Dec 5, 2017

King of the Golden River: Boy Meets Dwarf

Shortly after I was born, my parents bought a set of Colliers Encyclopedia and The Junior Classics, an anthology of mostly Victorian-era stories like Alice in Wonderland and Jackanapes. During my earliest childhood I often took them from the shelves and leafed through them, marveling at the odd illustrations.  I first tried reading them at age 8 or 9, but the antiquated language and obscure references made it well-nigh impossible.  Still, their very impenetrability was attractive, suggesting hidden codes and secrets, so over the years I tried again and again, finally encountering some amazing gay subtexts.

The King of the Golden River (1841) begins with a blustery, round person, "The North Wind," visiting an extremely girlish young man named Gluck.   From there, things get even more bizarre.  Gluck battles his older, bullying brothers, Hans and Schwartz, for a golden mug, which turns out to contain the imprisoned spirit of the dwafish King of the Golden River.  

Someone must travel to the source of the river and sprinkle it with "holy water."  The evil brothers try, but fail, and are turned into black stones.  Gluck tries, but gives the water away in acts of kindness, and is rewarded when the river turns into a river of gold.

There is no same-sex romance, but Gluck (played by Thor Bautz, left, in a gender-transgressive 2009 stage version) is quiet, sensitive, feminine, gay-coded.

And,  bucking the tradition of fairy tales ending with "they were married and lived happily ever after," he never meets a girl.  At the end of the story, he is old, wealthy, well-respected by the community, with no wife.  

That was, in itself, a revelation.

John Ruskin (played by Tom Hollander, top center, in the 2009 tv series Desperate Romantics) was heterosexual; like Lewis Carroll, he liked young girls.  But there is no evidence that he had a physical relationship with anyone.

His marriage to Effie Gray was annulled after six years, not consummated because "there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked passion."  There have been many theories about what those circumstances were, but probably not the nude female form itself. (Effie later married his friend, pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais).

He was a scholar of the Renaissance, who became aware of the practice of "the bestial vice."  Although he was quite homophobic, revealing that same-sex practices occurred at all helped to create the image of the "queer Renaissance," where gay people didn't have to hide.  Oscar Wilde said that studying under him at Oxford was one of the turning points of his career.

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