This book is a huge hit for all fairy tale loving children and adults! This creative couple have created something special in this book and while the stories are familiar, the characters and illustrations are wonderfully unique.
- Do either of you have a favourite tale in the book?
Well, they’re all like our babies but we do both love Handsome and the Beast. It’s very different from the Disney version that people remember and has a brilliant magical palace filled with every materialistic desire that Handsome might have- talking birds and dancing puppets. But he’s all alone. Once gender swapped it becomes a story about a man who sacrifices himself first to the needs of his mother and next to the needs of his wife/captor. It is also the story of a man who learns to look past the flaws of an ugly, angry woman and to love her despite all this. We see plenty of stories of women sticking by their men despite their flaws, but little of this the other way round. So it’s really refreshing!
- Why do you think this book is so important and relevant for today’s readers?
Gender is a topic that is coming to the fore with people realising that gender identity doesn’t have to be split into binaries of ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ and the roles, norms and behaviours we assign to these socially constructed terms. We’d love everyone to think about gender a bit more and the unconscious biases that litter our stories and language. One thing we noticed is how often we refer to animals as masculine (ie ‘Good afternoon Mr Magpie’) or how rarely we describe women as their job titles (in our books there is a Baker, Merchant and Miller who all happen to be female). One other thing we noticed about our book was that there were now 3 male characters in our book who wanted to be fathers. But when we thought of contemporary films, tv or literature we couldn’t think of one famous story where the main character was a man who wanted to be a father. Isn’t that crazy that these narratives are missing from our culture despite a huge proportion of men choosing to be fathers? Our aim for this book is to get people to think and ask questions. By not rewriting these stories we have put the analysis firmly in the reader’s hands. So we’d love to hear your observations! Tag us at #genderswappedfairytales on social media.
- How long did the project take- from creating the algorithm to the finished book?
The whole project took about a year and a half. It was a little different than how most books are written! Jonathan is a digital inventor so he created a computer algorithm that swaps the gender in text, turning ‘he’ to ‘she’ and ‘queen’ to ‘king’. That took about 3 months. We then ran the fairy tales through the algorithm and could read the brand new tales for the first time. It was really exciting and surprising. Our language is littered with gender biases we’d never noticed before. It was then over to me to illustrate these new, twisted tales.
- What has the response been to the book? Overwhelmingly positive or has it met with negativity as well?
We didn’t know what to expect as It’s an unusual project- part activism, part art and part literature. But the response has been staggeringly positive. We’re already on the 4th reprint and sold out in most places over Christmas and have had a lot of interest in developing the book further. We’ve had fantastic reviews everywhere from The Guardian to the Independent and even The Daily Mail… which was surprising! I think the worst criticism we’ve had is a couple of people labelling the book as ‘woke’. But if you read it you quickly realise that stories about big, bad lady wolves killing little boys is far from woke. The Victorian tales are quite dark. Infact, the interesting thing about turning a power structure on its head is that you create a dystopian matriarchal world where women hold the power. That’s obviously a million miles from the gender equal utopia where we woke folk would like to live!
- How did you decide which fairy tales to include? Were there any that you were disappointed not to be including?
Andrew Lang and Nora Lang (his largely uncredited wife who researcher, Andrea Day, suggests may have done the majority of the work on the fairy books) collected and translated an enormous number of fairy tales and folk stories. So we had a hell of a lot to choose from. The origins of fairy tales are oral and were often told by women. But the ones that were written down and popularised over the years happen to be ones that conformed to patriarchal stereotypes. So we aimed to take the most famous ones and see what happened to those archetypes when we turned them on their heads. If you dig far back you can find a lot of really quite subversive tales lost in time.
- Are there plans to release a second volume?
Yes- there are so many stories to gender swap and also many other algorithms that can shine a light on different power structures. The aim is to create a movement where people can try gender swapping films, adverts and books to shine a light on the biases that underpin our culture even today.
- The illustrations are beautiful and full works of art- clearly a labour of love. How much time was spent on each illustration?
Thanks so much! I usually draw comics and have to draw 200 pages, so it was a luxury to be able to spend days painting each illustration in this book. But before I got down to painting them I spent a lot of time researching all the illustrations that had been done over the year for each fairy tale. I copied their poses but swapped the genders and noticed what that did to the image. Princes now were in passive, submissive or sexualised poses. Then I drew my own versions and tried to pay extra attention to the power imbalances in the pictures. You can see some videos of me painting them here: https://genderswappedfairytales.com/pages/the-art and also buy prints of the paintings with a chunk of each sale going to children’s charity Plan International UK: https://genderswappedfairytales.com/collections/gender-swapped-fairy-tales
- Are you working on anything exciting that you can share?
Thank you so much for this brilliant volume of fairy tales for a new generation of reader!
We have some exciting announcements coming up about future projects soon. But currently I am working on a project with the brilliant PositiveNegatives- an organisation that uses comics and animation to tell humanitarian stories. I am doing a little film about migration and have made a pop up book that I perform. I’m also about to start working on a project about the stories in the stained glass windows in Canterbury Cathedral. All very interesting projects! You can keep up with my work at karriefransman.com or Jonathan’s digital wizardry at plackett.co.uk. And all further gender swapping adventures at genderswappedstories.com alongside free lesson plans and films behind the scenes.