Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Ether Vibrates: On Andre Norton

“The Ether Vibrates” was a regular column in Startling Stories, and I am tickled to use it as the header for posts responding to mail from multiple readers – which, to my surprise and delight, is beginning to come in.
Thanks to all who have commented so far. While I won’t cut-and-paste here the full text of every comment, the full text of all comments mentioned below (plus others) can be read by clicking the comments link beneath individual posts.

Many have suggested possible candidates for the unnamed sf or fantasy novel Andre Norton complained about to Charles Platt in March 1982, one that, in Norton’s words, “not only described a homosexual relationship, but an incestuous one, between two brothers, in the greatest detail.” The first to suggest to me Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor trilogy (1979-1980) were Interrociter (on this blog) and Yves Menard (on Facebook). While Menard recalls “the theme was introduced in the very first volume,” evidence from online reviews (some hostile) suggests Tredegar Trafalgar is right that the second volume, The Dancers of Arun (1979), is the one that so squicked Norton: “The description she gives,” Trafalgar writes, “is accurate as far as it goes, if hostile.”

In addition to that, The Dancers of Arun was, in March 1982, a recent book by a woman writer that had received much positive attention in the field. It and its predecessor in the series, Watchtower, both were World Fantasy Award nominees, and Watchtower won. All this fits the context of the Platt-Norton conversation, as recounted by Platt.

Whether Lynn was aware of Norton’s comments at the time, and whether she associated them with her novel, I don’t know. I’m soliciting comment from Lynn, which I will pass along as I can.

Others commented on the larger point, Norton’s apparent dislike of explicitly gay themes in sf and fantasy. Mark Mills (a.k.a. Cinrambler) writes:
I think you have to put her remarks in context of the time. Jesse Helms successfully cut funding for AIDS prevention programs that "promote, encourage, or condone homosexual activities" in 1987. Norton is George Takei in comparison.
A fair point, Mark, though your Norton-Takei comparison may remind some of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen:
“When you say ‘hill,’” the Queen interrupted, “I could show you hills, in comparison with which you'd call that a valley.” (Ch. 2)
Carmen Webster Buxton writes:
I would guess it was more a rant against explicitness. If anything, some of her books seemed to me to have subtle hints of same sex attraction, especially between some of the male characters. I'm sure she got dissed by mainstream critics, so anything explicit enought to make the genre look "trashy" might alarm her. And after all, she came of age in the 1920's and 30's.
More fair points, though now I’m interested to know specifics of any Norton books with “subtle hints of same sex attraction, especially between some of the male characters.”

Speaking of Norton in general and vintage sf in general, James Davis Nicoll writes:
May I suggest you look at my Because My Tears Are Delicious to You reviews, in which I revisit books I loved as a teen? Also, I'm rereading the fifty Andre Norton books Ace used to advertise next to Heinlein. And also I am rereading some of -- actually, my site in general is a cornucopia of older material:
Thanks, James. I’m happy to pass along the link, and I look forward to exploring your site. That the first thing I see there is a photo of Leigh Brackett is a very good sign!

Simone Caroti and David Drake, meanwhile, wrote much longer comments, which I’ll take up in posts of their own.

Thanks for reading and responding, everybody.

Source: Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. 1871.

No comments:

Post a Comment