Folklore, fairy tales, even myths and legends. All of these classics have a tendency to be marketed towards a younger audience. Maybe the “lessons” or “morals” of the tales are typically seen as necessary for the younger generation. I however, feel that much of the wisdom being passed along can easily be carried into adulthood. That’s where a good folktale retelling comes in. Something about these updated, extended and more grown up stories make them just as captivating as they ever were in their shorter form. If you’re in the market for some folktale retellings that elevate you from childhood fable to adult epic, we’ve got a few that you may not be familiar with.
The Winter Sister by Megan Collins
Inspired by: The Tale of Hades & Persephone
As a lover of not only the Ancient Greek tale of Hades and Persephone, but of a great murder mystery, The Winter Sister is this readers perfect combination of genres. This modern folktale retelling sees Sylvie, Persephone’s sister, out to solve her murder. Years ago, Persephone left with her boyfriend for the evening… and she never came back. The discovery of her body changed Sylvie forever, and now she’s returned to her hometown still searching for answers. She’ll find them, but they’ll be unlike anything she ever imagined.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
Inspired by: Hansel & Gretel
For all you readers who love to follow the breadcrumbs to the heart of a story. That’s just what Perdita Lee and her mother Harriet to in Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread. A seemingly fabricated fictional world and delectable gingerbread take the women down a winding road in search of Harriet’s old friend Gretel. A fantastical folktale retelling, Gingerbread showcases a brand new take on a classic story of a witch, some extra special sweets, and some resilient women.
Sherwood by Meagan Spooner
Inspired by: Robin Hood
Titan of English folklore Robin Hood gets a badass gender swapped reimagining in this folktale retelling. After Robin of Locksley dies, the people of Locksley town need a new protector. The dreaded sheriff of Nottingham still persecutes them, and Maid Marian reluctantly realizes that she needs to take over for the town’s hero – whether she wants to or not. If you’re in search of a story born of classic folklore that’s unapologetically feminist, this is your kind of read.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Inspired by: 1001 Nights
The tale of Scheherazade gets a romantic twist. Teen Shahrzad, devastated after losing her best friend to supposed monster king Khalid, volunteers to be his next bride and avenge all of the girls he’s murdered. However, she quickly learns that Khalid is so much more than what she’d originally supposed. Could she be falling in love with him? It shouldn’t be possible, but the deeper Shahrzad looks the more she realizes that there’s more to her new husband than meets the eye, and what she’ll do about it. If you love this story, be sure to check out Ahdieh’s follow up novel, The Rose & The Dagger, which completes this duology.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Inspired by: Koschei the Deathless
This folktale retelling is a whole look at a giant of Russian folklore. Koschei the Deathless is the villain of countless stories, but Deathless rejuvenates this vile character, giving him a nuanced narrative and a magical setting to boot. The immortal meets his match in this fresh take, and the folkloric elements are woven together to make a beautiful retelling for a newer generation.
There you have it; the next time you’re in search of a more grown up folktale, just take a look around. You’d be surprised how “adult” the themes of these stories truly are, and how relevant any of them remain to this day. Who knows? You may even learn a little something. Enjoy, and don’t be afraid to get lost in a book.