Sunday, March 17, 2013
First off, why should we even mention ugly issues like racism in a fantasy story? Isn't fantasy all about escaping the dark realities of this world and immersing readers in a world full of fairies and rainbows and light? As anyone who has read fantasy will tell you, no, rainbow-fairies and escapism is not what fantasy is all about.
In fact, I believe that fantasy is a medium that is excellent for conveying even the darkest truths about this world. You see, fantasy is like the reflection in a pond on a crisp autumn morning. The real world inspires the fantasy reflections. Sometimes, though, by seeing those reflections, your readers will be able to look at the real world with a clearer eye. What fantasy gives us, then, is a change of perspective. When we finish the last page and close the book, we don't look at the world in quite the same way.
So, in essence, fantasy provides us with the chance to challenge and maybe even to change a reader's view of the world. What a task--and what an opportunity!
Now that we've dealt with the power of fantasy, let's get down to the dirty business of racism. As most people know, racism refers to judging others based only on their skin color or race. Racism can result in one race believing itself superior to others and segregating or enslaving other races.
How does racism fit into fantasy? Well, most fantasy worlds have multiple beings/species/races. For example, Lord of the Rings has a variety of sentient beings--Elves, humans, wizards, and hobbits, among others. What if hobbits suddenly decided that their height entitled them to a superiority above all the other beings in Middle-Earth? Instead of a dark lord you would have a hobbit, both terrible and beautiful and powerful and short! Or, to make the issue a bit more human, what if the men of Gondor decided that they were superior to the men of Rohan and Bree and the North, and then decided to enslave anyone other than the inhabitants of Gondor?
As you can see, there are ample opportunities for racism, segregation based on race, and racial slavery even in fantasy stories.
I suggest that you take a close look at your own story. Is there a place where your story might benefit from the tension and conflicts created by racism? Do you have multiple species or races in your story, and does each one have a separate place in society? If your fantasy world has everyone equal, then think about the history of your world. Was there a time in the past where everyone was not equal? If so, how did the present equality happen, and how could you use those lessons in your story?
All of the above is not to say that you should be preachy in your stories or start ranting about the horrors of racism. Your story, not a moral lesson, is what's important here. I do suggest, though, that you take the opportunity to use your story to reflect some of the darkness in the real world. Challenge your readers by showing them ugliness not just in fantasy but in their own lives. Give people the chance to learn and change. Whether you use racism or some other topic (maybe one that I'll be covering over the next few weeks), I hope that you use your story as an opportunity to challenge and change the world.