rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
No one ever warned me how hard it is to write a blog like this! Sheesh. Imposter syndrome like mad, plus the worry that everyone's already said all the intelligent things about this particular topic already. It's possibly true: I'm going to say it anyway.

Anyway, this is the fourth draft of a post that isn't quite the post I was planning to do. I realised I have some things to say about my thoughts on retellings, given that a lot of my work uses pre-existing literature, myths and legends, and given that I also translate Anglo-Saxon poetry for fun. The two processes don't seem that different -- to me, anyway -- in some ways. When it comes to Anglo-Saxon poetry, for example, there are lot of poetic features that don't really translate. Kennings are my usual bugbear. For example, in 'The Battle of Brunanburh', there's a kenning that means 'the leavings of hammers' ('hamora lafan'). You have to think about that kind of thing: do you keep the kenning, to give a flavour of the original poetry? Do you trust that your audience (or the people marking your exam papers!) know that that means 'swords'? Or do you lose the poetic stuff and go for a pragmatic, barebones translation?

Every translation becomes a reinterpretation, too. To translate something in a readable way, you have to decide what it means. Wulf and Eadwacer is my favourite example when it comes to this. Are Wulf and Eadwacer characters? Or is it a literal wolf? Or both? What exactly is happening in the poem? What is the poem -- is it a story? a riddle? a relation of an earlier myth or folktale? If you're going to translate it coherently, you have to decide. You could even decide that the ambiguity of the poem is intentional, and thus try to translate it with as much of that ambiguity as the process of translation will allow. That's still an interpretation.

When it comes to retelling fairytales, or myths, or even history, you're translating it. If you're writing a retelling of The Iliad for an eight year old, you have to leave out the things your audience won't be interested in (the catalogue of ships can hit the cutting room floor first of all). If you're aiming your work at a bunch of academics, you better not take any liberties with the text. Or say you're rewriting Anderson's The Little Mermaid -- this is a pretty good (and hilarious) modern reaction (the link goes to a youtube video called 'Advice for Young Girls from The Little Mermaid'). I can't say it better than that video does.

You also have to do something new with them. Sometimes you can do that just by fleshing out the characters more, making the world richer and wider. Or there's the ever popular change in point of view -- Wicked, anyone? Or even Jacqueline Carey's Banewreaker and Godslayer: they're pretty much Lord of the Rings from Sauron's point of view. Grendel and Mordred and Morgan Le Fay deserve their say, too.

Some retellings change it to become their own stories. If there's no story where the princess kisses another princess, or the prince kisses the frog, write one. Malinda Lo's Ash is an LGBT retelling of Cinderella, for example. Modern retellings of fairytales often flip it so that the princess becomes the questing character, as in Robin McKinley's Spindle's End. Or you can go all metafictional, or use a new style, or add in a new twist at the end...

I think I've done pretty much all of these things, in my retellings. A serving girl kisses Sleeping Beauty. The narrative voice mocks the fairytale even as it uses all the formulae. Mark tells the story of Tristan and Isolde with bitter understanding.

The main project I'm working on is going to be based on Arthurian myth, to some extent. I've been hitting the books: I've read my Geoffrey of Monmouth, my Chr├ętien de Troyes, my Malory. I've also dipped into modern versions (and here I'll pause, to plug Anna Elliott, who offers some of her work for free, and is also involved with Arthurian myth). Hopefully, I'm going to make something new and fresh out of the same old stories. Robin McKinley's written two versions of Beauty and the Beast, at least -- which goes to show there's plenty to mine for in these old stories, right?

I'm also working on another retellings project, somewhat smaller in scale. That might be the next thing I post. If not, I'll try to tell you more about my NaNoWriMo project for this year.


rhian_crockett: A painting of a castle; there is a red flag flying. (Default)
Rhian Crockett

August 2013



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