I’ve been listening to the Hadestown soundtrack lately. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a musical retelling of the story of Orpheus and Euridice. But it’s also a little bit of the story of Hades and Persephone. Both stories are compelling, but I’ve always been more interested in the story of Hades and Persephone.
For me, it’s because Hades and Persephone are very much opposites who somehow found what they were missing in each other. And while romance is not my go-to genre, I will usually make an exception for a Hades and Persephone retelling. There’s something in the opposites attract trope that I like.
A retelling is an excellent option if you want to revisit a well-loved story. It can stay close to the original source material or just take inspiration from it. Either way, you can fall in love again with the characters and plot from the original work.
But there’s more to a retelling than just visiting an old friend. They are also a good entry or re-entry point for readers. I think I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I was an avid reader-turned-reluctant-reader (if I haven’t, well, now you know). But retellings of stories I knew I liked brought me back to reading.
There’s a comfort in the familiar and a thrill in the unknown — and retellings did that for me.
Retellings also made things that were hard for me to understand a little more accessible. For example, reading Shakespeare in class was made easier by reading a retelling at home. I could discuss the core messages of the plays (since I was reading them in simpler language or with a more contemporary slant) in class, even if the language from the original was a struggle for me.
For children especially, older stories can contain words, language, or themes they don’t understand. This can lead to frustration. While there are definitely benefits to reading the original version of a story to children — such as language acquisition — it can be overwhelming. Starting children with a simpler retelling is a great way to build that foundational love of literature, reading, and storytelling.
It might seem like there has been a flood of retellings lately. But humans have been telling the same stories since . . . well, forever. Take the Grimm Brothers’ version of Cinderella, for example. While it may be the “original” to some — it, too, is a retelling. Then you have the Disney one, which keeps some of the same elements but removes a lot of the . . . gruesome bits. New retellings of Cinderella use the tale to focus on contemporary issues.
There are also retellings that take western legends or folk tales and tell them from a culturally different point of view — for example, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an East Asian retelling of the Evil Queen Legend. This allows us as readers to experience a familiar legend but from a different time or place.
We, of course, don’t just see this in these western retellings. There are retellings of stories from all over the globe. One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales — and there have been many retellings of either individual stories in that collection, or of the Scheherazade (the framing device that surrounds the stories in the collection) itself.
Now, it may seem silly for me to encourage all of you to read a retelling as we go into our spring theme of “Read Outside,” which not only asks you to literally read outside but also invites you to read outside of your comfort zone.
But a retelling can still be that. Whether it’s an entry into something that has felt overwhelming or a genre you don’t usually read, a retelling can still be new to you.
If you’re wanting to find a retelling, you can check out this list here.