(Disclaimer: I don’t have a single notion of what the actual theme for this week is.)
We’re all aware (aren’t we?) that in recent years, re-tellings have become a big deal in modern fiction, particularly in YA and MG. New variations of fairytales (especially Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast), popular folklore (example: A Thousand and One Nights), and beloved classics (such as Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland) have taken the publishing world by storm.
But, for readers, the concept is…falling flat. It’s getting dull, repetitive, and leaves us…wanting something more.
So, here are my thoughts on which sorts of tales we could try to re-imagine now, to shake up the genre and keep it alive. (Because getting middle-schoolers to explore the original after reading a modern version is valuable to the future of our culture, and I honestly don’t want to see this concept fade away entirely.)
1. “Outdated” classics:
In a post-slavery/post Jim Crow South, would Tom Sawyer be able to be friends with black kids? Maybe they’d form a band (how about jazz fusion)? If Tom Sawyer is still a slacker, wouldn’t he be stuck trying to get the popular, straight-A student, cheerleader Becky Thatcher?
The Iditarod sled dog race is considered very controversial these days. What would it look like for a White Fang-ish dog to participate in 2017?
Pirates are a big hit — the romanticized view of the “Golden Age of piracy.” What about space pirates, orbiting a distant star somewhere beyond the Horsehead Nebula, hoping to uncover a buried treasure of plutonium?
2. Lesser known folklore from Polynesian, Eastern European, African, Native American, Aboriginal Australian cultures:
I haven’t heard much about Moana, but I’m interested to see it because it focuses on Hawaiian mythology, about which I know extremely little. Maybe this movie could start a new trend?
One of my favorite ballets is based on the Russian story of The Firebird. Why not have a modern boy-meets-girl, girl-is-cursed-by-evil-wizard, boy-seeks-help-from-magical-shapeshifting-bird? Or why not make it gender-reversed, and the girl gets to be the hero, accompanied by a literally hot boy into the dangerous woods?
There are so many Australian legends about creatures like bunyips and yowies and phantom everythings. Why can’t we read more about them in the Northern Hemisphere?
3. Underappreciated British legends:
We have all heard about King Arthur and Robin Hood until we’re blue in the face. (And, sorry, guys, but I think we should cool it on the Sherlock variations for a while, too.) What about a twist on Lady Godiva, a woman who insists on putting more clothes on to get men to respect her? Or, instead of St. George slaying the dragon, a St. Georgina trying to encourage people to see dragons as good and wise?
Seriously, why not? Do you happen to know much about opera, any opera, off the top of your head? Nope? Me, neither! So, how about authors who are also opera fans adapting the plot of The Magic Flute or The Marriage of Figaro to a novel?
Yes, I’m completely serious. Novels based on theatre productions of The Glass Menagerie, Death of a Salesman, A Raisin in the Sun, Fiddler on the Roof. And I don’t watch/listen to musicals, but why not those, too?
6. Expansive holiday tales:
Not that there’s anything wrong with Christmas stories at Christmastime. But there also isn’t anything wrong with Hanukkah stories at Hanukkah time, or Diwali stories at Diwali, or Chinese New Year in space/the future/an alternate history. We are living in a global community now, and there are so many traditions and customs in cultures that co-exist with mine that many of us know so little about.
7. Real life history that we don’t hear so much about:
The Von Trapps were a real family, and the travelers’ lodge they opened in Stowe, Vermont after their immigration to America is still open to the public today. So many people in the 21st century are so familiar with the musical film, I’m concerned that the real story has been sidelined.
Instead of Pocahantas all the time, let’s hear more about Sacajawea. I’ve come across several novelizations (for juvenile and adult readers) on the life of Pocahantas, but I don’t think I’ve seen more than one for the woman who saved Lewis and Clark’s butts on the Oregon Trail.
8. Making too-dark-and-gloomy classics funny:
Honestly, I’ve about given up on many classics because they are just too darned depressing. And some of those characters are just the most despicable and truly unsympathetic fictional people in all of literature. I know that’s the point when we’re talking the villain or antagonist — but when we’re supposed to wish for Jane Eyre to stay with Mr. Rochester, or for Heathcliff to realize he loves Cathy, or for Scarlett and Rhett to see the sunrise together — eew! no!!! Can we please have less soap opera, more a satire in the style of a 1980s MTV video?
There are lots of ballets not based on famous fairytales. Let’s try putting the plots of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring into a historical fiction novel. The Dying Swan could be re-done for a contemporary journey of a terminally ill patient. I already mentioned The Firebird; my other major favorite is Giselle, which is a combination of love and somewhat-ghost story.
10. Updating the ancients:
Please forgive me, purists, but tales like The Odyssey and The Illiad, Beowulf and The Epic of Gilgamesh I simply don’t get. Give me the movie anytime. While I certainly appreciate their contribution to literature, I’ll more than likely never partake of it. Unless I can get a version post-1900, with first names and setting locations I can pronounce.
Congratulations on getting to the end of this long and rambling post!