Worth Talking About: Fantasy, Beauty & Race

After yesterday’s little whinge it is only fair that I should practice what I preach and link to some blog content that I think is worth talking about. I’m not going to go into the discussion on the meaning of nihilism that we got into on Twitter yesterday afternoon, but there was some related discussion about beauty and morality in fantasy that Paul C. Smith has turned into a blog post.

What Paul is talking about there is how fantasy often associates beauty with goodness, and how some writers then subvert that idea. He notes, for example, that Elric is the most moral of the Melniboneans, and also the ugliest of them. My particular favorite subversion of the trope is in Gormenghast where Steerpike, because he is good looking and charming, rises to a position of power that he then abuses. That should be a warning to us all in our celebrity-obsessed culture.

We should also note that the standard of “beauty” that fantasy valorizes is generally one derived from North-West Europe: blonde hair, blue eyes, white skin. People with dark skin are often characterized as being innately evil. The latest episode of the Revolution SF podcast has guest writers, Ika Koek and Alaya Johnson, discussing the portrayal of race in fantasy fiction. Ika’s phone line from Malaysia doesn’t have the best sound quality, but it is a good discussion.

Hopefully no one is going to be drawing sweeping generalizations here. As Paul points out, there are fantasy narratives that subvert the “beauty = good” meme, and equally there are fantasy narratives that deal very well with race. If we talk about these things, the number of interesting and challenging works should grow.

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