Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas, is the story of a beautiful teenage assassin, Celaena Sardothien, who is forced to compete against warriors, thieves, and murderers to win her freedom and be named the King’s Champion.
Sarah came up with the idea for the book one day while watching Disney’s Cinderella. She wondered how the story would change if Cinderella was an assassin sent to the ball with a plan to kill the prince. The fantastical world of Throne of Glass grew from there. Today, Sarah shares her favorite fairy tale retellings.
Confession: I am a fairy tale fanatic.
Growing up, my parents kept me on a steady diet of fairy tales and folklore. And as I got older, I sought out these kinds of stories in other mediums—movies, ballets, novels, musicals, and graphic novels. I can’t quite pinpoint why I love fairy tales so much, but even now, they remain a source of inspiration and fascination.
I think fairy tales have remained so popular because they speak to some intrinsically human part of us that can be traced all the way back to a time when these stories were shared only in spoken form. These days—because these stories are so well known—a fairy tale retelling needs to bring something fresh and exciting to the table, or at least expand upon the legend in a way that gives it deeper meaning and understanding.
Here are my top seven adaptations of classic fairy tales, in no particular order:
1. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (novel): The brilliant Shannon Hale sticks fairly close to the original source material, but her lovely world-building and characters make this just a gem of a book (and one of my favorite retellings ever). It’s charming, beautiful, and romantic.
2. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991 film): Of all the Disney fairy tales, this is my favorite (though The Little Mermaid holds more nostalgic weight with me). The alterations and additions to the story are perfect and clever, and they bring the tale to life in a way that resonates with me far more than the source material ever did. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still weep at the end.
3. Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman (short story): Snow White is essentially a vampire plaguing the Evil Queen. Enough said.
4. The Sleeping Beauty by Trina Schart Hyman (picture book): I think we often forget that picture books can be retellings in themselves—in the carefully-selected prose, what scenes or moments are illustrated. . . . all of that can bring the legend to life in a way we never imagined. Trina Schart Hyman’s The Sleeping Beauty doesn’t deviate much from the original plot, but the vibrancy of her illustrations give so much additional depth and life to the legend, and hint at untold stories waiting to be discovered.
5. Deerskin by Robin McKinley (novel): I know Beauty is the be-all, end-all novel for most Robin McKinley fans, but I loved how dark yet hopeful Deerskin is (it’s a retelling of Donkeyskin). It’s also a tremendously brave book, in that McKinley doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the source material, but rather expands on it—and makes the characters achingly human in the process.
6. Grimm (TV series): I know lots of people are obsessed with Once Upon A Time (the other fairy tale inspired show on TV right now), but Grimm interests me way more, actually. This show is steeped in the monsters and horrible violence that’s rampant in the original tales. It’s been great fun seeing a dark, bloody take on fairy tales and folklore, set in a police procedural. Really cool stuff.
7. Tangled (film): Oh, Tangled. It’s the perfect modern retelling. It deviates in clever and exciting ways from the original legend of Rapunzel, while also remaining true to its origins. It also takes the character of Rapunzel, who wasn’t all that independent originally, and turns her into a strong, empowered heroine with her own passions and desires and talents (the same can be said of Belle in Beauty and the Beast). I know Disney has been criticized for lightening up fairy tales, but I think it works perfectly here. (Also, I’ll take Flynn Rider over the original prince any freaking day.) In addition to being a great retelling, Tangled was also a beautiful, heartfelt story—and tremendous fun.
There are other worthy mentions, too—Cinder and Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (sci-fi Cinderella and Red Riding Hood retellings), Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier (inspired by The Six Swans), The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (a short story collection), The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey (a brilliant Swan Lake retelling), and East by Edith Pattou (a retelling of East of the Sun, West of the Moon), just to name a few.