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The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Posted by Markitos on July 31, 2001

In Reply to: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress posted by R. Berg on July 04, 2001

: : : : : : This tilte is both a book: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein and a song: music and lyrics: Jimmy Webb (1974; White Oak Songs/ASCAP). Does anyone know the origin of the title?

: : : : : Heinlein seems to have invented it. I couldn't find any older reference. Anybody else?

: : : : I'll check my references. But I think that's a really looney title.

: : : Would that be a LUNAR title? Heinlein's novel takes place on the moon, a difficult place to live. One can call the moon a harsh mistress in the same way that a sailor might say the sea is a harsh mistress. Mistress instead of master because the moon is traditionally classified as feminine.

: : Looney, lunar. Yes, that's what I was going for. I haven't found the phrase so far. But I am wondering if it doesn't reference the effect the moon has on the affairs of man -- as in Moonstruck.

: My husband's read the book, I haven't. He thinks the title refers to the rough environment of the lunar colony.

: There was once a science fiction magazine called Harsh Mistress, so titled as a tribute to Heinlein. Its editors changed the name because they were getting too many inquiries about dominatrixes and such.

I'm glad someone's still reading the classics! For what it's worth: The construction underlying Heinlein's title goes back to the King James Bible, in which the Law is referred to (I think in Romans, and somewhere by James) as a "Harsh Master." The implication is that the master is demanding, but fair, in that the rules are laid out clearly and the punishment for breaking them is swift and sure. James said something like "If you are guilty of of an infraction you are guilty of everything." (Sorry, I'm a little out of date on my biblical references). Anyway, it's one of those constructions that implies a lot in a few words, so it's been used in many subsequent iterations (I recall "Leisure is a harsh master," for instance).