Fantasy and fairy tale

Find out how 20th-century writers used fantasy and traditional tales to analyse and question the real world around them.

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An introduction to The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

Article by:
Chris Power

Chris Power examines how Angela Carter’s collection of reworked fairy tales is a unique, disruptive work that places gender politics centre-stage and refuses to be easily categorised.

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Angela Carter, Gothic literature and The Bloody Chamber

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of modern fairy tales, many of which incorporate elements of Gothic literature. Greg Buzwell traces the Gothic influence on Carter's stories, from the Marquis de Sade to Edgar Allan Poe.

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Angela Carter: fairy tales, cross-dressing and the mercurial slipperiness of identity

Article by:
Marina Warner

Marina Warner explores cross-dressing and the performance of identity in Angela Carter's fairy tale-inspired works.

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Bad-good girls, beasts, rogues and other creatures: Angela Carter and the influence of fairy tales

Article by:
Marina Warner

Marina Warner describes how Angela Carter collected, reimagined and borrowed from fairy tales and folklore.

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Angela Carter’s wolf tales (‘The Werewolf’, ‘The Company of Wolves’ and ‘Wolf-Alice’)

Article by:
Bidisha

The last three stories in Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber all feature wolves. Bidisha considers how these tales use wolves to explore sexual and gender politics, social violence and the possibility of liberation.

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Crop of the dustjacket for The Hobbit, showing mountains and a dragon flying through the night sky.

J R R Tolkien as map-maker in The Hobbit

Article by:
Sally Bushell

Focussing on the maps within The Hobbit, Sally Bushell examines how J R R Tolkien was a highly visual writer who needed to draw and map as part of the creative process.

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View of the night sky showing the parallel world of Cittàgazze, from the TV adaptation of His Dark Materials

The parallel worlds of Philip Pullman

Article by:
Andrew Tate

Focussing on Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and Lyra's Oxford, Andrew Tate explores the multiverse of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and how the trilogy develops a tradition of literary geography that is distinctive to fantasy fiction.

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Nightmares, mirrors and possession in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca

Article by:
Barbara C. Morden

Barbara Morden looks beyond the period detail and romantic conventions of Rebecca to uncover an archetypal story of female identity formation.

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Daphne du Maurier and the Gothic tradition

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Greg Buzwell traces Daphne du Maurier’s use of Gothic themes, motifs and imagery, and shows how she was influenced both by earlier writers and by her deep connection with Cornwall.

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Crop of book cover for Meryvyn Peake's Gormenghast, showing a large intricate stone castle

Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Castle and the defining role(s) of names

Article by:
James O. Butler

Names can evoke grand vistas in the imagination just on their own suggestive strength. James Butler examines how Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy utilises a single name to paint a clear picture of power and servitude between the castle, its lands and its people.

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Film still from The Chronicles of Narnia, showing the wardrobe

Narnian portals

Article by:
Sally Bushell

Many fantasy novels feature portals, thresholds that allow characters to transition from one world to another. Professor Sally Bushell explores C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, focussing on the use of the door as a portal that allows children to enter Narnia.

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Ted Hughes and mythology

Article by:
Andy Armitage

Andy Armitage explains how Ted Hughes used mythology to think and write about vitality and death. In doing so, Hughes drew not only on ancient myths but also on the work of previous writers influenced by mythology, such as Robert Graves, W B Yeats and Carl Jung.

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An introduction to Tales from Ovid

Article by:
Andy Armitage

Andy Armitage explores how Ted Hughes's beliefs about myths shaped his Tales from Ovid, and how his adaptation of a classical work can be read alongside his intensely personal last volume of poetry, Birthday Letters.

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An introduction to Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Article by:
John Sutherland

Professor John Sutherland explores the origins and afterlife of T S Eliot’s Book of Practical Cats, the ‘cat poems’ first written to entertain Eliot’s godchildren that later became his best-selling collection and inspired a famous stage production.

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Arthur Rackham illustration of Peter Pan as a baby, flying through the sky over rooftops

The many forms of Peter Pan

Article by:
Sally Bushell

Who, or what, is Peter Pan? Sally Bushell considers the strength of the myth of ‘Peter Pan’ by exploring the ways in which Peter is represented across the different versions of his narrative.

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Fiction for children in the first 40 years of the 20th century

Article by:
Alison Bailey

From Edith Nesbit to Enid Blyton, Alison Bailey traces the development of children's fiction in the first four decades of the 20th century.

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Tarka the Otter as an allegory of war

Article by:
Anne Williamson

Anne Williamson describes how Henry Williamson's experiences in the First World War shaped his work, and in particular his novel Tarka the Otter.

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Further themes

20th-century theatre

Find close readings, critical interpretations and personal responses to the works of key 20th-century playwrights and practitioners, including Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Shelagh Delaney and Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Creative activities

Channel your creativity! Explore activities inspired by our collection.

Art, music and popular culture

From riots at the ballet to punk rock fanzines, discover the music, art and popular culture that shook the world in the 20th century.

Capturing and creating the modern

Modernist writers broke new ground by experimenting with new forms and themes. From everyday life, perception and time to the kaleidoscopic and fractured nature of modern life, discover the ways in which these writers created and captured the modern.

European influence

From Paris to Moscow and from Berlin to Dublin, discover how European cities were crucibles for modernist experimentation.

Exploring identity

Examine how writers have explored identity – through the prisms of ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality – in the modern world.

Fantasy and fairy tale

From subversive fairy tales to gothic nightmares, explore how 20th-century writers used fantasy to analyse and question the real world around them.

Gender and sexuality

From Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, E M Forster’s Maurice and Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey to Sylvia Plath’s journals and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, discover how literature explored, questioned and exploded traditional ideas of gender roles and sexuality.

Literature 1900–1950

From The Waste Land to Ulysses and from Mrs Dalloway to Nineteen Eighty-Four, discover the seminal literary works of the early 20th century.

Literature 1950–2000

From The Bell Jar and The Lonely Londoners to Birthday Letters and The Buddha of Suburbia, explore key literary works of the late 20th century.

Power and conflict

From First World War poetry to works inspired by the Blitz and from futuristic dystopias to depictions of religious radicalism, see how war and conflict shaped 20th-century literature.

Theatre practitioners and genres

From Stanislavski to Brecht and from Theatre of the Absurd to Theatre Workshop, explore some of the key influences and developments within 20th century theatre practice.

Visions of the future

From Orwell’s Ministry of Truth to Ballard’s crashed cars, see how 20th-century writers imagined the future, investigated the present and prepared for the unknown.