Thoughtful Thursday: Favorite re-told fairy tales

Classic fairy-tale retellings had a moment just a few years ago.

That moment left us with a bounty of books and stories that start with the elements of those tales and spin them off into strange and wonderful directions.

Naomi Novik, Catherynne M. Valente, and Seanan McGuire all dived headfirst into that rich pool of story, but there were many others as well.

Most of us can probably think of a fantasy book or story we’ve read in recent years that is a fairy-tale retold.

Which is your favorite? And why? Which one will you read next?

One commenter with a USA mailing address will win a book from our Stacks.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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  1. SandyG /

    I don’t know if it quite counts as a fairy tale but I liked Seanan McGuires Every Hearts a Doorway.

  2. I have not really read many, but I hear BURNING ROSES is amazing. I cannot wait to read it.

  3. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I hope this counts, but I’m really fond of Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller (which I recently learned got a belated soundtrack release a couple years go, and ordered it). They took a lot of lesser-known fairytales and put their own spin on them, like adapting “The Wild Swans” as “The Three Ravens”. Actually, it should count anyway since there’s a novelization of the series (plus the multiple graphic novel continuations from Boom! Studios’ imprint Archaia). The liner notes for the soundtrack are quite extensive and go into the history of the series. The news last year was Neil Gaiman would produce a reboot that would go into the backstory of the Storyteller himself, as well as producing an adaptation of Gormenghast, and I hope that’s still planned.

    • This sounds really interesting!

      • Noneofyourbusiness /

        It’s a classic! If you’re interested, I recommend getting both the DVD sets (the first series and the Greek Myths spinoff) and the graphic novels (Witches, Dragons, Fairies, Sirens, Giants, Ghosts). Especially if you’re a fan of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

      • Noneofyourbusiness /

        P.S., if you’re familiar with the screenwriting of , The StoryTeller is where he got his big break.

        • I had somehow never heard of this series, None, and I’m delighted to see that it’s available on Amazon Prime TV. This is so up my alley it almost IS the alley. Thanks so much!

    • My curiosity is piqued!

    • Rebecca Fisher /

      I second Jim Henson’s “The Storyteller”. I grew up with it, and I 100% credit it for my lasting love of fairy tales and the way they change from one telling to another. Also, fun fact: the Storyteller’s Dog is the show’s best character, but was originally going to be a real dog – but when they handed the premise to Anthony Minghella to write the scripts, he assumed it would be a puppet, because – why wouldn’t it be? It was a Jim Henson show! So he gave the dog plenty of lines and the rest is history.

      Now I’ve got to track down those graphic novels…

      • Noneofyourbusiness /

        Glad I could put you onto them. Archaia’s work with “The StoryTeller”, “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal” deserves recognition.

  4. The “Winternight Trilogy” by Katherine Arden is one of my favorites. It’s a retelling of the Russian folktale, “Vasilisa, the Beautiful.” I have never heard of this tale, but I read it after I read the first book in the trilogy, “The Bear and the Nightingale.” While the first book does have a lot of elements from the “Cinderella” tales, I was able to understand Arden’s trilogy better, especially as the rest of the books were released.

    Rena Rossner just announced her upcoming novel, “The Light of the Midnight Stars,” which will be released in April 2021. The novel, like her first one, “The Sisters of the Winter Wood,” will be based on Jewish folklore with elements of Hungarian fairy tales as well. I’m looking forward to reading it when it’s released.

  5. mary henaghen /

    I love Catherynne M Valente’s The Orphan Tales. They are wonderful and engaging, and great read aloud book to beat.

  6. The Distinguished Professor /

    “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman is an interesting take on “The Jungle Book”, which I think counts as basically a fairytale.

  7. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. It’s just really beautiful book. Been thinking to read Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

  8. Lady Morar /

    I shouldn’t neglect to mention Angela Carter’s collection “The Bloody Chamber”, some of the stories in which were adapted into the movie “The Company of Wolves”. It has a Bluebeard story, two Beauty and the Beasts, three Little Red Riding Hoods (one mixed with Alice), and a vampire Sleeping Beauty.

    In fact, I recommend this 2008 paper by a student from my native Holland analyzing the use of faeries and fairytales in both “The Bloody Chamber” and Susannah Clarke (author of “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell)’s collection “The Ladies of Grace Adieu”:

    My family read it a few years ago on summer vacation.

    • Jillian /

      The Goose Girl and Book of 1000 days by Shannon Hale! I see they were already mentioned but they really are the best and definitely some of my favorites. The next one I want to read is a Heart so Dark and Lonely.

  9. Jillian /

    The Goose Girl and Book of 1000 days by Shannon Hale! I see they were already mentioned but they really are the best and definitely some of my favorites. The next one I want to read is a Heart so Dark and Lonely.
    (Sorry I didn’t mean to send that as a reply)

  10. John Smith /

    I can’t remember if it was the Katherine Arden Russian-folktale series or this other series with a lesbian or quasi-lesbian heroine who could shapeshift and be different sexes that I’m thinking of, but there was a lot of great fairytale action with a castle and some underworld lair and being tricked into helping the villain and suchlike. Whatever it was, it was a pretty good read!

    • John Smith /

      I think I’m combining in my memory the quasi-lesbian book “The Brilliant Death” by Amy Rose Capetta and “The Kingdom Of Back” by Marie Lu, which is based on Mozart and his sister.

  11. Please note: I edited the column to include that winners must have a USA mailing address!

  12. E. J. Jones /

    I have a deep personal attachment to Ella Enchanted and believe it to be the most romantic book of our time, no matter what anyone says. It really kicked off my love for fairy tale retellings. I love retellings of Slavic tales; Novik and Arden are amazing, and Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns is great as well.

  13. Most (I haven’t read all) of T. Kingfisher’s forays into the area. The Halcyon Fairy Book, Bryony and Roses and The Seventh Bride. She’s got a lot of short work in the genre too (see Halcyon Fairy Book) and much of it rocks (Jackalope Wives, The Tomato Thief, The Dryad’s Shoe and Toad Words in particular) but available here

  14. Rebecca Fisher /

    I live in NZ, so I’m not in the running for this competition, but the other day I was reminded of Elizabeth Marie Pope’s “The Perilous Gard”, which is a retelling of the Tam Lin story in Elizabethan England, and is just fantastic. Diana Wynne Jones did something similar with “Fire and Hemlock”, but puts the story in a contemporary setting.

  15. Aeshiryzen, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

  16. The other winner here was me, I think, with so many great new stories introduced to me. I’m particularly interested in the Storyteller series, which I vaguely remember. It sounds brilliant.

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