This post takes its lead from what Unicornblues published on Way Too Fantasy.
Take a minute and please check it out.
I agree absolutely with the fact that given the wide choice of possible settings – historical, psaeudo-historical and completely made up – the matter of diversity in imaginative fiction and in fantasy in particular should be easily settled.
Heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery, in particular, play on elements which include globetrotting, clashing cultures and mixed, bazaar-like settings.
I could simply point at the Hyborian world Robert Howard created, and consider the matter settled.
Howard put Conan through the grinder in a variety of cultural environments, from quasi-Roman Aquilonia to the Harold Lamb-influenced horse tribes of the eastern steppes, all the way to the Black Kingdoms and the native-american-influenced Pictish forests of the north.
Granted, the Cona stories are not the model I would suggest for a multi-ethnical fantasy – but the setting does provide the tools for it.
Our modern sensibilities provide the need, and the spark, so to speak, to tell such stories.
But also, our historical past was much more multi-ethnical than we are normally led to believe.
Vikings raided the Mediterranean shores, the Chinese probably reached North America (and met the Aztecs? Wow! That’s a start for a good story! Or were they the Mayas? Ah, it would be great anyway!)
And obviously the Silk Road (you knew I was heading in this direction!) was a melting pot of cultures, genes, stories – witness the variety and diversity of the so called “Arabian Nights“.
No historical empire worth its name was ever a single-culture, single-ethnicity thing.
But let’s look at the whole thing from another side, shall we?
When I write fiction, everything in my story should be in the service of the story.
So, does diversity serve my story?
I think in most cases the answer is yes.
A well-varied, multi-ethnical or multi-cultural world simplifies a lot of things: it creates conflicts, hints at deep history, provides colour and wonder.
Avoiding such a powerful tool for the sake of some supposed “historical accuracy” is, in my opinion, not very wise.
All in all, using diversity in fantasy does not mean placing tokens in my narrative, but actually using characters and setting to make the texture of my narrative deeper and more satisfactory.
So, why not?
- How do we really feel about diversity? (joekay617.wordpress.com)
- Close encounters of the Arab kind (bbc.co.uk)
- Robert E. Howard (trolldens.blogspot.com)
- The Legends of Red Sonja Roundtable with Gail Simone, Devin Grayson and Nancy Collins (comicsbeat.com)
- Watch: Terry Pratchett, A S Byatt and Terry Eagleton on fantasy, fiction and desire (newstatesman.com)