Myths, legends, and folktales are ingrained in our popular culture.

Though they are rooted in oral tradition, modern audiences now have easy access to these stories in many different art forms.

Whether you’re signing in to Disney+ to watch Tangled, picking up a copy of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, or booting up your preferred video game console to play The Wolf Among Us (based on Bill Willingham’s comic book series Fables), these stories have been told and retold many times over. Even religious texts like the Christian Bible are rife with lore that makes for interesting retellings!

But why do we keep consuming retellings if we have an inkling of where the story is going and how it might end?

Tirzah Price writes in her Book Riot article “Retellings Keep the Classics Relevant”:

Classics are books that endure across time because an audience thinks they’re worthwhile. And one way that classics endure is because we keep finding ways to retell and recast their stories.

Folktales connect us to our ancestors, honor our heritage, and preserve our cultural history, but their retellings can offer fresh and diverse perspectives from the original. Characters in these new stories are given agency and growth where they previously may have been static and flat; identities that were passed over are now given the attention they deserve; core themes are explored from different angles and societal values reexamined; and audience expectations of the genre are upended.

As more retellings enter our culture, it allows authors to shine a light on tales of lesser renown, giving readers access to works they might not have thought about picking up before and thereby extending the original tale’s lifespan. They ask the question:

What if this happened instead?

Rumaisa Khusru writes for cherwell.org that retellings celebrate the original stories while updating the subject material to resonate with contemporary readers. Like David Bowie with a new persona every few years, the possibilities for reinvention are endless, and who doesn’t love a new twist on an old classic?

These retellings take listeners beyond the campfire where folktales and legends were passed down for generations and into new auditory worlds worth exploring.

 

YOUNG ADULT

 

The Alchemy of Moonlight

Written by David Ferraro, narrated by Will Watt

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of Alchemy of Moonlight audiobook

An isolated crumbling castle, supernatural phenomena, and star-crossed lovers comprise this retelling of The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Ferraro describes his debut novel – featuring a gay love triangle between a runaway marquis, a doctor, and a werewolf – as a “love letter” to classic gothic literature.

When Emile’s aunt declares he must marry or be disowned for being gay, he runs away to hide as a servant in Count Montoni’s mansion. Emile tends to the family, who all suffer a strange affliction on the full moon, and later finds a body on the estate. This draws the attention of a handsome doctor and the count’s charismatic nephew, Henri.

But when Emile’s identity is revealed, and his aunt comes to collect him, Count Montoni forces everyone to depart to the remote Udolpho Castle. There, Emile realizes that he will have to risk his life to find the love he deserves―and survive the Montoni family.

Learn more about this title >

 

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Written by Axie Oh, narrated by Rosa Escoda

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea audiobook

Are you a fan of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away? Then jump into this feminist retelling of the Korean p’ansori tale The Tale of Shim Cheong. However, rather than following Shim Cheong, we follow her lover Joon’s younger sister, Mina. Axie Oh weaves other Korean folktales into the plot as well, including The Tale of the Woodcutter and the Heavenly Maiden and The Story of Hungbu and Nolbu.

Mina’s homeland is ravaged by deadly storms, floods, and wars. Her people believe the Sea God curses them with death and despair. To appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride.

Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in Mina’s village, is believed to be the final bride who will end their suffering. To save both her brother and his beloved from a cruel fate, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead. Swept away into the Spirit Realm, Mina finds the Sea God caught in an enchanted sleep and sets out to wake him and end the storms with the help of a motley crew of demons, gods, and spirits.

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Return to the Four Kingdoms Box Set 1

Written by Melanie Cellier, narrated by Esther Wane

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of Return to the Four Kingdoms Box Set 1 audiobook collection

In this box set of three interconnected fairytale retellings, each heroine finds herself stranded in a strange land fighting to save her new home and win her happily ever after. Cellier says about her books:

I got started writing fairytale retellings because I think it’s so fun to read a new story but to also find all the connections to the original tale…

Retellings have given her the scope to come up with characterizations, motivations, and twists for why characters sometimes make odd narrative choices.

The Secret Princess – a retelling of The Goose Girl follows Princess Giselle as she is tasked with proving herself a true princess after her rank and authority are stripped away from her. Left with only a gaggle of geese, she must uncover a conspiracy that threatens her life, her future, and her kingdom.

The Mystery Princess – a retelling of Cinderella follows overworked orphan Daria, in hiding as a servant. When her life is interrupted by a wicked plot to kill the queen of a kingdom, it’s finally time for Daria to face dangers and traitors before she can triumph in a ballroom.

The Desert Princess – a retelling of Aladdin follows Cassie, a girl from the streets who must navigate treasure caves, palaces, and a magic lamp if she wants to rescue herself, prove her worth, and save four kingdoms as well.

Learn more about this title >

 

ADULT

 

Comfort Me with Apples

Written by Catherynne M. Valente, narrated by Karis Campbell

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of Comfort Me with Apples audiobook

My personal favorite on the list!

The title comes from a line from the King James translation of the Song of Solomon:

Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.

This is a Bluebeard retelling, so perhaps this will clue you into what might be going on.

Here is how Valente describes her book:

It’s about a woman named Sophia who lives in a severely gated community under the rules of an extraordinarily repressive HOA agreement. She is the perfect housewife, the perfect host, the perfect woman, everyone agrees on that much – and one day, while her husband is away on one of his long work trips, she finds a desiccated human fingertip buried in the bottom of her knife block.

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HIM

Written and narrated by Geoff Ryman

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of HIM audiobook

Fans of The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd and art that queers religion will want to check out this retelling of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, born a girl.

Avigayil is born to virgin Maryam and Yosef barLevi in the village of Nazareth. As Avigayil grows, it’s clear she believes that she is destined to be someone greater than just the daughter of Maryam. From leading a gang of village boys to challenging the priests in the temple, Avigayil is determined to find her way as Yeshu, a man.

Yeshu can work miracles. He can see futures. He can speak for God.

“I wanted to imagine the thrill people must have felt when finally someone preached that everyone is equal in the eyes of God,” Ryman explained in an interview about the book. “After years of reading, stalling, and false starts the writing was finally sprung from me by one simple idea. Parthenogenesis—virgin birth—would work like cloning. If Jesus were actually female, why don’t we know it? Then I heard an angry child say with terrifying certainty and power, ‘I am a boy,’ and I had my first scene.”

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The Echoes of Fallen Stars Series

Written by J.D. Netto, narrated by Michael Crouch

Immortal Crowns – Book 1

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of Immortal Crowns audiobook

Gods and Mortals – Book 2

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of Gods and Mortals audiobook

Maybe you’re not interested in Jesus but would prefer reading about Lucifer and his gang of fallen angels? And what if Lucifer wasn’t cast out for rebellion, but because of his love for his Creator?

About what inspired the series, Netto said,

I’ve always been enamored by mythology and religion. The idea that Lucifer had a secret romance with the Creator and a lost gay son sparked an entire universe in my head; a world riddled with gods and magic.

In Immortal Crowns, two boys set off on a journey for answers about the past and discover that the affairs of the gods will not only change their world but also claim lives and kingdoms alike.

In Gods and Mortals, Lucifer and his servants plot against mortals and the Creator with an army of Shadows.

Learn more about these titles >

 

The Water Outlaws

Written by S.L. Huang, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller

Ancient Tales to Future Realms blog - cover image of The Water Outlaws audiobook

If you’re seeking a queer epic fantasy, look no further. Huang was inspired by the classic Chinese wuxia novel, Water Margin, but don’t worry if you’ve never read it before.

To learn more about wuxia and its related genres, read our blog about it here >

Huang describes the original tale as a “Robin Hood” story that predates Robin Hood:

Their mission: steal from the rich and destroy tyrannical government officials. If that’s not a story for our times, I don’t know what is.

In Huang’s retelling, a group of women and genderqueer martial artists band together to challenge inequalities and injustices in an empire that would rather see them imprisoned or destroyed.

Lin Chong is an expert arms instructor who is focused on preserving her place within Imperial society’s status quo. That is… until she’s rebranded as a criminal by a man higher up in the food chain. Now on the run, Lin Chong is recruited by a group of dissenters and outsiders – the Bandits of Liangshan – and they’re ready to bring down a corrupt empire.

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Retellings aren’t the only things you see again and again in our favorite stories…

Read this blog to learn more about another popular trope: The Underdog >