Late last month, Slate writer Michelle Nijhuis penned a confession that no doubt brought the internet’s Tolkien fanboys to their Mithrael-padded knees: in her house, Bilbo Baggins has undergone a sex change.
The switch happened at the behest of Nijhuis’s 5-year-old daughter—who, after hearing her mother read The Hobbit aloud, began to insist that Bilbo Baggins, heroic savior of Middle Earth and riddler extraordinaire, was obviously a girl. Nijhuis complied, and made an enjoyable discovery:
Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender—and neither does anyone else.
The author goes on to describe making similar changes to other children’s tales, if only until the publishing industry begins offering up a more balanced selection of heroes both male and female. But while it’s not so hard to genderflip an adventure story, we couldn’t help wondering what might happen if certain characters from classic literature spontaneously switched sexes. Some books would remain unchanged, but others? Well…
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
The flip: Holden Caulfield
The result: A listless high school student wanders aimlessly around Manhattan, hating everyone and everything…but nobody pays much attention, because she’s probably just having her period.
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
The flip: Miss Havisham
The result: An embittered old man raises his daughter to be a heartless, wanton seductress. Still works, but with a decidedly creepier vibe than the original.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
The flip: Jane Eyre
The result: With a young man in the role of the titular governess—and a forbidden romance between two guys in the mix—this story becomes wildly erotic compared to the morality-obsessed gothic original. Approve!
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The flip: Hester Prynne
The result: In Boston in 1642, a guy has sex outside of wedlock. No one finds out and nothing happens.
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
The flip: Moby Dick
The result: The book’s overall series of events remains unchanged, but everyone is just a little bit uncomfortable with Captain Ahab’s obsessive drive to capture and kill the great, white female whale who he refers to as…Moby Vagina.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
The flip: Atticus Finch
The result: Atticus as a fierce lady lawyer fighting on the side of tolerance and truth? Historically unlikely for the time period, but still fabulous.
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
The flip: Absolutely everybody
The result: A plane full of schoolgirls crashes on a deserted island, leaving the tween survivors to build a new society from scratch. Mean Girls–style mayhem ensues, and a theocracy is formed with Justin Bieber officially recognized as the head of state, but on the plus side, no children are murdered.
What fictional character would most benefit (or not) from gender flipping?