Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Other" Histories of Fantasy: Legend of the Rest of the World

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Phenderson Djèlí Clark, an Afro-Carribean-American spec fiction author (with my personal favorite work being the amazing short story "Skin Magic" feature in the sword and soul anthology Griotts) has long been a force in the speculative fiction market in general and sci-fi and fantasy in particular advocating for a richer representation in the genre of history and milieus from all over the world, not just the most often-seen "America in space" or "medieval Europe with dragons and magic". As a fan of the genre, it has been frustrating to see that on a planet with such a rich tapestry of histories and governments and cultural perspectives that so many settings are under-represented, or not even represented at all. With that in mind, I think it's a good idea to revisit his post "The 'Other' Histories of Fantasy":
From the clothing, to the weapons to the names, to the folklore, fantasy is dominated by a fascination with medieval Europe. When I was a kid, I would often place myself into my favorite fantasy realms from literature–the lone PoC, complete with knight’s gear, somehow sucked into a medieval European-based world. As I got older, and a bit more cognizant on the issues, I’d actually root for the swarthy bad guys–because at least the Haradrim and their giant mûmakil came from someplace that veered away from the Eurocentric norm. Yet even then, as I tried to create my own fledgling fantasy tales early on, I found my mind sometimes unable to imagine beyond broadswords, armor, medieval castles, dwarves and lots and lots of SNOW...
...[other writers] have mostly asked if the genre can perhaps spare a glance at the Earth’s other five habitable continents. Just a smidge. Medieval Africa sees the rise and fall of large Western Sudanic Empires like Ghana, Songhai and Mali. There’s the Fatamid Caliphate in the North, not to mention other polities like Kanem-Bornu and the Swahili States, or the Kongo Kingdoms further South and those of Zimbabwe. We have Axum/Abyssinia in the Northeast, along with the Nubian Christian kingdoms. All of these feature “fascinating, dynamic, cataclysmic and downright exciting events” for which any fantasy writer should salivate. Abyssinia even has a castle called Gondar–no kidding! Gondar!

The whole post is a great read, and there's some pretty fascinating discussion in the comments, so by all means-- read the whole thing!

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