More smart stuff from other people. Rising star of the SFF genre Shweta Narayan posted this hilarious (but also sadmaking) homage to Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland — the Tough Guide to Fantasyland’s Exotic Locales. She explains,
My cold-addled brain has been sort of fixated on context, of late, namely the racist/Orientalist/fetishizing contextual stew that Secondary-world Fantasy inherited from the Romantics, and Regency fantasy and Steampunk implicitly take on as part of their world-view unless it’s explicily undermined; and I’ve been wondering how to talk about it without shifting the focus to individual examples. (Which isn’t to deny the value of calling out examples of fail, just that it’s the general underlying tropes I’ve wanted to talk about. ETA: And maybe the colonial/evangelical agenda wrapped up in their origins, but I’m really not clueful enough to say much about that so I dunno…)
These are all genres I love, and honestly I love plenty of books that fall into the racefails I’ve been thinking of, so I’m part of the problem too. That’s what makes it a general issue — it’s the air we breathe.
And then examples include (in spot-on DWJ style):
– Fanatic Caliphate: Identifiable by desert settings, male Natives in Long Robes and Turbans (or Headdresses), and Veiled or hidden female Natives. Food will be Spicy. Harsh Punishments will include cutting off body parts, public flagellation, and slavery. Female Tourists be warned: female Natives will chide your Independence here, and male Natives will harass you. Everyone will sneer at monogamy. Patriarchy and Polygyny are aspects of the same unshakeable Oppression here (unlike Fantasyland proper, where Patriarchy can be challenged and isn’t constantly reinforced).
The FC is always ruled by a Tyrant, who has a Harem. This bears no relation whatsoever to historical female quarters in the Tourists’ home world, but derive rather from Victorian fever-dreams about such. The Harem will generally contain one Oppressed Native Girl, who must be Rescued.
Comedy — and anti-colonialist — gold. Go check out the whole post!
2 thoughts on “The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’s Exotic Locales”
Nice – this made me think of the Mighty Whitey trope over at TVTropes. As always with TvTropes, if you value your time, click at your own risk:
Steampunk really walks an interesting line between the aesthetics and values of more-or-less Victorian England (or, in these cases, kinda doesn’t).
NO! NOT THE TV TROPES! NOOO — ::is swallowed up::
Yeah, there are hints of a lot of common racial tropes in this, but I think Shweta’s right to point out that most of these have crossed the line from tropes into cliches, and from “racial” into “racist”. That said, I tend to think steampunk doesn’t have to embrace the Victorian aesthetic and ethos. I’ve seen enough people use steampunk to subvert the Victorian that I’m more comfortable with it than I used to be. (Like this woman. And this guy — who inspired something you’ll see in The Kingdom of Gods!) So I choose to believe it’s a force for (usually) good.
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