We Don’t Need Westeros

SoSTwo or three days ago, the forward-thinking geeks of twitter were set all abuzz by this article, wherein readers are treated to George R.R. Martin’s giving of answers directly from the handbook of oblivious white man talking points when he was confronted by fans about the lack of diversity in the hit show Game of Thrones:

Westeros around 300 AC is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America,” he said. This is also known as the, “There’s room in my fantasy world for dragons and zombies and dread priestesses but not meaningful nonwhite characters” excuse.

Another of his answers was: “Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles…” or, for you laypeople, “I just modeled my world on ancient Europe, which was totally full of white people.”

Except it wasn’t.

Now, to be fair to GRRM, there are a lot of different places and people in his novel that don’t make the cut to the show. There are also some characters in the books that got–I don’t know–reverse racebent (and agebent) when they finally popped up on screen. Still, there is a concerning lack of meaningful melanin in either spot, and these same excuses only serve to increase the fatigue of exclusion that many fans of the show–and of SFF in general–feel.

The purpose of this post, however, isn’t to pile on George. Instead, here’s an alternative.

A few months back, an anthology of fantasy stories was published. This anthology arrived on the scene fairly quietly–but it has groundbreaking potential. That anthology is Griots: Sisters of the Spear, and it’s massively important, especially in the wake of this conversation surrounding George R. R. Martin’s remarks on fantasy and diversity within imaginary worlds.

There are seventeen stories in Griots: Sisters of the Spear. All of them fit snugly into the Fantasy (or, more accurately Sword and Soul) genre. All of them are set in worlds created by thoughtful people (many of them nonwhite), and these worlds are filled with nonwhite characters that are multidimensional, have layers of (not just magical) power in their worlds, and are badass in their own rights. Also, all of the stories feature women as main characters, slaying monsters, having meaningful and powerful interactions with other women, and being generally awesome.

A lot of us are sick of the same few stories, sick of the same convenient types of stories, and for sure sick of fantasy worlds where the only real heroes are white men and the occassional non-white, non-male heroic sacrifice. In Griots, you can find several stories that will fulfill your need for awesome Women of Color kicking ass in richly populated fantasy worlds.

And no, I’m not just pushing this anthology because I have a story in it.

Well, maybe a little.

Get Griots on Amazon in ebook ($4.99)  and paperback ($20) formats. You can also get it in paperback directly from the publisher, Milton Davis.

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9 thoughts on “We Don’t Need Westeros

  1. This was a really interesting post, mainly because on my first reading of the series (maaany years ago), I barely thought about the lack of people of colour, but I did notice them when they appeared, even if rarely or fleetingly. I think I didn’t mind so much because it seemed to fit with the era that ASOIAF/GOT was depicted in. Also back then, I was just used to not seeing my culture portrayed and didn’t start asking ‘why’ until later.

    I would also like to see more people of colour depicted in fantasy IN GENERAL, but to be honest as a fantasy fan, getting the match of realism and surreal correct is just as important to me. If it’s unlikely that black people would appear in that particular story/era/location, I’d rather that the author didn’t hastily try to write in a shit character, because that pisses me off beyond belief when that’s done in TV shows and films.

      • Ashana,

        No worries! I hope you do get around to purchasing the anthology.

        Re: fantasy diversity – it pains me to say that I have almost completely lost hope at thoughtful inclusion of nonwhite nonmale characters in mainstream/mass market fantasy novels or films.

        This is part of the reason for the post: there are lots and lots and lots of people who have just decided to take representation on their own agendas and I am here for it. We don’t have to clamor for inclusion when we can do it better than (white male fantasy author x) anyway.

  2. Honest question. Where does the conversation about a lack of diversity in fantasy butt up against issues of cultural appropriation?

    • Morgan,

      First off, thanks for stopping by. A small disclaimer: I’m on an iPhone, so forgive brevity and errors 🙂

      To answer your question, the issues have butted, I believe. Here’s a good post from medievalpoc discussing the issue: (http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/post/73524869877/on-the-topic-of-cultural-appropriation-in-fantasy-what)

      This is a really interesting question because now that I’m actually studying these issues, my readings of once-favorite fantasy works have changed drastically. I’m starting to notice problematic representation in these works (samurai culture in Wheel of Time, Krasian severity/savagery in Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle, etc.)

      There are many examples of doing it wrong. however, one example of using a culture/combination of cultures respectfully and thoughtfully is Avatar: The Last Airbender. The creators researched, tried to be as thoughtfully authentic as possible and didn’t trivialize sacred things. These three things are, I think, what some authors ignore when ‘borrowing’ a culture to use in their work.

      I hope this answer was sufficient, but I’m totally open to talking about it more. What are your thoughts?

  3. Pingback: In Defense of Sword and Soul | Troy L. Wiggins

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