Sunday, November 13, 2011

Diversity in Fantasy Writing

Maybe you all have seen the recent discussion sparked by the Salon article If Tolkien were black. One of the authors interviewed, N.K. Jamison, wrote a follow up piece on her blog that's worth checking out as well.

Movie poster for The Return of the King
I confess, I never was into epic fantasy. First of all, I simply wasn't allowed to read anything like that when I was younger. My mom had a very strict no-magic-stuff policy. I do think I may have liked these books, though. I absolutely loved the Narnia series (which I was allowed to read because C.S. Lewis was a Christian). But I never read any Harry Potter until I finally broke down this year and read the first book in the series.

When I have read fantasy books or watched fantasy tv shows or movies, I'm often struck by how male dominated they are. (I'm white, and while I have noticed the troubling racial disparities, that's not the first thing that I notice.) I watched the first season of Game of Thrones, and admittedly, enjoyed some parts of it. But I was reminded again about the seemingly inherent conservatism of the genre that Laura Miller notes in her article. 

I can see why artists are drawn to medieval England as the basis for their work. The setting is well known, and often romantic. Wind swept moors, galloping horses, gorgeous clothes, shining armor - it is appealing. At the same time, this landscape is altered in some way to make it not actual medieval England, but some fantastical version of it. 

My question is, when an author is imagining a fantasy world, with scary monsters beyond a boundary wall, nine year long winters, and dragons that hatch from petrified eggs, walking trees, floating eyeballs, why are race and gender roles still so static? Why is the dominant culture white and patriarchal? Why is it so hard to imagine a world with gender and racial equality?

Even though I'm not a fantasy reader, I will be making an effort to check out N.K. Jamison's work, as well as some of the other authors she mentioned in her post. I invite you to do the dame, especially if fantasy is a favorite genre.


Tea said...

This has really made me think - and forced me to post my own response.

Also, Jemisin's work, especially the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is awesome in my opinion, and I hope you enjoy them!

Vasilly said...

MJ, I think you ask a great question and it's something I've wondered about too. I don't know what the reason behind these authors insisting that these fantasy worlds stay so static but the fact that they're are unwilling to change a fictional society says so much about them.

MJ said...

@Tea: Thanks. I'll check her out.

@Vasilly: It's just sad, because these books could be welcoming to so many more people.