It’s my stop on the blog tour for Gender Swapped Greek Myths and I am beyond excited to be sharing an interview with the dream team behind this wonderful anthology. This is one of my top picks for 2022!
I wrote at length about the mind-blowing Gender Swapped Fairy Tales (read here) and this second book is just as epic – if not more so! In this second collection of stories by wife and husband team, Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett, they have created a truly thought-provoking and gorgeously illustrated, collection of Greek myths.
The traditional Greek myths remain unchanged except for the gender identifiers which have been swapped using an algorithm, created by Jonathan. There is a useful list of swapped character names at the back of the book. Because the rest of the text has been left untouched, the stories feel so familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time. There are no reimagined endings, or twists, or indeed any other changes. As you read each story, you EXPECT to know what is going to happen next, but it feels different. It makes you question motivations, character portrayals and unconscious bias.
Often in Greek myths, brutality and bravery is reserved for male figures, while female characters are wicked witches or helpless maidens. But this stunning collection allows readers to explore a world where seductive male sirens lure brave heroines to their death, where Icara and her mother fly too close to the sun, and where beautiful men are forced to wed underworld queens…
Karrie and Jonathan’s simple but ingenious idea has created two masterful collections of stories that are vital for our society today. I am deeply honoured to have had the chance to chat to them about the project.
Hi Karrie and Jonathan, it is a pleasure to talk to you! My daughters and I love reading Gender Swapped Fairy Tales and I was so excited to be able to share this second book in the series with Greek myths.
Thanks so much for your kind words. That’s lovely to hear!
First, can you tell us what inspired you to create this series of books?
Well, like fairy tales, Greek myths have been around for centuries. Around 4,000 years! They underpin the stories and characters that we see in our books and on our screens today- just look at the superhero films in our cinemas and you can see echoes of Theseus and Perseus fighting monsters. What we hope to do with these books is to shine a light on the gender stereotypes hiding in plain sight in the stories we tell our children. Also- Greek Myths are a bit darker and perhaps more complex than fairy tales so we hope to reach a different audience.
Jonathan, can you explain how the algorithm works – how long did it take you to create?
Back in 2017 I remember looking at the newspapers covering the meeting between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon and was surprised to see many focused on the shoes the two politicians were wearing. I imagined a gender swapped world where Obama met Cameron and the tabloids were full of close up shots of their shiny brogues. I set about creating a computer algorithm that swapped all the gendered language in any text- turning ‘he’ to ‘she’, ‘Mother’ to ‘Father’ and ‘Hero’ to ‘Heroine’. It took maybe 3 months to make- longer than I anticipated as the English language has some unhelpful oddities.
Karrie, can you tell us about your illustration process for the project?
I begin by researching all the previous paintings and illustrations of these famous myths and then try gender swapping the images. This process resulted in so many young men in subordinate or sexualised poses with their clothes clinging to them. Then it’s time to do my own illustrations. I hand painted them in bright colours drawing prints inspired by ancient Greek pottery. The poses are heavily influenced by Greek sculpture from the classical and Hellenistic periods giving the drawings a dynamic feel. I focus on the skewed power relations between the characters.
What is your favourite gender-swapped Greek Myth?
One of our favourite stories from the book is Persea and Medus (originally Perseus and Medusa). It begins when the queen- Perseus’s grandmother decides to lock her son up in a deep tower (dug into the earth!). However- this doesn’t stop Zea, the queen of the goddesses, from sneaking in disguised as a ray of sunlight and seducing him. Then she trots off, leaving him to bring their baby up by himself. Persea’s grandfather isn’t happy about it and puts him and the child in a box and throws them out to sea. Persea grows up to become the brave heroine known for chopping off the snakey bearded head of Medus… while he is peacefully asleep.
You can see echos of this story in fairytales plus it is so interesting to read about a heroine’s quest. The heroines in our book are truly awful- egotistical and aggressive. It’s shocking and exhilarating to see this represented in a woman.
What do you hope readers take away from this book when they read it?
We’d like children to read about different characters that aren’t often represented today- loving fathers rocking their children to sleep and singing lullabies and brave Queens and heroines ruling a matriarchal society. And simultaneously we’d like the adults reading these stories to question the way gender permeates our language and culture and to become aware of our own unconscious biases.
What’s next for you – can we expect another book in the series?
We hope so! Drawing these are so much fun and there are endless texts to subvert. But we also like seeing readers swapping their own stories- books, films or adverts they see and noticing how that changes things. Do tag us #genderswappedstories in your own swaps so we can hear about them!
Thank you so much for talking to me. I can’t wait to see what you both do next!
Lovely to chat!
Gender Swapped Greek Myths was published by Faber & Faber, 1 September 2022
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour!
I am very grateful to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.