Share 11 Contemporary Retellings of Classic Literature

11 Contemporary Retellings of Classic Literature

Sarah Jane Abbott is an assistant editor for Paula Wiseman Books and Beach Lane Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.  She grew up having NANCY DREW books read to her by her father, and is now an avid reader of mystery, thriller, and horror, along with everything from literary fiction to poetry to personal essays.  She graduated from Bucknell University with a degree in English and a concentration in creative writing.  Sarah Jane is an advocate of quasi-destructive book love—her best-loved volumes are highlighted, scribbled in, dog-eared, and wavy from being dropped in the bath tub.  

Some stories are so moving, so ubiquitous, that we can’t get them out of our collective mind—Shakespeare, Jane Austen, childhood fairy tales. These pieces of literature are undeniable classics.

These inspired authors have reimagined beloved novels and iconic characters in a fresh way. They delve deeply into these well-loved favorites and use them as jumping off points to explore new settings, eras, and characters. Here are eleven of our favorite contemporary retellings of classic literature.


A Thousand Acres
by Jane Smiley

An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

A Thousand Acres
Jane Smiley

An ambitious reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear cast upon a typical American community in the late twentieth century, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride, and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.

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The Sixteenth of June
by Maya Lang

A finely observed, wry social satire set in Philadelphia over the course of a single day, this debut novel, which is a nod to James Joyce’s celebrated classic Ulysses, is about the secrets we keep and the lengths we go to for acceptance and love.

The Sixteenth of June
Maya Lang

A finely observed, wry social satire set in Philadelphia over the course of a single day, this debut novel, which is a nod to James Joyce’s celebrated classic Ulysses, is about the secrets we keep and the lengths we go to for acceptance and love.

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Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi

This widely acclaimed novel brilliantly recasts the fairy tale Snow White as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity. It boldly confronts the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

Boy, Snow, Bird
Helen Oyeyemi

This widely acclaimed novel brilliantly recasts the fairy tale Snow White as a story of family secrets, race, beauty, and vanity. It boldly confronts the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold.

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On Beauty
by Zadie Smith

Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith’s reputation as a major literary talent. Smith notes that she “has taken Howards End, that marvelous tale of class difference, and upped the ante by adding race, politics, and gender.”

On Beauty
Zadie Smith

Full of dead-on wit and relentlessly funny, this tour de force confirms Zadie Smith’s reputation as a major literary talent. Smith notes that she “has taken Howards End, that marvelous tale of class difference, and upped the ante by adding race, politics, and gender.”

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The Hours
by Michael Cunningham
In this Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, Michael Cunningham draws inventively on the life and work of Virginia Woolf to tell the story of a group of contemporary characters struggling with the conflicting claims of love and inheritance, hope and despair.
The Hours
Michael Cunningham

This Pulitzer Prize–winning novel turned Oscar-winning film is a profound story of how three generations of women were transformed by Virginia Woolf’s distinguished work Mrs. Dalloway.

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Going Bovine
by Libba Bray

All sixteen-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel or possible hallucination who sets him on a quest paralleling that of Don Quixote.

Going Bovine
Libba Bray

All sixteen-year-old Cameron wants is to get through high school—and life in general—with a minimum of effort. It’s not a lot to ask. But that’s before he’s given some bad news: he’s sick and he’s going to die. Which totally sucks. Hope arrives in the winged form of Dulcie, a loopy punk angel or possible hallucination who sets him on a quest paralleling that of Don Quixote.

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Wicked
by Gregory Maguire

Based on L. Frank Baum’s beloved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Gregory Maguire’s novel views the land of Oz, its inhabitants, its Wizard, and the Emerald City, through a darker lens. Brilliantly inventive, it offers a radical new evaluation of one of the most feared and hated characters in all of literature: the much maligned Wicked Witch of the West.

Wicked
Gregory Maguire

Based on L. Frank Baum’s beloved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Gregory Maguire’s novel views the land of Oz, its inhabitants, its Wizard, and the Emerald City, through a darker lens. Brilliantly inventive, it offers a radical new evaluation of one of the most feared and hated characters in all of literature: the much maligned Wicked Witch of the West.

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Bridget Jones's Diary
by Helen Fielding

Loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, this laugh-out-loud chronicle charts a year in the life of Bridget Jones, a single girl on a permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement. Caught between her Singleton friends and the Smug Marrieds, Bridget struggles to keep her life on an even keel—or at least afloat.

Bridget Jones's Diary
Helen Fielding

Loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, this laugh-out-loud chronicle charts a year in the life of Bridget Jones, a single girl on a permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement. Caught between her Singleton friends and the Smug Marrieds, Bridget struggles to keep her life on an even keel—or at least afloat.

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Longbourn
by Jo Baker

Jo Baker’s novel is a completely different take on Pride and Prejudice. Mentioned only fleetingly in Jane Austen’s classic, the servants take center stage in this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to the beloved novel and dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Regency England.

Longbourn
Jo Baker

Jo Baker’s novel is a completely different take on Pride and Prejudice. Mentioned only fleetingly in Jane Austen’s classic, the servants take center stage in this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to the beloved novel and dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Regency England.

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski

In this extraordinary retelling of HAMLET, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote Wisconsin. Although born mute, Edgar seems poised to carry on his family’s traditions, but when catastrophe strikes, he is forced to choose between leaving forever or returning home to confront the mysteries he has left unsolved.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
David Wroblewski

In this extraordinary retelling of HAMLET, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote Wisconsin. Although born mute, Edgar seems poised to carry on his family’s traditions, but when catastrophe strikes, he is forced to choose between leaving forever or returning home to confront the mysteries he has left unsolved.

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Warm Bodies
by Isaac Marion

In this unexpected retelling of Romeo and Juliet, R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. And then he meets Julie, a blast of living color in his gray landscape. However, their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.

Warm Bodies
Isaac Marion

In this unexpected retelling of Romeo and Juliet, R is having a no-life crisis—he is a zombie. And then he meets Julie, a blast of living color in his gray landscape. However, their unlikely bond will cause ripples they can’t imagine, and their hopeless world won’t change without a fight.

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