Favorite Sub-Genre + Recommendations

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Today I am going to talk about my favorite fantasy sub-genre and share some recommendations with you.

Ready?

My favorite fantasy sub-genre is…

Well, it’s a little complicated. See, I would generally say that my favorite fantasy sub-genre is “Epic.” But I feel like I talk about that one a lot already and have given a lot of recommendations for books that fall into that category over the years and even over the past month.

So. My SECOND favorite fantasy sub-genre is….

Fairy Tale & Retellings

I know this all sort of falls under a single sub-genre, but I’m going to split it apart a little bit. You see, there are “fairy tale retellings” and then there are “original fairy tale” style stories. They have the same feel, but I still think they could technically be separated into two distinct categories. (Little-known random fact about me, I really like precision when it comes to categorizing things).

Graphic Design by D.J. Edwardson

 

The world of fairy tales is a rich one full of wonder and magic and important themes on courage and perseverance and kindness. I’ve always loved fairy tales. We had numerous books full of fairy tales growing up, and I loved flipping through those books and finding my favorites and reading them over and over. I’m not an expert on fairy tales, nor have I read all of them by any stretch of the imagination, but I have read quite a few.

I love fairy tales because they capture the imagination. They have very few rules. Magic beans that grow into a giant beanstalk and lead the protagonist to a magical realm of giants in the clouds? Sure! True love’s kiss defeats literally everything? Check! Fairy godmothers? Why not? Talking animals? Definitely! Any mundane item might be magical? Yep!

Fairy tales capture the true essence of childlike imagination and whimsy. But they don’t shy away from danger, either. Many original fairy tales are very dark and more than a little grim. Often there are terrible consequences for the villains: being made to dance in red hot shoes until they fall down dead, being put in a barrel with nails driven through it and dragged behind horses the length of the town, stepsisters who cut their own toes off in order to squeeze their feet into the glass slipper, and the list goes on and on. And these are stories for children, you ask with a horrified grimace.

Well. Yes.

As C.S. Lewis so aptly put it:

… Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end the book. … It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of the police.

So what is the difference between a fairy tale retelling and an original fairy tale?

A retelling starts on the premise of a fairy tale that already exists. It may expand and expound the story, it may twist and turn the story, it may even combine multiple fairy tales into a single story, but at its very core, its most pure essence, it can still be identified by the fairy tale(s) upon which it is based. Quite a few animated Disney movies are fairy tale retellings that are so popular, people forget that they aren’t the originals.

An original fairy tale is a story that feels like a fairy tale, sounds like a fairy tale, has all the earmarks of a fairy tale, may even tip its hat to various fairy tales by referencing them within the story… but ultimately is not based on any particular fairy tale. These can be a bit harder to find or spot in the wild, but they do exist.

So, now that you know the difference, let me point you to a few of my favorites from each of these categories!

Fairy Tale Retellings

Beauty by Robin McKinley – a lovely retelling of Beauty and the Beast that I talked about earlier this month.

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – also a completely different version of Beauty and the Beast and just as lovely but in a different way

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley – is an enchanting version of Sleeping Beauty that I love. However, the one problem I have with Robin McKinley is that I always find the epic climaxes of her story a bit difficult to follow… and Spindle’s End is even more convoluted than her others.

The Bookania Quests by Kendra E. Ardnek. Ms. Ardnek is a very talented weaver of fairy tales, knitting them together seamlessly into a comprehensive whole that is more than the sum of its parts. The sheer number of fairy tales she has already managed to combine in this series is impressive, and I hear she has many more planned for the future. I highly enjoy these books and definitely recommend them.

The “Five Anthologies” put out by Rooglewood Press: Five Glass Slippers/Five Enchanted Roses/Five Magic Spindles/Five Poisoned Apples (though I technically haven’t read the stories in Apples yet). All of these are beautiful retellings of various fairy tales (and I’m not just saying that because my story was published in “Roses” either!) each collection seems to do a good job of having something for everyone. You may not love ALL the stories in every collection, but you’re sure to find one to love in each of them.

Blood in the Snow by Sarah Pennington. I reviewed this one last year and it remains one of my all-time favorite Snow White retellings. Possibly because she so seamlessly worked it together with the Goose Girl, which is one of my favorite fairy tales.

Speaking of the Goose Girl, Shannon Hale is an author who has written quite a few fairy tale retellings. “The Goose Girl” is the first in her series and is a beautiful retelling of the fairy tale with the same name.

Gail Carson Levine has written several anthologies of short fairy tale retellings. “The Princess Tales” Volumes 1 and 2 contain three retellings each of a few of the lesser-well-known fairy tales and are very entertaining.

The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doue is another beautiful retelling of the 12 Dancing Princesses that I love and discovered recently.

The Gray Area

Sort of on the raggedy edge between the “retelling” and “original” category are the Beaumont and Beasley series by Kyle Robert Shultz. These are hysterical mashups of many beloved fairy tales, but the main plot follows private investigator Nick Beasley as he tries to remove the curse that turned him into a beast. His adventures lead him through a lot of familiar stories, but the plots of the books are very much their own adventures, so this one kind of stands in a strange “gray area” between the two categories!

Original Fairy Tales

The Light Princess by George MacDonald is one of my all-time favorite original fairy tales. In it he tells a story about a princess who is cursed by a fairy at her christening (see the fairy tale element?) with a lack of gravity. He then plays on this word’s double-meaning and the princess grows up incapable of tears and is always laughing and silly… but she also floats and has to weight herself down with rocks and various things. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but oh! If you haven’t read this one I recommend you go find a copy RIGHT NOW because you’re missing out!

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine is a classic original about a young girl also cursed by a fairy… this time with “obedience.” It is a beautiful story and one I’ve enjoyed many times, and now my daughters have discovered it and fallen in love with it, as well.

Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede is another favorite of mine… this one is lighthearted and has the whimsy of fairy tales, but also thumbs its nose at them in a gentle sort of way, mocking the various shortcomings that characters in fairy tales tend to have. Many recognizable fairy tales are mentioned and turned on their heads (the princess who can’t get a suitor so her aunt hires a fairy godmother to make her a pair of glass slippers, but the princess breaks them. To which her friend wisely says, “Well, yes, but glass slippers are all well and good for deserving merchants’ daughters, not princesses!” or the strange dwarven fellow who keeps ending up with royal children being left on his doorstep because the princesses can NEVER correctly guess his name and now he’s overrun with children and is tired of being taken advantage of as a royal daycare… you get the idea) but the actual PLOT of the book follows its own course and is not based on any particular fairy tale.

The Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl are a more grown-up version of original fairy tales. These stories deal more with the fae sort of fairies than the fairy-godmother sort, but they are still very much written in the fairy tale tradition and have that magical feel of two worlds existing side by side: the seen and the powerful unseen.

To Court a Queen by H.L. Burke is another one that I just recently got a chance to beta read and it was super cute and fun… and bonus, it just released a couple of days ago! I’m going to have one of her characters over for an interview next week, so keep an eye out for that.

My own Destined for Greatness is another in this category (hehe CATegory… hehe). It’s a little silly, references a couple of different fairy tales, but in the end, it is completely its own story, about a young man who dreams of being more than he is, but Fate doesn’t seem to agree… or does it?

Speaking of which, I just released this little cutie to the world and you can get it for free now on Amazon!

~ jenelle

21 Comments

Christine Smith

Fairy tales and retellings!!! My favorite subject! (And I totally agree that they go under two separate headings. But I adore BOTH!) Everything you said about them just yes yes YES. And the quotes you shared are some of my favorites! I just find fairy tales so beautiful and important. And goodness, there’s so much that can be done with them. The possibilities are literally endless!

You listed some spectacular ones! Beauty, Rooglewood’s anthologies, The Goose Girl, Levine’s stories. YES. I love how Robin McKinley wrote 2 B&B stories. Because I, too, sometimes get multiple ideas for the same fairy tale and I’m like, “Would it be weird to write more than one retelling?” But hey, Robin McKinley did. ;D Ella Enchanted, Dealing with Dragons, and Tales of Goldstone Wood are also some of my TOP favorite books of ever. I NEED to read all the others you listed. The Light Princess especially! The Princess and the Goblin is the only George MacDonald I’ve ever read, and it is a tragedy! I NEED MORE.

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jenelle

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks they go under separate headings!!!

Though, I just realized that I forgot a few important ones. And Kyle’s books kind of bridge the gap between both categories, so I went back and put them in the post. LOL I always forget something important. But then, trying to fit in ALL the books I love in any category is never gonna happen. I was reading your comment and thought, “Oh! I left off some super important books!” and then I had to go put laundry in the dryer, and can I remember who it was that I forgot?!?!!? Of course not. *dramatic sigh*

And yes, you REALLY need to read the Light Princess! I love the Princess and the Goblin, but the Light Princess is my favorite! And Photogen and Nycteris is another one that is just incredible (though that one’s a bit creepier, so I tend to recommend Light Princess first) :)

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Sarah Pennington

The number of books I recognize and either have read or plan to read very soon makes me quite happy. And I’m honored that my book made your list! :D

Also, so many C.S. Lewis quotes. It’s beautiful. :D

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jenelle

Blood in the Snow is seriously one of my all-time favorites already, and that’s not an easy feat to accomplish. :)

C.S. Lewis quotes are the best!

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Kendra E. Ardnek

Awe. Your shoutout makes me so happy.

Just saying, though, but Ella Enchanted is a retelling of Cinderella. I know it’s not really clear until the last hundred pages or so, but it is. It’s also my FAVORITE retelling of Cinderella, and the book that made me decide to write retellings. (Movie, though, is more of an “original fairy tale” ’cause they washed it of all of the distinctly Cidnerella elements.)

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jenelle

Mmm, now I need to go re-read Ella Enchanted. It’s been many many years, and the movie is far fresher in my memory than the book. I don’t remember it being enough “Cinderella” to really be a retelling, but like I said, it’s been goodness, probably 20 years since the last time I read it!

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Kendra E. Ardnek

I actually just pulled my copy off of the shelf to re-peruse it, and it’s really only the last thirty pages that it’s obvious. It’s more of a slow-burn build up – all of the pieces keep getting set on the board, but because you’re so focused on Ella, you don’t see it until that last bit where everything just clicks together with the ball, and a pumpkin carriage, and the glass slipper.

It’s a Cinderella retelling, but it’s so much more than that, and that’s why I love it so much.

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DJ Edwardson

I love that quote from C.S. Lewis. I think we forget how hardy children’s imaginations can be at times.

Have you read Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories”? If not, I highly recommend it (it’s public domain). It’s a masterful essay. He talks a great deal about fantasy in it as well. Based on what he writes there, I do not believe he would define much of what gets labeled as fairy stories as actual fairy stories, or at least as successful ones. This is because they lack that sense of the “Perilous Realm” just beyond the shadowy edges of our own and also any of the strangeness or enchantment that comes from man’s experiences in this land of the faeries (which is really just another name for elves). Not that there had to be fairies in the story of course, but one has to believe that he has wandered into “their side of the woods” so to speak.

He would also say that fairy tales have definite rules. Just not the same rules that our world has. “You must do this to get that.” “You must go here to stop that.” “If you eat that it turns you into this,” etc. Fairy tales are usually highly moral in nature as well. But I think I know what you were trying to say. They are topsy-turvy and unexpected when compared to our world.

And I still do not see “The Wise Woman or the Lost Princess” by George MacDonald on your list. What do I have to do to get you to read this book? It’s public domain as well and 80 pages long. You really should search online and read the pdf. It is my favorite thing MacDonald ever wrote and my favorite fairy tale of all time. Such a beautiful story.

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Kendra E. Ardnek

Lost Princess! I love that one. Went to GREAT lengths to track it down after reading some snippets of it in some other collection. I now own it in a collection that also has Little Daylight, which is my FAVORITE reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty.

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DJ Edwardson

Yay! I’m always happy to hear that someone has found that one. I have read Little Daylight as well, but can’t recall the story just now. I should go back and re-read it. Light Princess, Back of the North Wind, and The Day Boy and the Night Girl are also quite enjoyable!

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Kendra E. Ardnek

Little Daylight is actually part of Back of the North Wind, but it’s also a standalone story. I haven’t read The Day Boy and the Night Girl yet. Or the other two stories in the collection I own.

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jenelle

Day Boy/Night Girl (or Photogen and Nycteris) is another favorite of mine, and I meant to include it in the post. Too many good books… not enough space on the blog.

I love George MacDonald, but I didn’t even know how many books and stories he had written until more recently. I’ve read his Princess and the Goblin/Princess and Curdie series, The Light Princess, Photogen/Nycteris, The Golden Key, Lilith (LOVE), Phantastes, The Fisherman’s Lady (and read the original version titled “Malcolm” in college for fun, but it was a very difficult read since it was basically written in a different language – the original Scottish brogue), and the Marquis’ Secret (those last two aren’t fantasy). But I know he wrote a bookcase or two more than that, just haven’t quite managed to get around to reading them all!

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jenelle

I have read Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories” but it was soooo long ago I’m definitely due for a re-read.

And yes, I didn’t mean that fairy tales didn’t or shouldn’t have ANY rules, there should be consistency within the story/world… but you surmised correctly that I did, in fact, mean that the rules of fairy-tale-dom seem a bit chaotic and unexpected when compared to those of the more mundane real world. :)

ACK! Okay… I’m sorry! You have recommended this story at least a dozen times and I’m seriously not ignoring you LOL I actually thought I owned a copy of that, but it’s not in my George MacDonald anthology of fairy tales, so… you’ll be happy to know that I just ordered the paperback and will start reading it next week. :-D

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Tessa LaBuff

Yesssss! Fairytale retelling and originals are fantastic and probably my favorite subgenre as well!
Kyle Robert Shultz’s books are fantastic!
Some of my favorite retellings/originals are the Two Monarchies series and the Shards of a Broken Sword series by W.R. Gingell

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jenelle

:) Fairytales are the best!

I really need to read W.R. Gingell’s books. Masque was our book-club’s favorite book of the year, but I missed out on that one because I got too busy that month… so that is an author I’ve been eyeing for a while now.

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Sarah Pennington

Ok, I was skimming through comments to double-check that I’d commented on all the posts, and I saw this, and — YES. READ W.R. GINGELL’S BOOKS. I just discovered her this month and proceeded to devour everything she’d written other than her Between urban fantasy series and the second two Shards of a Broken Sword books. I would’ve read those too, but I ran out of book money . . . because I’d spent it all buying her other books. Which I almost never do — typically, I hold out for a sale or slowly buy paperbacks, but once I read Spindle and Masque, I NEEDED the rest of the story. And I fully intend to either buy the others or sign up for Kindle Unlimited on a temporary basis just so I can read them. So, yeah. That says something about how good they are, I think.

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