5 Patriarchy-Smashing Fairy-Tale and Folklore Retellings

September 14, 2021

Patriarchy-stomping is on our minds this week.

Ok, let’s be real – it’s on our minds every week.

But for the last few days, we’ve been putting together a lecture on patriarchy, beauty ideals, and fairy tales for our Rapunzel’s Circle: Fairy Tales and Burnout course, so the stomping is front-and-center.

And we love nothing more than a good fairy-tale or folkloric retelling that makes us look at the source material with fresh eyes.

So here are a few retellings that you can read for free online right now that do just that! Because, truly, reading a story that helps you imagine the world you want to live in, whether through sheer dazzlement and possibilities or by illuminating the injustices built into the one we have – that’s magic. And it’s stomping.

“L’Espirit de L’Escalier”
Catherynne M. Valente
Retelling: “Orpheus and Eurydice,” Short Story

This story is macabre, melancholy, and, ultimately, defiant. And here be body horror. But at its heart, it’s about agency and asking and also flowers.

“But he was something. And so was she. He was famous. She was beautiful. What else did anyone need? They were young and it was easy. Orpheus saw himself as he knew he could be reflected back at him in that heated, shimmering stare. He wanted it. He wanted that ease forever. He wanted himself as she saw him.

Just because he went home with a maenad that night and had to be reminded of her name when they met again a month later doesn’t make it any less love at first sight.

Orpheus has repeatedly explained that to their therapist.”

The Cinder Girl Burns Brightly
Theodora Goss
Retelling: “Cinderella,” Poem

Like a lot of Goss’s work, this tale seems quiet…but that’s just a cover for the bonfire burning at its center. This is literally a “burn it all down” story, and we find it cathartic and deeply fabulous. 

“On the third night, the fire says,
daughter, you know what to do. This dress
is as white as innocence. The Cinder Girl will shine
like no one else, not that the prince has eyes
for any other woman. Since he was a boy,
he has been attracted to danger and sharp objects:
swords and knives, court gossip,
the game of politics, like his father before him,
who preferred to imprison recalcitrant noblemen,
including the Cinder Girl’s grandfather,
in the castle dungeon.” 

“Lavanya and Deepika”
Shveta Thakrar
Retelling: “Tatterhood,” Short Story

There aren’t nearly enough retellings of “Tatterhood,” a fairy tale about two sisters, out there, but Thakrar’s tale does its part and more to make up for it! It’s a lyrical, triumphant story of sisterhood, plus a dash of romance.

“Deepika adored her rose sister in the way the moon adores the sun, finding favors and festivities to mean little when they went unshared. Everything she received, she divided in two; it was the way of things. What use were playmates who did not understand this?

And so they lived for years, learning their lessons, watching their mother the rani rule, and advancing their arts. Lavanya wandered the grounds, gossiping with the roses and evading the petulant gardeners. Yet, when she played the bansuri, a flute carved of bamboo, both the plants and their caretakers paused to listen. Deepika took up archery and embroidery. Her arm was strong and her aim true; her nimble fingers animated the fine needlework images until the fabric thrummed with their tales.”

The Carpet Merchant of Konstantiniyya
Reimena Yee
Retelling: Vampire Legends, Webcomic / Graphic Novel

Spanning 17th-century Istanbul and 18th-century England, this is the story of how a carpet merchant reconciles his transition into vampirism with his faith, love, and home. Yee brilliantly breathes new life (and, er, undeath) into Gothic fiction and the genre of vampire tales (plus the main – male! – character consistently does his own gentle patriarchy smashing!)

“The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale”
Leigh Bardugo
Retelling: “Hansel and Gretel,” Short Story

We don’t even want to tell you anything about this one because we don’t want to ruin it, so we’ll just say that if you love a good story about witches, BUCKLE UP. It’s brilliant, subversive, and uncovers the way we’re wired to think about fairy tales.

“There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.

It’s been many years since any child was taken. But still, on nights like these, when the wind comes cold from Tsibeya, mothers hold their daughters tight and warn them not to stray too far from home. “Be back before dark,” they whisper. ‘The trees are hungry tonight.’”

What are your favorite stompy retellings? Let us know in the comments (and bonus points if you can give us a link, we’d love to read them!)

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