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The Charioteer is the last contemporary novel to be written by Mary Renault, who thereafter shifted to writing historical fiction set in Ancient Greece. The novel was originally published in Britain in 1953 by Longman; but Renault's American publisher at the time refused to issue it because of its content. An American edition was not published until 1959 (Pantheon), at which time the book was cut from some 400 pages to 350 pages in length, mostly from the first half of the story.
The Charioteer has been described as "a book of immense and subtle power and almost painful beauty" It combines a philosophical analysis of gay love, a war story, a classic love triangle, and a novel of character. As an early example of pro m/m literature, it has attracted a gay audience as well as appealing to slash writers as a model of serious writing of a similar bent. However, it is much more than a "gay novel", and is one of her most popular within Renault fan communities.
Fans of The Charioteer have been described as "an active, tight-knit, thoughtful and opinionated fandom".
In the fall of 1940, Cpl Laurie Odell is a patient in a military hospital near Bridstow, recovering from injuries sustained in the fighting in France. Here he meets Andrew Raynes, a Quaker and conscientious objector assigned to work as an orderly at the hospital. Laurie is immediately attracted, forcing him to confront the reality of his homosexual inclinations. However, his love for Andrew is perforce platonic, since the younger man gives no indication of sharing his preferences. As Laurie's physical recovery progresses, the relationship is tested when he becomes reacquainted with Ralph Lanyon, a man whom he had hero-worshipped at school. Ralph is now a naval officer, reassigned ashore after being injured in the evacuation of the army from Dunkirk. Unlike the idealistic Andrew, Ralph is very much aware of the nature of his own desires. Where Andrew represents an innocent Platonic ideal, Ralph represents an earthy reality. Laurie is forced to confront his own nature in order to make an ethical choice between the two men he loves.
See the List of Characters in The Charioteer for more information.
In 2004, lorie945 purchased a copy of the original 1953 Longman edition of The Charioteer only to discover it differed significantly in content from the version she had previously read. She then posted to the maryrenaultfics LiveJournal community about the existence of two distinct editions of the novel. Fans have subsequently debated which edition should be preferred, as well as the significance of the cuts to the interpretation of events and characters in the novel.
General discussion of The Charioteer's characters, plot, themes, and motifs has been popular in all journaling communities for Renault's works. Beyond this, though, it has been the subject of several extensive, detailed lit-crit-style fan analyses on a chapter-by-chapter (CBC) basis. Three separate CBCs were held by members of the maryrenaultfics LiveJournal community, and there was a further chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Charioteer on Naraht's blog in 2013. One minor by-product of these various book discussions has been greater awareness by the fans of minor inconsistencies in the novel (e.g. the year Laurie was born; whether or not Lucy had a brother) which have also been explored in the ITOWverse.
The Boys in Our Books blog held a group challenge review of The Charioteer, posted by Biob on August 25, 2014. Only two of ten participants actually finished the book. One loved it; the other had mixed feelings.
The maryrenaultfics community completed three lengthy chapter-by-chapter (CBC) discussions of The Charioteer, in 2005, 2007, and 2011.
The first CBC discussion of The Charioteer began on 1 May 2005, and continued through to the response to the posts on Chapter Sixteen, which were made in the week of 14 August 2005. At the time of the first CBC, the maryrenaultfics community was relatively small. The discussion was fannish, full of squee; and there quickly emerged a division between the "Ralph Girls" and the "Andrew Girls" in terms of which partnership members felt better suited to Laurie. More significantly, in the course of the discussion, the community realized the degree of difference between the two editions of The Charioteer, as numerous passages were quoted that were unfamiliar to the majority of members.
Two years later, therefore, the community held a second CBC whose primary focus was a discussion of the differences between the two editions—mostly cuts, though there were a few substitutions and additions. The discussion of the first two chapters began 11 February 2007; the final chapter was discussed from 29 April 2007. This time, there was greater familiarity with the historical and cultural background to the book; and, although there were still many posts with a fannish bent, the discussion overall tended more towards an analysis of the reasons for, and the effects and implications of the changes. As well, since there were many new members who had not participated in the previous CBC, the discussion increasingly expanded beyond the edits to an analysis of the entire book.
In 2009, the community polled its members to choose the next book to discuss. Sufficient interest was shown in a third chapter-by-chapter discussion to make The Charioteer a serious contender, although in the end The Last of the Wine was chosen. However, fans were aware that Renault acknowledged she had revisited some of the themes from The Charioteer (the last of her contemporary novels) in The Last of the Wine (the first of her historical novels), and so at several points during the chapter-by-chapter disussion, the parallels between the two books became the subject of discussion.
A third (members-locked) chapter-by-chapter discussion of The Charioteer began with Chapter One on 9 January 2011, and continued through to the discussion of the final chapter, which began 8 May 2011. There was also a follow-up discussion beginning with a post on 5 June 2011. To distinguish this from previous CBCs, the theme was "The Unwritten Charioteer" (TUC), focusing on the assumptions Renault may have made when writing and editing, upon the subtleties of the narrative, and upon the historical/cultural background to the book. To add to the community involvement, a weekly writing prompt accompanied most chapters, inspiring a number of ficlets and short stories. There were also icons created by members to celebrate the CBC.
Another chapter-by-chapter discussion was hosted by naraht on her dreamwidth journal beginning with Chapter One on 6 January 2013, and continued through to March 2013. . This discussion included reference to quite a lot of the historical context of the novel, as well as explorations about character motivation, etc. Some of the participants (including naraht) in this discussion were members of maryrenaultfics, though others have never joined this community.
Spontaneous, unscheduled book discussions
Fans reading and rereading the novel have occasionally started stand-alone discussions of characters, themes, and other aspects of The Charioteer.
- "Of Ralph & Sueage" - shezan applied the Mary Sue Character lithmus test to Ralph Lanyon, received a high score, and discussed her findings in more detail in the comments.
- Discussion arising from ajhalluk's argument that "Andrew is consistently more ghastly in the '53 edition"
- Discussion on suicide as a theme in The Charioteer
- Discussion on communication and failures to communicate
- Discussion of Renault's depiction of the gay community.
- Discussion of the correct pronunciation of Ralph Lanyon's first name.
- Discussion of Laurie and Ralph's schooldays, arising from lorie945's wondering what their pillow talk "about the past" could have been, leading to a character analysis of Bim and Bunny, and a discussion of possible AU parallels between Bunny and Laurie (with sequel).
- Discussion of Ralph's morality in sexual relationships, arising from a discussion of rent boys at the party in Chapter 6.
- Discussion of the basis for Alec and Sandy's relationship.
- Discussion of metaphor in The Charioteer (with sequel).
- "the most resounding scandal" - a discussion of the degree to which Laurie's mother would have known that Ralph had been expelled from school.
- "Gestures and consequences and charming smiles" - a discussion of Laurie's often questionable public behaviour in terms of defence mechanisms.
- Discussion of Quaker stances on homosexuality in relation to Andrew and Dave's reactions.
- "Rampant speculation" - a discussion of possible futures for the novels' main characters
Some fan discussions have not, strictly speaking, been about the book, but have been about the context of the book. Not surprisingly, the war setting has generated interest in the period, leading to some posts related to war experiences or other aspects of the period which help fans understand the character's experiences. For example, excerpts from the Royal Navy Officer's Pocketbook 1944  provided insights into Ralph Lanyon's character.
Given the size of Mary Renault fandom, a considerable amount of fan fiction has been based on The Charioteer.
Early stories, particularly those written by members of the maryrenaultfics community, tended strongly towards smut or fluff as fans delightedly filled in the blanks where Mary Renault had omitted "ketchup" or followed their favourites into domestic bliss. Such stories were gratefully received by fans who were starved for fic; and even the shortest posts often inspired numerous comments of marked effusiveness.
As time passed and more stories were written, the quality of writing improved enormously, as did the length and variety, and the extent to which writers made efforts to research the period in order to add verisimilitude and avoid anachronism. Curiously, the number of comments tended to decrease, though many reflect a greater interest in analysing the fanwork and its background. (Indeed, discussions sometimes drift far off the original topic.) Although the interest in short fluff/smut continued, there evolved a perceptible distinction between "major" and "minor" works.
- For specific stories please see the article, List of Fan Fiction Based on Mary Renault's The Charioteer.
The following are archives/directories for The Charioteer-related fan fiction:
Original Characters in Fan Fiction
The majority of fan fiction remains true to canon. Within this, however, a small number of recurring 'Own Characters' have developed which have been adopted as fanon by some fan-writers in a small number of stories. These include 'Patch' (a dog adopted by Laurie after he learns Gyp - his own dog in the book - has died), 'The Parrot' (given to Ralph by an old seaman), 'Christopher' (a gay friend), and 'Simon' (a childhood friend of Laurie's).
Fannish Character Interpretations
Although the major characters in The Charioteer are (subject to personal preferences) usually interpreted in relation to their canon appearances, fans have considerably evolved their understanding of several of the supporting characters.
Canon is slightly hazy on the exact marital status of Laurie's mother. However, most fans interpret the evidence to indicate that, after her separation from his father in his early childhood, they divorced some time before Michael Odell's death from pneumonia. Mrs Odell remarries towards the end of The Charioteer; and some fan authors take pains to use her new married name in stories set after the final chapter. However, she is most commonly referred to by her first name, Lucy, in a familiar manner that is definitely not canonical. The surname of Laurie's great-uncle, Edward Lethbridge, is usually taken to be her maiden name.
In canon, Lucy Odell is a "womanly woman" who clearly uses her feminity to manipulate everyone around her, not least her only son, who adores her. It takes little reading between the lines to see her unsympathetically. However, Laura Mason's 2007 drabble about Laurie's mom caused some re-evaluation of her character, which was reinforced by discussion during the second CBC. As a result, fans have tended also to recognize Lucy as a product of her upbringing, see her long widowhood as difficult for her, and interpret her remarriage to Mr Straike as being less happy than she had hoped.
Aunt Olive's surname is not given in the book; but, like Lucy's maiden name, it is usually taken to be Lethbridge. In canon, she is a colourless family drudge, always a little too eager to make herself useful. From the time of the second CBC she has been popular in fan fiction, usually interpreted positively. In some fan fiction, she sees more deeply into Laurie's character than the rest of his family, understanding that he is gay, and providing silent, unrecognized support.
Familiar in the Bridstow gay scene, Alec is a medical student at the hospital in Bridstow. In The Charioteer he plays a significant catalytic role, not least because he was Ralph Lanyon's lover several years before the start of the novel, and remains his friend. Fans have elaborated considerably on the Ralph/Alec romance, particularly the reasons why they eventually broke up.
Sandy Reid is Alec's current lover. His initial introduction in the novel is negative: Laurie takes an instant dislike to him because of his pale eyelashes and pinkish skin; and this is reinforced by Sandy's stereotypically effeminate behaviour at Alec's birthday party in Chapter Six (a major scene in the novel), which culminates in his faking a suicide attempt out of jealousy.
Fans initially disliked Sandy intensely, finding it out of character that, towards the end of the novel, he single-handedly saves the hospital from an incendiary bomb while on fire-watch. During the second CBC, however, it was pointed out that the negative interpretation of Sandy's character comes from the reader's taking Laurie's POV, and that he persistently presents a very subjective and unreliable perspective on other characters. Subsequently, during the first series of ITOWverse stories, fawatson wrote a dialogue between Alec and Sandy that interpreted him positively. This strongly affected other fans' understanding of Sandy as a gay character in the novel.
A minor character at the hospital in Bridstow, Miss Haliburton is the physiotherapist who realizes that the orthopedic boot that Laurie has been issued is badly designed. In canon, she is a dog breeder; and, in fanon, it is from her that Laurie and Ralph get the bull terrier Patch who appears in several works of fan fiction. Some fans intepret Miss Haliburton's brisk middle-aged spinsterhood as an oblique suggestion that she should be interpreted to be lesbian.
Some fanart inspired by The Charioteer has been posted to the Mary Renault communities on Livejournal.
Although members of Mary-Renault-focused LiveJournal communities employ a wide variety of icons, the most frequent single source is the cover of the original 1953 edition of The Charioteer. In making an individualized icon, this is usually subjected to some form of photomanipulation, such as cropping or the addition of text or Renault's signature.
No film has yet been made of The Charioteer. However in August 2008 fan interest was sparked by the discovery someone had written a screenplay based on the book  and in early December 2008 fans were excited by the possibility of a film when they discovered a vid in the form of a trailer on YouTube.
- Sweetman, D. (1993). Mary Renault: A biography. London: Chatto & Windus, p145.
- Robert M. Tilendis in Rambles, 18 December 2004.
- Quoted from naraht's Dreamwidth blog entry about her 2010 Yuletide stories, one of which was written on The Charioteer (accessed 23 June 2011).
- This plot summary has been adapted from the one on the FK4 website.
- "Charioteer - '53 vs '59 edition" post made to maryrenaultfics by lorie945 on 22 July 2004 (accessed 2 July 2010).
- Index to posts in the The Charioteer 53v59 CBC.
- The Last of the Wine CBC discussion, Chapters 1-3 draws comparisons with the The Charioteer, post started by trueriver on maryrenaultfics, 20 September 2009. Accessed 14 August 2010.
- The Last of the Wine CBC discussion, chapter 10 discussion post discusses aspects of The Charioteer and its characters, started by fawatson on maryrenaultfics, 18 October 2009. Accessed 14 August 2010.
- http://community.livejournal.com/maryrenaultfics/316625.html The Last of the Wine CBC discussion, Chapter 12 post draws comparisons with The Charioteer, discussion post by trueriver on maryrenaultfics, 8 November, 2009.] Accessed 14 August 2010.
- The Last of the Wine CBC discussion, Chapter 13 touches on The Charioteer characters, post by trueriver on maryrenaultfics, 15 November 2009. Accessed 14 August 2010.
-  Charioteer CbC discussion led by naraht
- Of Ralph & Sueage post by shezan in the maryrenault community, 7 February 2006. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Andrew - Again!!! post by ajhalluk in the maryrenault community, 13 March 2006. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Suicide as a theme in the Charioteer post by ajhalluk in the maryenault community, 25 January 2006. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Communication in the Charioteer post by ajhalluk in the maryrenault community, 27 January 2006. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- The Charioteer post by chazzbanner in the maryrenaultfics community, 21 April 2005. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- "About Ralph Lanyon's name" posted to the maryrenaultfics community by poicale, 9 October 2005 (accessed 29 June 2011).
- One More post by lorie945 in the maryrenaultfics community, 2 January 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- thread in One More post by lorie945 in the maryrenaultfics community, 2 January 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Post by my_cnnr (quoting weavinghugo) in the maryrenaultfics community, 4 January 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Charioteer: Laurie's character post by mysid to the maryrenaultfics community, 17 January 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- thread in TC: Rent boys at the party post by mysid in the maryrenaultfics community, 5 January 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- TC: Rent boys at the party post by mysid in the maryrenaultfics community, 5 January 2007. Accessed 2 Augus 2010.
- The Charioteer - further discussion - Alec and Sandy post by greerwatson in the maryrenaultfics community, 13 May 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Metaphor in The Charioteer post by greerwatson in the maryrenaultfics community 2 June 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- The conintuaton (sic) of the use of Metaphors in The Charioteer post by weavinghugo in the maryrenaultfics community, 3 June 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- the most resounding scandal post by my_cnnr, 5 October 2007. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Gestures and consequences and charming smiles post by my_cnnr in the maryrenaultfics community, 14 December 2008. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- How Quaker are Andrew's and Dave's stances on homosexuality? post by leolane, 14 March 2009. Accessed 2 August 2010.
- Rampant speculation post by cyberducks in the maryrenaultfics community, 9 April 2005. Accessed 4 August 2010.
- The Royal Navy Officer's Pocketbook (Officer's Aide Memoir) posted to maryrenaultfics by my_cnnr on 10 January 2008 Accessed 28 August 2010.
- The Royal Navy Officer's Pocketbook (another extract) posted to maryrenaultfics by my_cnnr on 17 January 2008 Accessed 28 August 2010.
- For example, this view of Miss Haliburton as probably lesbian is referenced in poicale's story "Miss Marple?".
- The Screenplay? posted by my_cnnr to maryrenaultfics on 15th August 2008 Accessed 28 August 2010
- Post by katewithak on maryrenaultfics, 3 December 2008.Accessed 25 July 2010.
- Minotaur's Sex Tips accessed 2 August 2010.