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Presented by State Library Victoria

Classic Retellings and Rewrites

This month sees the release of My Plain Jane, an irreverent take on the classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte which will appeal fans of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and The Princess Bride. This has got me thinking about rewrites, retellings, spin-offs and updates of classic books – and there are so many!

Cover of My Plain Jane

Of course the first classic author I thought of was Jane Austen who has inspired so many retellings – everything from sea monsters and zombies to film adaptations like Clueless (which is adaptation of Austen’s Emma) and the web series The Lizzie Bennett Diaries by Bernie Su and Hank Green. So let’s look at what else we can find.

The Lizzie Bennett Diaries Giph

Released last year was a modern day Sherlock Holmes update, cleverly rewritten as a boarding school story.

Cover of A Study in Charlotte

A Study In Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is based around Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson – the teen descendants of the original Holmes and Watson mystery solving team. And it’s a series! Stay tuned for more mysterious adventures!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland gets a fair share of spin offs too.

Heartless   by Marissa Meyers

Cover of After Alice

After Alice  by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire  also wrote Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West which became the massively popular stage musical Wicked and was of course based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Another series based on this classic by L. Frank Baum is Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Cleverly encompassing not just one but three classic books is the Madman’s Daughter Trilogy by Megan Shepard.

Cover of The Madman's Daughter

The first book The Madman’s Daughter is based on the  H. G. Wells’s classic The Island of Dr. Moreau, The second book, Her Dark Curiosity  takes inpiration from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the third A Cold Legacy involves the world of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Oh and speaking of Frankenstein…we have:

Cover of Clay

Clay  by David Almond

Cover of Manmade Boy

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

And last, but not least, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

Just out in Australia is a feminist retelling of the Charles Dickens Classic Oliver Twist.

Olivia Twist

Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon gives the classic a feminist update.

A classic tale is tried and true and can be the perfect launching point for authors. Like fan fiction, pre-existing characters and worlds gives creatives a lot to play with. It’s like a riffing on a classic melody – where you take the audience can be surprising, comforting, recognizable and yet exciting. It also gives fans more – more of what we love about the world of the original book.

Do you like these retellings? Are they disrespectful? Or do they give your old favourites an ethical update?  Are they an expansion of the world you love? What classic would you retell? For me it would be Thomas Hardy Tess of the D’Urbervilles.