Have you ever finished a book and wished that there was more? That you could fall in love with it all over again? I definitely have and, for me, that is where retellings come in. In general, due to copyright constraints, most retellings are of classic works. They are basically fanfiction, but fanfiction that you can get published by a traditional publisher.
One of the first retellings I can recall seeking out specifically because it was a retelling was The Confession of Fitzwilliam Darcy by Mary Street. It retells Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s perspective and gives us an insight on what his thoughts and feelings are. I loved having the option to spend more time in the world of Pride and Prejudice exploring new stories. I've also read Pamela Aidan's trilogy of books centered around Darcy: An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain. I will readily admit that I love reading books from alternate perspectives, especially when those perspectives are from characters that aren’t explored deeply in the original stories.
There are many other types of retellings beyond an alternate perspective. Some are outlandish, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, while others try to take a familiar story and provide a prequel, like Wicked by Gregory Maguire. We can change the settings, change the time period, change the plots, and change the characters. It is a way to play with stories we already love and to bring out something new.
While I've noted that most retellings are of stories out of copyright, there are instances of modern fanfiction being published as standalone novels. Perhaps the most famous is E.L. James's 50 Shades of Grey, which was originally posted as Twilight fanfiction under the title Master of the Universe. In a much less direct way, Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series draws on her past writing Harry Potter fanfiction and arguments have been made that The Mortal Instruments shares more than a few similarities with the Harry Potter series. While these works have roots in existing, contemporary fiction, they do take care to spin their stories into something original.
So, what is it about these stories that we find so compelling? Personally, I think we are drawn to these stories for the same reasons we are drawn to fanfiction: because we love the original stories so much. The characters, the plots, they are rich enough that we want to explore them further than the original text of the story allows. We can tell Macbeth in space or imagine what Wickham's thoughts are on the events of Pride and Prejudice. We can feel free to explore plot, setting, or characters in new ways, while still having the familiarity of the original story we know and love. For myself, I love retellings and find they can make me think about the original in new ways, can make me ask new questions. Of course, discovering a new story and world of characters is exciting, but sometimes it is a joy to return to a world we already know and love.