Mary Renault

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Name: Mary Renault (pen name)
Also Known As: Eileen Mary Challans
Occupation: writer
Medium: print novels
Works: Purposes of Love (aka: Promises of Love); Kind Are Her Answers; Return to Night; The Friendly Young Ladies (aka: The Middle Mist); North Face; The Charioteer; The Last of the Wine; The King Must Die; The Bull from the Sea; The Mask of Apollo; Fire from Heaven; The Persian Boy; Funeral Games; The Praise Singer
Official Website(s): (deceased pre-internet)
Fan Website(s):
On Fanlore: Related pages

Mary Renault (1905-1983) was a British-born mid-twentieth century author of contemporary and historical novels. Her early works, which had a contemporary setting, were only moderately successful. It was her historical novels set in Ancient Greece—the first of which was published in 1956—which led to her wide popularity.

Recurring themes within Renault's work include honour and morality, life and death, parent-child relationships, friendship and loyalty, and the nature of love. She shows a strong emphasis on individual responsibility and achievement, sometimes to the point of overlooking or minimising the effects of structural inequalities on the individual's ability to achieve. Her portrayals of women (especially mothers) are often harsh, with mothers such as Olympias (Fire From Heaven, Funeral Games), Elaine Fleming (Return to Night) and Lucy Odell (The Charioteer) damaging their sons' psyches by deliberately granting or withholding love in a manipulative or abusive manner. The more problematic aspects of Renault's writing have from time to time been the subject of discussion in various fan communities and have led to the creation of a significant body of "fixit" or "reclamatory" fic.

At a time when romantic (as opposed to clinical) tales about men in love with other men were very unusual, she was a rare author who wrote such stories—carefully, in the case of Fire from Heaven (about Alexander the Great and his relationship with his friend Hephaistion) and The Charioteer (set early in World War II), and in slightly more detail in The Persian Boy (about Alexander in the fullness of his power, and his eunuch servant/lover Bagoas).

Renault's novels, written between the late 1930s and late 1970s, do not go into explicit detail about sex. However, this was her decision rather than a reflection of the perceived permissiveness of the times. As she put it, "I have always been as explicit as I wanted to be, and have not been much more so in recent books. [...] Inch-by-inch physical descriptions are the ketchup of the literary cuisine."[1] Her honest but subtle narrative allowed her books to be regarded as literature rather than relegated to the adults-only section, or deemed pornographic as, for instance, some of Gore Vidal's works had been. (Blogger Alexis Hall even reports finding The Persian Boy in a children's library.)[2]

Some fans have found this reticence frustrating;[3] but then Renault's opinions on the matter have never stopped fans from filling in the blanks.

While Renault's works were ground-breaking in their treatment of same sex relationships at the time of publications, some aspects have dated significantly.


Until (approximately) the 1980s, reading Renault's books was considered a 'must' within gay communities. Her importance to the gay community, especially to teens and young adults as they realized their orientation. cannot be overstated. A number of readers found their way to fandom via this recommendation. Like Patricia Nell Warren, who wrote slightly more explicit modern novels about male lovers, Renault was a must-read author for early slash fans. Here was a queer woman (she tends to be referred to as a lesbian, but she identified as bisexual[4]) who clearly found male/male relationships fascinating and worth writing about. Her books appear on nearly every list of "Slashy Pro Novels" that slash fans draw up[5]. A fan, Gayle F said in 1994:

I love Mary Renault, and she is an obvious must read for all those who like the romance but don't care whether there is any explicit sex. Lots implied, but she is probably one of the people who got me into writing slash, since I can still remember my frustration at not being given more of the erotic details, though she always captured the emotion beautifully.[6]

The Renault fandom is not, however, predominantly focused on slash, despite its presence within the fan fiction Renault's works have inspired.

As a rarelit fandom, Mary Renault's books are usually well represented at Yuletide and other gift exchanges.

(For more detail, please see Timeline of Mary Renault Fandom.)

LiveJournal and Dreamwidth Communities

  • maryrenaultfics ("Mary's Handmaidens") was a Livejournal community that was started in June 2004 for discussion and fanfic. It was active until January 2015, when the mods announced it was going on (probably permanent) hiatus.
  • maryrenault ("Mary Renault readers and fic writers' Journal") was a Livejournal community that was started in September 2005, primarily for discussion. It was active until early 2009, with only sporadic posts since.
  • RenaultX is a Dreamwidth community that was established in 2014.

Fanfiction in different Renault universes

A significant percentage of Renault-based fanfiction has been written using characters from either The Alexander Trilogy (historical), or The Charioteer (contemporary). There are a number of stories written about Alexander, Hephaistion and Bagoas (in all possible combinations), who are the main characters of Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy, and Laurie Odell, Ralph Lanyon, and Andrew Raynes, who are the main characters from The Charioteer. Recently, Return to Night has become popular within the fandom. Mary Renault's portrayal of the world of bulldancers in Minoan Crete (presented primarily in The King Must Die, but mentioned in other books as well) has also been used as a setting for fandom AUs, notably LOTRPS.[7] Several of Renault's books are listed as fandoms in the Yuletide rare fandom exchange. Every year there have been some stories; but in 2010 there was a 'bumper crop' of 11 Yuletide stories and 2 Yuletide Madness stories (which nonetheless were of sufficient length they could have been included in the main collection had they been completed in time). The maryrenaultfics community was has been known to attract some of its new members through Yuletide. Since 2014, the Renault Exchange has also given rise to a substantial number of fanworks, both within the exchange itself and inspired by it.

Alexander novels

Fanfiction based on Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy and Funeral Games:

For detailed discussion about fanfiction based on these novels please refer to the article about The Alexander Trilogy.

The Praise Singer

For detailed discussion about fanfiction based on this novel please refer to the article about The Praise Singer.

The Last of the Wine

Fanfiction based on The Last of the Wine:

For detailed discussion about fanfiction based on this novel please refer to the article about The Last of the Wine.

The Mask of Apollo

For detailed discussion about fanfiction based on this novel please refer to the article about The Mask of Apollo.

Theseus novels

Fanfiction set in the world of The King Must Die and its sequel, The Bull from the Sea.

For detailed discussion about fanfiction based on this novel please refer to the article about the Theseus Novels.

The Charioteer

For detailed discussion about fanfiction based on this novel please refer to the article about The Charioteer.

Other Contemporary Novels

For detailed discussion about fanfiction based on Renault's earlier contemporary novels (i.e., other than The Charioteer) please refer to the article about Mary Renault's Early Contemporary Novels.

Crossovers between Renault novels

See Mary Renault's Early Contemporary Novels for crossovers involving The Charioteer, Return to Night, Purposes of Love, Kind Are Her Answers, and The Friendly Young Ladies.

Crossovers with Other Fandoms

One of the features of the RenaultX exchanges of 2014 and 2015 and the output of some of the authors active in those exchanges has been the stimulus it has given to fic writers not only to write crossovers with other works by Mary Renault (Return to Night and The Friendly Young Ladies are frequently crossed over with each other and/or with The Charioteer) but with works by other authors such as Antonia Forest, Agatha Christie or E.F.Benson or featuring contemporary historical characters including W.H.Auden. Multiple crossovers (including three or more fandoms or works) are becoming increasingly common.

See The Charioteer article for The Charioteer crossovers. See The Last of the Wine article for The Last of the Wine crossovers. See The Alexander Trilogy article for The Persian Boy crossovers.

Alternative Universes

See The Alexander Trilogy article for AU fanfic related to The Persian Boy. See The Theseus Novels article for AU fanfic related to The King Must Die.

Fan community activities

Besides fanfiction, the Mary Renault communities have provided fans an opportunity to discuss the novels in detail, both in stand-alone posts and, in the case of maryrenaultfics and renaultx, in scheduled chapter-by-chapter discussions. In addition, maryrenaultfics has undertaken group projects such as creating character glossaries, and offered challenges and other community activities to inspire active participation by a broader section of the membership.

For more detailed information on the activities of the maryrenaultfics community, please see the maryrenaultfics article.

For more information on the discussions of specific books, please see the appropriate article: Mary Renault's Early Contemporary Novels, The Charioteer, The Theseus Novels, The Last of the Wine, The Mask of Apollo, The Alexander Trilogy, The Praise Singer.

In 2014, the Renault Exchange was established for fan fiction based on Renault's contemporary novels. RenaultX, the associated Dreamwidth community, also acts as a forum for chapter by chapter read-throughs of Mary Renault's works and discussions of various aspects of her life and times.

See also


  1. ^ Renault, Mary (1984) Afterword to The Friendly Young Ladies, London: Virago.
  2. ^ Alexis Hall, A Persian Boy and a Quiet Gentleman, October 10, 2013. "I think, perhaps, someone had mistaken it for worthy, stodgy children’s history, which was why it nestled there in its dull brown cover between Rosemary Sutcliff and Roger Lancelyn Green."
  3. ^ For example, Ellen Fremedon's: "ellen_fremedon: The Persian Boy, POV, and smut". 2003-06-04. Archived from the original on 2012-12-06.
  4. ^ Zilboorg, C. (2001). The Masks of Mary Renault (p. 217). Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press
  5. ^ Katy's list of Slashy Pro Novels
  6. ^ Gayle F, quoted from Virgule-L, with permission (June 19, 1994)
  7. ^ View the profiles of author multifandom rubynye: LiveJournal account, for instance.