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Twice-Told Tale

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"The story you're about to see has been told before. A lot. And now we are going to tell it again. But different."
Red Goon Gnome, Gnomeo & Juliet

Lots of works are based on earlier works.

Sometimes a story is not only based on it, but really requires you to know the earlier story to fully appreciate it, or even appreciate it at all. A Sleeping Beauty story where the princess turns out to be a vampire, for instance, is missing something if you don't realize that it's "Sleeping Beauty".

That is a Twice-Told Tale.

When the recognition of the original story is crucial, writers can work with only the most iconic stories for this. Usually public domain works for obvious reasons.

The Perspective Flip and External Retcon are subtropes. Fractured Fairy Tale may be, if it is fracturing a specific Fairy Tale rather than combining many fairy tales' characters, plots, and tropes. Many are parodies or satires, but it is not required. A twice told tale may or may not involve Grimmification, but rarely Disneyfication, since it requires knowledge of the original tale. Demythification may involve a twice-told tale if a mostly historical account is revealed to be the source of the legend. Related to Adaptational Protagonist.

This generally includes Fanfics. Fanfic writers like to say that those other works on the example are critically acclaimed fanfics, too. Some fanfic authors recommend trying to avert this, actually, and make the story as clear as possible to the uninitiated.

Fusion Fic is a type of fanfic that Twice-Told Tale is a critical element of, since recreating an existing story with the characters of another story is intrinsic to the concept.

The trope's name comes from William Shakespeare's King John:

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man.

Compare and contrast Whole-Plot Reference. Compare Historical Fiction which might expect knowledge about real events going into it.


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  • Mutts: One strip features Earl and Mooch together in the title role of "Goldilocks"'s main character.

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    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Robin McKinley has written several retellings of classic fairytales — most notably two different versions of "Beauty and the Beast", Beauty and Rose Daughter. Her retellings also include Deerskin (a version of "Donkeyskin"), The Outlaws of Sherwood, Spindle's End, and The Door in the Hedge, a collection of short stories including "The Golden Hind", "The Frog Prince", and "The Twelve Dancing Princesses".
  • Ulysses on the The Odyssey
  • Tanith Lee's "Red As Blood" on "Snow White".
    • And every other chapter as well, on a different story, to include Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. (The book is subtitled "Tales from the Sisters Grimmer.")
  • Gregory Maguire loves this trope:
  • Lavinia on The Aeneid.
  • A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth Bunce, based off "Rumpelstiltskin".
  • Ophelia by Lisa Klein, based on Hamlet.
  • Anne Rice wrote a bondage-themed version of "Sleeping Beauty".
  • The Twist Ending of Neil Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" can be difficult to decipher if you're not rather familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon.
  • Neil Gaiman's short story "Snow, Glass, Apples" is a retelling of "Snow White" from the perspective of the queen; Snow-White herself is some kind of vampiric monstrosity, and the queen is a benevolent ruler who's only doing what's best for the kingdom. It would be an effective horror story without the original, but would still most likely lose a lot of its punch, due to the way it sets up the original story as a piece of propaganda invented by evil usurpers.
  • Terri Windling's Fairy Tale Series challenged modern authors to re-write fairy tales from a new perspective. Jane Yolen's Briar Rose entwines the Sleeping Beauty story with the Holocaust. Windling's also edited, often with Eileen Datlow, several short story collections of fairy tale rewrites.
  • Fantastic Alice is a collection of short stories based on Alice in Wonderland, most of which would be pointless if you don't know the references.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, on Jane Eyre.
  • Andrzej Sapkowski, a Polish fantasy writer, wrote a short story about Alice in Wonderland, but from the perspective of... the Cheshire Cat. And Lewis Carroll. The story was called "Golden Afternoon".
  • Frank Beddor's The Looking-Glass Wars series is another one based on Alice in Wonderland, which not only draws a lot from the books themselves, but also from the real people behind them (Alice Liddell is "revealed" to have actually been Princess Alyss of Wonderland, exiled to the real world after her aunt Redd staged a coup and slaughtered her family.)
  • Several works written by Gail Carson Levine, such as Ella Enchanted for "Cinderella" and Fairest for "Snow White".
  • Orson Scott Card did this to himself. His book Ender's Shadow followed a rather tertiary character in Ender's Game, as he accidentally becomes just as important as Ender all while keeping it hidden from aforementioned protagonist. Also a bit of a Poorly Disguised Pilot, since it spawned an entire secondary series detailing the geo-political events on Earth while Ender was in FTL transit beginning his exile.
  • Nicholas Meyer's The Canary Trainer on The Phantom of the Opera.
    • Nicholas Meyer also wrote The Seven Per Cent Solution, a retelling of The Final Problem, Arthur Conan Doyle's first attempt at a last Sherlock Holmes story. In Meyer's novel, Moriarty was only a criminal mastermind in Holmes' drugged imaginings. Watson conned Holmes into following Moriarty to Vienna, where he met Sigmund Freud, who helped cure him of his cocaine addiction. Instead of dying at Reichenbach Falls, Holmes chose to take a leave of absence, leaving Watson to write out whatever ending he wanted and have it published in the Strand.
  • The Witchs Boy by Michael Gruber plays off many, many, many fairy tales, some of which are less known and thus make the book slightly confusing.
  • Many Discworld novels. The Lancre Witches books are mostly examples of this story type: Wyrd Sisters riffs on Macbeth, except that the witches are the Macbeth Captain Ersatz's enemies; Witches Abroad is about the witches' quest to stop "Ember" Ella from marrying the prince; and Maskerade follows Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera with some added twists and metacommentary on opera. Lords and Ladies takes a much looser approach to A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Carpe Jugulum draws on Hammer Horror movies and vampire literature in general. Outside of the Witches, Night Watch mirrors Les Mis√©rables, notably switching the evil/good dynamic of the book, and Eric plays with the tale of Faust.
  • Paradise Lost is the fall of mankind told as a classical epic.
  • Seven Ancient Wonders and its sequels by Matthew Reilly require the exact same suspension of disbelief as Indiana Jones, being realistic action adventure for most of the story until the supernatural comes in at the end. In addition, most if not all characters and locations can be matched to those in The Lord of the Rings, including the Great Pyramid standing in for Mount Doom.
  • John Gardner's novel Grendel is a deconstruction of Beowulf told from the monster's point of view. In this version, Grendel is a sympathetic antihero who explores a number of philosophical topics through his battle against the Danes.
  • Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead is a twofer Twice Told Tale, combining Ahmad ibn Fadlan's travelogue amongst the Vikings with a reworking of Beowulf, replacing all the monsters with a tribe of Neanderthals.
  • You can quite easily read Mercedes Lackey's Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms books without knowing a thing about, respectively, English folklore, the standard Grimm/Anderson fairy tales, and a touch of Russian folklore; Greek and English mythology; Russian folklore and the Arabian Nights; and Russian folklore and those Grimm/Anderson fairy tales. It does, however make a lot more sense if you have that background information, especially when it comes to one-off background mentions of "Stuff the Tradition likes to make happen".
    • The Black Swan is more interesting if you know the plot of Swan Lake (and since Swan Lake has no fixed ending, you don't know how this adaptation is going to end).
    • Her Elemental Masters novels are loosely based on the plots of known fairy tales, but usually with a twist that distinguishes them from the source material.
  • The Known Space story Juggler of Worlds loses a lot unless you've read a lot of older Known Space short stories, particularly "The Soft Weapon" and the Beowulf Shaeffer stories. Much of the book is retelling parts of those stories from the perspective of Sigmund Ausfaller or Nessus the Puppeteer, and trying to read it without knowing those stories is rather hard. On the other hand, Destroyer of Worlds does a pretty good job of introducing the Pak to anyone that didn't read Protector or the later Ringworld books, making it a lot smoother to read.
  • There is a German children's book which reverses the Grimm folktale "The Frog King" (a.k.a. "The Frog Prince" in English). Instead of a princess losing a ball in the well, the handsome and green king of frogs loses his ball on dry land, and a very ugly human girl retrieves it in exchange for a marriage promise. He immediately swims away as soon as she gives the ball back, but the girl follows him into his underwater kingdom, and the king's father demands that he honour his promise. He pretends to be leading her to his quarters and drowns her, at which point she transforms into a beautiful frog princess, and explains that she was kidnapped as a tadpole and transformed into a human (but such an ugly one that no human man would marry her). The frog king marries her and they live happily. (There seems to be no frog analogue to True Heinrich, though.)
  • Poul Anderson's Goat Song retells the tale of Orpheus as science fiction. Indeed, the narrator, hunting through ancient myths, finds his own story — and we aren't told what it is, because it's obvious.
  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a perspective flip and deconstruction of The Odyssey. It's told from the point of view of Penelope, Odysseus's wife, and the twelve maids who were hanged at the end of the poem.
  • Josepha Sherman's The Shining Falcon retells "The Feather of Finist the Falcon".
  • Adele Geras's novels Troy (it has nothing to do with the movie) and Ithaka are a subversion in that she retells The Iliad and The Odyssey through the eyes of servants, so they have a more domestic feel, but still cover the major events of both stories. Characters still believe in the gods, who still play a role, but no one except for the readers remembers meeting them after they have an encounter with one of them, except for one servant girl in the first novel.
  • Helen Fielding's seminal chick-lit novel Bridget Jones' Diary has shades of this, as the backstory of the title character's two suitors recreates the feud between Darcy and Wickham from Pride and Prejudice. Also applies to The Film of the Book.
  • Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Club Dumas, a novel in which fanatical Alexandre Dumas enthusiasts play an important part, intertwines elements of numerous Dumas novels, making its intended audience the kind of Dumas geek that is depicted in the book.
  • The Once Upon A Time series is set up for this, having various retellings of fairytales.
  • In The Quest For Saint Aquin, the priest is beaten and left for dead. A couple of characters see him and pass by despite the obvious clues that they are Catholic. A Jew helps him, causing the priest to comment on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (The Jew calmly assures him that he is not a Samaritan.)
  • Dexter Palmer's Steampunk novel The Dream of Perpetual Motion. Luckily, familiarity with The Tempest isn't really necessary to enjoy it.
  • The Mists of Avalon are a retelling of Autherian legend from the point of view of the women, including those are generally portrayed as the villains such as Morgain and Nimue.
  • David Foster Wallace's Tri-Stan: I Sold Sissee Nar to Ecko is a re-telling of the myth of Narcissus. And in-universe, Another Pioneer.
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is a retelling and continuation of the story of Dinah in The Old Testament. While it is possible to enjoy the story without knowing the Biblical version, it makes more sense if you do.
  • The works of Alex Flynn - Beastly, A Kiss in Time, and Cloaked - are respectively retellings of "Beauty and the Beast", "Sleeping Beauty", and a variety of fairytales including "The Frog Prince", "The Valiant Little Tailor", and "The Cobbler And The Elves". Some characters in the stories are more Genre Savvy about this than others.
    • Bewitching, told from the point of view of Beastly's witch, covers "Hansel and Gretel", "The Princess and the Pea", "The Little Mermaid", and "Cinderella".
  • The True Story of The Three Little Pigs. The wolf tells us what really happened.
  • Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin is a retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the point of view of one of Jekyll's servants.
  • In Patricia A. McKillip's "Out of the Woods", the heroine plays a minor role in Sleeping Beauty and spots both Merlin and Nimue, and the Lady of Shalott, from Arthurian Legend.
  • John Moore's The Unhandsome Prince, in addition to being very loosely based on The Frog Prince, includes encounters with a hair-obsessed woman living in a tower, named Rapunzel, and a dwarf with a magic spinning spell named Rumpelstiltskin.
  • John Steinbeck's East of Eden retells Cain and Abel — several times.
  • In Patricia C. Wrede's "Cruel Sisters", the middle sister recounts the true story of the "Twa Sisters" Child Ballad; aware of the ballad, she opens it with discussing how often it says there were only two sisters, and then goes on to recount the other distortions. Starting with the observation that the younger one would spitefully lie to get the older one in trouble.
  • Patricia C. Wrede's "Stronger Than Time" recounts a Sleeping Beauty where the spell had gone wrong, and the prince supposed to rescue her had died.
  • Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child retells the fairy tale of the same name. It includes excerpts at the beginning of chapters, owing to its obscurity.
  • C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces retells the myth of Cupid And Psyche from the viewpoint of Psyche's jealous older sister.
  • Two Roald Dahl poetry collections, Revolting Rhymes and Rhyme Stew, feature many twice-told versions of fairy tales that steer the stories in naughtier directions. The former has a pistol-packing Little Red Riding Hood and a telling of "Snow White" in which the magic mirror helps Snow and the dwarfs win at the racetrack, and the latter has Ali Baba using the phrase "Open Sesame!" to peep in on what the rich and powerful do behind closed hotel doors.
  • A Tale of... retold the Disney Princess films, giving the stories Perspective Flips to villainous/antagonistic characters and positing they take place in a shared universe.
  • Warm Bodies is a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet, taking place after a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Honor Harrington was, for much of the early series, the French Revolutionary Wars in space, with the stand-in for Lord Nelson being a young woman. Around eight or nine books in, the Napoleon analogue is abruptly killed, and things spin off from there.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • Time Lord Fairy Tales consists mostly of specific European fairy and folktales rejiggered to take place in the Whoniverse: "Cinderella and the Magic Box" has the Eleventh Doctor in the fairy godmother role and the heroine going to the ball is part of his plan to defeat an evil vampire court, while the Green Knight faced by Sir Gawain is an Ice Warrior. Several stories double down on this trope by turning out to be retelling both a fairy tale and a televised Doctor Who story — "The Gingerbread Trap" is a combination of "Hansel and Gretel" and "School Reunion", and "Jack and the Wormhole" combines "Jack and the Beanstalk" with "The Horns of Nimon".
    • The Third Doctor story in the Twelve Doctors of Christmas anthology, "The Christmas Inversion", is an alternate perspective on the television episode "The Christmas Invasion", and thus makes much more sense if the reader has already seen it.
  • The Hagenheim series by Melanie Dickerson is a retelling of fairy tales in a medieval setting without any magic.
  • Ursula Vernon:
    • "Bluebeard's Wife" is a Bluebeard retelling in which the familiar story goes off the rails after Bluebeard marries a young woman who grew up in a large and inquisitive family and understands the value of private space, so when her husband tells her there's one room in the house she must never enter, she never does.
    • Boar And Apples is a Snow White retelling with a family of talking boars instead of dwarfs, and also things don't go the usual way regarding the prince at the end.
    • Bryony and Roses is a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" where the Beauty-equivalent is a keen gardener, the evil-fairy-equivalent is a rose dryad who's just as trapped by the curse as the Beast is, and the Beast chooses not to become human again at the end.
    • "The Dryad's Shoes" is a retelling of Cinderella in which the Cinderella-equivalent is quite happy in her garden and not at all interested in marrying the prince, but is unable to persuade the fairy-godmother-equivalent of this. She ends up trading the dryad's gifts to a servant at the palace in exchange for a chance to learn about the palace gardens, and the servant girl marries the prince and lives happily ever after.
    • The Hamster Princess series begins with a version of Sleeping Beauty where the princess's parents keep their daughter and tell her about the curse when she's old enough to understand — and she decides that, if she's cursed to suffer a terrible fate at the age of twelve, that means nothing will happen to her before then, and goes off adventuring. Along the way she encounters versions of other familiar fairy tales.
    • "Let Pass the Horses Black" is a Tam Lin retelling in which Janet is a domestic abuse survivor, which means she has experience taking pain unflinchingly that stands her in good stead in the Elf Queen's trials. Specifically, she suffered abuse at the hands of the Tam Lin character—it turns out at the end that she's only rescuing him as a necessary step toward achieving her real desire.
    • The Raven And The Reindeer is a retelling of The Snow Queen where, among other changes, Gerda ends up falling in love with the bandit girl who helps her along the way and realizing that Kay was a bit of a self-centered jerk even before the Snow Queen got to him. (She rescues him anyway, but more to save his parents worrying than anything else.)
    • The Seventh Bride is a Bluebeard retelling where each of Bluebeard's wives is given a different test and instead of just killing them when they fail, they forfeit something: one her life, but one her eyesight, another her youth, and so on. Which means that when the seventh bride arrives in the house of her new husband, his former wives are all still around — although some are more helpful than others...
  • Sapphos Leap is a riff on The Odyssey, told from a Gender Flip perspective.
  • Mermaid (2011) for "The Little Mermaid."
  • The Mermaid's Daughter is about a descendant of the Little Mermaid.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Tin Man, of the Oz series. Most everyone in America knows about the first book, but the miniseries makes a lot more sense if you've read other entries of the Famous Forty and supplemented with Wicked.
  • Alice (2009), of Alice in Wonderland.
  • Geppetto was a Made-for-TV Movie retelling of Disney's Pinocchio, told from the point of view of the toymaker who became the "father" of the living puppet. It features songs from the animated film and new Stephen Schwartz-penned numbers, and was adapted for the stage as My Son Pinocchio.
  • Once Upon a Time posits that every fairy tale in history was inspired by real events taking place in a parallel universe, sometimes with rather significant differences.
  • The OA strongly resembles Han's Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid", which turns out to be justified in the saddest way.
  • Jim Henson's The Storyteller was a show where the eponymous storyteller told more obscure -and darker- European fairy tales. Russian folktale "The Soldier And Death" was adapted in the fifth episode, changing some details and expanding some scenes like the card game with the demons.
  • Black Sails is a prequel to Treasure Island. It follows Captain Flint of the Walrus, who is a posthumous character in the book, and also features John Silver and Billy Bones as young men. The plot of the show concerns how Flint acquired the treasure trove of Spanish gold that eventually got hidden on the eponymous island.

  • The whole concept of the answer song revolves around this. One example is Charlie Ryan's "Hot Rod Lincoln", which details the road race from Arkie Shibley's "Hot Rod Race" from the perspective of the unlikely victor.
  • The Odyssey homage: "Home at Last" by Steely Dan.
  • The Mechanisms' songs are almost all based on stories from legend or mythology, and occasionally history or classic literature. In addition to a multitude of individual songs and short tales, they have three albums that each tell a different story:
    • Once Upon a Time (In Space) is a space opera with fairytale (and nursery rhyme) characters that draws a lot of plot elements from Star Wars.
    • Ulysses Dies at Dawn is a cyberpunk noir story that draws its characters from Greek mythology.
    • High Noon Over Camelot is a Space Western retelling of the King Arthur legends set on a space station.
    • The Bifrost Incident is a Space Opera and Cosmic Horror retelling of Ragnarok, set on a Cool Train.
  • The music video of Prayer by Disturbed is based on the Book of Job.


    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • One blog author adds the tag "Twice Told Tale" whenever one of her posts contains one of these. Currently we have one on Achilles' choice of going off to battle and dying or of being forgotten, and one incomplete on "Snow White" from the mirror's perspective.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation