Tellings & Retellings

If you find yourself inspired by a wonderful book, you are not alone.  One of my favorite stories that J.K. Rowling told about meeting Harry Potter fans is a little girl who burst into tears to see how many other people were fans of the book, crying “But, you wrote it for me!”  That’s how I (Meghan here…) felt (feel) about Madeleine L’Engle’s books.  Turns out I’m not alone – Rebecca Stead was so inspired that she wrote a book that is both an homage to the themes of A Wrinkle in Time AND features a character who obsessively carries the book everywhere with her.

These are books where the author has taken the classic for inspiration and either had the original novel play a major role in their work, or they re-imagined that the classic was a work of fiction based on an actual event.  However the original book has served to inspire these writers, their re-imaginings and re-tellings will inspire you to go back and re-read the classic.


Peter and The Starcatchers by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

Inspired by: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

Boys in particular will enjoy this “real” story behind the familiar tale of Peter Pan.  There is a Neverland.  There is a Wendy.  There is a Captain with a Hook.  The fantastical, magical aspects are given a grounding in reality that ties the origin of Peter Pan to our world, (albeit in a fantastical and magical way).  In the beginning of the story Peter is a perfectly normal orphan, who is sent with other orphan boys who will never be missed to be a servant of the terrifying King Zarboff.  On the ship, he meets Molly Aster, a starcatcher.  What’s a starcatcher?  What’s starstuff?  How does this lead them to Neverland, and give Peter the ability to fly?  You’ll find out…


Red Glass by Laura Resau

Inspired by: Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (The favorite version of this book at our house, beloved by the four year-olds and adults alike, is this super-cool pop-up edition.)

There are excerpts from The Little Prince throughout Red Glass, and there is also the parallel of finding a little prince to love in the desert.  Sophie and her family find and care for 6-year-old Pablo, a Mexican immigrant found alone in the desert trying to cross into the United States.  They try to find his family even as they become his family, and eventually Sophie journeys with him home where he must choose between families.  An insightful look at immigration, what makes a family, and growing up; this is a lovely and thoughtful book.


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Inspired by: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle

Though A Wrinkle in Time may be Miranda’s favorite book, it doesn’t mean she believes that time travel is possible.  Or is it?  When her best friend Sal stops talking to her and she receives a series of puzzling notes that seem to be from someone in the future, she has to figure out what’s going on, who and what to trust, and if she believes in the possibility of time travel, in order to change events in the future and save someone’s life.  All while navigating the challenges of middle school, new friendships (some with old enemies) and helping her Mom prepare for $20,000 Pyramid.


The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Inspired by: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Boys and girls both will appreciate this fantasy take on Wonderland.  What if Alice, a real girl, was actually the Princess of Wonderland, a world that is run on imagination, who is sent to our world for safe keeping when her evil Aunt Redd kills her parents, usurps the throne and celebrates the dark side of imagination?  Alice lands in London, is adopted by the Liddells, and is raised to adulthood there, believed by no one about this fantastical world she half-remembers.  She thinks she has found someone she can confide in in Charles Dawson, but he betrays her by publishing her memories as a silly story under the name of Lewis Carroll.  She settles down, determined to never mention this other world again, even becoming engaged to the Prince.  And then Hatter Madigan, the millinery head of the royal guard who has been searching for Princess Alyss Heart (her real name) for over a decade, hears of this tale, finds Alyss and helps her return to Wonderland to fight Redd…  A fun, fantasy trilogy with loads of riffs and references to the familiar story, providing an imaginative (in oh so many ways) alternate origin to the tale.


The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King

Inspired by: Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Perhaps the most re-told and re-imagined character in literature is Sherlock Holmes (closely followed these days by all of Jane Austen’s heroines!) and the books are often pretty good.  His brilliance, combined with the lack of details offered about his past have proved too tantalizing for many writers to resist trying to invent backstory or side stories (a great series about a side character taking center stage is the Irene Adler novels by Carole Nelson Douglas).  But this series stands out as a writer who has really gotten inside the character and world and created a plausible (and highly entertaining) “what happened next” – mostly due to the fact that she does not try to speak as Holmes, but rather as a wonderful character she has created – Holmes protege-cum-wife, Mary Russell.  Meeting Holmes as an American-teenage-orphan-neighbor, Mary grows into Holmes help-meet in more ways than one.  What sounds on the surface as a rather far-fetched plot is rendered entirely plausible and highly enjoyable, with plenty of historical information about the lives of women in Holmes era.


Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

Inspired by: Cinderella by Charles Perault

British novelist Stella Gibbons is most famous for  her novel  Cold Comfort Farm, but we like this eccentric fairy tale novel even better.  Written in 1938, it is a Cinderella retelling of sorts, borrowing as well from Shakespeare comedies.  Under this guise, it takes on class snobbery, and patriarchal family systems while it also celebrates star-crossed lovers coming together for a happy ending. “Cinderella”  is the young widow Viola who comes to live with her late husband’s family who is every bit as boring and tyrannical as he had been.  The highpoint of her year there is the Charity Ball where the local “Prince”–an elegant and available bachelor named Victor–will be in attendance. The “step-sisters” in this tale are her sisters-in-law, one of whom is also involved in a fairy tale romance with a surprising twist.  A wonderful satire as well as satisfying romance novel.


What book inspires you enough to want to enter that world and re-tell that story?


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