Five Gorgeous Classic Retellings

Some stories never lose their grip on us. They compel us to recast them again and again, in different ways. This goes back to before the birth of writing: For every myth preserved in written form there were, in swirling echoes around it, variations of the story that did not survive—but are just as true.

A story of sufficient power can wear many faces. The Greek tragedians understood this, drawing endlessly on their mythology to give us alternate versions of Oedipus, of Iphigenia, of Electra. That tradition, of recasting powerful stories, endures to this day.

Here are five of my favorite retellings.

 

Beauty by Robin McKinley

There are two kinds of Robin McKinley fans: Those who prefer Beauty, her debut novel and initial retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and those who prefer Rose Daughter. I have to admire the guts it took to retell the same fairy ...

Fire Dance

Lin, newly initiated in the art of otherwordly enchantments, is sent to aid her homeland’s allies against vicious attacks from the Fire Dancers: mysterious practitioners of strange and deadly magic. Forced to step into a dangerous waltz of tradition, treachery, and palace secrets, Lin must also race the ticking clock of her own rapidly dwindling life to learn the truth of the Fire Dancers’ war, and how she might prevent death on a scale too terrifying to contemplate.

Palace intrigue, dark magic, and terrifying secrets drive Ilana C. Myer’s standalone novel Fire Dance, set in the world of Last Song Before Night. Available April 10th from Tor Books.

 

 

CHAPTER 5

He was crying in her dream, as he did most nights. This time on the floor in the corner of her tent, beside the legs of the brazier. His face hidden in his hands. ...

The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: “The Snow Queen” by Patricia McKillip

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< p class="frontmatter">In this series, Ilana C. Myer is revisiting the fantasy classics that first shaped her love of the genre, and evaluating them with new eyes. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning… Once upon a time, in a metropolis in deep winter, a girl had her heart broken. She gathered her things from a high-end rental overlooking Times Square into a wheelie suitcase. She took the subway back to the basement apartment she shared with two other women, looked ahead to a plethora of winter days, and wondered how to go on. That was when she discovered a short story, “The Snow Queen” by Patricia McKillip. The girl was saved for another day. One day followed the next. And the winter did pass—eventually. So I admit that when I first discovered this short ...

The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin

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In this series, Ilana C. Myer is revisiting the fantasy classics that first shaped her love of the genre, and evaluating them with new eyes. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning…

This is an extraordinary book. It feels too obvious to say that: there are few positions one might take at lesser risk than one of praise for Ursula Le Guin. But sometimes the works most widely praised are the least talked about for what they actually do. The Tombs of Atuan captures the essence of great fantasy in a way few other works of fantasy can ever hope to match. If the purpose of fantasy is to explore the interior—the inner space of the human soul—no one has done this with greater effectiveness than Le Guin does in this novel.

I ...

The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: Child of Saturn by Teresa Edgerton

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< p class="frontmatter">In this series, Ilana C. Myer is revisiting the fantasy classics that first shaped her love of the genre, and evaluating them with new eyes. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning… When it comes to judging classic works, sometimes context is everything. It reminds me of when the Baz Luhrman film of The Great Gatsby came out and it became customary to deride the novel as old-fashioned, flawed, and politically wrong. Gatsby is, in fact, a stunningly written novel that is a product of its particular time and milieu, and not an especially egregious one at that. One need not compromise on the moral equivalent to one’s firstborn child to appreciate what the book has to offer while recognizing that politically, our society has changed since the 1920s. One can be critical ...

Magic and Espionage in the Streets of Prague: The Witch Who Came in From the Cold

The-Witch-Who-Came-in-From-the-Cold-Serial-Cover The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, the latest offering of serialized fiction from Serial Box, has a variety of magical ingredients working in its favor. First there is the subject matter, which consists of magic and espionage amid the political tensions of 1970’s Prague. Then there is the assemblage of A-list authors collaborating for the project: Lindsay Smith (Sekret), Max Gladstone (Last First Snow), Cassandra R. Clarke (Our Lady of the Ice), Ian Tregillis (Something More Than Night), and a guest appearance from Michael Swanwick (Chasing the Phoenix). This review is of the first three episodes, and in these a world is being built up in its particular shades of character, spy maneuvers, and magical laws. The action begins immediately with a bit of misdirection: a pair of KGB agents, Tanya Morozova and her partner Nadia, are ...

The Great Classic Fantasy Reread: The Hero and Crown by Robin McKinley

The_Hero_and_the_Crown This year I decided to conduct an experiment, and like most experiments it’s a bit dangerous. I’ll be going back to the fantasies that first shaped my love of the genre, that I got lost in when very young, and evaluating them with new (yes, older) eyes. I’m doing this in part because I want to understand how these books captivated me. But there’s another, less critical element at work: I’ve in recent years become immersed in non-fantasy fiction and nonfiction, and doing that, it’s easy to forget what made me fall in love with fantasy in the first place. This is true even as I’m as involved in the genre as anyone can be, with one fantasy book out and another on the way. Sometimes the best way to comprehend the nature of a journey, when you’re in the middle, is to look back to its beginning. The danger ...

Music Inspired by Last Song Before Night

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In the fantasies I love best, magic is ultimately a mystery—and I believe the same is true of art. We can talk about the experiences that informed the work, what we were thinking or the emotional struggles we were dealing with at the time, but in my view these explanations tend to be partial at best. I think we may as well try to explain magic as trace where many of our ideas, sentences, or characters come from.

With that said, experiences certainly figure into the shaping of an artist’s work. Another element, just as important as our experiences, is the art of other people. Part of the reason I wrote about classic books from childhood is because these are part of what went into making me the writer I am today, however invisible and seamless the effects might be.

And now I’ve had a chance to be on the ...

Writers — You Must Finish Your Book!

Last Song Before Night Ilana C. Myer

My first book, an epic fantasy, is about to be published by Tor. Getting to that publication date—September 29th, 2015—has taken nearly all the years I’ve been alive and more work than I could have imagined, starting out. There will always be stories of authors who at a blazingly young age produced a novel at speed which went on to be published, but that is not my story. My story is of a book first sketched in a yellow legal pad during half-hour lunch breaks at an administrative assistant job in the Empire State Building. I sat in Starbucks and scribbled. I began with the image of a woman, psychically wounded, fleeing through a forest in winter. Poets and art were to be the center. It went from there.

It took seven years.

In between, I moved to Jerusalem, became a freelance journalist, married a student of Philosophy, and juggled ...

Four Classic Children’s Books That Are Pure Magic

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When fantasy readers talk about how we got our start, the same names tend to crop up again and again—J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, L. Frank Baum. But while these might be a common denominator for most of us, I can think of many other books that ignited what would become my lifelong love of fantasy. Surprisingly, not all of them are fantasy, but carry that seed of mystery and the unknown that is the essence of magic. I am sure each person has an individual road map of their path to magic—here is mine.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

enchanted-castleI reread this recently, with some trepidation: when a book means as much to you as this one has to me, revisiting it in adulthood is risking a too-clear assessment of its flaws and lapses. All of E. Nesbit’s books are worth reading—I ...

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Last Song Before Night

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Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings—a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression—from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, ...