Gender Swapped Fairy Tales by Karrie Fransman & Jonathan Plackett

Published by Faber & Faber, 2020.

Fairy tales are so well-known and such an embedded aspect of popular literary culture that we’re familiar with their adaptations and have come to expect re-tellings with twists. In this book, what Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett have done is to make one simple yet very significant change. They haven’t rewritten the stories. They haven’t reimagined endings, or reinvented characters. What they have done is switch all the genders.

The results are eye-opening and powerful. Gender Swapped Fairy Tales illuminates and disrupts the gender stereotypes that have been woven into the stories we’ve been told since childhood. Fransman and Plackett have adjusted the power-balance and now it hangs very firmly in favour of women. Now it’s women, not men, who always come first: we have Gretel and Hansel, sisters and brothers, and a queendom not a kingdom.

Tropes we’ve come to accept as normal and as being representative of reality are turned on their heads. ‘Truths’ are questioned and challenged. We have men who long to be fathers; boys who cry and openly express their emotions; and men who work at a spinning wheel or do the housework. There’s a fairy godfather, and men who are vain and obsess about their appearance. Men are objectified and judged worthy purely on their looks. Now women can be cast in the role of powerful, ruthless villain, not just evil old crone. Women are to be feared: a monstrous Giantess, a scheming Wolf, a frightful Beast. Significantly, we see women as the hero too – the saviour who awakens the sleeping prince or rescues the man from the tower. How refreshing it is to see a princess in shining armour! And, as is the case in the story of Handsome and the Beast, we see how a woman’s unattractive appearance does not impact her capacity to be loved.

If we can imagine a world where harps sing and rats transform into coachmen, can we not […], also imagine a world where kings want babies and where old women aren’t witches?

Authors’ note, page xv

I absolutely loved this altered power-balance and the new perspective that the book gives us.

It’s not just the text that has been altered, Karrie Fransman has made changes to the illustrations too. In the book’s introduction, she discusses the process she went through and describes how, when researching classical paintings and illustrations of fairy tales, she noticed patterns: “the passive stances and exposed throats of the princesses; the clothes that seemed to cling to their bodies in some places, while simultaneously falling off them.” I found these observations fascinating and really enjoyed viewing how the new power-balance impacted the illustrations for Gender Swapped Fairy Tales.

The book itself is absolutely stunning. It’s in hardback with a ribbon bookmark, glorious endpapers and fabulous full-colour watercolour and ink illustrations.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 6+

Thank you to Faber & Faber for sending me this book to review.

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