11 Children’s Book Retellings That Are Definitely For Adults
If there's anything that adults love, it's ruining their own childhood memories. I mean, just look at our current crop of dark and gritty reboots. We've got satanic Sabrina and gray-scale Dumbo and a new Lion King movie that lives firmly in the uncanny valley (I'm not saying it's bad, I'm just saying that Disney should give us live action Robin Hood the fox). But TV and film aren't the only mediums that love to return to the classics over and over again: quite a few beloved children's books have been reinvented for adult readers (or for very adult readers, in some cases). Here are a few children's book retellings that are definitely not for kids
Fairy tales are always ripe for a thoroughly grown up reboot — especially since most fairy tales are fairly dark to begin with, anyway. But even beyond the Grimm brothers, contemporary authors have found new (and often disturbing) twists on beloved fantasy worlds like Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz. What felt enchanting and random as a kid starts for feel a little... creepy... as a grown person. So if you're looking for a more psychologically charged view of your favorite kids' book, check out these mature retellings:
'Lost Girls' by Alan Moore, illustrated by Melinda Gebbie
Trust Alan Moore to write an erotic graphic novel about the sexual awakenings of Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy Darling. I mean, look, if you want a pornographic fanfiction mash up of Peter Pan, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz, you're not going to do much better than Lost Girls. The three former children's book heroines meet up in a Vienna hotel as adult women, and find themselves bonding over their weird, weird lives.
'Tinder' by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts
Hans Christian Anderson is the author of many an upsetting childhood classic. With Tinder, Sally Gardner takes his short story The Tinderbox and transforms it into an exquisitely illustrated horror story that's even more disturbing than the original. This one's a bit lighter on the NSFW content, but Gardner's writing and Roberts' drawing will most definitely give you the creeps as they weave a story of monsters, shoes, witches, and wolves.
'Queen of Hearts' by Colleen Oakes
Queen of Hearts has a sort of Alice in Wonderland meets Game of Thrones vibe. Sure, we're in Wonderland with the Queen (or princess) of Hearts and all that. But we're also in the midst of a political power struggle, in a harsh and brutal land filled with intrigue, deceit, and frequent decapitation.
'Boy, Snow, Bird' by Helen Oyeyemi
Boy Novak is 20 years old and looking for a new life. So she takes the bus from New York and gets off at the very last stop: the small and unwelcoming town of Flax Hill. That's where she meets the enchanting and much-loved Snow, and where she eventually gives birth to Bird, and where this brilliant re-imagining of Snow White spins a tale about motherhood, beauty, and pain.
'Was' by Geoff Ryman
Everyone loves the story of Dorothy, the miserable and abused orphan girl growing up in Kansas in the 1800's. But Geoff Ryman's retelling of little Dorothy's life is inter-cut with the tragic, true story of Frances Gumm (A.K.A. Judy Garland), and the story of Jonathan, an actor dying of AIDS and coping with tragedy through his love of Oz. Splicing together fiction and reality, Was is an entirely singular look at the legacy of the Oz books and film, filled with heartbreak and tiny slivers of over-the-rainbow hope.
'The True Story of Hansel and Gretel' by Louise Murphy
"Hansel and Gretel" is already a deeply depressing story of two children who are abandoned by their caregivers, fed empty calories, and (nearly) eaten by a witch. But The True Story of Hansel and Gretel takes it several horrifying steps further by setting the whole thing during World War II, with two Jewish children fleeing the Nazis through the forests of Poland.
'Alice' by Christina Henry
Look, if you're going to pick one kids' book to get truly weird with, you know it's going to be Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The original story is already a trip and a half. Christina Henry takes the next logical step in the Alice story, and makes it a straight up psychological horror extravaganza, filled with madness, monstrous secrets, and lots of blood.
'Alias Hook' by Lisa Jensen
Captain James Benjamin Hook is smart. He's witty. He's a Restoration-era pirate. And he's forever cursed to play the storybook villain to a pack of snotty little boys in a fantasy land. All that changes, however, when a mysterious adult woman somehow makes her way to Neverland. She opens Hook's life to the magic of his own hidden realm, and she finally allows him to see himself as something more than a one-dimensional villain in someone else's story.
'Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West' by Gregory Maguire
Of course, you can't talk about adult retellings of childhood classics without talking about Wicked. Gregory Maguire brings us to Oz before Dorothy landed, when young Elphaba was just a little green witch trying to take down the government with her anarchic plots and occasionally having orgies with tigers. It's a complex, weird, delightfully disturbing reinvention of Baum's beloved villainess.
'The Problem of Susan' by Neil Gaiman
"The Problem of Susan" is a short story, but it still manages to stick it to the sexism of the entire Narnia series in one elegant stroke. Neil Gaiman follows poor Susan Pevensie into adulthood, after she was cast out of Narnia-heaven due to liking lipstick and nylons. All her siblings died in childhood (in order to stay in Narnia-heaven), but she went on to become an adult professor who occasionally dreams about lions and witches.
'Neverland' by Shari Arnold
Livy Cloud is still mourning her little sister. She still hangs around the Children’s hospital, reading to patients and clinging to her last happy memories. But then she meets the charismatic Meyer, who offers her a chance to go to the place where children never grow up or grow old or die in this gut-wrenching retelling of Peter Pan.