Collins's Flying to the Moon and Mercedes Lackey's The Sleeping Beauty, preferrably before I find yet another books to distract me from these. {wink, Smile}

    Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

  4. Thanks for the list of Thompson's work. :)

    I get distracted in the middle of books all the time. I tend to keep several beside my bed and skip between them. I'm three-fourths of the way through `Hunger Games'. It's so popular among the mid-graders I thought I'd better check it out in the name of research. :)