A New Tale as Old as Time

  • Posted on: 26 February 2022
  • By: ocarroll


Contemporary Retellings of Fairy Tales

The tale may be old as time, but there are new ways to experience these rhymes! It is in the nature of fairy tales to be retold as time goes on. There are new lessons to teach, new messages to shape and new ways to frame these dearly beloved characters. Contemporary authors have not shied away from this challenge, continuing the longstanding tradition of retelling fairy tales by putting their own spin on classic stories.

Some of these stories are easy to identify, taking on the well-known names and plot points every child knows by heart, while others take on a distant relation, focusing more on the general theme or idea of the fairy tale. No matter which direction the author takes the story, in the end, they always bring us back to the stories we know and love.


Beauty and the Beast

Fairy Tale Overview:

A beautiful, young, misunderstood maiden finds herself at the whims of an evil, mystical man. Over time, she begins to discover that perhaps he is not as evil as the world makes him out to be. Perhaps she must see past her own prejudices in order to find someone who sees her for who she truly is– and maybe find love along the way.

The Contemporary Retelling:

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Stolen away to a magical kingdom because she killed a faerie, Feyre finds herself trapped within the home of the enemy: a ruthless fae ruler the land. The more time she stays with the masked man and his court, the more she begins to realize that maybe her prejudices were wrong. But a greater threat looms over them all and it is up to Feyre to break an ancient curse or lose the man she has grown to love.


One Thousand and One Nights

Fairy Tale Overview:

An evil ruler takes a new wife every night and kills her before dawn. Until one night, when his new wife tells him half of a story and he cannot resist hearing how it will end, saving her life for one night. Days go by and the wife is kept alive by sharing parts of her stories every night and the keeping the ruler interested in how the story will end the next night. In the end, though reasons vary, the wife is pardoned and is never killed.

The Contemporary Retelling:

The Wrath and the Dawn

In the land of Khorasan, each night brings a new bride to Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph, and each morning brings her funeral. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s friend falls victim to the Caliph, she volunteers to be his next bride and decides that she must end his reign of terror. Each night she tells a new story to the Caliph that sees her survival into the next day, and with each new morning she finds herself falling for the boy in wolves clothing. Holding firm to her vow, Shahrzad resolves to uncover the secrets of the boy, the palace and the world of stories and secrets.


The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Fairy Tale Overview:

A King has twelve daughters. Each night, they are locked in their room to sleep and each morning they wake up with their shoes falling apart. The King offers suitors a marriage to one of his daughters in return for a of them telling him how his daughters are doing this, but threatens death to anyone who gets it wrong. Many men fail, but one succeeds in discovering that each night the sisters journey through a secret passage within their room to a castle. Here, they meet twelve princes and they dance until their shoes are worn through. The man tells the King what he has seen and he weds the King’s daughter.

The Contemporary Retelling:

House of Salt and Sorrows

Once upon a time, twelves sisters were cursed, or so they say. Annaleigh and her sisters live at Highmoor Manor, haunted by the four sisters who lost their lives in increasingly tragic ways. Only Annaleigh seems to worry the deaths were not accidents—and her ghostly visions urge her fear along. Her sisters forget their woes with ease when they find their way to glittering balls and dance the night away each night, but Annaleigh isn’t as easily convinced to forgo her suspicions. After all, who— or what— are they really dancing with? Aided by a mysterious stranger and a desperation to keep her sisters alive, Annaleigh seeks to uncover the darkness before it claims another sister.



Fairy Tale Overview:

A girl is tasked by the King to spin straw into gold. If she fails, she will be executed. In her despair, an imp-like creature appears. He agrees to help the girl in exchange for a piece of jewelry. An easy deal, to sacrifice jewelry for her life, so the girl agrees. Again, the girl is tasked with spinning straw to gold, and the imp-like creature returns, taking a ring in exchange for his service. The third time, the girl has nothing left and so he asks for her first-born child, to which she agrees. Years later, when he comes to collect the child, the girl begs to keep it. The creature agrees to one last deal and says if she can guess his name in three days then he will not take the child. He accidentally reveals his name to be Rumpelstiltskin, and the girl guesses it on the third day. She keeps her child and Rumpelstiltskin leaves defeated.

The Contemporary Retelling:

Small Favors

Ellerie Downing’s life is quiet in the town of Amity Falls, surrounded by mountains and bordered by dark woods that once held a great evil. When a supply run doesn’t return, panic begins to seep into the town, worry for the coming winter and what could be lurking within the trees. Day by day, strange happenings plague the town, making them wonder if the dangerous woodland creatures have returned. 

Then there are the strangers who ask the seemingly innocent question, “What would you do, what would you give, to receive gold spun just for you?” An innocent ask that breeds a series of sinister actions that leave Ellerie racing to save her town, her family and the boy she loves. In this small town, the people must come to realize that maybe they shouldn’t be afraid of the shadows in the wood when there are monsters living next door.



Fairy Tale Overview:

A young girl finds herself in unfortunate circumstances, most commonly at the whims of a stepmother and stepsisters. In a various turn of events, the young girl finds herself at a party and as the object of the ruler's desire. Her identity is often unknown, and must be discovered by the ruler. The family that abused the young girl try to fool the lover into believing that they are the one he is looking for, but are unsuccessful. Eventually, it is discovered that the young girl is the true love and the pair are married. Depending on the version, the stepsisters are either shown grace and given forgiveness by the young girl or they receive the pain they are due, such as in Grimm’s version where their eyes are plucked by birds.

The Contemporary Retelling:

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles)

A sci-fi retelling of Cinderella with a cyberpunk aesthetic. Cinder, a gifted mechanic and a cyborg, might be the key to ending a deadly plague that ravages the street of New Beijing. However, the Queen Levana of the lunar people, a ruthless people, decides that Cinder is a threat to her rule, and she must be eradicated. Her life, intertwined with Prince Kai, becomes the struggle at the middle of an intergalactic fight in which only Cinder can end by uncovering the secrets of her past to save her future.


A Bonus:

Cinder is actually the beginning of The Lunar Chronicles, a series about various fairy tale characters interwoven into a single overarching story. For those who want even more modern fairy tales, check out the rest of the series!


- Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood)

Scarlet’s grandmother is missing and she has hidden her secrets with her. Desperate to find her grandmother, and discover the truth, Scarlet partners up with a less than favorable street fighter named Wolf, who may have the information she needs. With one mystery in tow, she meets Cinder and two paths, and two fairytales, become one.

- Cress (Rapunzel)

Cress is the best hope of defeating the evil Queen Levana, but she is imprisoned on a satellite since childhood. Trapped there with nothing but net screens, she has become the hacker they need to win. Rescuing Cress brings chaos upon everyone and a freedom that comes at a high price.

- Winter  (Snow White)

Princess Winter has been living under the fear of her stepmother, Queen Levanna for too long. With the unrest spreading, and a group working against her step mother, Winter might have a chance to launch a revolution the will bring her the happily ever after she desires.


Fairy tales have a habit of evolving and adapting to new times and new ideas. As the audience changes, so do the themes, objectives and the focus of the stories. However, no matter how many details are swapped and shined, these stories continue to stay true to their roots. Contemporary fairy tale retellings prove that no matter how long, long ago these stories are set, and whether they take place next door or in a land far, far away, fairy tales will always have a place on our bookshelves.