Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The term "twice-told tale" comes from a line in William Shakespeare's King John (circa 1597): "Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale." It is almost certainly this sense that Nathaniel Hawthorne intended to convey in his Twice-Told Tales (coll 1837), a volume which contains mostly Supernatural Fictions whose protagonists are locked into the Bondage of their nature and precisely "twice-told" in their conviction that nothing they can do can release them from punitive reiteration of that which damned their ancestors and which will damn them as well.

Here, however, we normally use the term to help characterize a Fantasy whose telling incorporates a clear retelling of the inherent Story – very often of a Fairytale or Folklore or Myth or Legendforegrounding the existence of a previous version of the tale now being retold. It is clear (for instance) that the protagonist of David Henry Wilson's The Coachman Rat (1985) is taking part in the tale of Cinderella, even though her name is never mentioned, and that the protagonist of Howard Waldrop's A Dozen Tough Jobs (1989), which replays the Labours of Hercules in today's USA, is indeed a twice-told version of that legend. When a retelling also constitutes a substantive examination of the prior story – or of a corpus of stories – then the twice-told tale is also a Revisionist Fantasy.

Examples of both are extremely numerous. Collections are common in children's literature; adult twice-told tales, like the Fairy Tale sequence ed Terri Windling, clearly combine elements of the twice-told and revisionist fantasy. Two further adult examples are Kenneth Morris's The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (1914), a version of the first two Branches of the Mabinogion, and many of the stories assembled in Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (coll 1979). [JC]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.