Some stories never get old. Some characters become legends. Sometimes these stories have a kernel of truth to them.These tales are constantly reinvented because they are powerful stories that have transcended time. A successful Legend Retelling pays homage to its source material, but also makes a well-known story fresh and new.
Variable. Magic may be a part of the original legend and it may be kept in the retelling, or not. Magic may be introduced to an otherwise non-magical legend. Magic can make a legend more entertaining, it can add a level of mysticism, and it can explain events. While magic has lots of potential, it is not necessary to Legend Retelling.
High. Legends tackle big issues. Legends often begin as an attempt to explain human origins, or to teach morality. They also pass on historical knowledge (whether the knowledge is factual, is up for debate). These characteristics make legends a window into where they originated. When a legend is retold there is another layer of meaning and another window to look through.
Moderate. In a Legend Retelling readers are already familiar with the characters. The challenge of Legend Retelling is making readers see a well-known character in a new way—to develop the complexity of a character that others have already shaped. Some authors take this challenge and run with it, while others will simply rely on the shared knowledge and spend more time on other aspects of the story.
High. Legends have to do something. Action is an integral part to legendary feats and so the plots of Legend Retellings are filled with forward momentum. In addition, because this is a sub-genre of retelling, writers will be reinventing the classic storylines—writers will be adding in their own twists and turns in order to make the story new again.
Variable. The level of violence will depend on the legend are being told and which aspects the writer chooses as a focus. Take the legends of King Arthur as an example: there are great and bloody battles, there is the quest for the holy grail, there are legendary romances. So, depending on what parts of Arthurian legend a writer wishes to retell, the resulting story could be incredibly violent, or not so much.
Arthurian Fantasy. Legendary characters like King Arthur, Merlin, and Lancelot get their own sub-genre of Legend Retelling.
Mythic Fantasy. Often explores mythic themes and may feature mythic heroes from legend.
Celtic Fantasy. Celtic Fantasy draws on the old Celtic stories and legends.
Historical Fantasy. Sometimes a legend has a real history. Sometimes legends are superimposed on history. Heroic Fantasy. What's a good legend without a hero?
By R. Kikuo Johnson. A graphic novel that incorporates tales of a shape shifting shark that have been told for generations in Hawaii.
By Ursula Le Guin. The Aeneid may be more myth than legend, but in this retelling Le Guin gives a voice to Lavinia, who was previously a prize to be won.
By Janni Lee Simmer. A teen girl travels to Iceland with her father to retrace the steps of her missing mother, but becomes caught up in the magical legends and lives of her ancestors.
By Emily Whitman. Retells the story of Persephone and Hades.
By C.S. Lewis. The story of Cupid and Psyche.
By Mary Stewart. The first in a series that retells the legend of Merlin.
By T.H. White. A YA example of the retelling of Arthurian legend—a series of four books.
By Juilene Osborne-McKnight. A Novel of Patrick and Osian. St. Patrick drove the snakes and Druids away from his homeland, or so the old stories say. This is a more behind the scenes take on the legend.
By Randy Lee Eickhoff. The mythical Tain is the greatest Irish tale and is the father of all Irish literature. It is an epic story with heroic characters, violence, sex, and magic.
By Peter Ackroyd. Ackroyd takes Sir Thomas Malory's legendary book, Le Morte d'Arthur and creates a dramatic modern story.