Monday, October 19, 2015

Retelling Stories Vs. Changing Stories

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A week ago I went to the theaters to see the new Pan movie with a tinge of excitement and a bucket-load of wariness. On the one hand, COOL PETER PAN THINGS; on the other hand, Peter Pan movie that looks nothing like Peter Pan.

You see my problem here?

You should know, I’m a diehard Peter Pan fan. I loved Peter Pan before I even heard of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings and the like. Peter Pan was one of the first things to introduce me to fairies and fantasy lands. Neverland is like my childhood home. So I get rather grumpy when people go and change it.

Pan Movie Poster

Once I stepped out of the theater I spent the rest of the afternoon complaining to my family of all the many, many wrongs these people did to my beloved Peter Pan story. First of all, it didn’t feel like Neverland to me. I adore Neverland. Like I said, it’s practically my home. I knew the movie was going to veer from the original story, but I was still looking forward to at least spending time in my dear Neverland. But it just didn’t feel like that enchanted world that has captivated my imagination since a child. Then of course Peter’s backstory was so very wrong. And don’t even get my started on their interpretation of Tiger Lily, And then there’s. . .

Wait a minute, Christine, wait a minute! You LOVE retellings.

Oh. . .right.

That day the reasonable side of my brain made one of its rare appearances and shoved away the grumpy side. I do love retellings. Retellings are one of my top favorite types of stories. So why did this movie so upset me? I had to think about that one for a bit.

Finally, after much thought, I realized it’s because of how they advertised it.

“Experience the Untold Story of the Timeless Legend.”

That’s it. That’s how they’re pitching it to us. Um, excuse me? Untold story? Untold story???

*whips out copy of Peter Pan and flips through pages* Here we go, and I quote:

Wendy, I ran away the day I was born. It was because I heard father and mother," he explained in a low voice," talking about what I was to be when I become a man." He was extraordinarily agitated now. "I don't ever want to be a man," he said with passion. "I want always to be a little boy and to have fun. So I ran away to Kensington Gardens and lived a long time among the fairies.

And a page later we get an explanation of the Lost Boys.

But where do you live mostly now?”
”With the lost boys.”
”Who are they?”
”They are the children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days they are sent faraway to the Neverland to defray expenses. I’m captain.

Book ComicIt’s all right there, in the third chapter of the book. So please do not tell me over and over again in all the trailers and posters and everything that this is the oh-so mysterious untold story.

And that’s what so bothered me with this movie and so many others. It’s like these people are trying to make their version the “real” one and convince us this is what really happened. There’s a lack of respect to the original author. Because of this I can’t help but get critical when it comes to movie adaptions. (It’s only taken me my whole life to grasp this. Better late than never?)

But I didn’t actually mean for this post to just be a review/bashing of the Pan movie (even though it’s turning out that way. . .whoops).

What I’m trying to get at is I do love retellings. And that’s just it. Retellings. As in a story that was inspired by another story and retold. Not claiming to be the “real thing”. Merely inspired by it and recreated for fun.

If Pan had been pitched to me as a retelling, I wouldn’t be nearly as critical of it. Instead of “the untold story” how about “an all new telling”? That way I can see it for what it is: Fanfiction. But I feel like these movie makers were trying so hard to tell me this is exactly how Peter Pan came to Neverland and this is what the characters are like, as if J.M. Barrie didn’t give us this information.

Same thing with the The Hobbit movies. I love those movies, but, again, they weren’t supposed to be fanfiction or retellings. They were trying to be the real story, and I can’t help but feel as if the producers are attempting to convince the audience that so many of these events are canon. (“Canon” is a geeky word for “true to the real story” for any who might not be familiar with the use of that word. I’ll be using it a lot.) So many movies have this problem.

BotFA Reality

But then you have something such as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I am completely in love with that movie and basically have zero complaints. Wonderland is as dear to me as Neverland. Yet just as Pan, it was presented to us as a connection to the actual book. So why was I perfectly fine with it? Because they respected the original tale. This movie did not try to convince me “these events we just made up” happened instead of what I read in the real book. It acknowledged Lewis Carroll’s wonderful story and respected it. Not changed it and tried to “improve” it.

Peter Jackson added all manner of drama and romance and total remakes of characters in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies, because apparently Tolkien’s original masterpieces weren’t interesting enough?

Grumpy Bilbo GIF

No. That’s just disrespectful. Tim Burton respected Lewis Carroll, stayed so true to his characters, and as a result gave us a very loveable and believable sequel to the original tale.

“So wait, you’re telling us people shouldn’t make retellings?” you’re probably asking by now. I know, I do get off on rabbit trails.

The answer is: I absolutely think people should make retellings. And now I’m probably confusing you. (I’m confusing myself, really. Like I said, it has taken me my whole life to grasp my opinion on this and it only came to light this week, so bear with me here. I’m sure I’ll get to the main point eventually. . .)

Retellings are fantastic. I mean, I just wrote a Beauty and the Beast retelling myself. Obviously I love them. In fact, I’ve very much thrown around the idea throughout the years of writing my own Peter Pan retelling. But I’ve never allowed myself to give into that desire too deeply because how could I do that when I bash others that do? When I so resent stories that aren’t true to my beloved Peter Pan? Wouldn’t I be a hypocrite if I turned around and made my own? This has honest to goodness been a war in my mind for years. And then, just the other day, it finally, finally hit me.

I resent these stories when they’re claiming to be canon to the original story.

But many, many people do not claim this. Many very openly acknowledge that they love the original story and are simply retelling it because of that love. No improving, no disrespect to the author. More as a tribute to the author’s beautiful work. And THAT’S when I love retellings.

If I ever write a Peter Pan retelling, I’d be very clear that I am in no way trying to make out my version of Neverland and the characters as the real things or trying to improve anything. Only that I love the story so much I can’t help but explore it in some form or fashion with my own writing. That it’s a retelling and nothing more.

Now, if it isn’t really a retelling but more a sequel or prequel or what-have-you to the real thing, that’s where I go back to the Alice in Wonderland movie example. In my opinion, Tim Burton stayed so true to Lewis Carroll’s world and characters it felt like a proper sequel.

Painting the Roses Red

Not too long ago I read Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean which is said to be the “official” sequel to Peter Pan. When I read that I got very defensive and wary of the whole thing. But within one chapter, all my fears dispersed. It was as if J.M. Barrie wrote it himself. The writing style, the characters, the world—it felt so perfectly Peter Pan-ish I couldn’t help but believe it really was a sequel. Geraldine McCaughrean respected J.M. Barrie, and that love and respect shone from the pages. I really don’t believe she was trying to improve his work, but instead provide us with yet more of his imaginative world and delightful characters.

So to sum up what I’m trying to say in this long, ranty post, if a story is a retelling, I’d very much appreciate it being openly acknowledged as such. If it’s trying to be canon, it’s my greatest wish that the creator respects the author’s work.

Yes, I love retellings. It never ceases to amaze me how a single story can be retold in so many, many different ways. It’s fascinating how our imaginations interpret things so very differently. I have tons of stories I want to make retellings for. Alice in Wonderland being number one on the list. (I’ve been scheming a Wonderland story for yeeeeears, so just know one day I’m going to burst over here flailing excitedly about a Wonderland retelling I’m writing. It’s gonna happen. *nods*)

I enjoy retellings not because I want to change these classics, but because I love them. So maybe we should clearly present fanfiction as fanfiction and canon as canon, eh, Hollywood? *poke, poke*

(And, just so you know, despite all appearances, I didn’t actually hate Pan. It was a pretty good fantasy movie, just not a good Peter Pan movie, in my humble opinion. If that makes sense. If you want a proper Peter Pan movie I say watch the 2003 version. To this day that’s still one of my most favorite movies. Buuut that may just be me.)

Peter Pan Shrug GIF

Okay, this big ol’ post is just MY thoughts and opinions. I am in no way trying to say this is how it should be and that’s final. This is just how I personally feel on the subject. So I MUST know what you think. Am I being too persnickety? (I usually am.) What do you think about retellings and sequels/prequels/etc. to classics and the like? I’m exceedingly curious on everyone’s opinions of this subject. So please oh please, debate away! (Oh, and has anyone seen Pan? What’d ya think?)


  1. Movie retellings can be SUCH a hit and miss. I've heard so many not so good things about PAN, which is really sad, because they could've done an excellent job with it!
    Disney has done a pretty good job with their movie retellings. I loved Cinderella, and Malificent was pretty good despite the changes. I'm REALLY looking forward to Beauty and the Beast because it's my favorite fairytale. I hope they don't ruin it -- I'll probably cry if they do. :p

    Katie Grace | A Writer's Faith

    1. It is so very true! I'm pretty much always wary about them making my beloved books into movies. I'm always pulled, because I LOVE movies, but I get so upset when they change things.
      Pan could have been awesome, but...meh. It didn't feel like a Peter Pan movie to me. My sister loved it though, so that may just be me. I think a lot of people will enjoy it. I'm just picky. ;) Such a problem.

      Cinderella and Maleficent were AMAZIIIING!!! Maleficent is actually one of my favorite movies. I think I wasn't so hard on that one because it was clearly portrayed as a retelling, at least in my opinion. They already have a Sleeping Beauty movie after all. I think Maleficent was just them having fun making a retelling which of course is great. And Cinderella I felt stayed somewhat true to the original story, so I was good with it too. In fact, I adore it!
      But yes, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. That's my favorite retelling as well so I'm crossing my fingers for that one. I sooo hope it's good!

  2. Yes, just yes to everything in this post. I love retellings too, but when they claim to be better or redefine the original. I lose my respect and love for it. The Hobbit movies are a perfect example the only way I can enjoy them, is to pretend they have nothing to do with the book. I still love parts of it, but the whole Tauriel love story thing was unnecessary. I did however not mind the addition of Legolas, because his Dad is King of Mirkwood, but he should have stayed in Mirkwood. I haven't seen Pan, yet but I plan on it.

    1. Precisely! It's like if THEY'RE not going to respect the author than how can I respect THEM?

      Sometimes I have to separate the Hobbit movies from the book as well and just enjoy them for fun fantasy movies. (But I still get far more upset than I should probably. Eheh. I'm just such a Tolkien fangirl I can't seem to help it...)
      I was okay with Legolas being there as well since he IS prince of Mirkwood. But, as you said, he should have stayed there. The whole side plot with him and Tauriel following the others was just ridiculous.

  3. THANK-YOU for saying this! I feel the exact same way. Retellings are fine, but trying to pass off changes as canon drives me nuts. This is why I don't like Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" or "Little Mermaid," but adore "Frozen" and "Tangled." Because they changed the name for the latter two, they admitted that the stories were retellings (even though people will still try to think them canon), but with the other two, they tried to pass off their radically different stories as the actual things. Drives me nuts, especially since I like the canon versions of both tales. (But, admittedly, I rarely find a B&B retelling that I like to begin with)

    Although, I don't mind so much the additions in the Hobbit, and, from what I could tell, a lot of them came from the Simerrilion, and were, thus, canon to begin with.

    1. I'm so glad I'm not alone in this!

      You make a really good point! Though I do actually love all those classic Disney movies, I get REALLY annoyed that they've kind of become the "real" fairytales. People seem to think Disney is the source of fairytales. Um, people? Disney did not create these stories. It just gets annoying. I do wish they'd be more clear on the fact that their movies are just retellings. *nods*

      Parts of the Hobbit movies were exploring some Middle Earth history, and I was okay with that. But it's just when they so drastically changed scenes from the book that I got upset. Such as they'd often make a scene that was perfectly hilarious and delightful in the book into something dark and dramatic in the movie. They kind of removed the whole charming FEEL of the book. Buuuut The Hobbit and LotR for me are LIFE, sooo I'm a little picky on the whole subject. XD

  4. I agree. I saw the Pan movie as well and it didn't feel like Peter Pan at all to me. I loooove the 2003 version as well. That was completely in the spirit of Peter Pan it felt the same way. The Hobbit movies I very much enjoyed. I liked the expansion Peter Jackson did personally, because there was much less character development in the books. I guess what's most important is do you get the same feeling when you see the movie as when you read the book. That's what matters to me anyway. Does it feel in the spirit of the original story? Pan I feel definitely not (Why in the world was he in World War II era?!). The Hobbit I did.

    1. Yeah, it was definitely a disappointment. Oh man, the 2003 version... There aren't enough words to express my love for that movie. It so captures the ESSENCE of Peter Pan to me. Love it, love it, love it!!!

      Actually, that's sadly one of the reasons I get a little upset with the Hobbit movies. They didn't have the right feel to me. They were much more going along with the feel of the LotR movies. But LotR is an adult book, while The Hobbit is a children's story. It's not nearly as dark as LotR. Yet the movies made so much drama and darkness that didn't feel in the spirit of The Hobbit at all. BUT that's just how I personally perceive the stories. Every story feels differently to each person. Which I love. It's so cool one story can be so different to each person. So I'm very glad a lot of people love The Hobbit movies. And, actually, I adore them. There's just a lot that makes this Tolkien lover grumpy because I'm persnickety and it's quite horrid.
      And wow, that's a lot of blabbering! Once anything Tolkien related comes up I just can't seem to stop talking. XD

      ANYWAYS. I totally agree that the same feel to the spirit of the original is key. Love how you put that!

  5. That's really just disappointing that Pan turned out the way it did. :( I'm not as die-hard a fan of Peter Pan as you (maybe because I haven't read the book? A situation I must rectify!!)... but still. I know enough of the story to get a sense of whether or not a retelling is "doing it right." I'll have to see what I think when I eventually watch it, though at this point, after having heard a few disappointed reactions, I'm not expecting as much as I initially did.

    But this retelling vs. changing the story is a fascinating subject! I scanned over your post a second time just now, and I'm chewing on the whole idea. Just bouncing off what you said here... I think that some of the changes a Retelling or Changed Story contains might look the same on the surface, but what really draws the line between the two is the author's attitude. Like you said, if they don't respect the source material, the AUTHOR of that story, then yeah. It will come across as presumptuous and maybe even distasteful. But if the reteller is clearly just retelling, wanting to explore and tweak and experiment, doing it for the pure joy of the thing--that comes across too. Both writers might make the same altered plot point or altered setting or gender swap or whatever... But one will clearly be better. Does that even make any sense?? I don't know, that's the rambling tangent my brain spewed out just now. Take it or leave it. XD

    1. I know, I was very sad. I was hoping for a big, epic, beautiful Peter Pan movie. It was quite a pretty movie, but not epicly Peter Pan-ish. But yes, you must tell me what you think of it whenever you see it!

      Okay, I have to pause right here because TRACEY. You must read the book. You muuuuust!!! It's so delightful and bizarre and just utterly charming. And DIFFERENT. It has such a strange but kind of child-like style to it that I love. I don't even know. I can't explain it. You just have to read it. Such a good book!

      Yessss! That makes total sense because that's EXACTLY where my thought process was trying to go. I just couldn't quite grasp it fully. You put just what I was trying to say so poignantly and just YES. THANK YOU!!! Because I do love retellings, and I think it's okay to do gender swaps or what-have-you, yet with some things I get really upset when people do that. But it's the ATTITUDE. Just as you said. Thank you for putting that so well! I'm now more and more grasping why I love some retellings and get angry with others. After years and years of this battle in my mind things are making SENSE. About time. XD

    2. I suppose I'll have to go into it expecting merely a pretty fantasy film, and whatever hints of Peter Pan get thrown in will just be gravy on top. XD

      I know, I definitely must! My sister owns it, so there's really nothing stopping me. I was surprised to find out from her how young all the characters actually are. Ah, I love delightful, bizarre, charming, different, strange, child-like things. ^_^

      Whew, I'm glad I was on the same track as you! And you're certainly welcome. *tips hat* It's always fun digging into these sort of topics with someone and ending up with clarified thoughts and a better understanding. <3


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