The X’s Daughter

Update: this post by Emily St. John Mandel didn’t exist when I posted the below, but is a much better analysis of the same subject, and you should read it.

There is an trend in contemporary publishing that seems to have exploded over the last ten years or so, of having novels titled “The X’s Daughter”, where X is a profession or similar descriptor. I hadn’t realised how popular the trend was, until browsing round Amazon for a few minutes found over thirty titles, twenty-six first published since 2000. My theory for the current explosion of titles is that it’s possibly in some part due to the success of “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” by Amy Tan. Here’s a list.

Not quite fitting the pattern, but worth mentioning for it’s profound lack of originality:

The snowclone is spreading into other relationships as well. The Time Traveller’s Wife (then later The Rector’s, the Footballer’s, the Traitor’s), The Gambler’s Nephew (c.f. the Magician’s), The Colonial Gentleman’s Son, etc. It’s almost tempting to find out if there’s some important structural reason why these stories are so evasive about the actual title character, in favour of their more interesting relative. But not tempting enough to make me read thirty novels from the “contemporary fiction” section.

The gender of the dwarves in The Hobbit

The discussion last year about casting a female in a major role in the forthcoming film version of The Hobbit (my money’s on Smaug) reminded me that the book is quite quiet on the subject of the dwarves’ genders. From (rusty) memory, I remembered only Thorin (son of Thrain) as being definitely male. But it turns out that there are gender cues, very scarcely scattered.

So, while re-reading the book recently, I kept a note of all the occasions when a gender is actually revealed, either by gendered pronoun or by family relationships. (Subsequent gender mentions after the initial one are not recorded below.)

[Page numbers are from the Collins Modern Classics edition, and are included not necessarily as a reference aid, but to demonstrate how rarely the minor dwarf characters are afforded singular pronouns.]

The reveals, in order, are:

Balin and Dwalin

When [Bilbo] got back Balin and Dwalin were talking at the table like old
friends (as a matter of fact they were brothers).

Ch. 1. An Unexpected Party, p20


Thorin, an enormously important dwarf, in fact no other than the great Thorin Oakenshield himself.

Ch. 1. An Unexpected Party, p22


“Half a minute!” said Dori, who was at the back next to Bilbo, and a decent fellow. He made the hobbit scramble on his shoulders as best he could with his tied hands, and then off they all went at a run…

Ch. 4. Over Hill and Under Hill, p87


“Why, O why did I ever bring a wretched little hobbit on a treasure hunt!” said poor Bombur, who was fat, and staggered along with the sweat dripping down his nose in his heat and terror…

Ch. 4. Over Hill and Under Hill, p88


“Come here Fili, and see if you can see the boat Mr. Baggins is talking about.”
Fili thought he could; so when he had stared a long while to get an idea of the direction, the others brought him a rope.

Ch. 8. Flies and Spiders, p178


There they were at last, twelve of them counting poor old Bombur, who was being propped up on either side by his cousin Bifur, and his brother Bofur…

Ch. 8. Flies and Spiders, p201


“And who are these?” he asked, pointing to Fili and Kili and Bilbo.
“The sons of my father’s daughter,” answered Thorin, “Fili and Kili of the race of Durin, and Mr. Baggins who has travelled with us out of the West.”

Ch. 10. A Warm Welcome, p238

Oin and Gloin

Oin and Gloin were sent back to their bundles at the top of the tunnel. After a while a twinkling gleam showed them returning, Oin with a small pine-torch alight in his hand, and Gloin with a bundle of others under his arm.

Ch. 13. Not At Home, p285

It may be worth mentioning that in the case of the last four dwarves, these brief references are the only ones. Thorin, Balin, Bombur, and Dori all have slightly more of a “speaking role” in the story, and do get a smattering of “he”s and “his”s elsewhere.

I briefly wondered whether Tolkien’s dwarves, like Pratchett’s, go to war and wear beards and use male pronouns regardless of their biological status, but decided that while finding and reading Tolkien’s History Of The Dwarves In 18 Volumes would be my usual course of action, it would totally undermine the whimsy behind this post. For the same reason, I have made no effort to track down further biographical detail on the thirteen dwarves.

All that aside, the startling conclusion of this post is that Ori, Nori and Bifur do not have a defined gender (within the artificially small scope of The Hobbit as a standalone work of fiction). Not, perhaps, enough ungendered dwarves that it Raises Interesting Questions About Our Assumptions Hmmm, but enough that Peter Jackson can, without abusing the text, give Dori a pair of axe-wielding sisters…

The Last Deadloss Visions

Christopher Priest’s essay on the history of the promised third of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthologies was published in fanzine form, in book form, and online, and was then removed from the web (at the request of both Priest and Ellison), all before I had ever used the internet. It remains not obviously available, which I, being used to the power of the Streisand effect these days, find remarkable.

But the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine caught it…

This is the full text of THE LAST DEADLOSS VISIONS, an essay I wrote in
1987 and published at my own expense in a fanzine called Deadloss. It was an attempt to bring journalistic techniques to a subject that from the point of view of anyone outside the sf world might seem an odd one for enquiry: the non-publication of a book.
Of course, the book was Harlan Ellison’s anthology ‘The Last Dangerous Visions’, a title surrounded from the beginning by so much hype, exaggeration and persistent invisibility that it has been a subject of
interest to a generation (literally) of sf writers and fans.

- Christopher Priest, from the Internet Archive’s archive of the Lysator archive of Last Deadloss Visions

This is all ancient history now: the essay was taken offline back in about 1997-98, judging from the link chronology on the Harlan Ellison links page. And the whole TLDV business has been quiet for ages. Priest still mentions it, as in his 2005 Worldcon speech. Ellison has been much quieter in recent years. Maybe the essay had an effect; probably just the passage of time has worn down his enthusiasm and restrained his hyperbole. Wikipedia points me at this 2007 article, in which Ellison refers (unprompted) to TLDV as a project which he would like to finish, but with rather less passion than in his heyday.

That same Links page is another testament to internet history.

Just after Midnight, 08/29/95:
Here is the problem with looking for Harlan Ellison Links. He was, as you know, involved with a little thing called Babylon 5 (and aside from mentioning the Bab 5 Support Page this is the ONLY link you’ll see here to it!), and since he is a Respected Author and what-not, every dork with a Babylon 5 Toaster Oven homepage has to mention his name. In fact, if you run a Lycos Search on “harlan ellison” (and why would you run any other kind of search?), right now, you’ll get 117 hits (actual mileage may vary). If you run a Lycos Search on “harlan ellison babylon” you’ll get 43. Get the picture?

Editor’s Note: these numbers are now (10/20/95) 242 and 70, respectively. Time waits for no man.

Anyway, save your eyeballs and mouse button and just read on. Trust me, everything worth looking at (except maybe some notes on how Ellison personally styles the hair of every cast member on Babylon 5) is here. If you’re a glutton for punishment, click on those Lycos searches above.

Remember when Lycos was to the Internet as, er, Google is to the Internet? Remember when it was possible to search for a name (let alone a famous name) and get only 242 hits? And that a third of them being irrelevant was annoying levels of dilution? And when you could be sure that you had seen everything worth looking at?

I don’t. (Harlan Ellison was 61.)

Harlan Ellison is now 75. I don’t think he will ever finish The Last Dangerous Visions. Christopher Priest was right, more than twenty years ago, when he declared that the project had got too large to handle. But maybe something can be salvaged, posthumously, when Ellison’s pride is no longer resting on it so heavily. I would like to see that.

Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Fate Worse Than Death

In June 1970, an article by R. D. Mullen appeared in the fanzine Riverside Quarterly, detailing all occurrances of a heroine escaping the lustful clutches of a villain in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs written between 1911 and 1915. From just those five years (21 novels), Mullen finds and lists seventy-four such instances.

The stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs contain many lessons of great value for the attentive reader, but none more valuable than the warning that an unprotected girl is always in danger of being raped by an Arab, Negro, great ape, Green Martian, or monster of some other kind, or by a wicked white man, or sometimes even by a good white man. Unwilling to rest content with a mere warning, Burroughs also provides many useful pointers on how an endangered young lady may defend her honour — or, if her own resources fail, on the kinds of rescue that may be expected from an ever-watchful Providence.

– R. D. Mullen, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Fate Worse Than Death