robertogreco + thehobbit   3

Girl Bilbo and updating classic books – Michelle Nijhuis – Aeon
"most six years ago, when I became a parent, one of my very few certainties was that I would read to my daughter. I had been an only child, and now I was raising one. I wanted my daughter to learn, as I had, that stories were sources of adventure, inspiration and constant, loyal companionship.

So I read to my daughter the way I had been read to, eclectically but faithfully. As she got older, we talked about the exploits of Frog and Toad, and Junie B Jones, and the Pevensies almost as often as we talked about her friends from school. As soon as she could write the letters of her name, she got her own library card and started to add her selections to the pile. And last year, when we started to read J R R Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit (1937) together, she listened patiently to the first two chapters. Then she told me, matter-of-factly, that Bilbo Baggins was a girl.

Well, I said. That would be nice. But Bilbo is definitely a boy.

No, she said. Bilbo is a girl.

I hesitated. I wanted to share the story I knew, and I had always known Bilbo as a boy. But it seemed that my daughter knew otherwise. I soon agreed to swap ‘she’ with ‘he’ and ‘her’ with ‘his’, and my daughter and I met Girl Bilbo – who turned out to be a delightful heroine. She was humble and resourceful and witty and brave. She was no tacked-on Strong Female Character with little to do, but a true heroine with her very own quest and skills. For my daughter, Girl Bilbo was thrilling. For me, she was damn refreshing.

When I wrote about this experiment in literary gender-swapping for the Last Word On Nothing website last year, the public response to Girl Bilbo was startling. My daughter had ‘brought the internet’s Tolkien fanboys to their Mithril-padded knees’, in the words of one commenter. Girl Bilbo and her implications, I knew through comments and emails, were discussed at length in science-fiction circles, parenting groups, Head Start classes, and among Swedish devotees of role-playing games.

While many of these readers were enthusiastic about my daughter’s idea, a sizable minority thought I was indulging heresy. Leave the classics alone, they said. If you want stories with more female characters, some suggested, write them yourself. But my daughter didn't create Girl Bilbo, and neither did I. She has deep roots, and she isn't going away anytime soon.

I remember the moment I learned that books were imperfect. I was a teenager – 14 or 15, maybe – and I was in my school library, searching for books for a research paper. My English teacher appeared at my elbow with a hardcover in hand. ‘It’s not a very good book,’ he said, pushing it toward me, ‘but it’ll have some useful information.’

I stared at him. A book could be... something other than good? I’d been transported by books since childhood, and it had never occurred to me that they could have flaws. I knew I liked some stories more than others, but that was just personal taste. I had only a vague idea of how books were written and published, and I assumed that whoever or whatever oversaw that process was as wise as Gandalf. The words that lay between the covers of books were, as far as I was concerned, perfect.

Decades later, I’m still full of respect for the hard work that goes into writing any kind of book, fiction or non-fiction. As a writer myself, I recognise the importance of books as neat, marketable packages by which writers can learn a living.

I also know that books are fallible. I know the publishing industry is made up of people who love good books yet profit from bad ones. And, like most writers, I know that even the best books – the books that stay with us for a lifetime, the books that are read and re-read by people of different ages and different generations – are not sovereign objects, no matter how hefty their covers. ‘All novels are sequels; influence is bliss,’ wrote Michael Chabon in his essay collection Maps and Legends (2008). Every writer, no matter how fresh his or her vision, draws inspiration and ideas from the work of those who came before.

Likewise, every story – fiction or non-fiction – leaves room for the next writer, the next era, the next leap of imagination or understanding. ‘When we tell a story, we exercise control, but in such a way to leave a gap, an opening,’ wrote the English novelist Jeanette Winterson in her memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011). ‘It is a version, but never the final one. And perhaps we hope that the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can continue, can be retold.’"



"For me, the most fascinating part of literary genderswapping is its illumination of my own assumptions. Not long ago, my daughter and I read an Ursula K Le Guin novel with a young male hero. When we switched the pronouns, I found myself pleasantly but repeatedly surprised by our heroine’s independence. She journeyed alone, building her own boats, casting her own spells, and passing tests of strength and wits as she confronted dragons and shadows.

Of course she can do that, I thought. Of course she should be able to. But I was raised on Boy Bilbo, and on a million other stories where boys – usually white, usually English-speaking, usually straight – assume the lead. If I wrote a girl-centric adventure story for my daughter, I might reflexively throw in a male companion, or put our heroine on an easier path. By switching pronouns, though, my daughter and I met a heroine who pushed the boundaries of both our imaginations and took us on a truly unexpected journey."
childhood  culture  gender  2014  michellenijhuis  literature  fiction  nonfiction  thehobbit  bilbobaggins  perspective  jrrtolkein  writing  reading  howweread  identity  ursulaleguin 
july 2014 by robertogreco
The Technium: Pain of the New
"I predict that on each step towards increased realism new media take, there will be those who find the step physically painful. It will hurt their eyes, ears, nose, touch,and peace of mind. It will seem unnecessarily raw, ruining the art behind the work. This disturbance is not entirely in our heads, because we train our bodies to react to media, and when it changes, it FEELS different. There may be moments of uncomfort.

But in the end we tend to crave the realism -- when it has been mastered -- and will make our home in it.

The scratchy sound of vinyl, the soft focus of a Kodak Brownie, and the flickers of a 24 frame per second movie will all be used to time-stamp a work of nostalgia."
kevinkelly  2013  change  technium  technology  film  reality  framerate  history  photography  audio  cds  thehobbit  hfr  from delicious
january 2013 by robertogreco
The Maps We Wandered Into As Kids | The Awl
"If I ruled the world, or at least a publishing company, all books would contain as much supplementary information as possible. Nonfiction, fiction—doesn't matter. Every work would have an appendix filled with diagrams, background information, digressions and anecdata. And of course, maps. Lots and lots of maps. This predilection probably sprang from the books I read as a kid—books like The Phantom Tollbooth, The Hobbit and The Princesss Bride—all of which feature engaging maps that serve as gateways to imaginary lands. Here, say these maps, you're in this other world now."

[via: http://lukescommonplacebook.tumblr.com/post/17291470354/if-i-ruled-the-world-or-at-least-a-publishing ]

[Related: http://www.austinkleon.com/tag/michael-chabon/ and http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2009/jul/16/manhood-for-amateurs-the-wilderness-of-childhood/ and http://www.avclub.com/articles/michael-chabon,14122/ ]
nonfiction  fictionalworlds  children  childrenliterature  themysteriousdisappearanceofleon  ellenraskin  thehobbit  jrrtolkein  lfrankbaum  wizardofoz  williamgoldman  thephantomtollbooth  theprincessbride  aamilne  winniethepooh  nortonjuster  victoriajohnson  fantasy  fiction  books  cartography  mapping  maps  from delicious
february 2012 by robertogreco

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