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Literary "Fanfiction"

As I'm beginning to storyboard my modern dress Hades/Persephone, I've been wondering about literary myth and fairy/folk tale retellings. For adults. We all recognize that this is a thematic classic in the Young Adult and Fantasy genre, but what about Literature? And yes, I acknowledge, that that is a huge overlap of these three human stories - myth, fairy tale, folktale. YA and Fantasy tend to retell a told tale...but adult literature wants to use myth or tale to tell a new story.

Over at the newish comm myth_fan there is a solid list of fantasy and YA recs. Many flist faves on there. And several are on my personal rec list.

And here's a really great list mostly in the fantasy genre - Twenty Must-Read Retold Tales. And several of these are on my personal rec list, as well.

Two titles which are strangely forgotten and this writer is ASTONISHING is Vellum and Ink by Hal Duncan. Inanna/Ishtar and angels and demons and Puck.

And anything by *genuflect* Francesca Lia Block. Most especially her The Rose and the Beast.

The Centaur - John Updike
Good Omens- Neil Gaiman and American Gods and the entire Sandman ouevre.

What I'm really after, is recs akin to the absolutely perfect retelling of the Psyche/Eros myth by CS Lews - Til We Have Faces.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2016 06:37 pm (UTC)
Kira shared a book called "Crimson Bound" with me -- it's YA, I read it in a day, but I really enjoyed it. It's an astonishingly deft mixture of "Red Riding Hood" and "The Girl Without Hands."

-- A <3
Jun. 11th, 2016 07:36 pm (UTC)
I just saw that this morning on a list of "retells"! I will check it out!
Jun. 11th, 2016 06:52 pm (UTC)
Ooh, thank you for these recs. I was thinking I'd like to read some mythology related stuff.

I've always been thinking about the difference between books with different labels, especially notions about YA. Along the lines of YA often being denigrated for lacking depth, but some of the deepest books I've read have been YA.
Jun. 11th, 2016 07:41 pm (UTC)
I know the YA versus adult Literature has become a conversation which can either enlighten (both sides) or can end in seriously insulted feelings. I used to be firmly in the camp that insisted Harry Potter was for the Childish Adult...but as Rowling wrapped up her story, I do believe the last two/three books became more than YA.

But...ultimately, I think Literature with a capital L is going to be far more deep than YA. I think the problem is the way we teach Literature to young people and they have no idea that the world is filled with MILLIONS of literary stories because they've been shown such a limited selection and for the most part that selection has lost some of its inherent brilliance because it has become common place and recognizable.

For every thoughtful and well-written YA novel, I can guarantee that there are ten astonishing literary novels that will offer more in the way of brain food and deeply meaningful thought. YA does seem to be "easier" to read in that it tends towards dialogue and hip 1st person POV.

Tell me some titles that knocked you out! And bonus points if they are myth or fairtale based!
Jun. 12th, 2016 06:55 am (UTC)
I feel like I've always been told that a very narrow selection of select few books count as 'Proper Literary Fiction' and have always been confused by this. I just realised reading this that I may have a very skewed perception of what Literary fiction actually is.

I suppose, comparison aside, what I'm just saying is that we shouldn't consider all YA 'lesser'. The novels often explore new worlds and ideas from a unique perspective. I think what often lets them down is not going far enough into the idea, not staying still and letting the characters sit with the idea. EG The Hunger Games trilogy is a brilliant commentary on inequality and oppression and the differing views of such by the oppressors from the oppressed. But it stops short of something vital, we understand the impact by reactions, which we get, but it doesn't show enough.

The one YA knock out that springs to mind is The Fault in our Stars. And also 'The Uglies' (though I take issue with some of the assumptions in that one).

ETA: Re-reading your post just had to say, yes GOOD OMENS, that is an awesome novel.

Edited at 2016-06-12 07:09 am (UTC)
Jun. 12th, 2016 02:32 pm (UTC)
I think Literature is taught that way, J, and it's incredibly limiting. Forces folks into "choosing" sides and they ultimately say, "I don't know what art is, but I know what I like". There is so much amazing writing out there and so much of it goes unread in favour of the easier reads.

I'm not a fantasy/sci-fi fan so right off the bat I have issues with most "YA". So, it's not necessarily the label but more the genre in general. But certainly there is AMAZING writing that is shelved in YA - Phillip Pullman's ode to Satanism is Literature with the big L.

I tried the Hunger Games. I really did try. But three pages into it, I just couldn't.

Most Neil Gaiman is going to be derivative. Brilliantly derivative!
Jun. 12th, 2016 01:09 pm (UTC)
First of all: dammit, Mt. ToBeRead already overtops Everest! *adds more to it*

YA and Fantasy tend to retell a told tale...but adult literature wants to use myth or tale to tell a new story
That's a good rule of thumb, but there are examples on both sides that disprove it. For example: Cold Mountain is a retelling of The Odyssey and The Hobbit uses mythological tropes to tell a new story. The way I see the divide is that Literature explores and discusses real-world issues in the real world while fantasy (and science fiction) pulls those issues into an author-created world. There are advantages to both approaches: in Literature the issues are recognizable and personal while in fantasy they're put at one or two removes so they can be explored without getting too personal to the reader. (These would also be the disadvantages.)

And while I know YA is the Big New Thing in publishing, that genre will forever mean Paula Danziger/Judy Blume/etc. novels to me.
Jun. 12th, 2016 02:26 pm (UTC)
You are such a voracious reader!

Oooh! I really like your interpretation here! And I think that's why I don't veer towards fantasy - I read for character and in most sci-fi/fantasy the main character is the "world". I absolutely love what you've said here, that the removes allow the reader to consider the "world" or "situation".

It's our gen! I always have to pause and remind myself that when women are gushing about YA they aren't really talking about girls coping with menstruation. I think, for the most part, YA does its job for tweens and young teens....my main concern is with the glut of long-winded, poorly written, cloaked romances about the supernatural.
Jun. 12th, 2016 08:33 pm (UTC)
When I die, I'm going to the library.
Jun. 12th, 2016 04:21 pm (UTC)
n Literature the issues are recognizable and personal while in fantasy they're put at one or two removes so they can be explored without getting too personal to the reader.

I actually really disagree with that. I mean, I'm sure that it is true in some fantasy/sci-fi/genre works. Sometimes an author who writes fantasy or sci-fi is truly just more interested in plot or world than character, but that's more a function of what the author is doing than the genre, I think. I mean, I should add my disclaimer that I don't like sci-fi in general and there's a lot of fantasy I haven't read (no interest in LotR, for example, beyond the movies.) But I don't think the story elements of fantasy remove the reader just by their virtue of being "unreal" at all. I think that short sells the human imagination atrociously. Let's take... Harry Potter, for example, I guess. I will never make things rise into the air with a wand, battle Death Eaters, or go to Hogwarts, but those elements of the story often find new ways to illuminate or explore very universal human experiences/feelings/problems. I don't need concrete magic to be reality in order to understand loss, fear, bravery, regret, etc, and the trappings of the fantasy world do not remove me from those very personal feelings. Language is alchemy and story is metaphor and that's as personal as anything can be (done well).

I think the best fantasy (or any genre) uses unreality to shine a light on realities we know very well, and also does a rip-roaring story. (I think readers are hungry for story these days.) They're not mutually exclusive.

Edited at 2016-06-12 04:22 pm (UTC)
Jun. 12th, 2016 04:50 pm (UTC)
I think we can, without discussion, place Rowling's work into the category of Big L Literature. It moved well out of children's fiction, YA, Fantasy, and into the realm of true character development, story, and resolution. She far surpassed her initial reach and I have no issue with the series as a completed body of work being Literature. Which takes it out of the kind of pulp sci-fi/fantasy being discussed here which is essentially world-building. I think that any time character/human experience is made part of ANY kind of world then it becomes something more than "genre". A Wrinkle In Time falls into this example. Sci-fi/Fantasy but also Literature.

In the same way that romance occasionally becomes more than it's parts.
Jun. 12th, 2016 06:01 pm (UTC)
I'm really suspicious of attempts to separate literature into "literature vs. Literature." (Of myself, of booksellers, of Lit classes and syllabi, of the canon, any of it.) I think, historically, it's done a good job of gatekeeping in ways I don't like, and an often poor job of defining what good writing not only is, but can be. I feel the same about genres. If Harry Potter can be LIterature, then it's not fantasy that is defining it, it's something else. So it's not actually the genre at all, but how it is written. That is equally true of a category like YA. And then we can throw in the wrench issue of Romance, and how that is perceived by Big Literature people, and how 1) if it is primarily a thing women write and enjoy, it's considered a lower form of writing, and 2) YA often centers around romance, too.

I want to say maybe some of that line we are always trying to define between great literature and mediocre literature is a matter of sophistication. Not necessarily in terms of complication or verbiage, of course, but a depth of thought and feeling. But I don't know, and that's a tough thing to nail down in concrete details.

What I do know is that the YA designation is mostly about sales strategy and that the trappings of genre (whether it's fantasy, sci-fi, westerns, magical realism, romance, mystery, etc.) have nothing to do with whether it is mediocre or great literature.

Edited at 2016-06-12 06:02 pm (UTC)
Jun. 12th, 2016 08:31 pm (UTC)
I'm talking more about controversial ideas, like war and societal changes and drugs and all those other things you just don't mention around That Relative at Christmas dinner. When you put it in the familiar setting of Planet Earth, Our Time then it can be dismissed as the author having an agenda. But if you put it in space* or faux medieval world or something like that, that's when it's at one remove. Kind of like sugar coating the pill.

*unless you're writing a preachy episode of Star Trek then there's no excuse and the script should be burned.
Jun. 12th, 2016 11:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for giving myth_fan a mention! Therck's recc list blew me away.

I checked out Vellum and Ink (I'm a huge Inanna fan). Duncan's world sounds very interesting.

I wish I could help you out on reccs, but I'm not familiar with YA beyond The Hunger Games, unless you count The Narnia Chronicles? But I have to say I was shocked to learn that high school English classes had begun teaching YA instead of the classics they did in my day. I believe the purpose of school is to show/teach how it's 'supposed' to be done, what 'good' writing looks like. Then they can go off and read romance or write wall to wall profanity as they see fit ;-)

I will weigh in with my opinion that Harry Potter goes above and beyond child fic or YA with it's excellent political plotline, showing the realistic rise of a totalitarian regime with 'good' and 'bad' people/characters taking part in it. I was very impressed with the parallels to Nazism and WWII as the books went on, and wondered how a teenager could appreciate them.
Jun. 13th, 2016 02:02 pm (UTC)
Vellum is in my top 5 novels of all time. It's not for everyone. It is adult literary fiction with an experimental style.

I am looking for recs that aren't YA. And yes, I can't believe that YA is being taught....

I agree that Rowling became a very good writer by the end of her seminal series!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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