One thing fairytale retelling enthusiasts fight over more than anything else is adherence to the original fairytale. What makes this retelling good? What makes this one bad? Were enough of the original elements included to really classify the story as a retelling?
I am a self-declared fairytale retelling snob. And unashamed of that. The fantastical stories of the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christen Anderson and Charles Perrault and Andrew Lang and others have captured our attention since they first began appearing in print. Tales of beautiful princesses, brave knights and princes, mythical creatures, and magical beings enchant us just as much now as they did then.
Today's readers, however, are clamoring for more. More than just the well-known, well-loved fairytale. They want clever twists and fantastical elements and great characters to fall in love with all over again.
But why? Why are retellings growing so popular in today's modern age? It's because we're curious and demanding and unsatisfied. Many of the original fairytales included unrealistic, mind-bending characters and plot twists -- things that went beyond just a simple suspension of disbelief. There are also enough holes in the plot to make a golf course jealous. Fairytales, in their current state, are ripe for retelling.
And so we retell them. But we don't always retell them WELL. Or retell them at all, really.
(Ahead, some spoilers for the books and films I bring up. You have been warned.)
For example, I do not consider Melanie Dickerson's The Orphan's Wish to be a great Aladdin retelling. It was a fun story, pretty cliche IMHO for Dickerson (and thus predictable), but it failed in many of the original Aladdin elements.
Melanie Dickerson's Aladdin, however, seems to resemble that story merely only in name. Aladdin is a poor boy who meets and falls in love with the duke's daughter at a young age. Then he goes off to make a name and fortune for himself, to become someone worthy of marrying the daughter. He finds employment for a friendly man and soon becomes a King Midas of sorts when his business ventures earn him the reputation of being able to turn whatever he touches into gold. The daughter, meanwhile, gets kidnapped (*sarcastic* surprise, surprise) and turns into a Swan Princess character where everyone believes her dead except her knight in shining armor.
Since Dickerson's retellings are mainly historical, I completely understand why she doesn't have the magical lamp and genie. However, I think she really didn't try to incorporate any of the original tale's elements in her story -- except the very obvious theft of Abu from Disney's 1992 film retelling. There's no lamp, no single object that anyone fights over, no struggle for political power, no main antagonist to stand against Aladdin as the sorcerer did, etc. Other than the names, there's very little in Dickerson's story for me to label it a true retelling of Aladdin.
Ella Enchanted mixes some of those elements up, as in when they happen in the story, or how they happen. And Levine adds a delicious twist -- Ella has the curse of obedience. This presents a powerful ending to the tale when she must choose whether or not to marry her beloved prince and subject the both of them to someone else's controlling the throne through her.
That, my friends, is what a good fairytale retelling does. It retells the story. The description is literally in the name. It doesn't bleed everything we love about the original tale out of the story, but finds a new way to present things, to retell things.
And while I'm on the topic, I have a soap box I need to stand on. The Disney film adaptations, however classic, are also retellings. They're adapted from the original tale. They're not the original tale itself. So, please, please, please do NOT take Disney as the standard. Disney does a good job with including many of the original fairytale elements while still including a twist on the story. For example, Rapunzel has a REASON for having her long hair (it has magical healing powers that vanish when it's cut). The Little Mermaid actually gets a happy ending after a showdown with the sea witch.
Disney is not the original. Disney is a reteller. I'm not against Disney elements in a fairytale retelling (anyone who's read The Rose and the Balloon knows I've made my own nods to Disney), but Disney should not be the only thing from which you draw inspiration as you're crafting a retelling. Don't do what too many people do and just give us a watered-down version of Disney's retelling. Because those stories are out there. I've read a good number of them and have been sorely disappointed.
Aladdin has a lamp. Cinderella goes to the ball. The Little Mermaid loses her voice in exchange for legs. Beauty is trapped in the Beast's castle after trading places with her father. The Goose Girl is forced to switch identities with a servant. Snow White "dies" while eating an apple. Little Red Riding Hood wears a red cape and encounters a wolf. These elements alone do not create the fairytale. They are just the beginning of the fairytale, an element that introduces us to the rest of the story. If the original elements cease to be there, that story then ceases to be a retelling.
A retelling RETELLS. If it doesn't retell, then it's just another story. If it steals everything from Disney, that's plagiarism.
I realize there will be people who disagree with me on this. And I'm okay with that. But I will stand firm on my belief that a good fairytale retelling MUST adhere to the original tale in more than just the main character's name. A good retelling takes the original elements and finds a new way to interpret and present them.