There are two basic kinds of little people, or people who are small in stature. One kind is dwarf, and the other is midget. Midgets are short, maybe even tiny, but they are proportional. Dwarfs have disproportionate features; their torsos are average-sized, and they often have large foreheads and short limbs. Any adult under the height of 147 centimeters is classified as a dwarf or a midget. Both have the medical condition condition called dwarfism. And neither likes to be called a dwarf or a midget. Nowadays, the politically correct term is Little People. There are associations all over the world that give support and information to people of short stature and their families and friends. The American one is called Little People of America (LPA).
Over 200 medical syndromes cause dwarfism. Most dwarfism conditions are genetic disorders, but for many, the causes are unknown. By genetic disorders, I mean random genetic mutation. But it can also be caused by poor nutrition or simple hormone deficiency.
About 80% of people with achondroplasia (dwarfism) are born to people of average height. The correct name for the form of dwarfism that midgets have is ateliosis and it is uncommon. Both groups have normal intelligence. Not too long ago, Little People were often displayed in “freak shows” in circuses and were advertised as midgets in order to lure people into the circus. For that reason, the term holds a memory of being exploited for most midgets and is considered offensive. As for dwarfs, they do not like to be labeled because of literature, which traditionally depicts them living in forests or associated with death, and having magical or evil powers.
Little People may have more physical problems than people of average height, or they may not. But many have bone degeneration and need hip implants and knee implants more than average-sized people. Since their differences have to do with bone structure, their soft tissues are usually unaffected. Therefore, their genitals are the same as the general population with the same variations. It is difficult for about 20% of Little People to reach their genitals with their own hands, so they often have to use assistive devices.
Nowadays, Peter Dinklage is the most famous Little Person on the planet. He is known more for being an excellent actor than he is for his height. This is partly due to the fact that when he was beginning to work as an actor, he refused to take roles as an elf or a leprechaun. Dinklage, born in 1969 in New Jersey, is 135 cm tall and self-identifies as a dwarf. One of the highest-paid television actors in the world, he has won all sorts of awards for acting and sometimes also produces films. But he is best known for playing Tyrion Lannister in the HBO series Game of Thrones. Tyrion is a member of House of Lannister, one of the most most powerful families in the fictional Kindom of Westeros, and the character Dinklage plays uses his status as a Lannister to mitigate the prejudice and marginalization he has received all his life because he is a dwarf. The series is a great commercial success and will conclude with its eighth season in 2018.
Dinklage says that he was once angry and bitter because of his condition, but is at peace with it now. He has also said that he has developed a good sense of humor because of his condition. When Mr. Dinklage was receiving a Golden Globe award, he mentioned “a gentleman, his name is Martin Henderson” and suggested that the audience Google his name. (Be sure to Google it along with the word dwarf.) Henderson was a British Little Person who was badly injured by being tossed by a rugby player in a pub. Everyone, of course, Googled the name and the fact that Mr. Dinklage mentioned him brought dwarf tossing into the public light. Dwarf tossing is illegal in most places nowadays, but it is still shown in movies and sometimes practiced by drunken people such as the rugby players. It is a unique type of bullying that Little People suffer.
However, some Little People used to earn their livings by participating in dwarf tossing contests. They generally wore helmets and padded clothing with Velcro and if the participants were not too drunk, the Little People were tossed onto a padded wall that was covered with Velcro. The United Nations has banned dwarf-tossing “in order to protect public order and considerations of human dignity.”
It has never been easy for Little People to find employment. When I was a child, they were always exploited in what were called Side Shows or Freak Shows, attractions usually attached to big-name circuses. Midgets, dwarfs, Siamese twins, hermaphrodites (people with both male & female sexual organs), hypertrichosis (hair growth over body), polymelia (extra limbs), and all kinds of other disabled people were put on display to unsympathetic and curious audiences. It was often the only jobs they could get. In January 2017 the Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey Circus closed after 146 years in operation. Their decision was mostly due to change in entertainment tastes, but also caused partially by the fact that ticket sales went down after they stopped showing elephant tricks in 2015 because of pressure from conscientious citizens. Wild animals are no longer exploited in circuses, nor are disabled people. Citizen protests can make a difference.
Peter Dinklage has praised the book series’ author for “humanizing” those who are vertically challenged. He said that George R.R. Martin, who wrote the series of books the series is based on, A Song of Ice and Fire, and also works as the executive co-producer of the series, “was clever enough to make a dwarf a fully fleshed-out human being.” George R. R. Martin is one of those interesting persons who was born and raised in New Jersey, and now resides and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mr. Dinklage is married to a theater director and resides in NYC with his wife and two children, a city in which he can find a bit of anonymity.
The word cliffhanger comes from cliffs. Duh. Cliffs are vertical, or nearly vertical, rocks that have been formed by erosion and weathering. There are lots of famous cliffs, but the first ones that come to my mind are the White Cliffs of Dover, probably because there was a popular World War II song about them that was part of my childhood, and also because they are on the historical English coastline.
When one thinks of cliffhangers, England and its gothic novels always come to mind. Cliffhangers are the kind of story, book or movie that uses suspense either at the end of an episode or a scene. A good example was the way the final episode of Game of Thrones, season 5, was done. Jon Snow was dead. Or was he? Those of us who sweated it out until season 6 was aired were never really sure. The writers used old-fashioned melodrama, suspense and uncertainty, and the audience was left as if hanging from a cliff in a state of tension and apprehension. And that’s a true cliffhanger.
This part of the blog will not be able to offer any nail-biting cliffhangers, but it will have classes in series, and I hope they will be interesting enough that you will want to come back and read what happens next, even if you don’t lose sleep anticipating the next chapter. Enjoy.