Once upon a time…(and win a free book!)


Through the generosity of Ben Bella Books, three lucky readers of Writer Unboxed can win a copy of Demigods and Monsters, the anthology mentioned at the end of my post. Just answer this simple question: What was the name of the Gorgon killed by Perseus? The first three entries with the correct answer will win a copy of the book. Send your answer to sophievmasson at gmail dot com. (Kath here. I’ll let y’all know when the contest closes. Good luck!)


The first book I can remember reading was a book of fairytales. It was called The Blue Book of Fairytales, but was actually a Little Golden Book, beautifully-illustrated, with three fairytales in it: Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, and Toads and Diamonds. I loved that book and wore it out reading it and looking at the pictures. My favourite was Beauty and the Beast(which remains my favourite to this day, and which has had a lot of influence on my writing). I already knew a fair few fairytales, because my mother and my grandmother told us quite a few. And after The Blue Book of Fairytales, I read lots more.

I also started reading myths and legends: there were lots of those sorts of books in our house, including a fabulous French series which told all the myths and legends and fairytales from every corner of France, with a different volume for each region. But there were lots of books with myths and legends from other lands too, and I couldn’t get enough of them. There was such a world of enchantment and terror, magic and spookiness, tragedy and comedy in those stories, and they occupied my mind and haunted my dreams.

One of my favourite books of myths and legends was Roger Lancelyn’s Tales of the Greek Heroes, which my parents had bought me for my eighth or ninth birthday, not sure now which. It was a thrilling book, about the adventures of Herakles(or Hercules), Theseus and the Minotaur, Jason and his Argonauts and Perseus the Gorgon-slayer, and lots more. I loved all the stories but the one I loved in particular(apart from the Twelve Labours of Herakles) was the story of Perseus. There was something extra-special about it: it wasn’t only a myth, but it had elements of the glamour of fairytale; like for example Zeus coming to Perseus’ mother Danae in a shower of gold; or the magic gifts Perseus is given by his god-protectors to help him in his fight against the Gorgon, such as the shoes of swiftness, the cap of invisibility, and the burnished shield. Plus there was his rescue of Andromeda from the rock where she was chained, waiting for the dragon to come and eat her, and the fact he had to accomplish tasks.

I was always scribbling as a child too, as well as reading, and a lot of the stories and plays and comic-strips I wrote were based on my reading, on fairytales and myths and legends especially. As I grew up and eventually became a published author, those stories continued to inspire me. I wrote fantasies based on traditional fairytales, myths and legends: mostly French and Celtic, though, which I particularly felt an affinity for, but also from further afield, like Scandinavia, Indonesia, Arabia, India… I still loved the Greek myths and I had a vague notion that perhaps one day I might use one of those stories as a background for one of my own novels. Perseus, in particular, I thought, had all the right elements.

I never got round to it. And was pipped well and truly to the post by the fabulous American writer Rick Riordan, whose YA Percy Jackson series, based on the Perseus myth, among other Greek myths, has taken the world by storm. The books are fantastic, very cleverly-thought out, the myths updated very appropriately and amusingly. And they show without a shadow of a doubt just how strong and versatile those old myths are, how very easily they speak to us still in this modern age, and how a writer looking for a great idea and a sense of depth and reality should go at once to traditional stories, the myths and legends and fairytales, with their rich texture and gorgeous mix of terror, enchantment, humour, tragedy, magic and earthiness. For they speak in humanity’s ‘language of the heart’, a language that never really dies.

For those of you who are interested, I explore all this a bit more in an essay of mine included in a terrific new collection called Demigods and Monsters. The book, which features essays by lots of YA authors, explores Rick Riordan’s series and its background. It’s edited by Rick Riordan himself, is published by Ben Bella Books, and is available exclusively in Borders stores. But three lucky readers of Writer Unboxed can win their own copies, by entering the competition above.


About Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson has published more than fifty novels internationally since 1990, mainly for children and young adults. A bilingual French and English speaker, raised mostly in Australia, she has a master’s degree in French and English literature. Sophie's new e-book on authorship, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers, is available at Australian Society of Authors.


  1. says

    Wonderful post, Sophie! I was strongly influenced in childhood by Andrew Lang’s illustrated collections, the Pink Fairy Book, the Red Fairy Book etc, which drew from a wide range of cultures. The tropes of myth, legend and fairy tale build themselves into my work almost without my thinking about it, and I put that down to a lifetime of loving those stories, which have so much wisdom in them.

  2. says

    As a kid, I read an illustrated fairy tale book over and over…Dick Whittington was my favorite, though I don’t know why now. I still love books based on fairy tales and myths. A writer can retell a beauty and the beast story hundreds of times and it still seems fresh.

  3. says

    Thanks for this post, Sophie. My parents had a thick encyclopedic text on the Greek myths when I was growing up. I spent some time in an English class dissecting some of them for fun. And, oh, Perseus. When Clash of the Titans (film) came out, I watched it at least 2-3 dozen times with a friend.

    I had plenty of fairy tales to read as a child, too. I used to gravitate toward the lesser-known tales like Red Rose (instead of Snow White). But I’ve never heard of Toads and Diamonds!

    Great stuff.