A few months ago, I gave a speech on fairy tales at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. I’ve had a lot of queries from people who were unable to make it for various reasons (including vast distances) and so I’ve summarised my speech into a couple of blogs so everyone may enjoy. Here is a brief rundown on fairy tale retellings and ways to use them in your own creative work …
A fairy tale retelling is a story which retells or reimagines a fairy tale, or draws upon well-known fairy tale symbols and structures.
Fairy tale retellings deal with personal transformation – people and creatures change in dramatic and often miraculous ways. Many fairy tales hinge upon a revelation of a truth that has been somehow hidden or disguised.
Fairy Tale Retellings are most often written as a fantasy for children or young adults.
“Pure” Fairy Tale Retellings
A retelling of a fairy tale in which few changes are made to the best-known or ‘crystallised’ sequence of action and motifs. Changes tend to be small and subtle, such as adding dialogue or rhymes, naming characters, describing the setting more vividly, or smoothing out any inconsistencies. My picture book TWO SELKIE TALES FROM SCOTLAND, beautifully illustrated by Fiona McDonald, is an example of a “pure” fairy tale retelling.
Sequels, prequels and Spin-Offs
Fairy Tale Allusion & Intertextuality
Some novels can draw upon fairy tale motifs, metaphors and plot patterns in more subtle ways.
A girl may wear a red hoodie, or red dancing shoes.
A young woman may be poor and under-valued, yet still win the heart of the most eligible bachelor
A dark forest may be a dark city … a tower may be a hospital …
My novel DANCING ON KNIVES is a contemporary romantic suspense novel set in Australia, yet it draws upon Hans Christian Andersen’s well-known fairy tale, ‘The Little Mermaid’. My heroine Sara is not at home in the world. She feels as if she cannot breathe, and every step causes her pain. She is haunted by the ghosts of the past, and must learn to be brave before she can begin a new life for herself. The fairy tale elements are used only as allusion and metaphor, and as a structural underpinning of the story.
Retelling Little Known Fairy Tales