marmota_b: Photo of my groundhog plushie puppet, holding a wrapped present (Default)
[personal profile] marmota_b
Well, that sounds like a very pretentious title for what's going to follow.

I've written about this a few times already in various comments on other people's blogs and possibly also stories, but I've wanted to make a post out of it. There is all the talk about representation of women going on - female fanfiction writers trying to tackle it in their stories, myself included (goodness, Twinkletop happened kind of accidentally, but I've very quickly become very fond of her...), and inevitably you come to the point that there just aren't that many female background characters in Narnia. Lewis, for his time and age and life experience, does remarkably well on balance between protagonists, in my opinion, and I suspect that was because he really was doing a conscious effort - because almost every time a slightly less important character pops up, Lewis defaults to male.

The fun part of this I wanted to discuss is the fact that I've only become aware of this when I started reading the books in English. The reason why that's so is that Czech, unlike English, is a gendered language - everything has a gender, masculine, feminine or neuter, so some animals naturally default to female in Czech. And in some cases, the translator - I'm speaking of Renáta Ferstová here, because I've never read the second Czech translation - defaulted to female even where Lewis used a male pronoun in the original.

And sometimes, in Narnia, this means a female Glimfeather and a whole Parliament of female Owls, because "sova" - "owl" is default feminine. (Goodness, was I disappointed when I found out that both Glimfeather and Owl-Wol in Winnie-the-Pooh are male...)

It means that when the Jackdaw in The Magician's Nephew becomes the first joke, the Jackdaw is female.

It means that when the giant in Prince Caspian steps on a Fox in his distress and the Fox bites him, the Fox is female.

In fact, it means that you probably automatically assume some of the Mice are female, because "mouse" is a femininum.

It means that the Squirrels at the end of The Silver Chair default to female.

EDIT: The most striking example that didn't occur to me at first - in The Boy and His Boy, the cat that comforts Shasta and is actually Aslan is default female.

So, for your enjoyment and contemplation, I'm enclosing a non-exhaustive list of default-female species in Czech. Many of these, even where English only seems to have a complicated or Latin genus name (at least to be found online), would have a simple Czech name that a child moderately interested in the natural world (which many Czech children are, or at least were when I was a child...) and visiting zoos would come to recognise.
  • cats
  • goats
  • sheep
  • cows, hens/chicken & roe deer are interesting examples where the taxonomic name of the species is masculine, but thanks to the profusion of females of the species you normally meet, in popular usage the species are default female
  • mice
  • rats
  • squirrels
  • foxes
  • weasels & martens
  • muskrats & river rats ("ondatra" and "nutrie" (sg), respectively)
  • otters
  • monkeys/apes (The distinction is even less in Czech, because the encompassing-possibly-more-monkey word, "opice", has the same root as the specific word for "ape", "lidoop". "Lidoop" is literally "human-like primate". "Op" is default male.)
  • gorillas
  • giraffes
  • zebras
  • antelopes
  • llamas
  • pumas
  • hyenas
  • suricatas & mongooses
  • echidnas
  • owls in general; barn owl & snow owl
  • ducks
  • geese
  • swans
  • doves
  • tits
  • crows (For some reason, depending on where you live, you would be either familiar with crows or rooks in winter - rooks are default male - but crows may be more prolific in popular consciousness, because crows are said to bring girls where storks bring boys, and it's also sometimes an expression of fond exasperation for females - "you crow!" - in our family, applied to our cats. :-) Often perceived, especially by children, to be the female counterpart to rooks.)
  • woodpeckers of the Picus genus (one of which is an anatagonist in a famous old children's book, you see)
  • magpies
  • jays
  • kestrels
  • buzzards/hawks of the Buteo genus (although in popular usage, it's often confused for neuter)
  • swallows
  • herons
  • coots
  • frogs in general; toads, tree frogs
  • adders
  • grass snakes
  • lady bugs (:D)
  • the Nymphalidae butterflies
  • whales
  • fish in general, but also some specific species like cods or pikes

So, as you can see, you get a fairly encompassing range of "female Beast" characteristics in this default list, even if it often does tend towards the smaller (most of the larger animals are default male). But you also get the hugeness that is a whale, you get beasts & birds of prey as well as the peaceful dove and sheep, you get swans and crows, you get both the "bad" and "good" snakes, you get the chatty and the quiet, the fast and the bouncy and the flying and crawling and swimming and earth-dwelling and nest-building and tree-climbing, you get day and night. Have fun with it if you're writing Narnian fanfiction. :-)

(Interestingly and as an aside, "child" in Czech is grammatically neuter but "children" is feminine, to the confusion of many a student.)

Date: 2015-06-13 03:50 pm (UTC)
rthstewart: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rthstewart
That is some amazingly clever, wonderful meta. Also, interestingly, there is an article in the Washington Post this morning about efforts in European countries using gendered language to move away from it, to thing that are more gender inclusive. Fascinating stuff. Thank you so much. That must have really altered your view of the story in going from Czech to English, to think that all those many, many characters are defaulted male, not female!

Date: 2015-06-16 06:40 pm (UTC)
transposable_element: (Default)
From: [personal profile] transposable_element
This is completely fascinating.

First of all, female Glimfeather is now my headcanon! In a lot of bird species there are no differences in appearance that are obvious to humans, anyway, so it's completely plausible that Eustace and Jill made a mistake.

My observation is that the default to male animals in children's literature in English is profound. Unless there's a specific reason for an animal to be female (e.g. she's a mother or a love interest), an animal is almost always male. The main exception is certain stereotypically feminine farm animals, such as cows, sheep, and chickens. This is something I noticed from a very young age, and it has always bothered me, even before I had much of a feminist consciousness, so I'm glad to know that this is being remedied in translation.


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