Book Related

Are Faerie Tale Retellings Lazy?

Before we get started, I just want to make clear note of the fact that I actually really enjoy faerie tale retellings. I loved the Lunar Chronicles, Geekerella is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and so on so forth. This is just something that has been bouncing around my head for a while, and I wanted to toss it out to the blogosphere and see what came back.

So way back in the day (also known as junior and senior high school), I went through a phase of writing fanfiction. I would take the characters and settings I loved from books and television, and I would create my own plot lines for them to explore. At the beginning of each fic, I would make a disclaimer: these characters and this setting is not mine, and all credit for them goes to the author, I only created the plot.

I was thinking about this the other day, because I got an email from the site I used to post my fics on because someone had posted a review to the only story that you can still find online. I haven’t touched it in years, but it got me thinking.

When you write a fanfiction, you are supposed to acknowledge that you don’t own all of the material. You can’t publish fanfiction, because it’s technically plagiarism. Not to mention, who would want to publish a story that steals aspects of another story or programme?

This got me thinking about retellings. Because aren’t retellings the same thing as fanfiction, but instead of borrowing setting and characters, you’re borrowing plots?

There are obvious differences. First of all, when I was writing fanfiction, I was working with material that was still under copyright, whereas most retellings use faerie tales that are well beyond their copyright. As well, lots of adaptions are made to the story, and I admit that I don’t know how that affects copyright or plagiarism or anything like that issues.

But if you don’t need to actually come up with a plot for your book, and you just adapt one that someone else has created, is it lazy?

Well, maybe. Taking the plot from some other story and making some changes is definitely easier than thinking up something completely original. Though I doubt many authors write retellings because they just can’t be bothered to think up a plot.  It’s also probably a lot easier to write, because there are a million and one versions of each story that you could possibly retell, so you can literally pull inspiration from anywhere.

Okay, so maybe they’re lazy. At least a little. But we can hardly talk about this without commenting on the fact that these retellings are insanely popular.

You’ve heard of a few. Geekerella has been getting a lot of praise around here lately. The Lunar Chronicles are super popular, as is A Court of Thorns and Roses. And the list goes on (speaking of lazy, too lazy to name any more).

And if you google discussions on faerie tales, you’ll get an incredible list of posts and articles talking about why they are still so incredibly popular these days, despite many being hundreds of years old.

Storytellers have always been important to society. We get stories in all forms these days, but way way back, people used to sit around fires and tell stories. This article talks about how all of our favourite old faerie tales contain the symbols and archetypes that allow us to relate the stories back to our own lives (they use Rapunzel as a metaphor for anyone who feels trapped in their life). As well, these stories are simple enough to appeal to children, but are complex enough that adult gets something out of them too So there’s that.

Touching back on what I said before about it being easy to adapt a story that is already plotted out, these stories are also easily adapted to suit an age range, generation, or time. The original Sleeping Beauty involved rape, but that was easily edited out and romance added in to make it more suitable for children. And then Marissa Meyer took that story and added people living on the moon and madness, without ruining the integrity of the story.

So it becomes clear, the more I research into this that the biggest thing about faerie tales is that they’re easily relatable. So perhaps it makes sense that we continue to see them appearing in new forms in our favourite genres. The author takes a well-loved story and breathes new life into it, maybe even keeping it alive for another generation.

So lazy? I suppose that’s up to you to decide. But an important culture thing we’ve been doing for a lot longer than I had thought before I started researching for this post? Totally.

So this post has taken a few turns I wasn’t anticipating as we got from beginning to end, which only makes me more curious about your thoughts on this matter. Let me know what you think down below!

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27 thoughts on “Are Faerie Tale Retellings Lazy?

  1. Great post! I don’t think retellings are lazy at all. I’ve been studying adaptation at uni recently, and through that I’ve learned a lot about what goes into it. Retelling and adapting a story is much harder than it seems!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not surprised, especially since you know that everyone is going to be comparing your book to the original and all other adaptions that are out there. You’ve got to find a way to make yours stand out and be original, without deviating too far from the original.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t really consider it lazy simply because the time and effort that goes into reinventing a fairy tale is a lot of work. It takes a lot of creativity and talent to do and I also think it is smart, because your publishing something you know others will love and making it even more exciting then before and I think that’s beautiful.

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  3. Arguably, adapting source material is harder than trying to start out with a more original tale (if there are any original tales left) because your readers will be comparing your adaptation to the original story, as well as to any other adaptations. If you’re going to retell “Cinderella” at this point, you’d better have a really compelling reason and a way to make your retelling stand out from the dozens of other Cinderellas out there.

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  4. I love fairy tale retellings, too! And I don’t think it’s lazy, beyond a few examples I can think of where the author didn’t deviate much from the source plot or elaborate in any way. But i don’t think those are the retellings most people are interested in. I think a lot of times people start with a retelling and then actually end up writing something that I would say is more “inspired by.” Cinder is a good example/. Meyer gets so far away from the original plot and story that I wouldn’t say that she’s being lazy or unoriginal at all. I think Throne of Glass may also have been intended as something of a Cinderella retelling in its initial draft, but you can’t tell anymore either.

    I actually think fairy tale retellings would be a great place to start for beginning writers, though I love when seasoned authors do them too. Having a plot arc can help you plot out your own story and get a feel for pacing and such. Then revise it a few times until it’s more original. Not lazy at all!

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    1. I also think that thinking of about “adaptations” rather than “retellings” could be helpful. Adaptation theory is a whole category in literary scholarship, and while general readers are often concerned with “Is this faithful to the original?” adaptation theory isn’t concerned with that at all. It’s more looking at the interpretative choices the author makes and why. If the author changes the ending, why? What are they saying about the message of the story? If they change a character from a boy to a girl, why? How does that affect the story? “Retelling” does sound a bit like you’re cheating, just “telling something again,” but “adaptation” is more about interpretive and creative decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had not thought of that, but when you point it out, that’s brilliant, and something that I know affects my own thoughts as well. Perhaps that’s a lot of what it comes down to: the language we use to describe a type of story. That’s probably a whole discussion post on its own, to be honest.


    2. It’s so true. There are some retellings that are so clearly just jumping on the bandwagon of the popularity of retellings, but many are really brilliant. I do agree with a lot of them being ‘inspired by’ rather than straight retellings.
      That’s a good point as well, them being great for beginning authors. A popular format, and lots of room to be creative within a set framework. And then seasoned authors can take it so much further.


    1. Yep. I agree with Stephanie completely here. If the author truly A) Studies and understands the tale they’re adapting and B) Writes a re-telling in a way that makes it unique and very much their own, then no. I do not think re-tellings are lazy. I think they can be wonderful. If you haven’t read Geekerella yet, that is my favorite recent example of a well done re-telling.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This is a really interesting point. I’ve never really read any fairy tale retellings but I know they’re popular. I also used to write Fanfiction and I always felt like I was cheating at writing by now making up the entire story myself but when I think about it compared to retellings it does make me feel slightly better about it. Great post🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was always how I felt. Like it was a good way to practice writing, but it was a lot of work for something that I coudln’t even claim as my own sort of thing. And I still love retellings, and I know the authors do great things with them, but it’s still a funny thing to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I really enjoy retellings. I’ve never really viewed them as lazy before, or as stealing someone else’s plot. I’ve always viewed them as a way to add more detail and life into a beloved story. Also, a way to keep classic stories relevant. The same concept applies to Disney movies. I imagine as a child I wouldn’t have developed an appreciation of fairy tales if I hadn’t seen the Disney versions first. (Or perhaps I would have. Who knows?) in addition to making stories relevant in today’s age, I feel like authors are also playing at people’s sense of nostalgia. For me, reading retellings brings up some memories of when I first fell in love with the original story and remember how it impacted my life. Now, I can enjoy reading that story all over again, but with a new spin to keep it exciting.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. While my auto-response wants to hit ‘yes yes yes = lazy’, I don’t think that’s it at all.

    Even when you write something original, it’s amazing how easy it is to fall into a standard trope for the genre/age category. Having a plot arc already planned out or planning the arc yourself still equates to the same thing: you have to write the book. Then you have to edit it 21284565248 times. Then make it interesting and unique, find an agent, sell the book, the list goes on.

    So while it feels lazy to have the arc already there, the reality is the amount of work that goes into a retelling is no different than the work that goes into an original story and arc. Only the latter gives the story a true originality (at least… we authors sure hope so ^_^).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s true. I wouldn’t be surprised if having to make a retelling your own is harder because you’re having to constantly worry that it’s not different enough from the original. And if not, putting it all together, as you say, is still a ton of work and effort, regardless of your storyline.

      Liked by 1 person

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