Changing the Story: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Myth

  • Elizabeth Wanning Harries
Part of the The History of British Women’s Writing book series (HBWW)


Many recent British women writers believe that we need ‘new versions — but only versions — of the old, deep tales that are twisted into our souls’.1 Tales from the Bible, Greek mythology, British history, and various fairytale collections lie beneath some of their most imaginative and compelling work. Sometimes they depend primarily on glancing references to fairy tales and myths, like Kate Atkinson in Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995) and Human Croquet (1997). Sometimes they recast Greek tragedies and other plays: a few examples include Timberlake Wertenbaker’s translations of Sophocles and Euripides as well as her reworking of the Philomela story in The Love of the Nightingale (1989), Caryl Churchill’s translation of Seneca’s Thyestes (2001), Liz Lochhead’s translation of Moliere’s Tartuffe into Scots (1986). Sometimes they recast Biblical stories, as Michele Roberts does in The Wild Girl (1984), republished as The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene (2007), and Impossible Saints (1998), or like Jeanette Winterson in her first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985). Sometimes they rewrite nineteenth-century novels that inspire retelling after retelling. Lochhead returns to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) in her play Blood and Ice (1985) and in her volume of poetry Dreaming Frankenstein (1984). Emma Tennant reima-gines many nineteenth-century British novels (Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and several novels by Jane Austen), often more than once.


Fairy Tale Woman Writer Greek Tragedy Greek Mythology Biblical Story 
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© Elizabeth Wanning Harries 2015

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  • Elizabeth Wanning Harries

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