Mulan: The Non-Disney Adaptations of a Classic Chinese Folklore

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The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan (2019)

Sherry Thomas’s adaptation of the Mulan legend, geared toward young adults, adds political intrigue and wuxia flare to the tale. Thomas was born and raised in China, and her research for the book firmly sets it within the historical period of the original legend. This version of Mulan begins as a martial artist so excellent that she’s chosen for an elite team, which puts her under the command of the handsome son of a royal duke. But Mulan realizes her commander has his own secrets, and that there’s a traitor in their midst. For readers who enjoyed Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn (or fans of YA writers like Kristin Cashore and Marie Lu), this is a great selection.

Reflection: A Twisted Tale (2018)

Speaking of Elizabeth Lim, Disney-Hyperion brought her on to do their dark retelling of Mulan in Reflection. In this version of the story, it isn’t Mulan who’s injured in the avalanche, but Shang, and in order to save him, Mulan and the others have to travel through the underworld and face King Yama, the king of the dead. By drawing on Chinese legends and the courts of the Diyu—hell—the familiar story takes on a whole new shade. While this one absolutely draws more heavily on Disney’s version than the original ballad, there are plenty of new angles to explore.

Wild Orchid: A Retelling of “The Ballad of Mulan” (2009)

YA author Cameron Dokey’s “Once upon a Time” series revisits many of the most popular Disney princesses as main characters—as well as introducing Scheherezade of the Arabian Nights into the mix. In her Mulan retelling, she pictures Mulan as accomplished with both an embroidery needle and a sword. Her biggest challenge isn’t really disguising herself as a man in this one—it’s falling for her commander, Prince Jian, and deciding whether she can risk sharing her true identity if it means living happily ever after. The novel spends a significant portion early on devoted to Mulan’s struggles fitting in as a child, which gives readers a longer chance to know her before the fighting breaks out.

Mulan: Revelations (2015)

One of the most divergent retellings of Mulan is this comic book from Robert Alter, Marc Andreyko, and Micah Kaneshiro that follows the story of Mulan’s descendent in a futuristic China. Set in the middle of a pandemic, this cyberpunk martial arts story has a young Mulan, namesake of her ancestor, chosen by the five immortals to save the world. The series had a short run with only a four issue story arc and was never collected into a graphic novel, but the digital editions are still available from Dark Horse and on Comixology.

Mulan: Five Versions of the Classic Chinese Legend, with Related Texts (2010)

For the deep scholars out there, this text, edited and translated by Shaimin Kwa and Wilt L. Idema, features not only the earliest recorded version of the legend of Mulan, but several translations to later versions, including the 1939 screenplay for the incredibly successful Chinese action film Mulan Joins the Army. Essays trace the story and discuss its significance in Chinese pop culture, and a bibliography offers a long listing of the many versions of the legend that exist.

Honorable Mention: Picture Books

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