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20th Century Books & Movies Retold

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K.W. Colyard

Contributor

Kristian Wilson Colyard grew up weird in a one-caution-light town in the Appalachian foothills. She now lives in an old textile city with her husband and their clowder of cats. She’s on Twitter @kristianwriting, and you can find more of her work online at kristianwriting.com.

The instability of recent years has ushered in a boatload of changes to the publishing world, for better or worse. One I’m seeing, again and again, is the trend of books that retell stories that just…aren’t that old. Not in the grand scheme of things, anyway. Whenever these 20th century books and movies are retold in contemporary releases, they’re getting remixed in new and exciting ways. Let’s take a look at a few of them, shall we?

Remixes happen all the time, especially in publishing. Authors revisit classics like Frankenstein and Jane Eyre to give them the fan fiction treatment: queer ’em up, bend a few genders and races, turn somebody into a sea monster, and voila! A new story emerges. (Trust me when I say I’m not knocking this process. I cut my teeth on fic.)

Little did I know, however, that you could retell a more recent story, one that wasn’t in the public domain, without getting sued. You can’t copyright an idea, as it turns out. So if you read a story about a magical cat who can walk through walls, and want to write your own story about a magical cat who can walk through walls, no one’s going to stop you, provided you don’t give your cat the same name as their cat, or try to copy their writing style — “expression,” in copyright terms.

So hey, maybe this has been going on since time immemorial, and I’m just now catching on. The point is, I love this trend and I love these books, and I hope you will too.

20th century books and movies retold
Photo by Hatice Yardım on Unsplash

20th Century Books & Movies Retold

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas book cover

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

Retells: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Beatriz lived a charmed life before the war took everything away from her. In the wake of her father’s execution, she accepts a proposal from a wealthy widower, Don Rodolfo Solórzano, whom she barely knows. Better a life with a stranger than to subsist without a roof over her head. Being the new Doña Solórzano affords her a modicum of power and prestige. But she’s never asked what happened to her husband’s late wife. Now, holding down the fort while Don Solórzano is away on business, Beatriz slowly comes to realize that she should have asked that question — and many more — before coming to Hacienda San Isidro.

Number One Fan by Meg Elison book cover

Number One Fan by Meg Elison

Retells: Misery by Stephen King

When she wakes up imprisoned in a makeshift holding cell, the last thing Eli remembers is the cab. She only let her guard down for a second. That was all it took. Chained up in the basement of a rabid fan who believes he knows what’s best for her work, the author must work to piece together the clues to her captor’s identity. She’s working against the clock. And with no hope of impending rescue, the odds are completely stacked against her.

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson book cover

The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson

Retells: Carrie by Stephen King

The victim of two viral bullying episodes, Maddy Washington was crowned prom queen at her tiny town’s first integrated prom. That night, the entire community went up in flames, and Maddy was never seen again. Now, years after the mystery left web sleuths scratching their heads, two podcasters reconstruct the weeks leading up to that terrible night, in The Weight of Blood.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher book cover

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

Retells: The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

The Glory to God Museum of Natural Wonders, Curiosities and Taxidermy ain’t much — just a roadside tourist trap in Hog Chapel, North Carolina — but to Kara, it already feels like home. She’s just getting back on her feet, and her Uncle Earl has been kind enough to help her out. So when Earl finds himself temporarily out of commission, she’s happy to return the favor. Little does Kara know that the museum’s crumbling faults hide a sinister connection to other worlds…whose inhabitants are ready and waiting to invade her own.

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal book cover

The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal

Retells: The Thin Man (1934), a film based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett

Wealthy genius Tesla Crane has been happily cruising the stars in anonymity. Too bad someone had to go and get themself murdered. Nothing like a wrongful arrest to ruin your honeymoon. With her new spouse’s freedom and reputation in the balance, Tesla and her service dog, Gimlet, must work together to solve the case the space liner’s officers of the law cannot.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle Book Cover

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle

Retells: The Horror at Red Hook by H.P. Lovecraft*

A man’s got to make a living, even if his work is occasionally…distasteful. Tommy Tester supports himself and his father by doing the jobs other people don’t want to dirty their hands with — like playing courier with occult tomes of immense power. But when someone retaliates against Tommy for meddling with a sorceress’s business, and his father gets caught in the crossfire, Victor LaValle’s young hero is forced to make some pragmatic business arrangements to see that justice is served.

*H.P. Lovecraft was a horrifically racist antisemite. His bigotry was extreme even among other white men of his day. These are irrefutable facts. But he is very much dead, rendering him incapable of making any money off my reference to his work. Therefore, I have no qualms about including a link to The Horror Red Hook here. But because this is the Internet, and because the Internet is what it is, I feel obliged to include this disclaimer anyway.

Hurt You by Marie Myung-Ok Lee book cover

Hurt You by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Retells: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Georgia’s family relocated to the suburbs so that her older brother, Leonardo da Vinci Daewoo Kim, could attend a school that was better equipped to support him. But prejudice against neurodivergent people like Leonardo runs deep, even among self-professed allies, and Georgia isn’t letting her guard down, despite her parents’ insistence that she be free to live her own life.

Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu book cover

Bad Girls Never Say Die by Jennifer Mathieu

Retells: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Girls like Evie Barnes don’t get any respect in 1960s Texas, even in a big city like Houston. She’s a bad girl. A fast girl. She’s asking for it. Except she isn’t. And Diane knows it. She might come from an upstanding family, but she’s sure Evie isn’t really as bad as they say. That’s why Diane saves her from a violent encounter with a popular — read: “good” — boy, a boy who’s dead by the time Evie comes to. Now, she and Diane have a secret to keep…for as long as they can.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo book cover

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Retells: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Jordan Baker appears to have it all — at least from the outside. She’s actually terribly lonely. Her white family was part of New York’s social elite, the kind who rubbed elbows with the Mrs. Astor. The Bakers adopted Jordan from Vietnam, and she’s spent her whole life trying to ignore the way their society friends have relegated her to the margins because of her heritage. But when her childhood friends, Daisy and Jay, saunter back into her life, Jordan is forced to confront all the painful realities she’s been running away from, over the course of one fateful season.


Want more literary retellings? Check out these riffs on Frankenstein, Little Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast.