Enchanting Fairy Tale Retellings & Folklore Novels (For Adults)

From childhood, we’re entranced my the magic of fairy tales. But it doesn’t have to end there! There are plenty of wonderful fairy tale retellings and books based on folklore for adults. Many of these novels are inspired by the fairy tales we know and love – but usually, with a grown-up or modern twist.

a stack of fairy tale retelling novels sitting on a white fireplace mantel with a small plant on top

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What is a retelling?

A retelling is a newer story that’s inspired by another story, often a classic, well-known tale (but not always!).

In this case, we’re talking about fairy tales, folklore, or mythology. A retelling takes the essence of the story – or sometimes, just a character or specific plot point – and gives it a new spin.

Sometimes, retellings stay closely faithful to the stories they’re inspired by. Other times, the entire message or lesson of the fable is reimagined.

Either way, they’re a fun way to enjoy our favorite stories again as adults, and view them in a different light!

Best Books Inspired by Fairy Tales & Folklore

Below, I’ve included a variety of retellings, inspired by classic Brothers’ Grimm tales like Snow White to the fox spirits of Chinese folklore (and beyond!).

These fairy tale retellings are unique and mesmerizing. Many of them take a classic tale and infuse it with darker themes or a modern setting.

They’re especially perfect novels to cozy up with on a cold winter’s night!

(If you love enchanting fantasy stories, you might also enjoy these Gothic fantasy novels or these cozy fantasy books.)

The Changeling by Victor Lavalle

The Changeling book cover

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A boy with a childhood filled with strange dreams – and a father who disappeared – grows up, and becomes a father himself.

But shortly after having the baby, his wife starts acting strangely, commits a terrible act, and disappears.

As the man – Apollo – searches for his wife, he’s thrust into a strange world and embarks on an emotional journey.

The Changeling takes homage from the European folklore of changelings – offspring of mystical creatures who replace human children that are stolen away. But there’s much more to this urban fantasy story than meets the eye.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child book cover

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A childless couple arrives in Alaska in the 1920s, attempting to start a homestead. But the winter is brutal, and they struggle to make ends meet.

At the first snowfall, the couple builds a girl out of snow. The next day, the figure is gone – but they find a young girl in the forest, and decide to raise her as their own.

But where did the girl come from?

This historical magical realism story is inspired by a Russian fairy tale called Snegurochka.

(Here are more atmospheric winter books to read!)

The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories by Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber book cover

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Angela Carter was a renowned storyteller whose works inspired some of our favorite short story authors today.

This must-read collection features gothic and subversive retellings of classic fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, and Bluebeard.

If you love short stories, check out this list of enchanting fantasy short story collections!

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

ACOTAR by Sarah J. Maas book cover

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This romantic fantasy novel is a fairy tale retelling that’s loosely inspired by Beauty and the Beast.

It has fabulous characters, strong world-building, and some spice – plus, there are faeries (known as fae in this series).

If you love this book, here are more must-read romantasy books for adults!

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow book review

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This novella is sort of a modern, split-world retelling of Sleeping Beauty. It’s about Zinnia Gray, a young woman with a fatal disease who likely doesn’t have much longer to live.

On her 21st birthday, she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel, and finds herself somewhere very unexpected. Along the way, she meets someone who’s not so different from herself.

In this story, Harrow takes the passive Disney version of Sleeping Beauty and breathes new life into it, making it much more interesting – and giving the villain a more complex story of her own.

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

Thornhedge book cover

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This novella is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty turned inside out, about a sort-of fairy named Toadling who is forced out of hiding to uphold a curse when a knight comes to break it.

The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo

The Fox Wife book cover

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Set in China in 1908, The Fox Wife explores the Chinese folklore of fox spirits who are believed to transform themselves into beautiful humans in order to lead people to their deaths.

When a woman’s body is found in the snow – her death swirling with rumors about the fox gods – a detective is called to investigate.

Meanwhile, a cursed family believes they are about to lose their eldest son, until a mysterious woman arrives. It seems her arrival may have turned their luck around – but can she be trusted?

Publication date: February 13th, 2024

In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

In The Night Garden book cover

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This collection of dazzling stories is inspired by One Thousand and One Nights (also known as the Arabian Nights), and filled to the brim with mythology and folklore.

A lonely girl in a secret garden tells a series of enchanting stories – from beasts and mermaids to living stars – all linked to each other in some way.

All the Murmering Bones by A.G. Slatter

All the Murmuring Bones book cover

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Decades ago, the O’Malley family struck a deal with mermaids in order to protect their ships and allow their business to prosper. But this prosperity came at a terrible price: they had to give the creatures a child from each generation.

Now, the family hasn’t kept up their side of the bargain, and they’ve fallen into ruin. But one member of the family will do anything to restore their power.

This dark Gothic fairy tale features haunting family secrets, creatures of myth, and the darkness of the sea.

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale book cover

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This historical fantasy story is inspired by Russian folklore, and is especially perfect for winter!

It’s set in snowy medieval Russia, about a girl named Vasilisa who must take risks to protect her family and village from a dark threat when misfortunate strikes.

This is the first book in the popular Winternight trilogy.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver book cover

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This story turns the classic tale of Rumpelstiltskin on its head, with a female protagonist named Miryem who can spin silver into gold.

But when a powerful king of mythical creatures finds out about her ability, Miryem is drawn into a dangerous scheme – and the fate of her world hangs in the balance.

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows book cover

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This Gothic fantasy novel is a retelling of the classic dark fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm.

Set in a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are struck by tragedy one by one. One sister – haunted by spectral visions and curious about a mysterious stranger – is determined to solve the mystery before she becomes the next victim.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale retelling (or original fairy tale)? Let me know in the comments!

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