If Little Red Riding Hood had a cell phone, the conversation might go something like this:
LRRH: Grandma, OMG!
Although the classic dialog loses a little in the texting, fairy tale-inspired novels and retellings for teens are more popular than ever. What does today’s digital generation find relevant in stories they first encountered as small children? Perhaps it’s how those stories are being updated to speak to their experience.
For a genre with roots in a centuries-old oral tradition, fairy tales have proven notably flexible. Like polymer modeling clay, the material is easy to work with and the sophistication of the results limited only by the crafter’s skill and imagination. Some young adult writers bring traditional lore into a modern setting. Others revisit darker elements that popular culture has tended to leave out, whether in the name of protecting vulnerable young people, or not offending the parents who pay good money for adorable princess merchandise.
A different tactic used to keep these stories fresh is to subvert their original messages. Contemporary writers for teens may recast passive heroines, redeem traditional villains, or tell the story from a different character’s point of view. Reversing key details plays with readers’ expectations. Shannon Hale’s Rapunzel, for example, doesn’t get her hair chopped off. Instead, she keeps her long braids and wields them like a weapon. In Malinda Lo’s recent Cinderella retelling, Ash meets Prince Charming and sparks fail to fly; the romantic action is elsewhere.
Whether you like traditional retellings or new takes on old themes, here’s a sampling from the bumper crop of recent and forthcoming fairy tale-inspired fiction for teens.
Released fall 2009:
Ash, by Malinda Lo (Cinderella)
Heart’s Blood, by Juliet Marillier (Beauty & the Beast)
Ice, by Sarah Beth Durst (East of the Sun & West of the Moon)
Coming April 2010:
Shadow, by Jenny Moss (Sleeping Beauty)
Toads & Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson (The Fairies)
The Wager, by Donna Jo Napoli (Don Giovanni de la Fortuna)
Due out May 2010:
The Princess and the Snowbird, by Mette Ivie Harrison (Beauty & the Beast)
Princess of Glass, by Jessica Day George (Cinderella)
The White Cat, by Holly Black (The White Cat)
* Little Red Riding Hood illustration is from this website, crediting G.P. Jacomb Hood, full citation: Lang, Andrew, ed. The Blue Fairy Book. New York: Dover, 1965. (Original published 1889.)