Tell me again: Retellings in fiction

There are no new stories…

And yet it seems as though there are endless ways of telling and retelling stories. Retellings of ancient myths, fairy tales, and folklore are endlessly fascinating (see our Book Chat recap on the topic of Myth, Magic, and Fairy Tale for a list of some of these), and two recent projects tackle two authors you may have heard of: William Shakespeare and Jane Austen.


The “Chandos Portrait” of William Shakespeare, from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The Hogarth Shakespeare project “sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today,” namely:

  • Jeannette Winterson on The Winter’s Tale (The Gap of Time)
  • Howard Jacobson on The Merchant of Venice (Shylock Is My Name)
  • Anne Tyler on The Taming of the Shrew (Vinegar Girl)
  • Margaret Atwood on The Tempest (Hag-Seed coming October 2016)
  • Tracy Chevalier on Othello (coming June 2017)
  • Jo Nesbo on Macbeth (coming February 2018)
  • Edward St. Aubyn on King Lear (April 2018)
  • Gillian Flynn on Hamlet (coming January 2021)

Portrait of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra, c. 1810.

Information on The Austen Project is a bit more minimal (there’s a facebook page and a Goodreads page), but so far four of a planned six novels have been published:

Of course, these two projects certainly aren’t the first to hit on the idea of retelling old stories; many authors (and filmmakers) have been borrowing and adapting both Shakespeare and Austen’s work for…well, since they’ve been around, really. Think of just a few of these silver screen gems:

And that’s just a handful, or a drop in the bucket, or insert-your-favorite-metaphor-here for a tiny sample of a vast number. (Speaking of metaphors, have you tried the Shakespearean insult generator yet? It’s great fun.)

What do you think of retellings and adaptations? Movie versions of books and plays? Is there one you love (or hate) that I didn’t list above? Share in the comments!

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1 Response to Tell me again: Retellings in fiction

  1. mwinikates says:

    I like retellings best when they are a true re-envisioning; offering a new insight into the characters, such as an adaptation that gives you sympathy for a character you didn’t think much of in a book (Miranda Otto’s Eowyn, Billy Piper’s Fanny in Mansfield Park) that can bring new appreciation to the original, because someone saw something you missed before. I also like retellings in new settings that allow you to stretch the characters in new situations. Where do the pieces of their identities you recognize stay the same, and what changes in a new landscape or body or set of societal rules?

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