Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Syrett, Netta

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Name used since childhood by UK writer Janet Syrett (?1870-1943), popular in her day for her Fairytales and fairy plays. Her friend Grant Allen helped her place her first story, "That Dance at the Robson's" (1890 Longman's). She became associated with the John Lane set, particularly Henry Harland (1861-1905) and Aubrey Beardsley, and was present at the conception of The Yellow Book. Lane published her first novel, Nobody's Fault (1896), the first of over 40 books. Some are adult romances, a few with supernatural undertones. NS believed she was psychic (> Talents), particularly through vivid precognitive Dreams. She used this theme in reverse in several books where her protagonists have Visions of past events: in Barbara of the Thorn (1913) a woman witnesses a past murder in Rome; in The House that Was (1933) a man relives events in an old house where his father committed suicide. Angel Unawares (1936) retold the childhood of her younger brother, onto whom she grafted her own psychic abilities.

NS began her fairytales with "Fairy-gold" (1896 Temple Bar), her first collection being The Garden of Delight (coll 1898). Gardens held a special fascination for NS, who used them as Polders of Faerie where children might witness Fairy activities, as in Godmother's Garden (1918). She edited the Christmas Book The Dream Garden (anth 1905), with contributions from, among others, Hilaire Belloc, Fiona MacLeod, E Nesbit and Alfred Noyes. Widely travelled, NS loved to create fairytale worlds out of the Cities she visited. The title story in The Magic City and Other Fairy Tales (coll 1903) recreates landmarks in London as places of magic, while The Castle of Four Towers (1909) transforms Siena into a fairy town. In Magic London (1922; rev 1933) a godmother's magic allows children to Timeslip to the past. NS's work was especially appreciated for its ability to create a presence of place with which children could identify. She wrote (and later produced at the Children's Theatre, which she helped establish in 1913) many fairy plays, including Six Fairy Plays (coll 1904), The Fairy Doll (1906; also in The Fairy Doll and Other Plays for Children coll 1922 chap) and Robin Goodfellow and Other Fairy Plays (coll 1918).

Some of NS's fairytales have an oppressive saccharinity, especially Toby and the Odd Beasts (1921 chap) and Rachel and the Seven Wonders (1921 chap), both in the Royal Road Library series, but at their best her stories share a close affinity with a child's imagination, making them true Wonder Tales. Her own joy in life and the delight of Nature comes through in her autobiography, The Sheltering Tree (1939). [MA]

other works: The Vanishing Princess (1910 chap) illus Charles Robinson; The Endless Journey and Other Stories (coll 1912); Stories from Medieval Romance (coll 1913); Tinkelly Winkle (1923); The Magic Castle and Other Stories (coll 1925).

Netta Syrett


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.