Fairy tales have universal appeal, making them favorites of children and adults alike. Perhaps it’s because of the timeless truths they deal with, such as the battle between good and evil, or the nostalgia they bring by reminding us of our childhoods.
In his Masterclass course, bestselling author Neil Gaiman encourages his students to exercise their creative writing skills by taking a well-known fairy tale and giving it an unusual twist.
For example, what if the story of Snow White were told from the stepmother’s perspective? Maybe she was actually terrified of her stepdaughter, whose powers allow her to stay in a death-like sleep before coming back to life? These are the kinds of unique possibilities we can explore with fairy tale retellings.
Note that most of the Disney versions many of us grew up with were already quite different from the original stories, which were penned centuries ago by the likes of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. The retellings we’ll discuss here are different from both those early versions, and the tales we know from our childhoods.
Fairy Tale Retellings to Read
Whether or not you are a fan of traditional fairy tales, here are some retellings that will give you a fresh take and challenge your imagination:
1. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
This unique take on Cinderella features Cinder as a cyborg mechanic in New Beijing. Her stepmother reviles her and blames her for her stepsister’s sudden sickness. But soon, she finds herself involved with the handsome Prince Kai, and caught in a struggle between a dangerous temptation and an evil queen’s desires.
2. Hunted by Meagan Spooner
This retelling of Beauty and the Beast follows Yeva, whose father moves the family back near the Beast’s forests—where Yeva knows secrets abound, and her father is the hunter closest to discovering them. But when her father goes missing in the forest, Yeva sets out to hunt the creature he’d been tracking just before he got lost.
3. Geekerella by Ashley Poston
In this Cinderella remake, Elle Wittimer is a geeky girl obsessed with Starfield, a classic sci-fi series she watched with her deceased father. The story opens with a cosplay contest, the prize being an invitation to a ball with a chance to meet the actor who will play the Prince in a replay. Will she win, or will her stepsisters beat her?
4. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Inspired by Arabian Nights, Khalid is an 18-year-old Caliph who takes a new bride every night, but kills her by morning. When Shahrzad’s best friend becomes victim to this monstrous routine, the 16-year-old girl vows to take revenge, volunteering to be the next bride. Every night, she weaves story after story to stay alive. But as each day unravels, she begins to get to know this tormented boy and starts to fall in love with him.
5. Sea Witch by Sarah Henning
This retelling of The Little Mermaid opens with Evie’s best friend Anna drowning. Then, a girl who looks strangely like her appears, convincing Evie that her magic worked. She looks forward to a happily ever after, but what happens if her new friend actually can’t stay—not in Havnestad, or even on her own two legs?
6. To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Also inspired by The Little Mermaid, this novel follows a siren kingdom known for killing humans. But when the Sea Queen’s own daughter needs to be punished, she transforms her into a human, giving her a deadline to deliver the heart of Prince Elian or remain human forever.
7. A Touch of Gold by Annie Sullivan
In this retelling of King Midas and the Golden Touch, King Midas used to have the power to turn everything he touched into gold. But after this ability almost cost him his daughter, Midas gave up this gift forever. What happens when Princess Kora, whose skin continues to be golden, holds the key to tracking down a thief who can deplete King Midas and his kingdom?
8. Beauty by Robin McKinley
A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, this story follows Beauty, an awkwardly thin girl who dislikes her nickname and believes her sisters are the beautiful ones. But when their father comes home withs stories of an enchanted castle in the woods and the awful promise he made to the Beast living there, Beauty knows what she must do.
9. Ash by Malinda Lo
In this loose retelling of Cinderella, when her father dies, Ash is left in the care of a cruel stepmother. Her only comfort comes when she rereads fairy tales that her mother told her long ago. She dreams of fairies stealing her away, and when she meets a dangerous fairy named Sidhean, Ash believes her dreams will finally come true.
10. A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
This retelling of Rumplestiltskin follows Charlotte Miller, whose father’s woolen mill has always been the object of curse rumors. But when her father dies, her whole life falls apart.
With the debts piling up, she gives in to the proposition of a stranger named Jack Spinner: he can spin straw into gold in exchange for her mother’s ring. But what happens when the bargains grow deeper and bigger?
11. Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
In this contemporary retelling of Snow White set in 1502, Bianca lives on her beloved father’s farm, well-cared for by everyone in their service. But her father is sent on a quest that takes a few years, leaving Bianca in the care of the lovely but vain Lucrezia, who has wicked plans for the young girl.
12. Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman
This eerie retelling of Sleeping Beauty follows Carol Evers, who has a strange condition that causes her to lapse into comas for several days, in a slumber that resembles death. Only two people are aware of her secret: the first is Dwight, the man who married her for her money and quickly buried her alive after her last attack. The other is her lost love, James Moxie, who learns of Dwight’s actions and hurries to rescue her from an untimely burial.
13. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
This retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is set in the Roaring Twenties, creatively reimagining the princesses as flappers in Manhattan.
14. Maleficent (2014 film)
This film’s take on the Sleeping Beauty story tells it from the perspective of the fairy that casts the spell on baby Aurora. It takes us into an interesting backstory where Maleficent and Aurora’s father, Stefan, actually shared a love, spurring Maleficent on to seek vengeance when Stefan marries another girl.
15. Once Upon a Time (TV series)
This American fantasy-adventure-drama series aired on ABC from 2011 to 2018. Most of its characters are taken from the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, the legends of King Arthur, Greek mythology, and some Walt Disney versions of fairy tales.
16. Pan (2015 film)
This film adaptation of Peter Pan portrays Peter as an orphan captured and taken to Neverland as a slave. Hugh Jackman stars as Blackbeard, Garrett Hedlund plays Hook, Levi Miller as Peter Pan, and Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily.
Reading Fairy Tale Retellings
Whatever genre you currently enjoy, you can try out some of these fairy tale retellings for a fresh perspective. Some of them contain more fantastical elements than others, but these unique takes on familiar stories will surely stir up your imagination.
If you want to practice writing your own fairy tale retellings, these books and on-screen adaptations can also serve as further inspiration.
Do you have a favorite example of a fairy tale retelling? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.