Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett chat Gender Swapped Greek Myths


For thousands of years, Greek myths have been told and retold. Today, these myths continue to shape our ideas about justice, tragedy and what makes a hero’s journey. Karrie and Jonathan love these stories, and have found a way to breathe new life into them by making one crucial change… switch all the genders. We chatted with Karrie and Jonathan on the idea and execution behind Gender Swapped Greek Myths.

You have already written such a detailed authors’ note in the book but can you please summarize it for us why gender swapping Greek myths is important?

Karrie: Like fairy tales, myths have stood the test of time – going back around four thousand years! They are brilliant stories that explore our deepest psychological fears and fantasies. But they are also from a patriarchal culture with toxic heroes and maidens carried off against their will. Even today Greek myths continue to influence us. It is not difficult to spot the hyper-macho Greek heroes like Theseus, Odysseus and Perseus in modern superhero comics and movies.

How long did it take for the algorithm to work perfectly? Did you first brainstorm a list of words and adjust as you go?

Jonathan: It took a few months to get the algorithm working. At first I thought it was going to be easy- simply a case of ‘search and replace’ however, due to the oddities of the English language, that didn’t prove to be the case and I needed to create a programme that detected the context of the sentences. But yes- once it was working we had to decide which words to swap. Some were easy, like swapping ‘hers’ to ‘his’ or ‘king’ to ‘queen’. Others were more complex. What is the male equivalent (and equally derogatory) word for ‘hag’? Can we really replace ‘maiden’ with ‘bachelor’ whilst the former implies virginity and the latter… less so!

Most of the swaps are done by the algorithm, but you still made some changes manually. While some are very obvious, like childbirth, how do you decide on the others? For example, why the clothes?

Jonathan: One of the joys of the algorithms is that we get to apply it to the stories and then read them for the first time. Many writers have rewritten fairytales and myths but the algorithm swaps the whole world and all the expectations along with it. So we wanted to reflect this in swapping all ‘gendered words’. We chose to swap words that we culturally associate with ‘men’ and ‘women’, such as names, titles and clothes. So ‘Perseus’ became ‘Persea’, ‘Lord’ became ‘Lady’ and ‘dress’ became ‘suit’. Yes- it would be much nicer for anyone of any gender to be named whatever they like and wear whatever they feel comfortable in. However, we wanted to reflect our existing world, with all its binary ideas of what being a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ is, rather than create a utopian world where none of those labels mattered. We want this book to feel like it could be from a parallel universe, where women hold the power and always have.

What kind of research do you do to ensure that you are approaching the swaps in a harmless way?

Karrie: I think it’s important to point out that the swap isn’t harmless. We are not creating a utopian society where everything is equal. Instead this world contains all the power imbalances of our current world, just turned on their heads. This is a world where lady wolves prey on little boys in dark woods and where underworld queens abduct young men to be their husbands. These worlds are far from harmless.

And did the conversations around Gender Swapped Fairy Tales change the way you approached this book?

Karrie: The conversations around the first book have always been really interesting to read as the analysis of the swaps is left firmly in the reader’s hands. Each reader notices different things and are made aware of their unconscious biases in different ways. We might ask why a prince with ‘feminine’ traits makes us uncomfortable while we readily accept a ‘tomboy’ princess. Or why we assumed that the ‘merchant’ was a man. Or why the word ‘Queendom’ is so seldom heard even though we lived in the United Queendom until very recently. We had a fantastic response to the first book so our aim with the second was to explore more foundational texts that influence today’s archetypes, roles and narratives.

How do you think parents should approach this book with their kids? Just tell the stories without mentioning they are gender-swapped?

Jonathan: The book was always supposed to be for adults and children. An adult reading the story to the child might swap the texts back and forth in their heads. So reading these well known stories becomes more of an intellectual exercise. The children might not have such a strong set of gendered expectations yet (depending on their age!) and might simply be exposed to much more varied roles- egotistical heroines or men who long to be fathers. However people choose to read the books we hope it sparks a lot of conversations!

And finally, what was the biggest challenge in doing the illustrations for Gender Swapped Greek Myths?

Karrie: Imposter syndrome! I never went to art college so I still feel that. But to be honest, it’s such a joy drawing these books. If I get to go to work and paint gender bending monsters for a living then I’ve made child Karrie very happy indeed!

Get your copy of Gender Swapped Greek Myths here.

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