Over the Rainbow – Lighthouses in LGBT fiction

It’s pride month, so I thought I would take a look at LGBT fiction and it’s no surprise that there’s a fair amount about lighthouses and lightkeepers. Authors love a lighthouse. There is so much symbolism in a building that’s simultaneously recognisable and romantic but remote. Plus the whole roughty-toughty lawful-good thing that lightkeepers have. Who can resist? (Certainly not us).

Noss Head under the rainbow - thanks to Sarah Kerr for the photo
Noss Head over the rainbow – thanks to Sarah Kerr for the photo

Lighthouses tend to appear in genre fiction. They usually feature in romances, in mysteries, or in gothic fantasy like our very own French werewolves in “Les Etoiles de Noss Head” by Sophie Jomaine. Though Virginia Woolf (herself an LGBT icon) reminds us that literary authors are not above a good lighthouse metaphor.

The LGBT fiction I’ve found featuring lighthouses is mainly romantic, but certainly visits other categories.

“Lightkeeper” by Magnolia Robbins tells the story of Lily and Morgan, exploring memory loss and its impact on a relationship. I am not sure if it’s a romance or if it’s literary fiction. It seems to ask questions affecting any relationship of equals, questions about how you balance your own goals and ambitions with the love of someone who doesn’t necessarily share them.

“The Lightkeeper’s Wife” by Sarah Anne Johnson is tagged #Trans. Hannah Snow rescues Billy Pike from the storm, and I assume Billy rescues Hannah from 19thC patriarchy. We know that Anne Bonney and Mary Reid were assumed to be men when they sailed the seas as pirates in the 18thC and 19thC (I think that’s a spoiler) but some reviewers seemed to find the book sits uneasily in its period, using a modern lens to ask the question “are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ just social constructs?”

Some of these tropes wash up on a different shore in “The Keeper” by Hollis Shiloh when a lightkeeper rescues a shipwrecked mariner with memory loss. The story of Cole and his magician sits in the fantasy/magical realism camp. The author has written another lighthouse-adjacent book in the same genre, “A Wizard’s Shelter“. People who’ve read them find them sweet stories.

Mystery and romance is always a great combination and nothing brings strangers together on a rocky shore like a mysteriously dead aunt. “The Lighthouse Keeper” by Jason Collins appears stronger on plot than metaphor, and sounds all the more fun for it.

Representation matters in children’s books, but maybe Macmillan should have resisted the temptation to translate the original Dutch title “Where is Sailor?” into “Hello, Sailor“. It’s a picture story book by André Sollie and Ingrid Godon. However, this seems charming rather than earnest, with reviewers using words like “gentle” and “hope”.

Representation matters in history too – so many LGBT relationships have been straight-washed with phrases like “lifelong companion”. So while it is impossible to know how many LGBT lightkeepers there were, we should certainly look to Harriet Colfax who kept a light for 43 years, most of them with her “lifelong companion” Ann Hartwell. Aimée M. Bissonette’s book “Miss Colfax’s Light” doesn’t present them as a couple but the LGBT community in nearby Michigan have claimed them (Sweary language alert)

From books to the screen, here are two reviews of the 2019 film “The Lighthouse” – one by someone who felt the homoeroticism was subtle and the other who felt it was blatant. But that’s how coding works.

I’m going to add some of these to our library of lighthouse books in the cottage.

In the meantime, Happy Pride!

Many thanks to Sarah Kerr for allowing me to use her picture. Find out more about her UK Lighthouse Tour and follow her on Facebook.