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Apr. 4th, 2009 | 09:42 pm
feeling: curiouscurious
posted by: gretagarbled in __fantasynovel


do other black people feel happy about the portrayal of black characters in fantasy literature? I'm 16yr old girl of Nigerian descent and have just re-read the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini and was thinking about this quite seriously. In many of the fantasy novels I've read, the author either goes with the 'Calormenes' school of thinking from CS Lewis, i.e. making them 'dark-faced savages' or bending over backwards to make sure that the reader knows that they're good people, but then making them so good that they're annoying.

And what about those people who feel that they belong to neither black nor white social demographics? Do you feel under-represented or are you indifferent?

Comments and replies much needed and appreciated (I'm trying to write an essay on this).

The authoress thanks ye

 

 

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Comments {17}

Alyssa

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from: aqeldroma
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 08:51 pm (UTC)
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Oh, how timely.

I suggest you google "Racefail 2009" and read up on it. VERY on point to what you're discussing.

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Anna

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from: weaselistic
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 09:11 pm (UTC)
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Or best start here with an overview:
http://rydra-wong.livejournal.com/155427.html

(It's too big a discussion and on too many different websites and blogs to hope that Google would help you understand the context, I believe.)

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Alyssa

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from: aqeldroma
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
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Only 425 hits ;)

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Anna

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from: weaselistic
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC)
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Light reading for an afternoon!

No, honestly, I have to keep reminding myself how this started out in the first place...

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Alyssa

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from: aqeldroma
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
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I totally know what you mean!

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Queen of the Faerie Cakes!

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from: the_faery_queen
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 10:04 pm (UTC)
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i think i've read only one book with a nonwhite character, and that was one of david gemmels. they are seriously underwritten, but i think that most fantasy writers are white, so they right about what they know. i think that's why there are, or were, a lot of male leads in books, most writers for a while were male. it's changing now tho. but, as a female who writes about male leads, i don't know why people don't try to write characters of other races. but perhaps they're afraid of it coming off badly and being accused of racism, or being politically correcgt.

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from: christa_wolf90
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
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I think it's because a character that's white, blond, and rich is more interesting to most readers (stupidly) than a normal, black character. It's like the media; whenever a rich, pretty-looking white girl goes missing, they're all over that. But when a poor, normal-looking black girl disappears, they ignore it. And they call us the most advanced and smartest species!

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Comrade Cat

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from: comrade_cat
date: Apr. 5th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
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i think i've read only one book with a nonwhite character, and that was one of david gemmels

There aren't that many out there that I know of. Some books that I liked that do have nonwhite characters were the Earthsea books by Ursula K Le Guin; The Watcher's Mask by Laurie J Marks (the main character is only physically described once that I remember, but when she is, it says she's dark-skinned); Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson; & The Stone Mage and the Sea by Sean Williams.

Publishers are also to blame. When Eric Flint submitted his first novel, his publisher told him to put in a viewpoint character who wasn't black or alien.

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vaegue

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from: vaegue
date: Apr. 4th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
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As a non-white female writer, I'm indifferent. Race isn't just about skin colour. Race formulates your core beliefs and your very identity. I'm fine with white people writing non-whites as secondary characters, provided they research about it well, but very often, white writers who write their main characters as Asians... get it very wrong.

And I'm not trying to be racist from a completely different angle. There's plenty of media in Asian countries with Asian protagonists. Really. And in those countries, it is just as easy to find book about a white character as it is to find a book about a non-white character in a Western country. It isn't racism, its just cultural.

I'm speaking from a strictly non-American perspective though. Americans have a long history of racial tension, and that's probably why the whole black v. white is so central to the whole racefail argument.

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the_pangolin

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from: the_pangolin
date: Apr. 5th, 2009 07:24 am (UTC)
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Yeah, but there's an equally long history of racial tension in most other countries as well. For instance the whole white/Turk/black issue in Switzerland, or the UK where you still get people calling others "wogs" (some of my worst childhood memories involve that word). In Panama City, Panama blacks are welcome but native peoples are seen as intruders; in the interior of the country, it is the reverse. Such is human nature.

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the_pangolin

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from: the_pangolin
date: Apr. 5th, 2009 06:40 am (UTC)
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This is partially why LeGuin was so furious about the televised adaptation of her books -- they made her copper and brown-skinned protagonists into crackers.

In any event, living in Harlem I have often worried about the racial issue in relation to books for young people. I'd actually like to try and write a series of books for young adults in which the protagonist(s) are black, if only so that there is an alternative out there.

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tigerweave

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from: tigerweave
date: Apr. 5th, 2009 06:53 am (UTC)
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I thought about this issue long and hard when creating my fantasy world and the peoples within it. I had a human race that I think of in my head as being white, but then they come from a climate where not a lot of melanin in their skin is the likely evolutionary response.

I have another race that is non-human but definitely humanoid, and I couldn't quite work out the differences to the humans.I ended up leaving it to the audience, simply making it clear that either race could tell the difference between the two from looking at their face, and also the ones of half-human, half the other race origin. (meh, race/ species I leave that to the reader to decide as well!) But I carefully didn't explain what the difference was.

I was part of a writing group for a while there, and one of the other writers when giving feedback presumed the differences were "skin colour". I looked back to make extra sure I hadn't written anything that had suggested it was skin colour. This writer had done a lot of work with indigenous Australians, and I guess it was his main paradigm of understanding differences between races. Other people presume the second race is more elf-like, or more eldritch, again depending on what background they brought to it. Me, I found it fascinating.

I have another character who is indigenous Australian, and I am thinking I either run it by one of my indigenous Aussie friends in the hopes they can pick up if I have veered off, or I change him to something I am more comfortable writing.

In other words, yes I have thought about it a lot. I have also done a lot of research on different people's spirituality and cultural appropriation is a *really* big deal there. Cultures differ in such obvious and also subtle ways. I have a friend who grew up in the US and has been in Australia for over 20 yrs. To me her writing, though she carefully avoids any glaring "Americanisms" reads like an American writer anyway.
She was reading an Aussie crime-writer for research and he had two Americans in his plot and she said they were saying things a real American would *never* say.

Interesting question. Good luck with your essay.

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♥ keptawake

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from: keptawake
date: Apr. 5th, 2009 03:42 pm (UTC)
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Being a fantasy writer gives us a lot of leeway with races. I'm white, but the lack of other races in fantasy always both interested and disturbed me. I mean, maybe it's the whole 'medieval' feel to much of fantasy, but I think that's a stupid excuse. If it's not earth-based, there can be any races you like.

I enjoy playing with races. I have two different fantasy worlds, and in both my main characters range from skin so dark it can reasonably be called black to mixed skin. I actually don't have many major 'white' characters, especially not early on. But the thing about it is that the color of their skin is, for the most part, arbitrary; they're still just people.

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from: joecloudheart
date: Apr. 6th, 2009 07:48 am (UTC)
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It is annoying. That's one more reason to like Robert Jordan and George RR Martin. The cliche of "they are from a foreign kingdom and so they look black or Asian and they are gonna invade us" is a sign of the times from the 40s, 50's, and 60's, but modern era fantasy that plays that card is just lazy.

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from: joecloudheart
date: Apr. 6th, 2009 07:56 am (UTC)
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also, I would recommend "The Etched City" to you for similar reasons.

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Logos

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from: wordchick
date: Apr. 7th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
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I'm mixed-race and from that point of view, I'm totally underrepresented. It's never truly bothered me, but I would love to see more characters of color in fantasy. Regarding that- it's young adult fiction, but Tamora Pierce has non-white protagonists in her Circle of Magic series and as I recall, they were pretty three-dimensional.

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from: wandadcampbell
date: Feb. 1st, 2010 06:11 am (UTC)
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Hi Authoress,

I tend to agree with you, both as a reader and a writer. I would like to see all people portrayed as "people" with good and bad in all populations, because that is more realistic. I believe that fantasy and sci-fi, like all fiction, should be believable, no matter how impropable.

I remember reading a book once by Tracy Hickman where one of the main characters was dark-skinned...he was this basically good guy, with a bit of a dark side to him...I thought wow...he's so...human. I like that.

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