Like most people, I am a huge fan of retellings—familiar stories, legends, or myths told in a new fantastic way. You see this happen a lot in the movies, especially with fairy tales. We’ve all heard of the story of Cinderella. How many different variations of that story have you seen or read? Me? I have seen tons! In fact one of my wife’s favorite films is a retelling of Cinderella. It was cleverly titled: A Cinderella Story (I know, not too creative there.) One of my favorite Cinderella movies is Ever After. They tried to put a more historical twist to the story and make it more about friendship and invention that helps save our heroine rather than magic and a fairy godmother. One of my favorite retellings of Cinderella in book form is Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. Even one of our Emblazon authors, Jaclyn Weist, just released another retelling of Cinderella in her new book Endless. As you can see, I can go on and on naming all the retellings of just one familiar story.
As writers we like to use the familiar story as the skeleton or premise on which to build our new telling. As readers we like the closeness we feel with retellings because they feel like an old friend.
I had a wonderful experience recently reading a collection of books all based of a retelling of stories from the bible. Everyone has heard of the story of Noah’s Arc and his mission to save mankind and all the animal kingdom. I would never have thought to take that familiar story and do a retelling of it. Furthermore, I would never have thought to put the story in space and set it way in the future. How awesome does that sound? D. Robert Pease, also an Emblazon author, does just this with his fantastic books: the Noah Zarc series.
In the first book, Noah Zarc: Mammoth Trouble, we get a retelling of Noah’s mission to save the animals. But you wouldn’t guess that from its synopsis:
“Noah lives for piloting spaceships through time, dodging killer robots and saving Earth’s animals from extinction. Life couldn’t be better. But the twelve-year-old time traveler learns it could be a whole lot worse. His mom is kidnapped and taken to Mars; his dad is stranded in the Ice Age; and Noah is attacked at every turn by a foe bent on destroying Earth… for the second time.”
This is such a fun story! What I like most about the main character, Noah, is that he is disabled. He can’t walk. I think this was an even better twist on a hero’s tale. How many heroes to we see or read about that are disabled? Not too many. The ones that I have read like Noah Zarc and the Farworld Series have touched me deeply. I think kids facing their own challenges can see how disabilities, large or small, can be overcome and turned into strengths.
The second book, Noah Zarc: Cataclysm, is a retelling of Moses and the exodus of his people. Again you wouldn’t get that from the synopsis:
“Thirteen-year-old Noah Zarc rockets to Venus in a quest to learn more about his past. He refuses to believe his father is really the monster everyone says he is. Could there be valid reasons for everything he’s done, including abandoning Noah at birth? While searching for answers to secrets no one wants to talk about, even those that have remained hidden for over a thousand years, Noah becomes embroiled in a mission that could cause the greatest cataclysm in the history of the solar system. Will his name, Noah Zarc, be forever linked to the most devastating crime in humanity’s existence, all because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time?”
The third book, Noah Zarc: Declaration, takes a different approach to a retelling. One that I really like! Pease takes on another familiar story just one closer in time and more connected to US citizens: a retelling of the American Revolution. Again, you wouldn’t guess that from the synopsis:
“As battles rage across the solar system, Noah must work to join together a rag-tag bunch of miners, farmers, and scientists who would rather just live in peace. With only a time-traveling ship full of animals and a general from the history books, the Zarc family has to stand against the full might of the Poligarchy. Will the truth about what really happened a thousand years in the past be enough to stop total war, or will Noah and his friends need to find another way to bring down a dictator?”
I think the key in creating any retelling is not to make the story it’s based on the largest concern in the book. Pease does an excellent job with his books because the main focus is always his main character: Noah. This is more of an emotional journey of overcoming the greatest of obstacles more than it is a just a retelling. Stories that can accomplish this become the favorites we continue to read over and over.
What are some retellings that you have enjoyed?