One of the problems I have had with fantasy, as of late, has been its reliance on a whitewashed Eurocentrism. Ironically, the strangeness of the medieval European world is done injustice by some of the stereotypes, clichés, and poor writing that permeates the fantasy genre.

6 months ago

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We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.  – George R. R. Martin, “On Fantasy”

One of the problems I have had with fantasy, as of late, has been its reliance on a whitewashed Eurocentrism. Ironically, the strangeness of the medieval European world is done injustice by some of the stereotypes, clichés, and poor writing that permeates the fantasy genre. Although I admire George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien, they don’t seem to grasp the need to be inclusive. Yes, Martin is far better than Tolkien is in this regard. However, there’s something still lacking. I am of the school of thought that fantasy, much like any speculative fiction, must be representative. In other words, it needs to be inclusive—and not exclusionary, as it has been.

The problems many of us see with the fantasy genre is the whiteness and the blatant Eurocentrism that dominates many narratives. Another thing, something I’ve found quite troubling, is the appropriation of the medieval European past. In other words, medieval Europe becomes fodder for fantasy writers, who have done little if any research on what this strange place was like. For those students of medieval history, we know the strangeness of medieval Europe. It is wrought by incest, blood feuds, weird religious ceremonies, odd ideologies, state-church smack downs, and the like. The largely white-dominated, Eurocentric motifs that we experience in classic epic fantasy or even medieval fantasy are just wrong. They don’t account for the regional varieties that often crop up in medieval Europe. They forget that monolithic structures like nation, state, people, race, nationalism, etc. didn’t exist, at least not in the capacity they exist today.

Marlon James has argued that our tools for realizing fantasy are predominantly shaped by the West or the European tradition. The problem I have with this criticism is that it largely ignores the realities of medieval Europe. Medieval Europe was not, for all intents and purposes, the same Europe that brutalized tens of millions of people. Moreover, it was not a monolithic entity—it’s equivalent to calling Africa a country, when, in fact, it has over a billion people, with thousands of indigenous languages, cultures, histories, etc. Europe, despite post-WWII moves, is a continent with a complicated history, with numerous cultures and languages, various peoples, and baggage that cannot be claimed under the monolithic “European” title.

Instead of mudslinging, we need to recognize the need to fairly represent all walks of life. In other words, we need to recognize that the human condition is diverse and vast. It is something that cannot be condensed into monolithic forms—like European or African. In the words of Wallace, we need to remove ourselves from our skull kingdoms and review and experience the human condition from different lenses. To fail to do so will result in a genre that is both irrelevant and exclusionary.

G. Michael Rapp

Published 6 months ago

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