Do Black People Really Read This Stuff?
High Fantasy, Low Fantasy & A “Racist” Publisher named Milton
“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science Fiction is the improbable made possible.” – Rod Serling
The words ‘Fantasy Fiction’, more often than not, evoke images of faraway 14th Century (or earlier) kingdoms. Misty lands of green shires, towering castles, fire-breathing dragons, unicorns, orcs and busty wenches in chainmail bras. These images become even more powerful when played out in the mind in a Pen & Paper Role-Playing Game (for more on role-playing games, please check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/06/10/the-psychology-of-role-playing-games-and-the-crazy-folks-who-play-them/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing/).
We are attracted to fantasy fiction and role-playing games because role-playing adventure, imagining yourself the hero in a great fantasy story and storytelling are crucial, formative experiences that are as real and memorable as any heroic feats on the bidding floor, basketball court or football field.
In a fantasy role-playing game, you conquer dragons, grow in power and save the day.
Once an event has passed into memory, it’s the feeling of accomplishment, reward, mutual achievement and victory that lingers. Why or how you feel these feelings is irrelevant. The triggering event no longer matters. What remains is how that memory resonates and the lessons that stay with us – how to strategize and think on your feet; how to use your imagination to solve problems; how to be part of something bigger than yourself.
Real or “true” stories that occur in non-fiction may sometimes be interesting, but in many cases, the plot is “alien” to our mind and we do not get any learning experience from it because we cannot relate to it.
Non-fiction informs without enriching, whereas fantasy stories have basic themes and plots that express deep experiences, problems, and challenges we all face in our growth and development.
The role of the unconscious in our development and the notion of an unconscious that is formed by our inherited experiences embodied in the images of art, suggests something further about why reading matters so much to us and about how it influences us. Our identity – the way we perceive ourselves and relate to the world – can be shaped through the fantasy literature we read.
Engaging in the simulative experiences of fantasy literature can facilitate the understanding of others who are different from ourselves and can augment our capacity for empathy and social inference.
As we become immersed in the lives of the characters in fantasy stories, we develop para-social relationships with those characters and have strong emotional responses to the stories.
These responses suggest that frequent readers of fiction will improve their social skills through reading, an idea contrary to the common “bookworm” stereotype, which portrays “bookworms” as lonely, shy, depressed and friendless. However, studies suggest that the more fiction a person reads, the better socially adapted they are.
Fantasy – and its subgenres – allows the author to explore aspects of the world around the reader and its problems, thus offering the reader an experience of intellectual as well as emotional adventure. Fantasy books provide the opportunity for us to connect to – and sympathize with – our heroes and heroines.
Sub-Genres of Fantasy
Stories set in the “real world” in contemporary times, in which, it is revealed, magic and magical creatures secretly exist, either living in the interstices of our world or leaking over from alternate worlds. Fantasy stories in which magic is not a secret kept from the masses does not fit into this sub-genre.
Stories that focus on elements usually found in the horror genre but which take place in a sword and sorcery or high fantasy setting. Dark fantasy is occasionally used as a synonym for supernatural horror, to distinguish horror stories that contain elements of the supernatural from those that do not. For example, a story about a werewolf or demi-lich could be described as dark fantasy, while a story about a serial killer who eats his victims would simply be horror.
Heroic fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy literature which chronicles the tales of heroes and their conquests in imaginary lands. Stories tend to be intricate in plot, often involving many peoples, nations and lands. Grand battles and the fate of the world are common themes, and there is typically some emphasis on a universal conflict between good and evil.
The term high fantasy (also epic fantasy) generally refers to fantasy that depicts an epic struggle between good and evil. The world in high fantasy is usually set in an alternative, entirely fictional (“secondary”) world, rather than the real, or “primary” world.
Low Fantasy stresses realistic themes in a fantasy setting. It sometimes refers to stories that don’t emphasise magic overtly, or stories that contain a cynical world view. The effect of the fantastic infringing on real life in low fantasy fiction is usually either humorous or horrific – a supernatural onslaught against reason; or comedic or nonsensical plots that can result from the introduction of fantastic features.
Magical Realism presents fantastic and mundane elements side-by-side as if there is no conflict between the two. Magical elements blend with the real world and the story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought.
The Superhero Fantasy has, at its heart, characters with super powers and / or unusual abilities. The heroes and villains are very much like those you would find in a comic book, they just exist in a fantasy setting.
Sword and Sorcery
These types of stories usually include (with a few notable exceptions) sword-play, magic, and a medieval setting. An element of romance is often present, as is an element of the supernatural. Unlike works of high fantasy, the tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters.
Sword and Soul
Sword and Soul – like Sword and Sorcery – includes sword-play and magic. The adventures, however, are usually set in non-medieval, non-Eurocentric settings and the main characters are of African-descent. These stories are usually more spiritual than Sword and Sorcery and are more diverse in their styles of storytelling.
Now, do people of African descent – i.e. Black folks – read fantasy stories? Well this person of African descent does and so do my close friends, my siblings and my children. The Black people I know who do not read fantasy fiction certainly watch it, with Game of Thrones and period martial arts movies, like Hero and Kung-Fu Hustle being favorites and said they would read fantasy if the books had Black heroes.
Why do the same people who watch fantasy movies and television shows that feature few, if any, Black people – and none as the hero – refuse to read fantasy stories unless the hero is Black? Because a book – and often even a story – requires a greater investment of time, contemplation and emotions than a film or television show.
If you are going to invest so much of yourself, you have to relate to the character and Black people have grown weary of seeing themselves as the sidekick, noble savage, or the guy-who-dies-by-page-thirty-five. We do not relate to that and after years of such treatment in fantasy novels, we no longer trust those novels to show us in a positive light.
Now how, unless at some point we read those novels, would we know we receive such treatment in fantasy? So, Black folks do – or rather, did – read fantasy…and will again…
When we get it right.
Several authors – yours truly included – are getting it right. We write fantasy with Black protagonists – heroes who look like us. A few of these authors and their novels include:
Milton J. Davis
- Meji, Book 1 & Meji, Book 2 – Sword & Soul
- Changa’s Safari, Book 1 & Changa’s Safari, Book 2 – Sword & Soul
- Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology (Editor / Publisher; Contributing Author)– Sword & Soul
- Sword and Soul Adventures – Sword & Soul (Graphic Novel)
- Immortal, Books 1 – 4 – Dark Fantasy
- Interlopers – YA Contemporary Fantasy
- Posers – YA Contemporary Fantasy
Wendy Raven McNair
- Asleep – YA Superhero Fantasy
- Awake – YA Superhero Fantasy
- Once Upon A Time In Afrika – Sword & Soul
Charles R. Saunders (the father of Sword & Soul)
- Imaro, Books 1 – 4 – Sword & Soul
- Dossouye, Books 1 & 2 – Sword & Soul
Recently, author Milton Davis, who is also the owner of MVmedia, which publishes his own works, as well as the works of others – including my novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika – was accused of being a racist because in his submission guidelines for the upcoming Steamfunk anthology, he seeks stories with main characters of African descent. In Griots and Griots II: Sisters of the Spear, this was also a requirement for submission.
Other authors came forward and blasted the accuser, showing how ignorant it is to accuse someone of racism because they desire to see someone that looks like themselves – someone long erased from fantasy stories – in the stories they read and invest their money into publishing.
When I told Milton of the accusation, he simply said “Then, I must be getting it right.”
Yep, Milton, you are.
For a few short stories in the fantasy genre, check out:
How Adjoa Became King: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/07/12/how-adjoa-became-king-a-sword-soul-tale/ by Balogun Ojetade
The Hand of Sa-Seti: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/02/23/the-hand-of-sa-seti-a-short-story-of-steampunk-and-sword-soul-by-balogun/ by Balogun Ojetade
Old Hunter: http://www.scribd.com/doc/99387520/Old-Hunter by Milton Davis