I have been a big fan of classic fiction since at least the 5th grade. But a type of fiction that I’ve also read a fair amount of is retellings, which are basically when a book is based on something else. In this blog post, I’m sharing 19 retellings of classic fiction, myths, or fairytales. The book can be a modern version of the classic, the story told from the perspective of a different character, or even telling the story in a different genre but based on the classic.
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19 Retellings of Classic Fiction You Need To Read
Anna K: A Love Story (Anna Karenina) – “At seventeen, Anna K is at the top of Manhattan and Greenwich society (even if she prefers the company of her horses and dogs); she has the perfect (if perfectly boring) boyfriend, Alexander W.; and she has always made her Korean-American father proud (even if he can be a little controlling). Meanwhile, Anna’s brother, Steven, and his girlfriend, Lolly, are trying to weather [a] sexting scandal; Lolly’s little sister, Kimmie, is struggling to recalibrate to normal life after an injury derails her ice dancing career; and Steven’s best friend, Dustin, is madly (and one-sidedly) in love with Kimmie. As her friends struggle with the pitfalls of ordinary teenage life, Anna always seems to be able to sail gracefully above it all. That is…until the night she meets Alexia “Count” Vronsky at Grand Central. A notorious playboy who has bounced around boarding schools and who lives for his own pleasure, Alexia is everything Anna is not. But he has never been in love until he meets Anna, and maybe she hasn’t, either. As Alexia and Anna are pulled irresistibly together, she has to decide how much of her life she is willing to let go for the chance to be with him. And when a shocking revelation threatens to shatter their relationship, she is forced to question if she has ever known herself at all. Dazzlingly opulent and emotionally riveting, Anna K: A Love Story is a brilliant reimagining of Leo Tolstoy’s timeless love story, Anna Karenina—but above all, it is a novel about the dizzying, glorious, heart-stopping experience of first love and first heartbreak” (x).
I had to include this if only because I’m currently listening to Anna Karenina! But for real, I’ve seen this book on all sorts of YA book lists, so it was a given that it needed to be in this post.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (Pride and Prejudice) – “Bridget Jones’s Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud account of a year in the life of a thirty-something Singleton on a permanent doomed quest for self-improvement. Caught between the joys of Singleton fun, and the fear of dying alone and being found three weeks later half eaten by an Alsatian; tortured by Smug Married friends asking, “How’s your love life?” with lascivious, yet patronizing leers, Bridget resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult and learn to program the VCR. With a blend of flighty charm, existential gloom, and endearing self-deprecation, Bridget Jones’s Diary has touched a raw nerve with millions of readers the world round” (x).
This is one of the more well-known adaptations due to the movie series. I haven’t watched any all the way through due to my notorious inability to watch awkward moments (which the movies are full of), but I’ve read the Wikipedia summaries, and from that, these books and movies are great retellings. Some of the characters and moments overlap with the source material, but there are also new-to-the-book moments.
Circe (The Odyssey and other Greek myths) – “In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child — not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power — the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves. Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus. But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love. With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world” (x).
I absolutely LOVED this book. I’m also a mythology nerd and first read The Odyssey in the 5th grade, so I’m definitely in the target demographic for this book. But I also think that it’s super interesting for people who aren’t mythology nerds!19 books that are retellings of classic fiction Click To Tweet
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (Frankenstein) – “Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her ‘caregiver,’ and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend. Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable. But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness” (x).
This is a type of retelling that you’ll see several of in this post: books taking place around or near when the original takes place but from the perspective of someone else, even a new character. Elizabeth Lavenza is not a new character (she marries Victor Frankenstein in the original), but we didn’t hear much from her perspective in the original. As a lover of Frankenstein – I loooooved teaching it in my student teaching days – I find this really intriguing.
Emma: A Modern Retelling (Emma) – “The summer after university, Emma Woodhouse returns home to the village of Highbury to prepare for the launch of her interior design business. As she cultivates grand plans for the future, she re-enters the household of her hypochondriac father, who has been living alone on a steady diet of vegetables and vitamin supplements. Soon Emma befriends Harriet Smith, the naïve but charming young teacher’s assistant at an English-language school run by the hippie-ish Mrs. Goddard. Harriet is Emma’s inspiration to do the two things she does best: offer guidance to those less wise in the ways of the world and put her matchmaking skills to good use. Happily, this summer presents abundant opportunities for her to do just that, as many friends, both old and new, are drawn into the sphere of Emma’s occasionally injudicious counsel: Frank Churchill, the attractive stepson of Emma’s former governess; George Knightley, Emma’s brother-in-law and dear friend; the charming yet self-important Philip Elton; and, of course, the perfect (and perfectly vexing) Jane Fairfax” (x).
This is a straight modern retelling, as the name indicates.
Foul Is Fair (Macbeth) – “Jade and her friends Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of. Every party is theirs and the world is at their feet. Until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target. They picked the wrong girl. Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. She’ll take their power, their lives, and their control of the prep school’s hierarchy. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly” (x).
I love the idea of this modern retelling, and this is definitely on my TBR (to be read) list. There are several trigger warnings to be aware of. Hannah Capin’s website says, “The primary thematic material of FOUL IS FAIR centers on sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, and violence. Additionally, the book includes an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying” (x). Capin’s website goes into more detail on these warnings here.
The Hours (Virginia Woolf) – “In The Hours, Michael Cunningham, widely praised as one of the most gifted writers of his generation, draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair. The narrative of Woolf’s last days before her suicide early in World War II counterpoints the fictional stories of Samuel, a famous poet whose life has been shadowed by his talented and troubled mother, and his lifelong friend Clarissa, who strives to forge a balanced and rewarding life in spite of the demands of friends, lovers, and family” (x).
Like Bridget Jones, this is a retelling that I think is more well-known for its movie version. And this is an interesting take on it: it features the life, work, and death of Virginia Woolf, as well as people who were affected by her, even if they’re fictional.
Macbeth by Jo Nesbo (Macbeth) – “Set in the 1970s in a run-down, rainy industrial town, Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth centers around a police force struggling to shed an incessant drug problem. Duncan, chief of police, is idealistic and visionary, a dream to the townspeople but a nightmare for criminals. The drug trade is ruled by two drug lords, one of whom—a master of manipulation named Hecate—has connections with the highest in power, and plans to use them to get his way. Hecate’s plot hinges on steadily, insidiously manipulating Inspector Macbeth: the head of SWAT and a man already susceptible to violent and paranoid tendencies. What follows is an unputdownable story of love and guilt, political ambition, and greed for more, exploring the darkest corners of human nature, and the aspirations of the criminal mind” (x).
This is another Macbeth retelling but from a different point of view than Foul is Fair. I think that this is best for people who like murder mysteries.
Mary Reilly (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) – “Faithfully weaving in details from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic, Martin introduces an original and captivating character: Mary is a survivor–scarred but still strong–familiar with evil, yet brimming with devotion and love. As a bond grows between Mary and her tortured employer, she is sent on errands to unsavory districts of London and entrusted with secrets she would rather not know. Unable to confront her hideous suspicions about Dr. Jekyll, Mary ultimately proves the lengths to which she’ll go to protect him. Through her astute reflections, we hear the rest of the classic Jekyll and Hyde story, and this familiar tale is made more terrifying than we remember it, more complex than we imagined possible” (x).
This is similar to The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein in that it’s a retelling of the classic novel but from the perspective of a different character. But this time it’s from the perspective of an original character!Retellings of classic books that you need to read Click To Tweet
Ophelia (Hamlet) – “As ambitious and witty as she is beautiful, Ophelia is quick to catch the eye of the captivating prince Hamlet. Their love blossoms in secret, but bloody deeds soon turn Denmark into a place of madness, and Ophelia may be forced to choose between her relationship and her own life. In desperation, she devises a plan to escape from Elsinore Castle forever… with one very dangerous secret. Ophelia takes center stage in this bold and thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, the story of a young woman falling in love, searching for her place in the world, and finding the strength to survive” (x).
Again, same story but from a different perspective. You might be familiar with this because Daisy Ridley starred in the 2018 move based on it. I definitely want to watch the movie, but I’m not necessarily into the book. To be fair, I read Hamlet from the first time in 2018, which is kind of disgraceful for someone with an English lit MA who loves early modern it, but it never came up in undergrad or grad school. Anyway, this book might not be for me, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t for you!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice) – “Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an audacious retelling of English literature’s most enduring novel. This expanded edition of the beloved Jane Austen novel featuring all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem begins when a mysterious plague falls upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. It’s the perfect read for literature lovers, zombie fans, and anyone who loves a reanimated Austen” (x).
I’m not going to lie: despite the fact that this is a book based on one of my all-time favorites, I never have and never will read this. I cannot do zombies. I absolutely can’t. You can read why here, but I can’t ever do anything zombie-based. But if you don’t have that issue, I’m sure you’d love this book!
Rose Daughter (Madame de Villeneuve’s Original Beauty and the Beast) – “Once upon a time, a wealthy merchant had three daughters. When his business failed, he moved his daughters to the countryside. The youngest daughter, Beauty, is fascinated by the thorny stems of a mysterious plant that overwhelms their neglected cottage. She tends the plant until it blossoms with the most beautiful flowers the sisters have ever seen—roses. Admiring the roses, an old woman tells Beauty, ‘Roses are for love.’ And she speaks of a sorcerers’ battle many years ago that left a beast in an enchanted palace, and a curse concerning a family of three sisters . . .” (x).
Robin McKinley does great retellings. This is one of her two retellings of the Beauty and the Beast fairytales. I definitely prefer this one because it’s a more traditional fairytale.
Scavenge the Stars (The Count of Monte Cristo) – “When Amaya rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have earned her an even longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide. Amaya still only wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of deception–and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to bring down–the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she realizes she can’t trust anyone but herself. Packed with high-stakes adventure, romance, and dueling identities, this gender-swapped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is the first novel in an epic YA fantasy duology” (x).
I hadn’t heard of this one before doing this post but I really want to read it now. I absolutely adore the 2002 movie of The Count of Monte Cristo, and I really want to listen to the book (again, currently listening to Anna Karenina). But in the meantime, I love idea of this retelling. It sounds really really good.
Song of Achilles (The Iliad and other Greek myths) – This is “Madeline Miller’s thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner” (x).
This retelling of The Iliad and the myths around Achilles was incredible. It was so beautiful. I heard about it for a while before I read it, but it definitely exceeded my expectations.
Spindle’s End (Sleeping Beauty by the Brothers Grimm) – “The evil fairy Pernicia has set a curse on Princess Briar-Rose: she is fated to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into an endless, poisoned sleep. Katriona, a young fairy, kidnaps the princess in order to save her; she and her aunt raise the child in their small village, where no one knows her true identity. But Pernicia is looking for her, intent on revenge for a defeat four hundred years old. Robin McKinley’s masterful version of Sleeping Beauty is, like all of her work, a remarkable literary feat” (x).
I adore this book. I recently reread it and it’s even better than I remembered. My copy is falling apart. I sped through this book because I still, after all this time, couldn’t put it down. You really need to read this book, even if you’re an adult.Great books that are actually retellings of classic fiction Click To Tweet
A Study in Scarlet Women, Lady Sherlock series (A Study in Scarlet, Sherlock Holmes) – “With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind” (x).
I love the Lady Sherlock series and read all of them in a month and a half. The series is exactly what it sounds like—what if everyone thought Sherlock Holmes was a great detective, and he was, except he wasn’t a he? Charlotte Holmes has an exceptional mind, but in the late 19th century, that’s a draw-back for a woman. After she intentionally gets herself disowned (and then runs away), she tries to make it on her own. Eventually, she becomes a lady’s companion to Mrs. Watson, the widow of Dr. John Watson, and they team up to solve crimes. It’s a bit of a slow start as it’s setting up the circumstances that lead Charlotte to become Sherlock, but it’s still enjoyable and the structure includes sprinkling in the police trying to solve a series of mysterious deaths.
This retelling is another one by Robin McKinley. I haven’t read it, but I have read enough of her retellings to know that it’s probably good.
Troy High (The Iliad) – “Homer’s Iliad, the classic tale of love and revenge, is shrewdly retold for teens in Troy High. Narrated by Cassie, a shy outsider at Troy High, the story follows the Trojans and Spartans as they declare war on the football field. After the beautiful Elena—who used to be the captain of the Spartan cheerleaders—transfers to Troy High and falls madly in love with Cassie’s brother Perry, the Spartans vow that the annual homecoming game will never be forgotten. Off the football field, an escalating prank war fuels tensions between the schools.The stakes are raised when Cassie is forced to choose between the boy she loves (a Spartan) and loyalty to her family and school. Troy High will seduce readers with its cast of mythic proportions” (x).
I read this back in 2012 for an independent study and enjoyed it. I read a lot of myth retellings, and I found this one to be a fun modern one.
Wicked (The Wizard of Oz) – “This is the book that started it all! The basis for the smash hit Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Gregory Maguire’s breathtaking New York Times bestseller Wicked views the land of Oz, its inhabitants, its Wizard, and the Emerald City, through a darker and greener (not rosier) lens. Brilliantly inventive, Wicked offers us a radical new evaluation of one of the most feared and hated characters in all of literature: the much maligned Wicked Witch of the West who, as Maguire tells us, wasn’t nearly as Wicked as we imagined” (x).
Wicked the musical is probably one of the most well-known retellings of the classic novel, but it should be noted that there are serious differences between the musical and the source material, which is this book. (Think of it this way: The Wizard of Oz ➡️ Wicked, this novel ➡️ Wicked, the musical.) I read this before I saw the musical and I’m so glad I did because there are some SERIOUS tone changes between the book and the show. Wicked the book is really good, but it’s also really dark, especially in comparison. If you’re a big fan of the musical and you’ve never read the book, I suggest NOT reading this book. Trust me.
How many retellings of classics have you read?
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