Friday, February 12, 2021

Black History Month

I have never made a post regarding Black History Month because, as I have often said, I avoid as many real-world matters as I can here on Stars Uncounted. However, for everything there is a first time so I will give my take regarding race in Fantasy literature. The short of it is that I agree with Ursula K. Le Guin, who has criticized what she describes as the general assumption in Fantasy that characters should be White and that the society should resemble the Middle Ages. Of course, the Fantastic has expanded quite a bit since she uttered those words, with cultures and settings that are far from always clearly Medieval, and yet the Whiteness of characters and a general European cultural flavor remains. Why is this so? Honestly, I am unsure. Maybe it is habit, maybe it is that White authors feel unqualified to base their created cultures off those not their own or fear being accused of cultural appropriation; maybe Black authors feel non-European based cultures would be of lesser interest to readers. I cannot say. I do, however, think it is a problem that the Fantasy genre must needs overcome. Knights and castles are nice, but they get old after a while; which is why I seek unique Fantasy these days.

Yet I can say that of one seeks quality Fantasy with non-White characters then I highly recommend The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin; and I say non-White instead of Black because the skin color of the characters is primarily described as red-brown. Better yet, the only White people in the Earthsea universe are from the Kargad Lands and are they are described (and typically act) as savages.

One also might be interested in the Vows and Honor Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. While most of the characters are White, one of the series' two main protagonists is Tarma shena Tale'sedrin who is a black-golden skinned woman from the southern Dhorisha Plains. Not ideal, perhaps, but Tarma is one of my favorite characters in Fantasy literature period and, furthermore, Mercedes Lackey absolutely skewers sexism in the series.

There is in addition Moon-Flash and its sequel The Moon and the Face by Patricia A. McKillip. An anthropological Fantasy book for lack of a better term, though it is marked as sci-fi, McKillip is incapable of writing anything other than a lyrical masterpiece in which the words flow like a river off the page, though your soul, and back again. Which is not unlike the story as, for Kyreol and Terje, the strange becomes the familiar and the familiar strange as two separate worlds come together through dreams that stretch across the cosmos, the innate power of the Riverworld, and love.





These are the three that stick out in my mind insofar as having Colored main protagonists go. Doubtless I am forgetting others from my own bookshelf, but I seldom notice skin-color in Fantasy literature unless it carries a racial bearing that impacts the plotline of the book in question. For while it is true that Fantasy tends towards White main characters, those protagonists are never racist towards secondary characters where skin-color is concerned; thus any concern regarding race is always based on a purely cultural standpoint. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is a perfect example of this for, while cultural prejudices exist aplenty (though rarely from the five core characters), skin-color is a non-issue.

Now I can hear you saying, "but what about Black Fantasy authors? The three series' mentioned above were written by White women." Simply put, I never pay attention to the author's race or gender when searching for or reading Fantasy. It simply does not enter into my calculations. As said Anne McCaffrey, "A good story is a good story no matter who wrote it," meaning, in this context, that when I am in a bookstore searching for new Fantasies I just pull out whatever looks interesting, read the back and/or inside cover, and if it passes muster I give it a try. As I have said in the past, to me the Art is far more important than the Artist. Not that there is anything wrong with searching for and filling your bookshelf with works written by Black authors, but it is not my style because, like with this blog, Fantasy is where I go to escape all real-world matters.

"I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter." – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Stories of the sort I am describing…they cool us…hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of 'escape'. I never wholly understood it until my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.” – C.S. Lewis

And if you want to move beyond literature? Well, I am no expert, but Avatar: The Last Airbender (and its sequel The Legend of Korra) is a flawless example of an exemplary Fantasy where none of the cultures are European-based and several protagonists are dark-skinned.

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