Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Category: Pop Culture (page 2 of 6)

Avoiding Othering: They’re Doing It Right

Last week I talked about Othering, as in setting a demographic not your own as a Weird/Exotic “THEM” in contrast to your (and your assumed reader’s) “us.”

Thankfully, there are so many great examples of works that avoid Othering! Here are just a few:

Fiction: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Cover of Gaiman's Anansi BoysWhat is it?

Gaiman’s 2005 novel follows Fat Charlie, one of two sons of a mysterious man who it turns out is literally the West African trickster god Anansi. Anansi/Mr. Nancy showed up briefly in Gaiman’s previous novel, American Gods. In Anansi Boys, Fat Charlie and his brother Spider have to sort out quite a lot of trouble following their father’s death. The action of the story bounces between London and Florida.

How does it avoid Othering?

Put it this way: a friend of mine, when reading this book, commented that about halfway through she realized to her delight that all the characters were black. There are actually two white characters, a side character and a villain. So on the one hand, Gaiman’s flipping the script on the usual racial demographic in your standard Tokeninzing, Othering text. On the other hand, Gaiman mostly doesn’t make a big, obvious deal about the race of the characters. There are enough context clues to figure out what all of the characters look like, but more so than that, the cultural context of the characters is really important to the plot.

Film: The Legend of Korra, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Koniestzko

Pictured:  Korra displays earth, water and firebending in THE LEGEND OF KORRA on Nickelodeon.  Photo: Nickelodeon.  ©2012 Viacom, International, Inc.  All Rights Reserved

She is the chosen one who can bend all the elements.

What is it?

This is an animated TV show set in the same world as Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was intended as a sequel, following the chosen-one-style heroine Korra on her adventures across the four elemental nations of the world.

How does it avoid Othering?

Both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are set in a fantasy world that is loosely based on myths and legends of East Asia. They have a four-part magical martial arts system that is based in an exciting variety of real-world martial arts (mostly Chinese), with each element (fire, water, earth, air) having its own style and magical powers. The characters are a variety of shades, but look mostly asian…unlike the film, which got a lot of flak for being whitewashed. Korra has medium-brown skin and dark brown hair.

The Legend of Korra also recently received media attention because of its ending, a suggested coupling of Korra and her female friend, Asami. Those who liked this move liked it because it validated “in canon” a suspected relationship and a fan favorite couple. Those who did not criticized it because there were not enough moments or  passionate intimacy or sexual tension between the two women in the rest of the show, and then ending felt tacked-on. (I mean, I’m sure some criticized it because they couldn’t conceive of a same-sex relationship and/or reality, but we’re ignoring them.)

 

Comics: Bitch Planet, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Cover of Bitch Planet #1

Every time I read an issue I get the urge to tattoo “NON-COMPLIANT” on my forehead.

What is it?

This comic is one part feminist fable, one part deconstruction of the women-in-prison genre of film, and one part bad-ass dystopian action tale. It’s set in a world where women can be imprisoned for any behavior deemed “non-compliant,” from murder to disobedience to obesity. They are then shipped off to a prison planet (known colloquially as “Bitch Planet”) to deal with an ever-shifting Pepito-bismol pink holographic warden and other lurking dangers. You can read me freaking out about how great it is at some length over at Girlslikecomics.com.

How does it avoid Othering?

Not only are there a lot of women of color in this prison story, but both in the comic and in each issue’s back-matter, DeConnick and team directly deal with race relations and how unfair the prison system is in this world as well as the world of Bitch Planet.

Also, I can’t say too much without spoilers, but let me just say that the protagonist of Bitch Planet is refreshing and revealed over the course of the first issue.

DeConnick also works with an awesome, diverse creative team, both in terms of the art (stunning work by Valentine DeLandro) & design and in terms of the series of rad feminists who write essays in the back of every issue.

Bonus Fiction: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Cover for A Wizard of Earthsea featuring an island castle and a dragon

It’s hard to find pictures of the cover that features Ged as he’s described in the book. Perhaps marketers decided dragons were easier to deal with than people of color.

What is it?

LeGuin’s classic 1968 fantasy novel, A Wizard of Earthsea, won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. It’s set in a fantasy world that is comprised of a bunch of different nations on different islands of an archipelago. With a unique magic system and a excitingly non-“interminable Celtic bullshit” mythology, Earthsea arguably did the first interesting new thing with the fantasy genre since Tolkien.

How does it avoid Othering?

The main character, Ged, is described as having red-brown skin; in fact, nearly every character is described as non-white. Of course, this didn’t prevent the characters from being horribly white-washed on book covers and film. Ursula LeGuin has some harsh words for the producers of the 2004 Earthsea mini-series:

I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.

She also speaks about her process in building the world of Earthsea:

My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?

The fantasy tradition I was writing in came from Northern Europe, which is why it was about white people. I’m white, but not European. My people could be any color I liked, and I like red and brown and black. I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for “young adults”) might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees—hoping that the reader would get “into Ged’s skin” and only then discover it wasn’t a white one.

 

Other examples? Thoughts? Tell us in the comments, eh?

 

Writing Outside Your Demographic: Let’s Talk About Othering

Writing Outside Your Demographic

Things to Avoid: Othering

Picture of otter with text "The power to put otters into discourse while remaining unspoken is a particularly effective form of power

This is ironic because I am talking about writing about people outside of your demographic. Am I full of crap? Maybe.
(quote from John Fiske; pic from Discourse on the Otter)

What is Othering?

Othering is a subtle concept that applies to a lot of stuff. It is related to, but not the same as, the literary theory concept of The Other as an opposite of The Self.  A basic breakdown of othering is this: A person breaks down people into two basic categories in their brain, People Like Me and People Not Like Me. When this is applied on a larger scale world-view level (Not Like Us), this becomes othering.

Othering is not just declaring you are not like me, it’s a you are not like me with an implied and I am better or more normal than you. That I am US and you are THEM.

Examples:

Othering is a game of assumptions, stereotypes, and microaggressions.

I’m thinking of a time when a I was playing a draft-style Magic: The Gathering tournament. (MtG is a card game produced by Wizards of the Coast, who also make Dungeons & Dragons, i.e. solid geek territory.) This was a fairly casual event in a game store. Folks would hang out and chat between rounds. A man I hadn’t played and didn’t know remarked to me, “Your boyfriend must have taught you a lot about Magic.” Now, Mike and I were both playing the tournament, and were clearly there together, although we’re not big on PDA. This man’s assumptions ran deep. He assumed: 1. Because I was female and there with a specific guy, we were dating. 2. Because I was female, I had been introduced to Magic by my male partner. Underlying this was the otheringest assumption of all: 3. Because I was female, I couldn’t have had the same kind of introduction to Magic that this dude had; I was essentially different than him. Of course he backpedaled pretty hard when I gave him a withering look and said, “Dude. I’ve been playing since I was twelve.” He got all sheepish, of course, and spouted some bullshit about how he knows lots of women who are in traditionally masculine jobs. Because that’s relevant to how I learned to play Magic. OTHER ME HARDER, BRO.

Otter with quote: "Who is allowed to make representatives of this Otter and who has the authority to enforce these representations?

Quote by Jennifer Gonzalez, pic from Discourse on the Otter

Othering is a big deal. People are thinking about it in regards to multiple disciples: medicine, law, politics. In April 2015, there’s a large-scale conference and UC Berkeley about Othering and Belonging.

[Othering] is a process in which we marginalize people; we don’t recognize their full humanity. We make them feel invisible…noticed but not seen.

-John A. Powell, Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley

 

 How does Othering show up in literature?

Othering shows up in books and films when the implied narrator or the camera treats a particular type of people as outsiders, abnormal, stereotypical…in other words, as THEM.

Examples

  • In The Tempest, Caliban is the Other to Prospero and Miranda. This is shown not only because he is very different than them, but also that he is specifically gross, dark, and undesirable. (Contrast him to Ariel, who is a magical being, but not set up as Other.)
  • Othering often comes up as gross stereotypes based on a sense of exoticism, such as “Indian” culture in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
  • In the March/April 2015 Writer’s Chronicle, Krista Humphrey discusses LGBTQ protagonists in mainstream literature. She points out that pre-Stonewall Riots, LGBTQ protagonists were often written as fundamentally unhappy as a result of their orientation. She cites Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar as an example, which ends with one man raping another after he is romantically rejected. This, Humphrey suggests, “echoed the current societal opinions of homosexuality of the time, that homosexuals were second-class, depraved, and in many ways sub-human.”
  • Early English translations of The Arabian Nights fell into some bizarre flavors of othering and exoticism. Modern translator Hussein Haddawy says, “From Galland to Burton, translators, scholars, and reader shared the belief that the Nights depicted a true picture of Arab life and culture at the time of the tales and, for some strange reason, at their own time. Time and again, Galland, Lane, or Burton claimed that theses tales were much more accurate than any travel account and took pains to translate them as such.” (from the introduction to Haddawy’s The Arabian Nights translation which is gorgeous go buy it)
Otter with text: "The Internet facilitates identity tourism, creating a new form of digital play and idealogical work that helped define an empowered and central self against an exotic and distant Otter."

Quote from Lisa Nakamura, pic from Discourse on the Otter

But wait, you cry. Sometimes othering is important! Sometimes characters are bigoted, and that’s important! Sometimes the story is all about one group meeting another that is Other to them. Yes. Those things are important. And yet you, the author, should be aware of how Othering is functioning in your work. Are your characters othering each other, or are you othering them?

I think understanding Othering helps me break down when characters in a work are being bigoted versus when the author of a work (or the implied narrator, or the implied world) is being bigoted.

To contradict myself a little bit here, let’s look at Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. In the novel, the aliens are intentionally Othered really hard up until the end, when Ender is able to connect with them and see their full, well, beingness if not “humanity.” This is a clever, good use of Othering in a novel. Aliens are a great way to talk about Othering in the genre of science fiction. Ender’s Game is a bit ironic as an example, of course, because the author is a notorious bigot who actively campaigns to deny LGBTQ folks equal rights. Awkward.

How to Avoid Othering Your Own Characters

Are you assuming that your reader or audience is a particular kind of person?

Have you fallen into stereotype? Are your characters fleshed out with an appropriate details that make them whole people? This also counts in terms of background characters: of course walk-ons don’t need to be three-dimensional characters with a back-story or anything, but neither should they be lazy shorthand stereotypes.

Are characters outside of your demographic set up as Others? If they are, is that something you wanted to do on purpose? Ask yourself: are you doing anything interesting with that? If this is an US & THEM situation, and the US is like you, and you and your protagonist are say both white heterosexual cisgendered males…well, does your character learn anything about encountering Others? Can you mirror your own growth, if learning how to not Other people is something you’ve learned to do?

Otter pic with text: "The ethical ideal is to increase one's ability to enter into modes of relation with multiple otters."

Quote by Rosi Braidotti, pic from Discourse on the Otter

What have y’all got? Ideas? Experiences of being Othered? Experiences of Othering someone else? Better examples of Othering at work in literature? Put ’em in the comments.

Avoiding Cultural Appropriation: They’re Doing It Right

Last week I talked about cultural appropriation, that offshoot of colonialism which gets thrust into everyday lives as well as literature.

This week, I wanted to address some texts made (at least in part) by people writing outside of their demographic that deal with cultural appropriation. These representative of a few strategies that one could take when writing outside of one’s own culture.

Research Like A Fiend

Michael Gruber: Tropic of Night

Cover to Tropic of Night by Michael GruberWhat is it about?

This is the first novel in a thriller series set in Miami, revolving around Cuban-American detective Jimmy Paz.

Jane Doe lives in the shadows under an assumed name. A once-promising anthropologist and an expert on shamanism, everyone thinks she’s dead. Or so she hopes.

Jimmy Paz is a Cuban-American police detective. Straddling two cultures, he understands things others cannot.

When the killings start — a series of ritualistic murders — all of Miami is terrified. Especially Jane. She knows the dark truth that Jimmy must desperately search to uncover. As their lives slowly interconnect, Jane and Paz are soon caught in a cataclysmic battle between good and an evil as unimaginable as it is terrifying . . .

michaelgruberbooks.com

How does it avoid cultural appropriation?

I think that the amount of research Gruber did to prepare for this book shows. There are several cultures drawn out in believable, delicious detail in this thriller: Cuban, Cuban-American, Yoruban (in Nigeria and Mali), Chenka (in Siberia). The main character (and only significant white character, if I recall correctly), the anthropologist known as Jane Doe, is well aware of her own anthropological/outsider lens on these cultures. At the same time, she has a visceral experience in Siberia that changes her forever. She doesn’t lose the outsider lens, but she’s got some strong feelings about shamanism…

 

Make a Parallel World

Leia Weathington: The Legend of Bold Riley

photo of the trade paperback of Legend of Bold RileyWhat is is about?

This comic from Northwest Press, published as a trade paperback and now with shiny new issues, follows the heroic journeys of Princess Rilavashana SanParite, called Bold Riley. She’s a swashbuckling, monster-fighting, lady-seducing hero, who uses both her brains and her brawn to solve problems. She gallivants around the fictional land of Prakkalore having adventures. The comic’s format is a selection of interconnected short stories with a rotating set of artists. All the stories are written by Leia Weathington.

How does it avoid cultural appropriation?

Prakkalore is not India. But it’s not India in the same way that Middle Earth is not Scandinavia. It’s a colorful fantasy world populated by monsters and heroes that come out of primarily Indian mythology. The name Bold Riley was given to Princess Rilavashana by an exotic Westerner with red hair who was one of her palace tutors. While the Western Dude Gives Name bit might be problematic in other contexts, he’s an outsider and an incidental character. Prakkalore is default. (This connects to next week’s topic, Othering.)

 

Deal with Cultural Appropriation as Part of the Text

Jeremy Hersh: Natives

What is it about?

In Hersh’s short film, a Manhattanite lesbian couple, Rachel and Anita, go on a trip to meet one of Anita’s sort of estranged parents. They haven’t come out to Anita’s parents, who are native and live on a reservation. Rachel is all kinds of awkward trying to connect with them. It’s a good film, and only 20 minutes long, so I’ll just post it here:

How does it deal with cultural appropriation?

From Hersh’s director’s statement:

Rachel, a young Manhattanite photographer and Anita’s girlfriend, is also guilty of appropriating her girlfriend, and in perhaps a more obvious way. Rachel is fascinated by Anita’s Native American roots.The journey that Rachel goes on in the film is analogous to my process in researching, writing and planning the film. Throughout, I’ve carefully tried to present my own fascination with Native American culture as genuine and respectful, hoping to keep my directorial eye reverential and not exploitative. Yet, I’ve also learned during the process that being constantly cautious about being offensive can easily lead to condescension. This is exactly what Rachel is guilty of in the film.

***

Preview of coming attractions: Othering! Books I’m reading that are written by people outside of my demographic!

Writing Outside Your Demographic: Cultural Appropriation

What is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when a work (a written work, an image, a film, a dance routine, a show, a Halloween costume) takes and displays some aspect from a culture without regard for the meaning and/or the context of that aspect within the culture.

From Sanaa Hamid's project, Cultural Appropriation: A Conversation

From Sanaa Hamid’s project, Cultural Appropriation: A Conversation

Some examples:

A lot of these examples interact with colonialism and oppression: People traditionally associated with colonizing forces are trying to put on and take off oppression like a costume. This is the difference a white person between dressing up as a naughty nun for Halloween and dressing up as “a Mexican” complete with serape, sombrero and large fake mustache is that the naughty nun is ingrained in Western white Catholic culture, who have often been oppressors, whereas folk that look like this hypothetical white person have traditionally oppressed people who look Hispanic, and moreover the shorthand for “Mexican” bears little relevance to actual Mexican people living in the world today.

Are there subtlety in this? Maybe. Consider the Washington, D.C. football team versus the Seattle Seahawks. Both use Native American imagery for their team logos. Considering that the Washington, D.C. football team uses a racist epithet that is associated with the slaughter of Native American people, the Seahawks logo is pretty darn respectful in comparison. And in general, I think it’s sort of fine. But it’s interesting to look at the history. It was originally designed by a Los Angeles-based artist in 1975, and even though Quinault artist Marvin Oliver offered the NFL a redesign that “depicted regional art principles in the design,” the logo remained.

Martin Oliver's Seahawk logo design and the final 1976 design

Notes from King County Arts Council, 1975

The Seahawks logo was later redesigned to bring it even further away from traditional forms, although once again, Coastal Salish artist Shaun Peterson has some suggestions about how to redesign it incorporating Coastal Salish design elements. There is some debate about whether Coastal Salish influences on Seahawks fan gear is beneficial or a quick road to cultural appropriation. It bears thinking about. The threads of oppression and colonialism run deep in this country, and it’s  important to look closely at how they interact with our daily lives, especially if you’re not being actively oppressed or colonized.

 Perhaps Everyday Feminism’s Jarune Uwujaren said it best:

People of all cultures wear business suits and collared shirts to survive. But when one is of the dominant culture, adopting the clothing, food, or slang of other cultures has nothing to do with survival.

So as free as people should be to wear whatever hair and clothing they enjoy, using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy a personal need for self-expression is an exercise in privilege.

How does cultural appropriation show up in fiction?

Let’s stick with discussing Native Americans in fiction. I’d like to discuss one of the more culturally ubiquitous examples at the moment, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer.

the-twilight-saga-new-moon-powerpoint-background-14In the Twilight books, Meyer chose to set them in Forks, Washington because it’s statistically the rainiest place in the US and vampires like avoiding direct sunlight. Logical enough. Also in the books, the local tribe, the Quileute, are secretly werewolves. Classic werewolf vs vampire action, right?

But…because the vampires are white and the werewolves are Native, there is an added dimension of a) vampires as civil and cultured and werewolves as animalistic thus b) white folks as civil and cultured and Native folks as animalistic, with a side of c) colonizing forces as civil and cultured and Native peoples as animalistic and also as closer to nature. Compare this to the Cullens fighting their own natures by trying to avoid murdering people; resisting the natural for the spiritual (which is the opposite, apparently) is seen as the high road.

The Burke museum in Seattle has a fantastic online exhibit called Truth vs Twilight. It calls attention to the tropes that Meyer, consciously or unconsciously, evokes in her portrayal of Quileute people in her books. The shirtless, jort-sporting Quileute boys manage to uphold the stereotype of sexualized, “hot” non-white people as a counterpoint to “classy” white people who won’t have sex until marriage. The exhibit also points out the often-repeated point that the Quileute tribe has not actually made any money off of Twilight, despite their name being (quite legally) plastered all over a bunch of merch. Some Quileute members have engaged with the publicity to further public education about the tribe. However, at its core the Twilight series does nothing to help the trope of the Imaginary Indian:

The most common representation of Native Americans in modern media suggests American Indians as vanishing or as an imaginary thing of the past. Though Twilight has garnered many fans for a contemporary, somewhat glamorized depiction of the living Quileute through the shirtless wolf-pack boys, the series still categorizes the Quileute as imaginary werewolves rather than as real people.

I found myself wondering about Stephenie Meyer’s thought processes when it came to world building. And thankfully, she’s written quite a bit about just that. Here she describes the genesis of Jacob (Quileute werewolf/secondary love interest):

Jacob’s development into a major character was a strange journey. Originally, Jacob was just a device. In Twilight, Bella needed a way to find out the truth about Edward, and the conveniently located Quileute Tribe, with all their fantastic legends, provided a cool option for that revelation. And so Jacob was born—born to tell Bella and Edward’s secret.

(emphasis mine)

One Meyer decided to develop Jacob, did she sink into the Quileute culture? Did she visit? Did she think about what it means to be a white Mormon woman writing about Native Americans? Here’s what she had to say about her process in drafting New Moon:

Lots of people give me more credit than I deserve; they think I knew Jacob was a werewolf from the very beginning. This is not the case. Twilight was supposed to be a stand alone novel, remember. There was no thought of werewolves in my mind as I wrote it. The Quileute (Quill-yoot) legends Jacob tells Bella in chapter six of Twilight are all genuine Quileute stories that I learned when I was researching the tribe (which is a real tribe with a truly fascinating and mystical history). All actual Quileute legends, except for the vampire myth about the ‘cold ones.’ I latched onto the wolf story (the actual Quileute legend claims that the tribe descended from wolves transformed by a sorcerer) because it fit with my sketchy knowledge of vampires and werewolves always being at each others’ throats (ha ha, pun intended).

(again, emphasis mine)

I’m not sure if Meyer understands how glib she sounds here. Legends don’t exist in a vacuum. Goodness knows I’m all about wild recombining of fairy tales from different cultures. But it seems as if she figured out the wolf connection to the Quileute, went “wheee!” and didn’t really bother to look much further.

How can I avoid cultural appropriation?

In a word, research.

Research, for the record, does not just equal endless Googling. It involves reading whole works that may only peripherally relate to yours. If you’re a writer who’s just sold a vampire novel for a huge advance, it might involve visiting the location of said novel and/or interviewing tribal elders of the tribe that you want to use in your novel, for example.

Writing research is not always different from scholarly research: you’re going to want a variety of sources including as many primary sources as you can find. Novelist Michael Gruber talks here about some of what he read in researching his novel, The Return:

I read The Old Gringo. I read a lot of Mexican poetry and a handful of novels and some general histories of Mexico and anthologies of Mexican writing. I pulled a lot of journalistic material from the web about the drug wars in Mexico. For the Vietnam stuff, I read a number of descriptive and first-person accounts of the war the US Special Forces fought in Laos and the standard ethnography of the Hmong people. Plus the usual research about the guns and equipment mentioned.

We call Wikipedia “a good jumping off point” or, when snarky, “home of the C- research paper.” When I was writing a short story set in Cuba in the mid 1500s, I ended up finding journal articles about family structure in Africans shipped to Cuba, the shipping manifests of slave ships to Cuba throughout the 1500s, and a rather comprehensive book about Cuban sociopolitical structure from 1400-1800, written by a female historian in 1910. This took more than a Wikipedia search. I actually used the library. I used Google maps. I looked at historical maps. I did a lot of reading about Santeria, from sites run by modern-day Santeros. Could I have done better? Yes. I wish I’d had time to read more Cuban literature, and I would have had this project been a longer process.

Look at examples art and writing from the culture you’re writing about. Also, look at examples of the culture you’re writing about being represented well or in a positive light. Here are some resources that the Burke museum has identified as good examples Native Americans being represented in popular culture.

If it’s possible, try visiting the places you’re writing about. Can you imagine what it might have been like had Stephenie Meyer gone up and spent some time with the Quinault? She did spend half a day at La Push after her novel had been released. If you can’t go yourself, maybe talk to people who have been (or better yet, who have lived there). This isn’t always possible, I know. But the closer that white people, for example, can get to looking at other cultures as they exist in the world and not the White Imagination*, the better literature we’ll have and the more we’ll be able to decolonize the literary world.

And that seems like a pretty darn worthy goal.

 

*which I will write about at some length later, but believe it or not I need to do some research first….

Writing Outside Your Demographic: Colonialism

So as I fall deeper down the Writing Outside Your Demographic rabbit hole, it turns out there is a vast wealth of topics and information to process. I’m struggling to choose the most logical order of topics. In the future, expect to see me delve into topics like appropriation, exoticism, Othering, objectification, and stereotype. Several of those are interconnected, much like the tangled web of sexism, racism, ableism, and hetero/cis normativity in which we live every day. Because in 2015, the United States of America is a country that privileges white over non-white, straight cis men over not that, and able bodied/neutrotypical over not that. That’s how it is right now. Things are changing. Part of that change is art. That’s why I’m writing this series.

Okay, now that I’ve justified my own existence in this moment, like you do, I want to move on to today’s topic. It’s a huge theme in science fiction and fantasy from The Tempest to Avatar: Colonialism.

What is Colonialism?

Ahahah, well, I went to look up a dictionary definition of colonialism, and I got a visceral example of attitudes towards it. Google, that ubiquitous American corporation, tells me this:

co·lo·ni·al·ism

kəˈlōnēəˌlizəm
noun
noun: colonialism
  1. the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
Use over time for: colonialism

The Oxford English Dictionary, yes from Oxford University in England, says this: “The colonial system or principle. Now freq. used in the derogatory sense of an alleged policy of exploitation of backward or weak peoples by a large power.”

Please take a moment and think about the difference between those two definitions.

Although I’d be willing to bet colonialism has been a thing ever since there was more than one human on the planet, one of the times it really heated up was in the Western Hemisphere from the “Age of Exploration” in the 1400s-1500s until the modern countries mostly settled down into their current shapes in the 1900s. Colonialism is not a dead force today, just slightly less of a country-shaping one. In the past century or so it’s shown up in conflicts regarding map lines being drawn in ways that are unworkable for the people who actually live there (see Hutus, Tutsis). There’s a lovely gif of colonialism in action from 1942-2008 here.

How does colonialism show up in the world?

Look at a map of the North America. Look at a map of Africa. Look at the borders. See the bits where there are big straight lines? That’s where the colonizers of these spaces chopped up the land on a map and said “this is mine.”

Map of Africa, modern day.

Map of Africa, modern day.

I am not really exaggerating at all. In the 1884-5, leaders from France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain sat down and divided up Africa once and for all. Um. They didn’t want to go to war with each other over African land, you see.

Map of Africa, 1914, a few decades after the Berlin Conference.

Image Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Image ©
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
– See more at: http://www.blackpast.org/gah/partition-africa#sthash.pWyYjsk5.dpuf

In the United States, states in the East tend to be smaller and have more borders that follow natural formations, like rivers. Western states tend to be larger and often have long swaths of straight border. This is because the US (i.e. the former English colony) was bought in pieces from previous colonizers, such as the French and Spanish. In the case of The Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson bought 530 million acres of land at about 3 cents an acre from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, shortly before the war of 1812.

louisiana_purchase_map_lg

As the actual U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian points out,

“When news of the sale reached the United States, the West was elated. President Jefferson, however, was in a quandary. He had always advocated strict adherence to the letter of the Constitution, yet there was no provision empowering him to purchase territory. Given the public support for the purchase and the obvious value of Louisiana to the future growth of the United States, however, Jefferson decided to ignore the legalistic interpretation of the Constitution and forgo the passage of a Constitutional amendment to validate the purchase. This decision contributed to the principle of implied powers of the federal government.

TL;DR The USA and rest of the world has a long and intimate history with colonialism.

How does Colonialism show up in writing and media?

Having run out of land, now the most pervasive form of ongoing colonialism may well be in the realm of media and ideas. This is more or less the same thing as cultural appropriation, which I will cover in depth next week. Understanding colonialism is a building block to understanding what appropriation is and how it works.

Your actual colonialism is responsible for and/or tied up in a lot of ideas and tropes that pervade media and literature. Some examples: Barbarians. Savages. Noble Savages. Manifest destiny. The White Man’s Burden. Slavery. Native American-themed camps for white kids. The myth that Native Americans suddenly stopped existing. The idea that non-white people are more likely to have magic powers, or to withstand greater amounts of pain, or are closer to nature.

Ask yourself:
What relationship does my world and story have to colonialism?

If your story is set on Earth in a “history as it happened” timeline, think about how your setting has been impacted by colonialism. Think about your characters. Do they think about it? Are they positively or negatively affected by it? Think about how you are affected by colonialism.

If your story is set on alternate Earth or on another planet that isn’t conveniently homogenous, consider how colonialism has affected the history and shape of the world. Think about this when you are drawing maps. Who set forth the borders of your map, and were they they people who live there? Were they about war over territory? Were they about geography? What happened to make the lines go like that?

You story doesn’t have to be directly about colonialism in order to be good, or to achieve great justice in the world. But if you don’t think about what colonialism has taken place in your world, or take into account how colonialism affects your world and characters, you run the risk of straying into territory like cultural appropriation, accidental racism, or even just very tired tropes.

Avoiding Tokenism: They’re Doing It Right

So in this series of posts about writing outside of your demographic, I want to emphasize the positive stuff I see being written around me, not just yak about What Not To Do.

Last post I talked about tokenism: what it is and some questions to ask yourself in order to avoid it. With that in mind, I chose three works that I feel do a good job of avoiding or subverting tokenism. I am specifically looking at creators from one demographic writing about a demographic that they do not share: men writing about women, white folks writing about black folks, etc.

Television: CW’s The Flash

Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow), Jesse L. Martin (Det. Joe West), Candice Patton (Iris West), Grant Guskin (Barry Allen), Tom Cavanagh (Dr. Harrison Wells)

Danielle Panabaker (Caitlin Snow), Jesse L. Martin (Det. Joe West), Candice Patton (Iris West), Grant Guskin (Barry Allen), Tom Cavanagh (Dr. Harrison Wells)

What is it about?

The CW’s 2014 show, The Flash, is a companion piece to their show Arrow, which are modern retellings of DC’s The Flash and Green Arrow respectively. Barry Allen fights evil (often in the form of ridiculous meta-humans) both as a forensic investigator and as his alter ego, The Flash, Fastest Man Alive.

Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon, looking much less derpy than usual. Cisco is basically a big happy puppy with a genius-level understanding of engineering.

Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon, looking much less derpy than usual. Cisco is basically a big happy puppy with a genius-level understanding of engineering.

How does it avoid tokenism?

The Flash is an ensemble show that has a white central character (Barry Allen), three significant recurring white characters (Caitlin Snow, Dr. Wells, Eddie Thawne), and three significant recurring characters of color (Detective Joe West, Iris West, Cisco Ramon). All of these characters matter; they are an integral part of Barry’s life. The Wests raised Barry through his teenage years, and now Joe is his contact on the police force who knows his secret identity as The Flash.

I didn’t include Arrow because although it has several characters of color, we really only see John Diggle on a regular basis. In the beginning of the show we saw quite a lot of Slade Wilson (played by Maori actor Manu Bennett), and now we are seeing more and more story about Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law), Ra’s al Ghul (an excitingly problematic character in the history of the comic, now played by white actor Matt Nable), and Yao Fei (Karl Yune), but all of those are characters that recur sometimes. Overall Dig is often pretty tokenized in the show.

A creator of the both series, Greg Berlanti, has also spoken about his commitment to representing GLBTQ folks.

 

Comics: Stumptown by Greg Rucka

stumptown-hcWhat is it about?

This gritty noir comic, set in modern-day Portland, follows P.I. Dex Parios as she works to solve a case involving missing persons and the local native casino, all the while battling her own gambling problem.

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How does it avoid tokenism?

In the Noir genre, women often fall into very clear tropes: the femme fatale (if there’s one female character), the extremely badass woman-in-a-man’s-world (if there’s two). Part of how Stumptown resists stereotype is by defying tokenism. Significant female characters include the main character Dex, Sue-Lynne, the woman who hired her, and Charlotte Suppa, the woman who’s been kidnapped. Here’s Rucka talking about the series, including why he included so many female characters.

 

Fiction: Forests of the Heart by Charles deLint

forests_tor

What is it about?

This novel, set in the fictitious city of Newford, follows Bettina San Miguel as she is interrupted from her career as an artist by spirit creatures she knows as los lobos reaching out to her because she can see them. One of Bettina’s fellow artist has been comissioned to make a powerful magical artifact for the city’s resident Celtic/Irish fairies, the Gentry. Soon los lobos, the Gentry, and the Manitou, are being pulled into a supernatural battle royale that the humans are trying desperately to avert.

How does it avoid tokenism?

Not only is the main character a Mexican/Native woman, but there are several characters both human and supernatural who are Latino or Native, such as Tommy Raven and Chantal de Vega. Overall, Mexican, Native, and Celtic cultures are all represented. Here are some of deLint’s thoughts about this book and his Newford series.

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Agree? Disagree? Have more examples? To the comment section, and beyond!

Things To Avoid: Tokenism

This past weekend, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works in the game industry on the creative team for a well-known fantasy game. He was thinking about how, as a cisgendered, heterosexual white guy, for example, he can write and incorporate all that nifty non-Western/Celtic/Norse fantasy stuff in his work. “It’s something we talk about a lot,” he said.

This is a big conversation and worth more than one post. Today I wanted to carve out a little bit of the negative space around writing good characters outside your own demographic by looking at some things I seek to avoid.

 

Tokenism

Are they the only type of person with that race, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality in your entire fictional universe?

token-south-parkExample: Token, the only black kid in South Park Elementary is a satire of tokenism.

Sometimes being The Only One is relevant to the plot. That’s okay. But be aware of how often this comes up and who the dominant group is in these stories. Is it always the same?

cast of Angel

This show is set in Los Angeles. I love Joss Whedon. But there sure are a lot of white people happening here. No, the green demon doesn’t count as racial diversity. He’s played by a white actor.
(PS: J. August Richards please please play one of the superheros in my comic No Heroes Today when it gets somehow magically adapted for the screen. kthxbai)

 

 Did you make a character or pick a skin?

In games this is a mixed bag. In a fantasy game like Dragon Age: Origins where you are literally picking your character’s skin and appearance down to the smallest detail, then it’s vitally important to have a wide range of options.

dragon-age-origins-character-creator-39However, try not to include a character who’s a different color, say, just to have a character who’s a different color without thinking about how that different color would affect them, particularly if they are the only character of that color in your text.

An unfortunately classic trope in cartoons and games is the distaff character, which is the single female member of a team who is distinguishable because she is a girl.

arcee-dreamwave-thumb-550x375

Love you, Arcee. You and Ms. Pac Man and the Pink Power Ranger can form some kind of uberteam of pink.

How has their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality informed their life?

Talk to a black person who was The Only Black Kid at a predominantly white school. You’re damn right that stuff affects a person. Not only that, but everyone’s experience with this will be different. Gosh.

How to Avoid Tokenism

A simple antidote to tokenism is to have more than one (female, queer, black, etc) character in your work.

This can be in terms of significant characters, but also in terms of crowd scenes. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media did some research into crowd scenes on film. On average, they found, crowds consist of 17 percent women. Geena Davis advises actually writing in screenplays “a crowd of 50% women and 50% men” to avoid this.

Let your work form naturally, then look at it with a critical lens. Have you fallen into tokenism? How many of your characters share your demographics? What would it be like to switch things up on a character, write them differently? Think about it. You work won’t be some perfect balance of every single demographic being represented. It won’t. It shouldn’t be; it should contain characters specific to the story you’re telling and the world you’ve created. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about what kind of characters are in your work. Think about it.

Figurative Language with Drax the Destroyer

Greetings, humans. I am Drax.

4055895-drax+guardians-of-the-galaxy-draxYesterday I was sitting with the human Peter Quill on The Milano and he asked me what had my panties in a bundle. This confused me greatly; I was wearing no panties nor underwear of any type. When I told him this, he said “Whoa, so Drax flies commando” and I was again confused because Gamora was currently flying the ship and while I am a mighty warrior I am not specifically a commando; this does not change when I fly.

At this point, Rocket interrupted Quill and offered to further explain figurative language to me.

I dislike figurative language. It is cheating. Words have meanings. I feel irritated when people tell me that single word has not only more than one meaning, but meanings which are not “literal.” This is confusing and stupid*.

metaphor draxAfter our recent battles, I now understand the concept of metaphor: one thing means a different thing. And not just any different thing, but something related to the first thing in what human scholar Thomas McLauglin describes as “some shared category of meaning.” He also says that metaphor is a “word-for-word substitution,” but sometimes it is a gesture-for-word substitution. I know this, because finger on throat means death. Metaphor.

tSc-finger-to-the-throat-means-death-metaphorRocket tells me that there are even more kinds of figurative language than metaphor. He explained a few of them. I like similes because it is like metaphor but easier to understand, because a simile contains both the word and the other word that it’s substituting. For example, once when I threw a Kree warrior into a large chasm, Quill told me I was a beast. I thought he was insulting my genetic heritage, so I moved to throw him in as well, whereupon he corrected himself, saying, “No, no, I mean STRONG like a beast!” You can tell if it is a simile because the person will say “like” or “as” in the sentence. I do not mind similes so much.

There are other types of figurative language that make even less sense than metaphors, though. When we were having systems failure and Quill asked me to get my ass over here, he thought I mocked him when I turned my posterior in his direction. Instead, he was using synechdoche, I learned later. Synechdoche is when you name part of a thing but mean the whole thing. He said “your ass” but meant “you.” Once the Milano was being pursued by a fleet of Kree warships, and Quill referred to them as “those assholes,” meaning neither the anuses of the Kree nor even the Kree themselves, but the entire fleet.

On the other hand, by which I mean another related idea because in this case hands are metaphors for ideas and since two hands are connected to a single body that means they are related, there is metonymy. It is sort of like synechdoche except instead of referring to part of a whole, you refer to something related to another thing instead of just saying what you mean. Quill gave me an example by referring to the loss and regret he felt after after a failed love affair as “heartbroken.” I did not understand at first, but then understood that he was talking about the body but meaning the emotions. Feh. Humans.

UNSM52VRocket says there is another type of figurative language called irony, but despite his efforts I still do not understand it as anything more than a particularly confusing form of lying. Rocket says he will keep trying. For his own safety, I am not sure I will let him. I feel very angry in the presence of irony.

Baby-GrootI enjoy Groot because Groot does not use confusing figurative language. Rocket says I am wrong about this and keeps talking about a thing called Poststructuralism, but I do not think that little furry creature is mighty enough to dig a post hole, much less build a structure.

Until next time, humans.

-Drax

 

*In fact, sometimes I think a word means one thing, and it turns out it means a different thing. For example, I thought that the word “whore” meant “woman.” This is why I once described Gamora as a “green whore.” However, Rocket later informed me that the word “whore” means “person who has a lot of sex, often with multiple partners.” I corrected my error immediately. However, Peter Quill was somewhat annoyed when I began to refer to him as “pink whore.” I am unsure why: this seems accurate to me.

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Next time on Understanding Literary Theory, Representations And Help In Popular Culture (ULTRAHIP-C), we’ll look at Lacan’s concept of significance with the help of that rascal Teen Dog.

Five Ridiculous Christmas Specials

Last night was the longest night of year up here in the Northern hemisphere. At my particular latitude, that looked like a sunset at 4:20 PM and sunrise at 7:55AM. The properly Pagan thing would have been for me to do a sunset ritual, hold a Yule vigil and stay up all night, and celebrate the coming of the sun in the morning. I sort of did those things, in that I sat in front of a fire with my partner and we drank hot toddies with some lovely round solar slices of lemon floating on top.

And in honor of our winter holidays, or more specifically the Pagan holiday of Yule as it was revamped with Christian overtones in the 4th Century into Christmas, I present to you five deliciously weird Christmas specials to delight the hearts and minds of the children:

13-Invader-Zim-The-Most-Hor

#5: Doctor Who Christmas Specials

There’s something really lovely and compelling about British Christmas. American Christmas has less emphasis on being nice and far fewer funny paper hats. And I think the Doctor Who Christmas specials are the best thing since Dickens’ Christmas Carol to capture the spirit of British Christmas: lots of flashy holiday decor (some of which tries to kill our heroes), jokes about satsumas, paper hats, lots of aliens who want to blow up everything, and good-hearted people being decent in response. Of all the Doctor Who Christmas specials, my favorite is “The Christmas Invasion.” Why?

  1. It’s David Tennant’s first full episode, and he’s fantastic even though he’s asleep through half of it.
  2. The Doctor references Douglas Adams and The Lion King.
  3. Rose’s Mum, a completely brilliant character to begin with, bumbles around and accidentally saves the world by reviving the Doctor with a nice cuppa tea. And if there’s anything more British than that, I don’t know what it is.

This clip will probably be a good litmus test as to if you can handle the pure level of silly that Doctor Who has to offer:

#4: He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special

Make no mistake: this is not actually good. It is, however, hilarious. The sheer effort that went into cramming the marketing machine of Christmas into the alien world of Eternia is obvious, laughable, and almost charming. I can imagine a studio executive standing up saying “So it’s an alien world with no connection to Earth. So what? We can do it anyway! That’s the Spirit of American Christmas!”

#3: The Star Wars Holiday Special

I’ll see your alien-civilization-with-no-Christmas and raise you a full-on Star Wars Christmas Special. Of course, by “Christmas” I mean “Life Day” a Wookee Holiday that somehow falls in the winter and bears a suspicious resemblance to Earth celebrations. It’s rife with Chewie’s oddly patriarchal family, TV and virtual reality, um, shows of the Star Wars Universe (also oddly patriarchal and sexual) and actual brief moments with the actual stars of Star Wars. Instead of linking you to the full abomination, here’s the 15-minute edited version:

#2: The Invader Zim Christmas Special

O, Invader Zim Christmas Special, I love you so. I am still not sure how Jhonen Vasquez was allowed to make children’s TV, but bless whatever Nickelodeon executive let him on the airwaves, because Invader Zim is a beautiful shining gem of cynicism and bizarro storytelling that I’ll treasure forever. And the Christmas special, “The Most Horrible Christmas Ever,” does not disappoint. Check it out here, and you’ll be crying “To the jingle jail!” in no time.

#1: The Pee-Wee Herman Christmas Special

So this. This is a thing I hadn’t seen until last year, and it’s a god-damned national treasure. Pee-Wee Herman is the perfect character for American Christmas: mostly comically selfish, with just a little bit of goodwill and a grand sense of style. This special involves a truly impressive cast of special guests: Whoopi Goldberg, Cher, Grace Jones, the dang U.S. Navy choir, Magic Johnson, Little Richard, Oprah, K.D. Lang, and Joan Rivers. And that’s like half of them. Seriously. Also this is your friendly reminder that Lawrence Fishburne was Curtis the Cowboy on that entire show. Right now the entire thing is on Netflix, but otherwise here’s Grace Jones:

What We Talk About When We Talk About Fantasy

What qualifies as fantasy, in the modern genre sense?

Therese Neilsen, "Fact or Fiction" card art from Magic: The Gathering

Therese Neilsen, “Fact or Fiction” card art from Magic: The Gathering

It’s hard to define precisely. Perhaps we can look for elves, dwarves, knights, ghosts, the supernatural, monsters, gods, and magic. But not only do those things come up in other genres–ghosts, for example, are in everything from Hamlet to Beloved–but they do not entirely define the genre. There’s been plenty of argument about the minutiae of genre boundaries: science fiction vs fantasy vs science fantasy vs magical realism vs horror vs dark fantasy vs …

Scholar Michael Trout defines a division between science fiction and fantasy: Fantasy “could’ve happened, but didn’t” in an “imaginary past”; science fiction “hasn’t happened yet but could” (usually) in an “imaginary future.” Even these boundaries are fuzzy as all heck.

The modern fantasy genre has its roots in fairy tales; fairy tales have roots inexorably entwined with myth. J.R.R. Tolkien, arguably the father of the modern fantasy genre, thought a lot about what defines the fantasy genre. He says that the main thing about fantasy creating a compelling “Secondary World,” a world in which the reader can be completely immersed, a world in which the reader can invest their belief fully. He says, in his essay “On Fairy Stories”:

If you are present at a Faërian drama you yourself are, or think that you are, bodily inside its Secondary World. The experience may be very similar to Dreaming and has (it would seem) sometimes (by men) been confounded with it. But in Faërian drama you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp. To experience directly a Secondary World: the potion is too strong, and you give to it Primary Belief, however marvellous the events.

So how can I make a fantasy world?

Trolls by Brian Froud

Trolls by Brian Froud

Sometimes I see people use a few of the outer markers of the fantasy genre, that being a sort of generic Northern European medieval pastiche: knights, princesses, dragons, fairies. This irritates me. First off, it does a disservice to the genre as a whole, limiting it to a small portion of what it is an cutting away at its history. Secondly, it flaunts a stunning lack of research and world-building. Even if you do want to invoke Northern European medieval fantasy, like Tolkien did, you can do so with research and care or you can sort of rip off Tolkien. Goodness knows both happen and are published.

Let’s look at Tolkien’s world and do a bit of reverse-engineering. Tolkien based his world heavily off of Norse mythology. Middle-Earth echoes Midgard; the One Ring echoes the Ring Cycle; Eowyn echoes the Valkyrie Brunhilda. Gandalf resembles the form of Odin takes when he wanders the world of men. Tolkien straight-up ripped the names of most of his dwarves from the Norse Edda Völuspá. So Tolkein researched an sourced his Middle-Earth world off of Norse myth; a few smatterings of other things were thrown in there, not to mention Tolkien’s more unique spins on fantasy creatures like Hobbits and Uruk-Hai.

J.R.R. Tolkien, illustration for The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien, illustration for The Lord of the Rings

Other works of fantasy take off on other Northern European mythos: Lloyd Alexander’s stunning series The Chronicles of Prydain cherry-picks the most exciting bits out of the 9th-century Welsh epic The Mabinogion. Countless revamps of the King Arthur mythos from England have become classic, including T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.

Of course, there are plenty of fantasy books that break of out what Rachel Pollack refers to as the “interminable Celtic bullshit” model of fantasy. J.K. Rowling incorporates elements of not only Celtic, but also Greek and Eastern European creatures and tales into her Harry Potter universe. Nigerian tales about twins and doubles figure heavily into Helen Oyeyemi’s deliciously frightening novel The Icarus Girl. The Arabian Nights and its associated Islamic fantasy mythos has influenced everything from Disney’s Aladdin to G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen to Saladin Ahmed’s The Throne of the Crescent Moon. Thankfully anime and manga have become popular enough in the United States to expose Americans to Japanese fantasy, everything from ancient monsters (like Kappa and Oni) to classic fairy tale tropes (spirit possession, angry ghosts) to more modern tropes (Magical Girls).

Cover art for Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon

cover art for Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon

My point here is that any fantasy setting likely has some kind of cultural backdrop that comes with it. Orcs are Norse: they’re Dark Elves re-skinned. (Yes, with extra bonus racism. Fantasy deals with race, Othering, and imperialism, from The Tempest onwards. Deal with it.) Dragons are delightfully universal and appear in many different cultures, albeit with different appearances and abilities depending on the myths surrounding them. When you are writing fantasy, and building your worlds, consider which bits of Earth you may or may not be invoking.

For example, you could invoke Frank Frazetta's vision of Conan the Barbarian, and then I'd have to go quietly vomiting into the night.

For example, you could invoke Frank Frazetta’s vision of Conan the Barbarian, and then I’d have to remind you to read hero epics like the Greek Hercules or the Irish Cu Chulainn, and then go off quietly vomiting into the night.

In the 1970s, Gary Gygax and others created Dungeons & Dragons–two images that efficiently invoke the fantasy genre. One thing the game’s creators sought to do was to make up some brand-new monsters that weren’t based on existing myths. Thus we have Gelatinous Cubes, Beholders, and Displacer Beasts, among others. But was the D&D world completely original? Of course not: there are plenty of culturally specific references, monsters, and language. I think having a fantasy world completely separate from our own is not only impossible but not a particularly compelling goal. To me, a good fantasy world takes what’s happening in our own world on a mythological level and spins it or provides a fresh and compelling Secondary World.

Behold!  (It's a Beholder, from the Monster Manual.)

Behold!
(It’s a Beholder, from the Monster Manual.)

Mostly what I’m challenging folks to do here is consider any fantasy worlds you’ve created, and do your own cultural math: What myths, fairy tales and/or ancient worlds are you using to build up your fantasy world? If you haven’t used any on purpose, I have a feeling something probably crept out subconsciously. Try and track it down and see what it is, and if that’s what you were going for. I’m not gonna say that world doesn’t need another Celtic-based fantasy novel. I love Celtic fantasy novels. Goodness knows I’m obsessed with Celtic changeling mythos and will for sure rewrite and polish my novel about that at some point. What I will say is that the world has a lot of damn interesting stories, and perhaps it would be worth your while to go forth and find them. And then, when you do find them, do some real damn research, write real characters, and don’t go totally off the rails like Stephenie Meyer did with her Quileute werewolves.

Now go forth and read this roundtable with a bunch of fantasy writers of color who have more coherent things to say about this than I do.

A few fantasy novels that are not based in Norse or Celtic or Greek or Roman mythos:

The Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin (never mind the whitewashed TV version)

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi (also her novel Mr. Fox)

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Wild Seed (the Patternist series) by Octavia E. Butler

The Last Wish by Andrej Sapowski (which The Witcher videogames are based on)

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (which is the closest to Doing Its Own Damn Thing of any of these books)

Wild Seed cover illustration by Wayne Barlowe

Wild Seed cover illustration by Wayne Barlowe

What other fantasy novels should we be reading? Got any that aren’t Norse-Greek-Celtic-Roman? Post ’em in the comments, precioussss.

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