5 Dark, Mysterious Retellings of Classic Books and Fairy Tales
By Liz MichalskiMay 1, 2022
My novel Darling Girl used the bones of the original Peter Pan story to ask, “What would Peter and the Darling family be like today if the boy who couldn’t grow up, got older? And what would Neverland magic look like in our world?”
I’ve always loved fairytales, and as an adult, I’ve been intrigued by others who take the stories we know so well and manage to give them a completely new feeling. Here are a few of my favorite dark fairytale retellings.
Snow, Glass, Apple by Neil Gaiman
Absolutely terrifying and deeply disturbing, this short story features a not-so-evil stepmother and a riveting plot twist that is both shocking and so obvious you’ll wonder why you never thought of it yourself.
Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
The first in a series, this beautiful novel retells the Celtic wild swans myth. Sorcha is the seventh child in her family and the dearly loved youngest sibling of six brothers. But when her father remarries an evil enchantress, only she can save her brothers from a dreadful spell. How high a price will Sorcha pay for helping them?
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Not a retelling but with a fairytale feeling all its own by the mistress of gothic horror, this slim book tells of an isolated, unusual, and possibly murderous family, and what happens when an unwelcome cousin comes to call. Fans of the show The Haunting of Hill House will find much to enjoy here.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
In an interview on her website, Novik says that this story is loosely based upon an old Polish fairytale. It’s not one I’ve heard of, and my lack of familiarity made the book all the more intriguing. Agnieszka is a homebody who loves her little village and the natural world that surrounds it. But a corrupted Wood looms on the border, with the power to infect everything she holds dear. For protection, her people rely on The Dragon—a cold, brusque wizard—to protect them. But his price is high—every ten years, one young woman from the village must come to serve him, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
Note: Novik also has a wonderful Rumpelstiltskin retelling, Spinning Silver, that is sure to delight.
Skin of the Sea by Natasha Bowen
A Little Mermaid retelling with a twist, Skin of the Sea is based on African myths. Simi once prayed to the gods. Now she serves them as Mami Wata, a watery handmaiden, tasked with collecting the souls of those who die at sea and guiding them home. But when one of her charges is tossed overboard alive, Simi does the unthinkable and defies the gods by saving his life.
To protect the other Mami Wata, Simi must journey to the Supreme Creator to make amends. But all is not as it seems. There’s the boy she rescued, who knows more than he should. And something is shadowing Simi, something that would rather see her fail . . . the stakes aren’t just true love, but the fate of the entire world.
First in a series, I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next.
About Darling Girl by Liz Michalski:
Life is looking up for Holly Darling, granddaughter of Wendy—yes, that Wendy. She’s running a successful skincare company; her son, Jack, is happy and healthy; and the tragedy of her past is well behind her . . . until she gets a call that her daughter, Eden, who has been in a coma for nearly a decade, has gone missing from the estate where she’s been long tucked away. And, worst of all, Holly knows who must be responsible: Peter Pan, who is not only very real, but more dangerous than anyone could imagine.
Eden’s disappearance is a disaster for more reasons than one. She has a rare condition that causes her to age rapidly—ironic, considering her father is the boy who will never grow up—which also makes her blood incredibly valuable. It’s a secret that Holly is desperate to protect, especially from Eden’s half-brother, Jack, who knows nothing about his sister or the crucial role she plays in his life. Holly has no one to turn to—her mother is the only other person in the world who knows that Peter is more than a story, but she refuses to accept that he is not the hero she’s always imagined. Desperate, Holly enlists the help of Christopher Cooke, a notorious ex-soldier, in the hopes of rescuing Eden before it’s too late . . . or she may lose both her children.
Darling Girl brings all the magic of the classic Peter Pan story to the present, while also exploring the dark underpinnings of fairy tales, grief, aging, sacrifice, motherhood, and just how far we will go to protect those we love.