Eruditorum Press

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

47 Comments

  1. Aylwin
    August 23, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

    Fuckin A.

    Reply

  2. Kazin
    August 23, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

    Addendum/chaser: https://twitter.com/CSarracenian/status/1031963170607439872

    I really need to pick up this book. This is a fantastic article.

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      August 23, 2018 @ 11:58 pm

      Oh, Sarracenian. And I took seven thousand words to say it. XD

      Reply

  3. Jubal
    August 23, 2018 @ 8:45 pm

    Exceptionally good. I’m glad this got posted somewhere that it can be easily read right now.

    Reply

  4. John G. Wood
    August 23, 2018 @ 9:51 pm

    Great stuff – thoughtful, covering the specifics and the wider issues that feed into it, and I appreciate the references. It’s also not afraid to give credit where it’s due, which cuts off the possibility of a kneejerk “yeah, but” response and actually serves to highlight just how bad the rest is.

    Here is a post about an experiment where a TEFL teacher showed the first half of Talons to students learning English in China.

    There’s a lot of other stuff before the relevant section; search for “Mario” skip that. It provides a fascinatingly different perspective – it certainly doesn’t invalidate anything said here (or elsewhere), but it does deserve consideration. I know I haven’t figured out what I think about it yet. (Note he went on to show them the rest later, but hasn’t posted the results to date).

    Hope it’s of interest to someone.

    Reply

    • John G. Wood
      August 23, 2018 @ 9:59 pm

      Reply

      • Etana Edelman
        August 23, 2018 @ 10:33 pm

        Tom Baker does have a very handsome nose.

        Reply

    • Etana Edelman
      August 23, 2018 @ 10:32 pm

      See, I don’t think the problem is how it affects Chinese people living in China, but how it affects Chinese Brits, from actors who lose out on jobs to young people who can’t get to see themselves on tv. In Britain, this would have been the only type of representation Chinese kids would have. We can afford to have white male characters be evil or stupid or both, because there are so many of them on television and in film anyway.

      Reply

      • Lambda
        August 24, 2018 @ 10:02 am

        Also, if you’re a Chinese person living in Britain, British people associating Chinese people with gangsters is potentially threatening or disadvantageous to you. If you’re a Chinese person living in China, you don’t need to worry too much about what British people think.

        Reply

      • John G. Wood
        August 24, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

        Yep, I reckon that’s the key difference too. It still surprised me, and I still have a bit of trouble getting my head around it. Sorry to be so vague!

        Reply

    • Kate Orman
      August 24, 2018 @ 12:08 am

      That’s a fascinating perspective, especially the part about gangsters being cool (I just watched “The Game Changer”).

      Reply

  5. John Walter Biles
    August 23, 2018 @ 10:16 pm

    That’s a really exceptionally good essay on this topic. Excelsior!

    Reply

  6. Rick Diehl
    August 24, 2018 @ 7:11 am

    I was totally prepared to argue against what Ms Orman wrote, but I can’t. She is completely correct.

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      August 24, 2018 @ 8:05 am

      High praise indeed!

      Reply

  7. Kate Orman
    August 24, 2018 @ 8:23 am

    A couple of small things I wanted to note. Firstly, the quote near the start, “Conditions for launching a Chinese villain on the market were ideal…” are Arthur Sarsfield Ward’s own words:

    https://books.google.com.au/books?id=lh4gAQAAIAAJ&dq=editions%3AISBN0879720328&focus=searchwithinvolume&q=conditions

    Also, re footnote 18, I was wondering about that “H’Sen”. The old Wade-Giles romanisation of Chinese uses apostrophes to mark aspirated consonants, for example chang vs ch’ang; and for some reason it uses “hs” for the sound “sh”. But no romanisation uses “h’s”. Anyway, see for yourself:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Chinese_transcription_systems

    Finally, regarding the Doctor’s pronunciation, it’s included in a compilation called The Hollywood Guide to Speaking Chinese:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3j3CVCOmekY

    (It’s funny whatever your language skills. 🙂

    Reply

  8. Ryan F
    August 24, 2018 @ 4:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing, this is a superb article.

    Reply

  9. prandeamus
    August 24, 2018 @ 5:24 pm

    A fascinating comparison to make here, with regard to orientalism and racism, is with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado. Obviously, Light opera is some distance from 20th Century Telefantasy but bear with me (as well as a love of Who, I also have a deep admiration for Gilbert and Sullivan, so sue me).

    Nominally, the Mikado is set in Japan, and does have some genuine Japanese elements adapted to European Victorian tastes. On the positive side, the “Miya Sama” tune is distantly connected to genuine Japanese music, Gilbert famously invited some of the TeaRoom/Geisha girls visiting Knightsbridge to demonstrate Japanese customs to the cast.

    On the much more negative side, the initial history and subsequent performances have too often been performed in “yellowface” or local equivalent, with caucasian actors looking uncomfortable in kimonos, with a certain degree of “aren’t Japanese strange people”. Some of these negative elements are in the script and it would be foolish to deny their existence. I’ve read of a number of complaints in recent years, mainly in the USA if memory serves me, where local asian communities have objected to a bunch of white people singing century-old songs that insult the Japanese. (I simplify a tad here, and I haven’t fully researched how common this is).

    To these objections, the rejoinders are usually “but it’s so funny and well-written” and “this performing group doesn’t have any Asian actors”. You can make a direct link between these comments and the quality of the Talons script and the availablility of Asian actors in Britain in the 70s. That is, the rejoinders at best mitigations and don’t really address the underlying issues of racism.

    And yet….

    As GK Chesterton pointed out a century or so ago, “I doubt if there is a single joke that fits the Japanese. But all of the jokes fit the English.” The Japanese elements are veneer, as is often the case of Gilbert, that allows him to poke fun of his own society while dressing up as something else. Change half a dozen words at most, and overlook the pentatonic scales in the Mikado’s theme, shift the scene to somewhere else, and the work stands on its own merits without yellowface or oriental mockery. Jonathan Miller’s production went a long way to showing how this can work (I can still do without Miller’s “slant-eyed” mime in the opening chorus, mind you, even if it is only intended in sarcasm).

    Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries the work as been adapted into Hot/Swing/Cool Mikado versions. Productions set in Japanese-owned British car factories. English Seaside resorts. The Bronx. The little list song has been re-written thousands of times. The thing is nearly indestructible and, when interpreted sensitively and with a touch of common sense, is a fantastic way to spend two hours in the theatre. OK, that’s an esthetic call. There are people who hate G&S and who hate Doctor Who, and it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. Point is that the Mikado just needs the yellowface removed and it’s good to go.

    As an amateur actor/singer I’ve “done” the Mikado many times and may well end up doing it again one day, but I’ve resolved never to do a version in yellowface. Period.

    Moving on from this, you can make further comparisons with “Utopia Limited” by G&S which attempts mockery of English society by way of a South Seas Paradise framing. Of course, no one cares as much because frankly it’s not their best work. And you can also look at the slightly later “Chu Chin Chow” by Asche/Norton from 1916; it has it’s own problems but is no masterpiece.

    I think I’m saying that the Mikado, like much of Victorian popular culture, carries these taints of Empire, revenants of racism, and general thoughtlessness. For the Mikado, it’s redeemable with a light touch and thoughtful production. We’re not quite at the level of #NoAllVictorians, though. Talons has fewer excuses and deeper problems. It was written a century after the Mikado. Yes, it does set up Europeans for some criticism, but the Fu Manchu elements are much deeper in the script and much harder to excuse.

    On reflection I don’t quite know where I’m going with this, but thank you for reading.

    Reply

    • prandeamus
      August 24, 2018 @ 5:30 pm

      One detail I missed is that the original script contained the N-word in the “punishment fit the crime” song. It was presumably considered acceptable in the English productions, but I believe the line was rewritten because for once the US audience were ahead of the sensitivity training curve. I don’t think it was completely expunged from English D’Oyly Carte productions until something like the 1930s, although I’m open to challenge on that point. In any case racism towards persons of colour in a single phrase was more conspicuous than any generic oriential racism spread across the script as a whole.

      Reply

    • Lambda
      August 24, 2018 @ 8:13 pm

      I’m not familiar enough with it to be certain, but it sounds like you could do the same sort of thing uncontroversially today just by using aliens. In which respect modern times have a distinct advantage.

      Reply

      • Prandeamus
        August 24, 2018 @ 9:26 pm

        Inasmuch as virtually no victorian theatregoer had first hand experience of Japanese people, and to my knowledge no modern person has met an alien, that might work. However, “Japanese” already represented a set of tropes of otherness, and effective “alien” worldbuilding is different from one setting to another. Interesting idea tho.

        As yet another aside, HMS Pinafore often gets a Star Trek makeover, precisely because ST is built around a quasi naval structure.

        Reply

      • Prandeamus
        August 25, 2018 @ 9:22 am

        In terms of plot drivers, a crucial point about the faux-Japan of the Mikado is that is governed by a sole ruler with absolute authority and eccentric edicts. This is undercut for comic purposes, but it’s part of the premise. In that respect, there are contemporary resonances with North Korea. However, a Mikado relocated there as a light comedy would be in poor taste.

        Reply

        • Sleepyscholar
          August 26, 2018 @ 4:36 am

          What’s funny about the idea that the ‘Mikado’ is ‘a sole ruler with absolute authority and eccentric edicts’ is, of course, that it has almost never been true of Japan. Even when you take the pragmatic view of considering the Shogun as the Emperor of Japan (which many European visitors did, remaining ignorant of Tenno).

          So in practice there’s nothing against setting the opera in any location, alien or otherwise, which establishes that there is an absolute ruler.

          Reply

          • prandeamus
            August 26, 2018 @ 2:40 pm

            I’m sure you are right, and clearly your knowledge of the real Japan in the 19th century is well ahead of mine. This may be a spur for me to do a little research of my own.

          • Prandeamus
            August 27, 2018 @ 9:25 am

            https://www.lightoperaofportland.org/the-mikado-2018/

            Mikado. ALIENS. Portland. Brought to you by the power of complete coincidence.

    • Kate Orman
      August 24, 2018 @ 9:51 pm

      What a thought-provoking comparison!

      Reply

      • prandeamus
        August 26, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

        Thank you, Kate.

        One more comparison point. Gilbert event attempted a written retcon and additional backstory, therefore lining up with Target novelisations.

        The open chapters to his children’s book “The Story of the Mikado” written some decades later. (Readable here: https://library.uoregon.edu/ec/e-asia/reada/miktale.pdf in the public domain)

        In which he states
        * Modern Japanese people are lovely
        * Japan is a powerful country – look how they beat the Russians in Manchuria just recently
        * I’m sure YOU aren’t scared of Japan, dear reader, being stout British yeoman and all that, but our government seems to be nervous of upsetting them
        * So for the record my story is set a long, long time ago when the Mikado was regarded as an absolute ruler and partly a god, absolutely not like he is thought of now.
        * And yes, this particular Mikado was a bit of a nutter who punished all wrongdoing with instant death.

        It’s hard to tell how much of this is Gilbert reacting to actual criticism and how much is Gilbert trolling (anachronisms again) his critics. He was certainly capable of both.

        Reply

  10. Katy Preen
    August 24, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

    Great essay – I’ve not yet seen Talons, but I’m really interested in what all the fuss is about. Although this is an eloquent discussion of the racism within that (and other) episodes and other media, it’s mind-boggling that anyone would argue against even the most crude description of why it is problematic. It’s not difficult to see, and the mental gymnastics required to claim there’s no racism must be spectacular.

    Regarding the “of it’s time” claims and the rebuttal of it still not being ok, this should actually alert the viewer to the fact that it’s likely to contain prejudices from the era in which it was made – and that we can actually see this as a positive: while it was of course unacceptable at whatever point in history, acknowledging racism in media from the past adds an extra element to the story. It tells us about our own story and the way that society and media are linked and influence and change each other. To deny its existence is narrow-minded and delusional.

    I have a stack of Dennis Wheatley novels that I acquired from my elderly father, who raves about Wheatley’s storytelling and rails against the political correctness that would see it “banned” these days. I’m slowly working my way through the pile, and let me tell you they are racist and sexist as hell. But they are also good stories, told well, and they provide a window into the psyche of the original readers of these works.

    We need to accept our media with warts-and-all or we risk losing important information about it. Essays like this one expose the problem to sunlight, and actually highlighting past wrongs instead of covering them up allows us to learn far more. I firmly believe we should consume and teach media that falls short of today’s standards for inclusivity and respect – we can see not only the bad parts, but also develop an understanding of why they were popular in the first place. If one denies the racism in such works, then they demonstrate that they’ve not understood it.

    Reply

  11. Voxpoptart
    August 24, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

    Brilliantly thought out and argued, Kate. Also marvelously timed, as my sons and I, who started Doctor Who together years ago with “Castrovalva” and went well into the New Adventures range, just backed up and began watching 4th-and-Leela (because after enough NA 7th, it’s nice to have a Doctor on perpetual vacation again). We’re doing “Talons” next; I enjoyed it uncomplicatedly at age 11, but shall probably complicate it some for my offspring.

    I love your novels, btw, as do my sons. They haven’t read “Year of Intelligent Tigers”, which may be my favorite Who story ever (and which at minimum finally gets the Silurian story right). But we were reading “Blue Box” when a close male friend of ours decided to become a female friend; read “Set Piece” when they were beginning to take an interest in their Jewish heritage (the first two chapters are a startlingly good analogue to Nazi death-camp sonderkommandos); read “Walking to Babylon” in time to get to some ideas about female sexuality right before they hit puberty; and also enjoyed them all as just cracking good stories. There’s always been an implied essayist in your books, an undertone of “no, THIS is how you get these characters to work”.

    “Human Nature” rocks too; I understand you also get some credit there. Yep, this comment is pure fan mail. Hopefully you like that sort of thing.

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      August 24, 2018 @ 11:54 pm

      How completely wonderful that you can share the books with your sons! 😀

      If you’d like to give them an introduction to Fu Manchu, you could do worse than Google for the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version of “The Castle of Fu Manchu”. (I resorted to the MSTed version when writing the essay as I couldn’t locate the original movie. 🙂 The fact that they’re taking the piss out of the movie invites us to laugh at the whole ridiculous franchise. I can also recommend the documentary “Hollywood Chinese”.

      Reply

      • Voxpoptart
        August 25, 2018 @ 12:52 am

        Noted! MST 3K is one of those pop-culture phenomena I’ve never gotten around to; your excuse for giving it a shot sounds plenty solid. 🙂

        Reply

        • Christopher Brown
          August 25, 2018 @ 5:59 am

          Just gonna warn you, it’s rough. Even the Mystery Science Theater crew has a hard time with it. The resolution of their misery makes it all worth it, though.

          Kate, way back in 2014 I quoted your and El’s essays on Talons for my high school senior paper on the same topic. I had no idea you used MST3K as the reference for Fu Manchu but that adds a big chuckle in retrospect! XD

          Reply

          • Christopher Brown
            August 25, 2018 @ 6:02 am

            Additionally, I’m on chapter two of “Intelligent Tigers” myself and look forward to reading more – my first novel of yours that I’ll have read!

          • Kate Orman
            August 25, 2018 @ 7:18 am

            grin Enjoy!

    • John G. Wood
      August 25, 2018 @ 10:02 am

      That reminds me – my teenage children and I are doing a DW 80s marathon at the moment, and the racism in Four to Doomsday was enough to severely damage their enjoyment (it does bother me too, but not to the same extent). They have decided that they never want to watch Talons, regardless of its quality, and despite having enjoyed several Jago and Litefoot audios.

      Basically we think about the issue the same way, but they feel it more deeply than I do and have a more nuanced understanding. The same was true of myself as a teenager in the 70s – my parents couldn’t understand why I felt I was racist, since I was never nasty to people of colour, and that was basically their definition of the term.

      This progression gives me hope for the future.

      Reply

  12. Sleepyscholar
    August 25, 2018 @ 12:36 am

    I’m really grateful to both El and Kate for publishing this here. So many fascinating references and observations.

    I’ll just comment (by way of elucidation of complexity rather than contradiction), that the TV world of 70s Britain wasn’t as completely anti-Chinese as the essay might suggest. Like many of my generation, I grew up loving Monkey and (especially) The Water Margin. These were Japanese TV productions of Chinese classics and while they may have been taken as supporting stereotypes, they were relatively authentic and positive portrayals of Chinese culture. There’s the problem of Japanese-Chinese yellowface, of course, but since there’s no doubt that Japanese are ethnically and culturally close to China (and the debt to Chinese culture is evident in the writing system), that is a different thing to the yellowface of Talons. Perhaps more akin to the BBC’s adaptations of The Three Musketeers?

    Funnily enough, I was such a massive fan of The Water Margin that I ended up writing a role-playing game about it, and a detective novel set in the same period. I also ended up living in Japan for the last 27 years. And I still remember finding the celebrated Talons rather dislikeable when I first watched it in 1977 (a year after The Water Margin debuted).

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      August 25, 2018 @ 1:19 am

      In Australia we got Monkey (complete with cod “Chinese” dubbed accents — when Jon pointed out to me that Monkey’s voice was David Collings, I nearly fell off the sofa), but not The Water Margin — one of those classics I still have to catch up on.

      Reply

      • Sleepyscholar
        August 25, 2018 @ 1:42 am

        Masaaki Sakai (who was voiced by David Collings) is still regularly to be seen on Japanese TV, as is Toshiyuki Nishida (series 1 Pigsy).

        The Water Margin featured narration from Burt Kwouk, and such luminaries as Miriam Margolyes on dubbing duties. Once I had read or watched a number of other versions, I found the Japanese BDSM angle a little disturbing, and remarkably it’s probably slightly more sexist than the 15th century original, but it nevertheless retains the compelling sprawl of the original.

        Reply

  13. AuntyJack
    August 25, 2018 @ 8:40 am

    Hi Kate, nothing really to contribute to the current conversation but I’m coincidentally reading ‘Walking to Babylon’ again and just wanted to thank you for your contribution to the Doctor Who mythos (loved ‘The Year of Intelligent Tigers’ and pretty much everything else you’ve written). For me, you and Paul Cornell and Ben Aaronovitch are the great Who writing triumvirate and I just wanted to thank you again.

    Reply

    • Kate Orman
      August 25, 2018 @ 8:59 am

      That’s lovely. Thank you!

      Reply

    • John G. Wood
      August 25, 2018 @ 10:26 am

      I’d like to echo these sentiments. I’ve not read all your novels, but I’ve read enough to have a sense of happy anticipation whenever I get a new one. I’d like to give a particular shout out to two books nobody else has mentioned yet – SLEEPY and The Room With No Doors. Both are close to the top of the heap for me, yet I rarely hear them mentioned. Thank you for all of them!

      Reply

      • Kate Orman
        August 25, 2018 @ 11:44 am

        basks 🙂

        Reply

      • Daru
        August 26, 2018 @ 7:43 pm

        I’ll chime in with the above and say too, I’m a real lover of your work (still some to read which is a treat) – love The Left Handed Hummingbird.

        Brilliant essay and thanks so much – bloody good stuff and much needed!

        Reply

        • Kate Orman
          August 27, 2018 @ 9:11 am

          Thank you! My big ambition is to get a completely original novel published. I’m working on it…

          Reply

          • Daru
            August 28, 2018 @ 4:54 pm

            Great to hear and I would love to read that – even though i find your work so original anyway, but I guess you mean outside of Doctor Who – which would be really exciting.

  14. Christopher Brown
    August 26, 2018 @ 6:13 pm

    Re: Kate’s books, the follow-up “The Year of Intelligent Ligers” needs to happen

    The ligers need their moment

    Reply

  15. Przemek
    August 29, 2018 @ 11:28 am

    Brilliantly written and thought-provoking. Thank you.

    Reply

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