08 May 2014

+JMJ+

Theme Thursday 9


This is another meme I miss a lot. I wasn't a regular participant, though, which is why I didn't contact the host after she quietly dropped it, to hint that someone might want it back. I haven't really meddled in other people's blogging since the time I encouraged someone to add a linky to one of her weekly features and it ended up attracting both little interest and very irregular participation from me. What do I know, right?

Since there will be no future Theme Thursday posts, I'm going to have to mine the past, starting with the very first theme the blogger ever posted . . .

This Week's Theme:
Love

Has any botanist set down what the seed of love is? Has it anywhere been set down in how many ways this seed may be sown? In what various vessels of gossamer it can float across wide spaces? Or upon what different soils it can fall, and live unknown, and bide its time for blooming?

There is a strong current of romance that runs through The Virginian--something I didn't expect at all. Having little to no exposure to Westerns, I just assumed that women characters would be less important than cows. =P Seriously, this prejudice of mine has its roots all the way back in early childhood, when I told my mother that I wanted to be a cowgirl, and she said I couldn't because there were only cowboys. Well, I do know what she meant by that; but for years, I really did imagine that all Western settings were "No Woman's Land."

Thanks to Owen Wister, I know better now. And if I had to describe "Westernlandia," I would say that it is a "wide space" with a certain kind of soil that only lets worthy seeds thrive. It's not quite that "hard ground/ Of doubt and reason and falsehood found/ Where no faith else [can] grow," but it has a similar crucible effect. It doesn't tell you what your beliefs are made of, but it does tell you what you are made of.

Most of the time, the seed is the abilities and character of a young man who wants to build a life here. He must be the sort who can do things very well (which reminds me of my word for 2013) and who can stand up for himself when his virtue is tested (which kind of reminds me of my word for 2014). In The Virginian, we read about some good seeds and some bad ones. And the good end happily and the bad end unhappily, not because this is Fictionlandia, as Oscar Wilde might say, and therefore divorced from gritty reality--but because it is Westernlandia, which could give the real world a run for its grit.

Then there are the other seeds, like the seed of love in today's snippet. So what kind of love can grow, bloom and flourish in Westernlandia? According to Wister, the wonderful, deep-rooted kind. 

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One reason I've been publishing a lot of meme posts lately is that I've just brought back my own. Locus Focus is a chance let others know about a setting from a book (or a movie!) that you really loved. I have a new post up every Saturday and make it a point to comment on every Locus Focus post someone else links up. If this interests you, I hope that you join up! =)

Image Source: The Virginian by Owen Wister

14 comments:

Brandon said...

Now that you mention it, romance does seem to show up in a lot of Westerns. One of my favorite Westerns, Louis L'Amour's Sackett, partly turns on it, and it's a part of most plots from the examples I can think of. (I think this is a reason why Golden Age Hollywood loved the Western genre so much -- relatively cheap to make in mid-twentieth-century California, and you get action, and you can easily get romance if you want, all in one package.) Of course, in a Western, unlike your run-of-the-mill story about a romance, there's not even a reasonable guarantee of a long happily ever after; it could all end almost as soon as it starts.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Reading The Virginian and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Princess of Mars last month really did a number on my prejudices toward "male" genres. I had thought that, like the more "female" genres of Romance and ChickLit (which, of course, I'm more familiar with), they'd deliberately limit themselves to plot points and themes that the other sex might find boring. But if most other Westerns and classic SF are anything like these two representatives, then "male" books are more universal than I gave them credit for!

Brandon said...

I think it's very easy to get lopsided views of the 'male' genres, since they're often not as male as they seem.

I remember reading something a while back about science fiction. Apparently all the evidence is that its actual reading audience splits almost 50/50. The 'maleness' has to do with the fact that, if we just look at men who read regularly, about eighty percent of them regularly read science fiction -- men who read regularly are very enthusiastic, as a group, about the genre. I think the number for women who read regularly is closer to twenty percent. But the overall number of women who read regularly is simply massive compared to the number of men who are regular readers, so as it happens, the audience for science fiction is about 50% female. And it seems to have been that way, allowing for fluctuation, for a very long time. This contrasts sharply with something like Romance, whose audience is usually estimated at something like 95% women -- only a very small percentage male readers read Romance very much, and the pool of male readers is already small compared to the pool of female readers. Romance authors can ignore men entirely; but the books that sell well in science fiction usually have to appeal to a sizable number of women. So the argument was, anyway. (I suspect that if the fan base were equalized, a lot of Romance would read more like Georgette Heyer than it currently does!)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Interesting points! But what do you mean by "a very long time"? Since I've already brought up A Princess of Mars, let's make ERB the example: would he have had a significant number of female readers between the 1910s and the 1950s, when he was most popular?

Something else I wonder is how much genre authors know about readership demographics while they are actually writing--and whether or not this affects their creative process. I believe it matters a great deal in the "female" genres. For instance, Romance writers have long been aware that the handful of men who are Romance fans are also homosexual, so you'll see a lot of the "gay best friend" trope even in the Historicals! It seems to me (though, of course, this is just another unfastened opinion!) that authors in the "male" genres don't have a similar "collaborative" view when writing their stories.

By the way, have you read any novels by the late Father Andrew Greeley? He included heavy romantic elements in all his stories (or at least all of those that I have read) and the majority of his readers were women. But his novels are even further from genre Romance than Georgette Heyer's, and if they must be pigeonholed, many of them would be at home among the Thrillers. Would you say that his readership's not being a 50/50 split can mostly be chalked up to the fact that more women are regular readers than men?

Brandon said...

That's a hard question; I don't know exactly what the history of variations is, and I don't know if there's any way of finding out! I know one starts seeing evidence of a definite female fanbase in the 50s and 60s, and presumably it didn't start up overnight. But ERB does seem a bit early. Perhaps he would have been more widely known than we might expect because of silent films and the like, though? I don't know.

I think it's probably the case that authors in 'male' genres don't usually have much idea what their demographics are. But, of course, the demographics can be working, anyway; the argument has been made, for instance, that Asimov owes a lot of his classic status to the fact that his Robot novels had a strong female readership, but I'm pretty sure that Asimov wasn't aiming for that! And, of course, even if they tried, it wouldn't mean that they would be able to succeed at it; and science fiction is such a novelty-oriented genre that I don't know that it would usually do much good to try.

I haven't read anything by Greeley. Is he any good? My suspicion is that not only are there more women readers than men, they also tend to read more widely than men; I suspect that almost all readerships are mostly women, with some few cases like science fiction and (I would imagine) Westerns being the exception rather than the norm.

Brandon said...

Thinking about this, I wonder, too, if perhaps I shouldn't have lumped together readerships for authors and readerships for genres. It could well be that the two split apart in some way -- it could be (just for an example -- I don't know if this is true at all!) that the way it works is that the genre readership is heavily dominated by men who buy a lot of science fiction, but to be an Asimov within the genre you have to be writing the kinds of works that appeal not only to those but to the small percentage (but large number) of women who are willing to buy science fiction, even if only occasionally.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Hmmmm. You're right that there's probably no sure way of finding out. But it's interesting to watch my preconceptions shrivel up and die one by one. LOL!

An older friend of mine said that ERB was the J.K. Rowling of his time, which I find very hard to imagine! The Harry Potter phenomenon had as much to do with savvy, big-budget marketing than with the books themselves--and publishers weren't doing that sort of thing a hundred years ago!

I think Father Greeley created some really memorable characters and that he chronicled the "Chicago Irish" experience beautifully . . . but he couldn't hold an agenda back to save his life! =P It's hard to say how well his novels would have sold, riding on their merits, without the shock factor of a priest writing erotic scenes and being publicly in favour of women's ordination.

Sheila said...

I think to understand about men's and women's fiction, you have to know about gender contamination. That is the phenomenon where men prefer things that are clearly male and refuse to have anything to do with female-branded things. The converse is not true -- women don't mind using men's things. It works with things like clothing, personal products (I use men's deodorant, but men don't want to be caught with women's deodorant, even unscented), drinks (Coke Zero was invented because men saw Diet Coke as "girly"), cars (men don't want to drive SUV's), and so forth. So companies spend a lot of time branding things as "just for men," because they know it hurts nothing -- it brings the men, and it doesn't drive away the women. A Snapple drink with the slogan "it's not for women" sells about equally between men and women.

Unfortunately this happens with books too. And by "unfortunately," I mean that boys miss out when they don't read books with female leads and often won't read books with female authors either. Then they complain that they don't understand women! Whereas women read books about men all the time.

Asimov can be a very "male" male writer .... he has very few descriptions, often there is no romance, and everything is adventure-driven rather than interpersonal drama. But even he has his moments, like a part of the Foundation trilogy where a 14-year-old girl is the heroine. I was quite surprised -- how does he know so well how 14-year-old girls think?! But many other sci-fi authors are more balanced; Zahn certainly is.

The Virginian is an amazing book, by the way. I was in love with the hero for months after reading it. I thought for awhile this meant I would like Westerns, but I actually don't -- they always seem too formulaic to me, the ones I've read. It's just THAT Western that is so dang good.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I had to look up that Snapple drink because I couldn't believe "It's not for women" was actually a slogan. ROFLMAO!

While I think that there's lots of good in things that are branded as "female" (but aren't naturally female, like pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.) and agree that males can miss out if they don't explore them, I don't think men refuse to appreciate these things as much as they really think these things aren't for them. So in the same way a man wouldn't shop in the women's section of a clothing store, he wouldn't browse in the "women's section" of a bookstore. It's not a perfect parallel, obviously, but I think that that's the general reasoning.

By the way, this is totally related to the "girl languages" and "boy languages" that Rob Sheffield was writing about in Talking to Girls about Duran Duran! You're right that girls are quite willing to learn "boy languages," while boys are more resistant (for whatever reason) to learning "girl languages." But if we had to put together a syllabus for boys like Sheffield's younger self, who are interested in the good stuff that is perceived to be "for girls," what would we include?

Off the cuff now, thinking of my own brother, I'd say Taylor Swift (for music) . . . YA Romance (for books--and can you tell I don't read this genre either? =P) . . . Monte Carlo (for a movie) . . . and that's just the current stuff!

Brandon said...

I suspect that gender contamination probably is a considerable part of it. There's a current hubbub in science fiction circles that consists of a group of people complaining that "Pink" SF is starting to crowd out "Blue" SF. It's not a purely male/female issue, since the distinction is complicated by things like the Baen vs. Tor publishing rivalry and whether the author draws on traditional science-fiction tropes. So an author like Lois McMaster Bujold, a woman who does character-focused stories and often puts romance in her works, is often counted as "Blue" because she's published by Baen, uses standard science fiction tropes with skill, and writes soldier-characters plausibly. But one can find in many of the arguments clear indications of men trying to avoid things that are too obviously geared toward women.

Sheila said...

I love Lois McMaster Bujold! I stalled with her because I couldn't find the next Miles Vorkosigan book in the series and I REFUSE to skip.

Odd that that is considered "blue" though. You can absolutely tell it's written by a woman, though certainly there's plenty for men to enjoy. My husband loves them.

But then, my husband also loves Jane Austen and has introduced me to 90% of the chick flicks I have ever watched. So ....

Definitely I would make a young man read Jane Austen. Also the Little House books (really, those are not gendered at all, IMO) and Middlemarch. I've been reading Isabel Allende lately and wonder if those books might be good for (adult) men .... they delve into the very real crosses of womanhood more than most other things I've read. But unfortunately they wouldn't be appropriate for young men.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Brandon -- What I'm resistant to are all the negative implications of the word "contamination." There are boys who will openly deride "girl stuff" as beneath them, but they might honestly not enjoy many things which fit that broad description and just not have the tact or articulation which comes with maturity. I imagine that Sheila's disappointment with other Western novels might reflect a man's disappointment with most Romance novels, even if he finds one that he really likes.

On the other hand, I'm aware of (and darkly fascinated by) the way some people use "branded" things to construct an identity externally. And I'll buy that someone who really believes he is defined by the books he reads, the music he listens to, and the movies he watches would be especially watchful for "contamination" in the media he surrounds himself with.

By the way, I just thought of another writer who has books with strong romantic elements that I imagine can be enjoyed by both men and women: Barbara Mertz, a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters. Are you familiar with her Amelia Peabody and Vicky Bliss Mysteries?

Sheila -- Jane Austen is a great choice, especially since modernisations of her novels are one of the YA trends of our time! But I didn't mention any classics in my original list because my experience as a high school teacher was that it's often hard enough to get girls to read traditional "female" favourites. =P

I have a male friend who loves Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy and recommends it to both boys and grown men even today . . . and who likes to tease me that he was never into the other Little House novels because they're "for girls." LOL! But he's clearly familiar with them, too, and admires Rose Wilder Lane (whom he believes is the real author of the books).

I also had reason to look up a passage from Louisa May Alcott recently and was surprised to recall that it includes a direct address to male readers. And now I wonder if she included it because she knew for a fact that she also had male fans. (This was before she wrote Little Men. Which reminds me . . . Little Women and Little Men should go on the list, too. Alcott writes girls and boys well.)

And now, please don't kill me, but I interviewed some young people about this and they all agree that Twilight should be required reading--not just for boys who want to understand girls, but for grown ups who want to understand teenagers. And they got me curious enough to start reading the third book in the Twilight series myself! ROFL! But seriously . . . expect a review soon.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

And now I have to take Comment #13 because that's my favourite number.

#humourme

Brandon said...

I've only gotten into Bujold in the past year; she is excellent. I agree that you can often very much tell that it's a woman writing. Komarr, in particular, I think is a story that wouldn't usually have occurred to a man even to write, and if it did, would probably not have been done the way it was.

I read Isabel Allende in college, although the only one I remember very much of is El plan infinito. From what fragments I remember that was a very good book.

Amelia Peabody I'm sure I've heard of, but I don't think I've read any of the books in the series.