Novels that are re-tellings of other stories
May 17, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for novels that are re-tellings of other stories, such as Wicked for the Wizard of Oz or A Thousand Acres for King Lear. Can you name some?

I'm looking especially for re-tellings or re-envisionings that are very well-known in their own right, such as Wicked (Wizard of Oz), which was a huge best-seller, or A Thousand Acres (King Lear), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

No pure adaptations (e.g., novel to film). I'd love to know if you think a particular one is especially good and what you liked about it if you can!
posted by 3491again to Society & Culture (53 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
The Mists of Avalon for King Arthur legends and The Firebrand for The Iliad, both by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:23 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Hours, for Mrs. Dalloway
posted by nkknkk at 5:24 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wind Done Gone/Gone with the Wind immediately comes to mind.

Ulysses and the Odyssey, as well.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:24 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wide Sargasso Sea --- > Jane Eyre
Mary Reilly --- > Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Grendel --- > Beowulf

Wikipedia apparently has a page for this, parallel literature.

Also the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next stories are a light take on this kind of thing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:25 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do young adult novels count? Donna Jo Napoli is the queen of reimagined fairy tale stories (Zel, Beast, Spinners, etc)
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:25 PM on May 17, 2015

Bridget Jones's Diary is loosely based on Pride and Prejudice.
posted by prewar lemonade at 5:27 PM on May 17, 2015

Also The Once And Future King (plus two more books) by T.H. White, for the Arthur legends. Starts out as children's literature, gets a bit heavy by the end, as I recall.
posted by uosuaq at 5:27 PM on May 17, 2015

The Graveyard Book (The Jungle Book)
posted by Redstart at 5:29 PM on May 17, 2015

Zel is a creepy re-telling of Rapunzel.
posted by bleep at 5:31 PM on May 17, 2015

There are a bunch of fantasy re-tellings of classic fairy tales.

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen - Sleeping Beauty
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Rose Daughter and Beauty by Robin McKinley - Two novels retelling Beauty and the Beast
posted by prewar lemonade at 5:35 PM on May 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Robin McKinley does this kind of thing.

Beauty - beauty and the beast
Rose Daughter - also beauty and the beast
Spindle's End - sleeping beauty
posted by bile and syntax at 5:36 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen is an amazing retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
posted by Lokheed at 5:36 PM on May 17, 2015

Fool by Christopher Moore is King Lear told from the point of view of the king's jester.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 5:38 PM on May 17, 2015

Hyperion = The Decameron
posted by deathpanels at 5:43 PM on May 17, 2015

Canterbury Tales = The Decameron (sorta)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:48 PM on May 17, 2015

And there are a million of these for Hamlet. Infinite Jest is (sorta) one of them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:49 PM on May 17, 2015

Macbeth by A.J. Hartley (it's really good =c)
posted by pyro979 at 5:49 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Robber Bride Margaret Atwood - The Robber Bridegroom
posted by prewar lemonade at 5:50 PM on May 17, 2015

Apocalypse Now is a loose film adaptation of Heart of Darkness, set during the Viet Nam war.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:50 PM on May 17, 2015

Does it have to be a novel? Because I recently read Tanith Lee's collection of retold fairy tales Red as Blood and loved it. (Uh, ignore the terrible cover art.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:53 PM on May 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin was a retelling of the Aeneid
posted by prewar lemonade at 5:53 PM on May 17, 2015

Though of another one
Stephen Lawhead - King Raven Trilogy - Re-imagining of Robin Hood

Also both of these are a stretch, but are really quite awesome and are re-tellings of a sort:
Lamb The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
posted by pyro979 at 5:57 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Black Ships by Jo Graham is a retelling/different perspective of the Aeneid.
posted by yasaman at 6:01 PM on May 17, 2015

On my phone so no links, but:

March by Garaldine Brooks is about the father from Little Women

Longbourn by Jo Baker is about the servants in Pride and Prejudice
posted by celerity at 6:03 PM on May 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Margaret Atwood's novella, The Penelopiad, certainly provides commentary on the Odyssey.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:05 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh oh oh, anytime I can tell someone about The Last Ringbearer it is a good day. It is the Lord of the Rings told from the point of view of the orcs. Turns out that Tolkien was a propaganda-spewing apologist for the elves, who were actually vile ecological terrorists. The orcs and trolls were peaceful democratic cultures who embraced diversity and includsion. King Sauron VII was an enlightened and beloved ruler who presided over a renaissance of science, reason and logic from within the pleasant and tranquil land of Mordor. It is all written by a Russian geologist, with lovely descriptions of the desert and flora and fauna, long genealogical histories of Mordor, and brooding commiseration about the treachery of the elves and their sharia law, and it is just so... Russian. I love it. Of course The Last Ringbearer will never be published in the United States, due to the notoriously litigious nature of Tolkien's estate. But print editions in various languages have appeared in Europe and elsewhere, and an author-approved fan translation in English is available as a free ebook. This LiveJournal page tells you how to download it. I wish I could read The Last Ringbearer again for the first time!
posted by seasparrow at 6:15 PM on May 17, 2015 [8 favorites]

The Stars' Tennis Balls, by Stephen Fry, is a retelling of "The Count of Monte Cristo".
posted by dotgirl at 6:27 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Came in for "The Stars' Tennis Balls" which is known as "Revenge" in America.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:30 PM on May 17, 2015

They're short stories, but Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber is made up of "dark" retellings of fairy tales and legends, it's great.
posted by SoftRain at 6:32 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

From the parallel lit list, one that jumped out at me is Grendel, a retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster.
posted by puddledork at 6:33 PM on May 17, 2015

Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination is a terrific science fiction novel built on the plot framework from The Count of Monte Cristo. It works beautifully.
posted by Nerd of the North at 6:42 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wolf Hall is a historical novel that may fit your criteria. It's set in King Henry VIII's court, and written from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell.

Quite a few people have contrasted Wolf Hall with A Man for All Seasons, an earlier play/film focused on Thomas More, who is portrayed as a principled, upright man, while Cromwell is portrayed as sinister, conniving, scheming toward his own ends. Wolf Hall is much more sympathetic to Cromwell, depicting him as a pragmatic and effective statesman doing his best to serve king and country.
posted by duffell at 7:25 PM on May 17, 2015

Shannon Hale does this, and The Goose Girl and Book of a Thousand Days, both of which are based on Brothers Grimm stories, are excellent (and got quite a lot of good reviews.)
posted by gudrun at 8:19 PM on May 17, 2015

i recommend this a lot even though it is a pretty intense and dark and triggery series, because i personally think it's worth the horrors, which, i must state again, are many, varied, painful, and explicit. anyway, it's the Gap Cycle by Stephen Donaldson and it's basically Der Ring des Nibelungen as an epic space opera.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:52 PM on May 17, 2015

John Scalzi's book "The Lost Colony," the third book in his "Old Man's War" universe, was followed immediately by the YA book "Zoe's Tale," a retelling of the same events from the perspective of the adopted daughter of prior book's protagonists. She's just a regular teenager, growing up on a distant planet newly colonized by humans, making friends despite her two bodyguards from the alien race whom her real father endowed with sentience and who therefore protect her as royalty.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:20 PM on May 17, 2015

Peter Watts' "The Things" (full text) is a 2010 short story retelling the story of "Who Goes There" by John W. Campbell, the 1938 novella that was adapted into the classic SF survival-horror movie John Carpenter's "The Thing." (Also 3 other filmed adaptations, I just learned.)

In Watts' story, the protagonist is the alien creature, and its human victims are its tormentors. "The Things" was nominated for 5 major SF awards, in 2010/11.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:31 PM on May 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ember, for Cinderella, is probably my favorite retelling of another story.

Indexing by Seanan McGuire is about how people with lives with similarities to fairy tales can find their lives literally being taken over by them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:37 PM on May 17, 2015

I can't believe I'm the first to mention Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," a play (adapted to a funny movie with Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Richard Dreyfuss) that tells the story of Hamlet from the strangely episodic, in-the-wings viewpoint of the two title characters, who were hired by Hamlet's Uncle-slash-Stepfather, the Danish King, to distract Hamlet from his madness, and also cart him off to England. As Shakespeare's curtain closes, the curtain opens for Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:37 PM on May 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski is pretty unique retelling of Hamlet, with dogs as some of the main characters. The book was a best seller and was chosen for Oprah's book club.
posted by kbar1 at 11:11 PM on May 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Lost Books of the Odyssey is a retelling in a way of, well, the Odyssey.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:39 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Scottish publisher Canongate has a series of short novels all written by various literary fiction authors, all retellings of myths and legends (the Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, mentioned above, was first published as part of this series). Others include Weight by Jeanette Winterson (a retelling of the story of Atlas) and Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt.
posted by Otter_Handler at 2:57 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente is a retelling of the Marya Morevna Russian fairy tale and incorporates many classic Russian fairy tale characters. It is probably one of my top five favorite books of all time.
posted by dysh at 3:40 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ahab's Wife--Sena Jeter Naslund (Moby Dick)
The Great Night--Chris Adrian (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Boy, Snow, Bird--Helen Oyeyemi (Snow White)
Foreign Bodies--Cynthia Ozick (The Ambassadors)
posted by thivaia at 6:04 AM on May 18, 2015

Oh also:

On Beauty--Zadie Smith (Howard's End)
posted by thivaia at 6:10 AM on May 18, 2015

Jack Maggs--Peter Carey (Great Expectations)
posted by thivaia at 6:18 AM on May 18, 2015

Wikipedia has a list of reworked fairy tales that might be of interest. (Some have already been mentioned in this thread, some not.)

Related: revisionism.
posted by xenization at 7:12 AM on May 18, 2015

Cinder is a futuristic retelling of various fables in the same universe. I'm reading book 2, Scarlet, now.

Fuzzy Nation is (mefi's own) John Scalzi's rework of Little Fuzzy. It's incredibly satisfying if you like schadenfreude.

Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow are both about the same events written from the point of view of different characters.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:16 AM on May 18, 2015

One of my favorite books of all time (that no one has ever read except me it seems) Timothy Findley ' s Not Wanted On The Voyage is a reimagining of the Noah's Ark story with a decidedly dark and different tone. Such a good read! Also nthing Beauty by Robin McKinley, all Tanith Lee stuff (she has so many good ones!), Angela Carter and Grendel. Good stuff!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Beach, by Alex Garland (a lighter version of which was made into the Leonardo DiCaprio movie) is also quite close to a Heart of Darkness remake (although not nearly as close as Apocalypse now, mentioned above).
posted by bluesky78987 at 4:53 PM on May 18, 2015

Longbourn by Jo Baker is the downstairs servants view of the same time period covered in Pride and Prejudice.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:20 PM on May 18, 2015

Both very good:

Finn, by Jon Clinch (2007, Random House) -- the story of Pap Finn, Huck's father.

The true adventures of Huckleberry Finn (2nd ed.), by John Seelye (1987, University of Illinois) -- puts back the parts bowdlerized by Mark Twain, and includes, in front matter, comments on literary critics in Huck's voice.

Some (lit crit types) might also find this interesting: Contemporary Reconfigurations of American Literary Classics, by Betina Entzminger (2013, Routledge).
posted by lathrop at 3:35 PM on May 21, 2015

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a really lovely take on The Iliad and it won the Orange Prize in 2012.
posted by arkady at 6:38 AM on May 22, 2015

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