Five Fantastic Retellings of Classic Stories

Modernity meets historical fiction – and sometimes elevates it. al – and sometimes elevates it.


I am a grandma at heart, but with a mind for modernity. The literary equivalent of that is that I have a special place in my heart for old-fashioned storylines, but need up-to-date, evolved characters in order to truly enjoy a story. That, and I appreciate historical fiction with properly developed female characters, accurate non-white representation, LGBTQ+ characters that are not setting the movement back twenty years, and unexpectedly feminist dudes.

Realness, via Knowyourmeme

So, what do I do? I do what every bookworm does, actually: scour bookstores for hours in search of material that will make me smile-read, and then I shout atop the rooftops that YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. The same goes for movies, series, graphic novels, theatre productions, dance performances, and any means of storytelling that grips you and won’t let go.

So, welcome to the rooftops. If you’re here, I’m going to assume you’re the type of reader who would shout along with me. Before you do, though, do yourself a favor and check these out.


1. Pride and Prejudice: Unmarriageable

Eerily Alys-like, art by Nimisha Bhanot (via Pinterest)

I was tempted to write about Bridget Jones’s Diary, because in all honesty, it is happily on my comfort-film list, but I finished reading Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable before quarantine was official, and it has been on my mind (and on my night table for sporadic revisiting) ever since. We have Lizzie Bennet (Alys Binat) and Mr. Darcy (Valentine Darsee) in early 2000’s Pakistan, and I daresay I found this version juicier than the original (don’t come after me, Austenite purists!). Kamal is a well-read Austenite herself, so while her story—thoroughly feminist, and full of colonial commentary—comfortably stands on its own, it is also an ode to Austen’s work, opening and closing with self-aware Pride and Prejudice references.


2. The Taming of the Shrew: 10 Things I Hate About You

Heath Ledger’s iconic scene, via Buzzfeed

A favorite 90’s candy film, and one of Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s first on-screen struggles with love (someone get this guy a partner who is into him, please), Ten Things I Hate About You retains basic plot concepts—young Bianca’s popularity, her older sister Katherine’s stubbornness, and their father’s solid rule against Bianca partnering up before Katherine—and gives us American high school romance with a peppy, teeny soundtrack. We get Shakespearian wit, a poofy pink prom dress, and a partner for Kat that doesn’t suck (not your best, Bard).

3. Hamlet: The Lion King

You’re not wrong, Gaston, via Quickmeme

I have to give creativity points to Disney; fairy tales were getting old, so they went ahead and retold a Shakespearian tale of mortal enemy brothers as a musical in the African savannah, led by a monarchy of lions. Kudos.

4. The Wizard of Oz: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Just saying, via Quickmeme

I am talking about Gregory Maguire’s novel and the West-End-turned-Broadway musical, because as different as they are from one another, they are both wildly successful takes on The Wizard of Oz’s famous green antagonist. Unexpectedly political, Wicked peels back the layers of the society Dorothy stumbled upon, and shows us, mercilessly and effortlessly, who is who, really, in the land of Oz.


5. The Odyssey: The Penelopiad

Penelope, the mood, via Rebloggy

This one is way up on my TBR list, partly because it is by Margaret Atwood, but mostly because I find fresh perspectives on classic stories almost always irresistible. Atwood weaves the story of Penelope, Odysseus’s famously faithful wife, as the wily individual that was left to manage her husband’s political affairs, raise her son, and fight off suitors alone for twenty years. The ancient Greeks knew their drama, but I trust the creator of The Handmaid’s Tale to one-up them any day.


Some honorable mentions are the film Clueless (based on Jane Austen’s Emma), She’s the Man (Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail/ Spamalot (comedic takes on the legend of the knights of the Round Table). The universality of Shakespeare’s and Jane Austen’s story lines is wild, though; this list was originally 70% Shakespeare/Austen, and I guess that goes to show how fresh and relatable writers still find their work. On an unrelated note, I currently have a copy of Elsa Watson’s Maid Marian on my nightstand, so I will know soon enough whether or not I would officially tack it onto this list.


Featured image via Emily W. Martin