Fairy Tale Retellings to Take You into the Enchanted Forest
Follow a new generation of fairy tale heroines into worlds where magic awaits
What’s waiting in the deep, dark woods? Fairy tale retellings have grown into a massively popular subgenre in the last few years. Writers take the bare bones of a well-known tale like Snow White or Little Red Riding Hood and give it a spin that’s all their own. They may modernize the setting, borrow tropes from genres like horror or young adult fiction, or write it from a different social or cultural perspective.
There’s no better example of how fairy tales can be retold to reflect a new generation’s realities than Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s The Merry Spinster, a collection of darkly mischievous tales that upset all our expectations. Ortberg, who was in the midst of transitioning from Mallory to Daniel when his book was released, delights in shifting the gender roles of traditional fairy tales in a way that resonates strongly with LGBTQ2S audiences.
While the fairy tales we know from the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault have a concise, simple style that condenses the stories to their basic elements, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. They’re rich with complex family relationships, ruminations on destiny and self-determination, and some dwell on the nature of storytelling itself. These are the elements today’s fairy tale authors explore in greater depth, giving audiences a new slate of worlds and destinies to explore. They make the fairy tale the perfect springboard for teen and young adult audiobooks with one foot in the world of magic.
There’s no better time to get lost in the woods than the fall, as the leaves turn crisp and morning mist hangs under the branches. Grab your red cape and prepare to get lost in the forest. These YA fantasy titles will lead you into worlds where peasants become princesses and witches wait in every shadow.
A fairy tale is a dangerous thing to find yourself in. There are wolves, witches and far worse out there. Although in the children’s versions everything always works out in the end, that’s not the only way these tales are told. In Melissa Albert’s breakout The Hazel Wood, the world on the other side of the woods has a distinctively darker edge.
The Hazel Wood revisits the portal fantasy that so many people grew up loving. Every kid dreams about climbing into the closet and stepping out into Narnia. The secret doorway to a world full of magic promises an escape from the dull reality of homework and classroom bullies. But when you cross into Albert’s Hazel Wood, you see the dark truths behind the childhood fantasies. The Hazel Wood puts a chilling twist on the escapist impulse of the fantasy genre.
Inspired by the great framing story of One Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn revels in the tension between Shahrzad, the vengeful, clever protagonist and Khalid, the murderous boy-king of Khorasan. Khalid, like the king in One Thousand and One Nights, takes a new bride every night and to her family’s horror, each dawn she is executed. After her best friend meets this fate, Shahrzad volunteers herself, only she has a plan for revenge that will finally break the cycle.
In the Georgian Bay village of Arcand, Joan is searching for her missing husband. Victor’s a man worth searching for, the love of her life and the husband who worked hard to be accepted when Joan took him back to her Métis community. After 11 months of looking, he finally shows up: in the shape of a reverend leading a tent revival — and he doesn’t recognize Joan.
Empire of Wild is a grown-up Little Red Riding Hood that revolves around the legend of the rougarou, a werewolf-like monster and a story Dimaline grew up knowing. Turning into the rougarou is the fate of men who neglect their responsibility to their communities. In the village of Arcand, where resource developers are trying to buy the Métis community out of their land, he’s a bogeyman with political overtones.
When you’re looking for a new audiobook to dive into, what are the qualities that really make you tick? Some go for relatable, flawed characters while others crave high-stakes plots that put the whole world on the line. If you love richly detailed set pieces and an immersive atmosphere that enchants you every time you listen, House of Salt and Sorrows was made for you.
Erin A. Craig takes inspiration from one of the lesser-known stories from the Brothers Grimm, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” and gives it an original spin. It’s set in the castle of Highmoor, on a plague-struck island, and balances fairy tale fantasy with elements of a murder mystery. The family at Highmoor is trapped in a nearly-constant state of mourning until Annaleigh Thaumas and her surviving sisters discover a portal in the family crypt. It leads to a world full of elegant ballrooms and handsome, mysterious suitors, and Annaleigh’s sisters become entranced by this world of high fashion and elegance. It’s up to Annaleigh to find out who (or what) her sisters’ dance partners really are. House of Salt and Sorrow takes listeners into a haunting seaside world where dreams and death dance hand-in-hand.
An orphan with a cruel caretaker. A beautiful peasant destined to become an empress. A witch’s prophecy and an evil queen. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has all the ingredients of a classic fairy tale, set in an East Asian fantasy world, with a bloody edge.
Xifeng is the girl with humble origins destined for a grand future, according to her fortune-telling aunt. Her cruel upbringing was designed to help her achieve that destiny: becoming the new Empress. Xifeng is a complicated anti-hero, both sympathetic and ruthless in her quest for power. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns turns the trope of Snow White’s Evil Queen into a complex fantasy drama where the lines between hero and villain start to blur.
The story of Beauty and the Beast is a strange one for modern audiences: a young woman’s father makes an arrangement with the Beast for riches in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage and she’s kept prisoner in the Beast’s mansion. But the gentlemanly Beast soon forms a friendship with Beauty, and in this strange house, the two develop a growing passion.
That classic provides the framework for Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, a lavishly written story that’s just as delicate and beautiful as the title promises. Spirited and independent, Feyre hunts down a wolf in the woods, but she’s dragged back to the Fae lands when it turns out the wolf was also a Faerie. As retribution, a Fae named Tamlin makes her live as his captive or else her family will pay the price for her mistake. Under this unusual arrangement, Feyre learns that there’s more to Faeries than she’s been taught.
In fairy tales, the moment you step into the forest is the moment you leave the ordinary world behind. Where there’s danger, there’s also adventure. Sometimes, that escape is exactly what kids need. It’s not just adults who are affected by life’s everyday pressures. Give your teen a break with some titles to keep them entertained this fall, or get cozy with a pumpkin spice latte and enjoy a break from the day-to-day yourself.
YA can be a vehicle for a lot of different stories. There are YA novels you should check out for their important social messages, stories about overcoming hardship and sci-fi epics that quickly get turned into blockbusters. In the hands of these YA authors, the fairy tale retelling has become one of the most popular subgenres of YA, and they offer a welcome escape with deeply relatable characters.
Hopefully, these modern-day fairy tales will help you get into the spirit of the season. Whether or not you can get away into a real forest, these stories will carry you off into worlds full of magic. Just be warned: they don’t always end happily ever after.
Have a contemporary fairy tale that’s near and dear to your heart? Get in touch and let us know what you’re listening to this fall.