By: Hannah Rapp, Teen Librarian
I recently heard about an exciting series of books, all written by different (often famous and high-profile) authors, that will all be retellings of Shakespeare plays. My first experience with Shakespeare (that I remember) was in a kid’s book featuring a bunch of Shakespeare plays in story form. Now, these were (mostly) true to the plays, just with simplified language and some streamlining to make them accessible. But ever since then, I’ve had a deep affection for retellings. Whether it’s a new version of an old myth, a modernized version of a classic novel, or the always-popular book based on a fairy tale, I inhale stories like this. Somehow, the shared language of whatever the myth/classic/fairy tale is makes reading an adaptation almost like having a conversation with an author, because you can see where their interpretation of the source material lined up with yours, or where their ideas and analysis of the original is different from your own.
Because of this, as well as the fun of seeing something familiar go in a new direction, I’ve read a lot of adaptations. But also because there are three layers of personal preferences at play when talking about an adaptation – preferences about the actual book/writing, preferences about the source material, and preferences about how the source material was re-imagined – liking or disliking an adaptation is a hugely personal thing. So rather than sharing “great adaptations” with you all and risking some righteous anger, I’m going to share some of my own personal favorite adaptations. Most of these come from source material that I’m fond of, and I find each of these an entertaining, astute, and enjoyable version of an already beloved original. There are tons more, of course, but these are some of my favorites!
10 Things I Hate About You – Since it was reading about Shakespeare retellings that inspired this list, it seems appropriate to start with a version of a Shakespeare play. 10 Things has the fun and humor of The Taming of the Shrew, deals well with some of the more problematic aspects, and has an all-star cast of incredible actors. What’s not to love?
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund – This is the only item on this list where I read the adaptation first, and loved it so much I read the source material. This book is a futuristic fantasy-like version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and features the politics as well as the fun of the source material, plus incredible world-building and some seriously cool imagery.
Ash by Malinda Lo – This is a cool, atmospheric, almost creepy version of Cinderella. Malinda Lo manages to make this old (like seriously, REALLY OLD) fairy tale seem modern, but without sacrificing the magic or the fairy tale feel.
Clueless – Emma is my favorite Jane Austen novel, and Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. So I’m pretty critical of adaptations and retellings of her work, and to this day, Clueless is my favorite modern version of an Austen novel I’ve ever read or seen. Cher just embodies Emma’s best qualities (her kindness, her devotion to her father, her fun and charm) as well as her worst (her selfishness, her conceitedness, her spoiled-ness), and Clueless retains the humor as well as the character development of its original. I love it.
Mack the Knife performed by Bobby Darrin – This song is a classic, an incredibly appealing example of some of the best of 50s music. The lyrics and music capture the smarmy, dangerous Mack the Knife (from The Threepenny Opera) perfectly, and Bobby Darrin’s entrancingly smooth voice brings the highwayman to life.
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler – This recently published book brings The Little Mermaid into modern times, complete with the loss of her voice and large family of sisters. Simultaneously true to the source material and its own unique story, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids takes the emphasis away from a mermaid pining after a lost love, and instead focuses on a character trying to find herself, and her voice, in a whole new world.
Who Wrote Holden Caulfield by Green Day – Yes, even snot-nosed punk kids (snot-nosed punk kids that I love, for the record) can create some great literary adaptations. From their pre-fame album Kerplunk, Who Wrote Holden Caulfield gets at why so many teenagers empathize with Holden in The Catcher in the Rye. I think all of us have at some point felt like the Holden Green Day writes about when they say “There’s a boy who fogs his world and now he’s getting lazy/There’s no motivation and frustration makes him crazy/He makes a plan to take a stand but always ends up sitting/Someone help him up or he is gonna end up quitting.”
Those are just some of my favorite retellings and modernizations of classics, fairy tales, and more. What are some of yours?