Somewhere on the spectrum of story ideas, between original story and full-fledged adaptation to another medium, sits a group of stories that can be classified as retellings. A retelling is essentially telling the same or similar story in a different way, often from new perspectives and with new elements that offer something new for the reader of the original. Retellings can be thinly disguised, or they can be redressed entirely to other settings and genres, but no matter how they are told, retellings can be fun and imaginative in their own unique way.
Science fiction, fantasy and horror are no strangers to retellings. Here are several recent retellings that wear sf/f/h clothing.
The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr
If you're going to base a retelling on a classic story, you could do much worse than The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the story of a London lawyer who investigates the odd occurrences surrounding his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil Edward Hyde, who turns out to be Jekyll's alter ego. Viola Carr's The Diabolical Miss Hyde not only leverages Stevenson's classic, but also puts a steampunk spin on it. The lead character is Dr. Eliza Jekyll, the daughter of Dr. Henry Jekyll and a crime scene investigator. In the book, Eliza pursues a dangerous murderer known as "The Slicer" who preys on young women in an alternate Victorian London. Eliza uses her wits and newfangled technological gadgets to catch criminals. But she has another secret weapon, too: by drinking her father's forbidden magical elixir, her second hidden self emerges. This is a dark ability that has not gone unnoticed by the mysterious Royal Society, who send their enforcer to expose Eliza while she tries to catch the criminal.
Poison and Charm by Sarah Pinborough
Sometimes retellings appeal to new audiences by modernizing the classics. Take, for example, the popular German folklore tale of Snow White. Walt Disney may have made it popular to moviegoing audiences (while changing up the story somewhat in the process, too), but it was the Brothers Grimm who put it in the hands of readers more than a century beforehand. Now, Sarah Pinborough tells her version of Snow White in her novel Poison. To create the story, she enumerated all the themes of the story—the jealousies, the attempted murder and the passion—and imagined them occurring in today's world as actions taken by real people. Her modern story images the jealous queen who harbors her own secrets and sorrows. She imagines Snow White as a girl who just likes to have a good time. She put them in a warring kingdom and out emerged a captivating and realistic fairy tale for adults. And when you're finished with that and craving more, Pinborough's Charm gives Cinderella the same treatment.
Retold: Six Fairytales Reimagined edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
As a lover of short fiction, I would be remiss if I did not include short fiction in this survey. Short fiction allows readers to sample many authors, styles and stories in a single package. To that end, let me introduce you to Retold, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James. This anthology collects six pieces of short fiction, each one a retelling of a fairy tale...and each one offering readers a subversive twist on the original. These are not your grandparents' classics. The diverse stories in this anthology are told from feminist perspectives and they prove that retellings can be just as unique as any story.
Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen
Sometimes retellings examine the same events as the original story, sometimes they look at what comes after. Alias Hook looks at what happens after the events that unfolded in J.M. Barrie's classic novel Peter Pan. The book puts the nefarious Captain Hook in the role as narrator, thus making him a much more sympathetic character, and not just some mad, revenge-seeking pirate who goes after a boy who never grows up. In Alias Hook, Lisa Jensen portrays Hook as the victim of a gang of mischievous young boys who, despite evidence to the contrary, did not meet his end in the jaws of a crocodile. The stage is thus set for an adult woman named Stella Parrish to dream her way into Neverland where she learns for herself that Hook, a far more complex man than legends would have you believe, is just a normal person looking for redemption.
The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy
In case you were wondering whether retellings have to be based on fictional stories, the answer is no. Benjamin Percy's new thriller is a post-apocalyptic reimagining of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States. Percy's story depicts the U.S. as a wasteland resulting from a super flu and nuclear fallout. Small, scattered communities fight for survival. The community of Sanctuary, all that remains of the city of St. Louis, is one of them. Life is not perfect there by any definition, but a new visitor could change what little amount of stability they have. She brings news of thriving communities west of the Cascades mountain range. But there is danger there, too, in the form of an amassing army that attacks other communities to expand their domain. Although the leaders of Sanctuary don't approve of them doing so, a small group of explorers—led by Lewis Meriwether and Mina Clark—embark on a secret expedition to reunite the United States.