Re-imaginings of Classics

I love when an author can take a classic story and make it their own. The best ones often add to the original in a stunningly complimentary way. The following are some such books that I have read recently and believe to be masterful pieces of work that could become classics themselves.

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher is a re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying. They immediately travel to the Usher ancestral home. The first thing they notice is the amount of strange fungus around the home. A local mycologist woman tells him all about the mushrooms and her studies of them. She also explains that the animals around the Usher land act very strange, and the villagers won’t go near them. When Alex gets to the house, they find not only Madeline in a frightful state but her brother, Roderick, as well. They both seem very sickly, but Madeline more so, whereas her brother seems more paranoid. Something very strange has stricken them both, and Alex desperately wants to help. Also at the house is an American doctor that Roderick is acquainted with. The two of them ponder over the strange maladies and how they could possibly help the siblings. They get extra help from the mycologist as they begin to suspect more and more that all that fungus around must have something to do with Madeline’s dire condition.

After reading this, I read most of Kingfisher’s other novels as well. She writes very believable characters. Her protagonists are often ordinary people who have found themselves in extremely unordinary situations. They all mostly bumble through and out of the terrifying events they fell into, and they remind us often in brief asides that what they were going through was majorly messed up so the things they did and thought in the throes of their terror are beyond explanation now that they are recalling it all. They usually have no clear answers for you to explain their experiences. This one was slightly different in that we do get a more satisfactory answer to the question, “So what exactly was going on?” Which makes sense considering Kingfisher wrote this book in order to give that closure to the original story, which explains nothing and ends with the protagonist running away in terror. Kingfisher wanted a more satisfying ending, and I believe she succeeded.

Horseman by Christina Henry is more of a “what came next” type of story rather than a complete re-imagining. Horseman follows Ben, the grandchild of Brom Bones – who was there when it was said the Horseman chased Ichabod Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking. He says the Horseman isn’t real. But then, boys start coming up dead with their heads missing. Ben is determined to find out exactly what it is out there in the woods that killed those boys, and why it seems to be coming for him next. Ben doesn’t believe the Horseman is the one doing the killing. Not because he doesn’t believe in him, but because he’s sensed the Horseman before and doesn’t believe he’s evil. This thing in the woods seems like something much darker and hateful.

I found this to be a refreshing take on the story of Sleepy Hollow. There was bending of gender norms, the past come back to haunt, and the question of what makes a legend? If you love The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, you won’t want to miss out on this one.

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin is also a “what came next” story; this one following Cinderella after her happily-ever-after. Cinderella married the man of her dreams–the perfect ending she deserved after diligently following all the fairy-tale rules. Yet now, thirteen and a half years later, things have gone badly wrong, and her life is far from perfect. One night, she sneaks out of the palace to see a witch about a spell that could end her suffering for good. That could end her husband for good.

The Charmed Wife turns fairy-tale romance on its head and yanks us from our storybooks back into reality. It makes you question, what does happily-ever-after truly entail? Are stories ever really set in stone? Is reality? Grushin conjures a unique world in which nothing is as it seems. Ultimately, it’s up to you how you want to view it.

The Wilderwood series by Hannah Whitten is a re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast. Not only a re-imagining but a fantastical expansion with magnificent world-building. Red being the second daughter is destined for the wolf, and her sister, Neve, being the first daughter is destined for the throne. When Red is sent out into the woods as a sacrifice to the wolf, she goes mostly willingly as there is a power growing in her that scares her. She goes to protect her loved ones from herself, but Neve doesn’t know her reasons and refuses to let her go without a fight. But Red doesn’t need saving as she finds the wolf is just a man held captive by the magic of the Wilderwood same as her. A man who awakens many things inside of Red, who she finds impossible to resist even as he tries pushing her away. And when Neve goes too far, who will save her?

Alongside certain aspects borrowed from classic stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, this series is an all-around engaging fantasy duology. There’s magic, sacrifices, monsters, betrayal, slow-burn romance, and redemption. At their core, these are stories about love, but it’s also about righting ancestral wrongs, ending harmful cycles in order to make the world a better place for the ones you will eventually leave it to.

Fractured Fables series by Alix E. Harrow takes the tales of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and drops our protagonist Zinnia Gray into the middle of them to ultimately rewrite the ending of the story. Zinnia is a girl from modern times who has been obsessed with the story of Sleeping Beauty her whole life because she sees herself in it. When she was young, an industrial accident left Zinnia with a rare condition. Not much is known about her illness, just that no-one has lived past twenty-one. On her twenty-first birthday, her best friend Charm throws a Sleeping Beauty party for her in the tower of an abandoned penitentiary, spinning wheel included. When she pricks her finger, she is transported into a version of a Sleeping Beauty tale and is determined to save this princess from her fate.

In A Mirror Mended, we pick up with Zinnia having saved countless Sleeping Beauties from their fates. She’s getting tired of the same old story until she is pulled into the story of Snow White by the evil queen who has learned of her fate and demands Zinnia help her escape it.

These stories are escapism at its most literal definition. Zinnia escapes into these stories and changes them because she cannot change her own ending. What she’s doing certainly isn’t bad, though it does have some adverse effects on the fairy-tale multiverse after all her world-hopping, but it is mostly just an escape for her. Is she changing these stories endings for the damsels in distress? Or is she doing it for herself? And either way, does her meddling somehow take away their happily-ever-afters, or does it give the princesses the opportunity to choose their own endings? A story is made by its narrator. If you switch narrators in the middle, whose story is it now?

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