Modern Retellings Based On Favorite Classics

Posted by Gabrielle Bujak

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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Here at Quirk we’re pretty passionate about the oldies, whether they be pop culture favorites or canon works of the literary world. That’s why we have series like the Pop Classics (adorably illustrated picture books of cult films and TV series like The Karate Kid and Elf), the Quirk Classics (horror takes on literary masterpieces like the New York Times bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean takes on Back to the Future, Mean Girls, Clueless, and Star Wars.

There’s something appealing with revisiting what writers and audiences have known to be compelling, but doing so through a new lens that revitalizes one’s love for the original. That’s why for National Old Stuff Day, we’re looking at some of the literary classics and their modern day retellings.



Legendborn for Arthurian Legends Fans

Whether you’re attached to Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, or Gerald Morris’ The Squire’s Tale series, you’ll want to jump into the first book of Tracy Deonn’s new Legendborn series. In her first day in the residential program at UNC, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews witnesses a monster attack and finds herself involved in a magical secret society. This organization is, of course, made up of descendants of the Knights of the Round Table, but secret societies have their secrets, also of course, and Bree has to decide whether to use them for their intel or trust them with secrets of her own. This book sets readers up for an epic series with a fresh look on what has typically been a white male narrative, and King Arthur fans will especially enjoy the creative nods to the original legends. William has Gawain’s sun powers, Selwyn is a nice reference to Merlyn’s half-demon lineage, the love between Lancelot and Arthur is highlighted more than the drama with Guinevere, and there’s a particularly cool sword in the stone moment.

Buy Legendborn:

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Buy Le Morte d’Arthur:

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The Nobody for The Invisible Man Fans

Like many of these classics, H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man is no stranger to adaptations (have you seen the recent 2020 film by the same name?), but one that doesn’t deserve to slip under the radar is Jeff Lemire’s adult graphic novel The Nobody. Like the original, it’s no more than 150 pages and follows, you guessed it, the invisible man Griffin. Covered from head to toe in bandages, Lemire’s Griffin secludes himself to a fictional fishing village called Large Mouth where he attempts to continue his scientific experiments. Unlike Wells’ Griffin, however, Lemire’s is more sympathetic. Not only does he not go around stealing or acting like a complete jerk, but Lemire’s Griffin finds a genuine friend in high-schooler Vickie, a much healthier relationship than the abusive one Wells’ Griffin carries out with homeless Marvel. There’s still gossipy villagers, a Kemp character (though Lemire’s is more of an antagonist than a hero), some internal struggle going on in Griffin, and an intense ending. This may be hard to find, so check out your local library for some help.

Buy The Nobody:

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Buy The Invisible Man:

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Going Bovine for Don Quixote Fans

This is by far the wildest and weirdest retelling on this list, but if you’ve read Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the ridiculousness and shocking relatability of Libba Bray’s Going Bovine should come as no surprise. Bray takes readers on a hallucinogenic journey via high schooler Cameron’s mad cow disease infested brain as he’s dying in a hospital bed. If that sounds like a downer, well, yeah it is, but in the way Don Quixote is: with philosophical and idealistic dreams coming to a premature end and madness overwriting any sense the protagonist clung to. Ok, it’s sad, but the journey sure is a ride, one full of Norse gods (stuck in garden gnome bodies), imposing fire giants (kind of like Don’s windmills), and a punk-rock angel (she’s the Dulcinea of this story but with more character despite also being a fantasy). Of course there’s a Sancho and Rocinante character (an old Caddy instead of a horse), and despite what readers know will come after the epic journey, Bray writes an ending that could leave the reader with more hope than Cervantes’ rather bleak finale.

Buy Going Bovine:

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Buy Don Quixote:

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The Wendy Project for Peter Pan Fans

Writers have tackled J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan from countless angles, focusing on Tiger Lily (Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Tiger Lily), horrifying the narrative (Brom’s The Child Thief), and upping the magic and romance in a modern setting (Chanda Hahn’s Lost Girl). All are compelling and fun, but Melissa Jane Osbourne keeps things simple and refreshing in her YA, contemporary graphic novel The Wendy Project. Like The Nobody, this short narrative may require a trip to your local library, but it’s well worth it. In only 96 pages, Osbourne beautifully illustrates the journey of teenage Wendy as she works in her journal and works through the grief and guilt she feels after causing the accident that ended her younger brother’s life. This story takes a whole new meaning of “never growing up” and what it could mean for those lost as well as those fighting to keep going. Osbourne’s art is also just beautifully done with soothing lineart and purposeful use of color that really brings Wendy’s feelings to the forefront.

Buy The Wendy Project:

Amazon | Indiebound

Buy the collected Peter Pan stories:

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The Graveyard Book for The Jungle Book Fans

For those who haven’t read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, the connection to Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book isn’t immediately drawn, but once the similarities are pointed out, it’s hard to miss. You can start by looking at the titles, but more than that Nobody “Bod” Owens’ story is quite similar to that of Mowgli and really, many of the other characters presented in Kipling’s seven stories (fifteen if we count The Second Jungle Book). Past the heaping piles of racism and bountiful amounts of imperialist propaganda, Kipling’s stories tend to revolve around a character out of their element and fighting to find their place in it. Mowgli is a boy raised by wolves, Rikki-tikki is a mongoose adopted by humans, and Gaiman’s Bod is an orphaned boy adopted by ghosts, and all these characters have to fight to keep their new homes and families safe. Silas functions similarly to Bagheera and Baloo, the Jacks of All Trades are reminiscent of Shere Khan and the Bandar-log, and the ghosts form a family for Bod like the jungle animals do for Mowgli. Most obvious though is Gaiman’s focus on Kipling’s “The King’s Ankus” story with his Sleer character and their guarding of desirable treasure.

Buy The Graveyard Book:

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Buy The Jungle Book:

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Charlotte Holmes series for Sherlock Holmes Fans

Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes series consists of four novels revolving around, you guessed it, Charlotte Holmes and Jamie Watson, the descendents of the famous Sherlock Holmes and John Watson duo. Cavallaro’s take is an interesting one though because they’re placed in a boarding school in Connecticut and start out as hesitant allies despite their family history. Over the series you’ll travel across Europe (Sussex, Berlin, Oxford), meet some recognizable faces (two Moriartys to name a couple), and enjoy guessing which familiar cases will be referenced next. If you’re still craving modern twists on these beloved tales, jump into these short story collections, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger and with a combined number of approximately 50 stories: A Study in Sherlock, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, and Echoes of Sherlock Holmes. Not all of them are modern, but there are some fresh re-imaginings from some big-name and underdog writers who don’t typically write about Holmes.

Buy A Study in Charlotte (book one):

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Buy the Sherlock Holmes novels:

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HONORARY MENTION: Daughter of the Deep for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Fans

Ok, Rick Riordan’s new standalone, Daughter of the Deep, doesn’t come out until October 5, 2021, but MAN does this YA homage to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea sound intriguing. So far we’ve got a summary and an insightful Q&A with Riordan about the inspiration he took from Verne’s tale. Instead of Aronnax, readers follow Ana Dakkar, a freshman in high school studying marine biology, and with Riordan’s deep interest in Captain Nemo and care for the original, there’s sure to be a just as interesting Nemo-esque character.

Buy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:

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Gabrielle Bujak

Gabrielle Bujak

Gabrielle likes a lot of things and dislikes very little. Retired ice cream cake decorator, occasional farmhand, and reminiscing library worker, she spent her childhood dreaming of fighting fires and her college days writing about Bong Joon-ho before he was cool. Now, she preaches the importance of dental hygiene; chats up books, movies, and comics via the Quirk blog; and legally climbs silos. Whether the legality of the silo climbing makes her more or less interesting is up for debate. Email [email protected] if you want to review our titles or feature our authors.