Game of Thrones is racist!

By Razib Khan | April 1, 2012 6:01 pm

I wasn’t going to post more today, in light of the April Fool’s joke I played on you. But here’s me going at it again. Lots of stuff I wouldn’t normally stumble upon hits me via Pulse, and today I see this in Salon, Is “Game of Thrones” too white? – Fantasy fiction might have racial problems, but they’re just a reflection of America’s broader battles. Here’s the problem I have, imagine this subhead: “Fantasy fiction might have class problems, but they’re just a reflection of America’s broader battles.” You see, in epic fantasy fiction the class structure is a pyramid, with a few who have, and the vast majority who do not have (let’s take urban fantasy and the like off the table for this discussion). But that’s OK, it’s a feature, not a bug. That’s because epic fantasy is playing with the furniture of the past, and that furniture is riddled with a class system predicated on radical inequality.

The author of the Salon piece concludes:

Ultimately, A Song of Ice and Fire, like the Lord of the Rings, is the work of a brilliant and conscientious writer who is nonetheless writing in his own time and place. The United States in 2012 is, far too often, and even with a black president, still a culture rich in racist stereotypes and xenophobic fear-mongering. Expecting a writer to remain entirely unstained by this is expecting a person to live underwater without getting wet. If we still find troubling racial assumptions and caricatures in fantasy – whether on the page, or on the big or small screen — this probably tells us more about our culture-wide problems than it does about a single writer’s, or a single show’s issues. A Song of Ice and Fire is indeed our American Lord of the Rings, and if Westeros has its race problems, they are simply a powerful reflection of America’s.


The above was written by one Saladin Ahmed. Here’s his educational background:

He holds a BA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College, and an MA in English from Rutgers….

The fact that Ahmed could write something as unhinged from reality as the concluding paragraph to his Salon piece tells us more about his own educational-cultural milieu than it does about the literature and the authors of the literature in question itself. The real pre-modern period was soaked in xenophobia and racism. Ahmed is likely well read enough to have encountered the works of Ibn Battuta, the great Arab Muslim ethnographer and travel writer of the medieval period. Ibn Battuta’s work bleeds with unexamined parochialism, prejudice, and xenophobia against other races and non-Muslims. But he was frankly a man of his time.

George R. R. Martin has been queried about the sex and brutality which pervades his work. One of his common responses has been that the past was characterized by sex and brutality. It is in other words, a feature not a bug. The darkness lends his epic an air of this-worldy verisimilitude which is often lacking in J. R. R. Tolkien’s more high toned creation. The same could be said for Martin’s depiction of ethnic differences, conflicts, and perceptions.

One of course one might interject here that the viewpoints expressed by Martin are still through quasi-Eurocentric eyes (the Andals and First Men do not exist after all). But that makes narrative sense; the ultimate center of the story arc is fixed upon Westeros. When given page time Martin has a tendency of humanizing characters which were otherwise evil caricatures. The lack of nuance given to non-quasi-European characters is almost certainly in part due to their lack of page time. You might demand that Martin write with a more objective anthropological tone, but A Song of Ice and Fire is not an ethnographic monograph. It’s narrative fiction, and the world-building is secondary to the plot and character.

My standard response to people who complain about “racism” in X works of literature is that you should write yourself! But Ahmed has done us the favor of doing so, his Throne of the Crescent Moon has been well reviewed. If you want to invert the standard Eurocentric narrative in fantasy fiction, where white is implicitly or explicit right, then you can immerse yourself in Judith Tarr’s Avaryan Rising, or if you prefer it done more subtly, David Anthony Durham’s Acacia.

Let me quote from a description of Ahmed’s novel to show you how it can get silly very quickly:

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia….

Notice all the references to the supernatural and the religious piety of the protagonist. It’s a fact that a lot of fantasy fiction assumes the existence of supernatural agents, of gods. Many of the protagonists are depicted as pious and godly, as if these are good things, rather than mental delusions. As an atheist who rejects the supernatural I wonder why there are no atheist viewpoint characters, or worlds where there isn’t a reference to supernatural agents and activities?

If I did wonder these things I’d be a narcissistic fool. I imagine someone could create a materialist based medieval secondary world. But it would be more a curiosity, or an exercise in the alternative. Pre-modern societies were pervaded by belief in the supernatural, so I’m not particularly surprised if it crops up (works of fantasy which avoid explicit supernaturalism, such as Anne McCaffery’s Pern and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover turn out to be cases of science fiction upon closer inspection).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
MORE ABOUT: Game of Thrones
  • Brett

    I agree that what we see of the Essos societies is colored by the perspectives of the POV characters, although I do think the Dothraki are a bit troubling. They were obviously inspired by the Mongols, but they’re more like a stereotype of the Mongols (including the horse-riding bowmanship). It didn’t really bother me too much, but I could see how someone could be bothered by it.

    I was concerned when they cast a black guy as Xaro the Qartheen Merchant. It might make it too easy to pigeonhole him as “Exotic, Decadent Black Guy”, whereas the super-paleness of his skin in the books just made him seem more effete.

    I’m also hoping that they cast an Arabic-looking guy to play Oberyn Martell, even though the part is practically begging to be played by James Purefoy.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    just a note, i’m talking about the books. i asked martin about who the dothraki were based upon in 1999. he says they’re a composite fyi (e.g., the relationship to the ‘lamb men’ is pretty much strait out of the scythian relationship with some of the agriculturalists in their region). i agree the dothraki are extreme. but they’re not that unrealistic alas….

  • Clark

    I just started the series and am about 1/3 through the second volume. That said I can kind of see the point. While on the one hand everyone is savage and frankly not the sort I’d want to visit I think his argument about the past being largely like that is apt most of the time. However it did have me rolling my eyes a bit that the Dothraki are presented even less sympathetically than the quasi-European groups. I think it was just a bit jarring. And since I’m barely in the series I don’t want to push that too much. It might change, after all.

    He’s not the only one though. Robert Jordan did something similar although towards the end the dark skinned sailors started getting a little bit of book time. (I’ve never been sure how to take the dark skinned but red headed Aiel) Although even there I found them largely having European sensibilities with a few ‘shocking’ elements. Jordan was mixing up lots of historical groups for inspiration obviously but they aren’t terribly believable as peoples. (You sort of go with the flow) There are parts of Martin’s series that I roll my eyes at (i.e. a largely persistent culture for tens of thousands of years with no technological advancement) however somehow Martin’s world is much more believable than Jordan’s.

    There are, as you noted Razib, plenty of books that play with other cultures. I kind of dig some of them. I think there’s a bit too much Euro-centricism in fantasy simply because fantasy largely arises out of Tolkien’s stories based on Germaic, Celt and other sources along with the pulp novels of early 20th century America like those of Burroughs and Howard. Tolkien’s were fairy tales and the pulp ones were heavily influenced by how Victorian England and America viewed ‘savage’ cultures. Given that background it’s hardly surprising that the dominance of a kind of germaic and nordic aspect to the fiction persists. (Especially given how much readers love castles and wizards) I also think that all those tropes and types are ingrained in our culture so not as much explanation is necessary. Move the story to say eastern Africa with no European contact and you have to do a lot more explanation. Even in science fiction most of the story is assumed to take place within a shared culture.

    I think that need for a shared culture to make the tale comprehensible is the main incentive. Although as you say, it’s not as if there aren’t non-European styled fiction to read. I think it’s much harder for the author to pull off though.

    BTW – I kind of dig fantasy novels that turn out to be science fiction. Some of Sanderson’s stories are like that. Part of me still keeps hoping Martin’s will too. But there’s a lot more fantasy elements in this second volume than in the first.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #3, well, i think the dothraki get less creepy as you go along. also, the 10,000 year persistence of institution is kind of weird. i recall being skeptical too. OTOH, arguably ‘ancient egypt’ had a 3,000 year recognizable persistence. and there is tech advancement. the ‘first men’ used bronze.

  • http://www.brownpundits.com nandalal_rasiah

    Martin is such a big target due to the success of the books. I wonder what the Marcottes of the world (Ahmed’s gender counterpart in the culture wars) would think of Storm Constantine who wrote a series of Anne Rice-shaming novels in which male and female genitalia disappear and a new race based on ex-men dominate the world (with cameos from ex-women.) I’m not sure it would even be possible to write a “hard” fantasy novel set in a South Asia-like world prior to the arrival of Europeans that would be well received by Ahmed unless it involved white foreigners corrupting noble savages into oppressing minorities within their societies. Adaptations of the Ramayana or Mahabaratha might appeal someone like him but I don’t think you can call that ‘hard’ fantasy with all the ‘just-so’ interventions by divine beings.
    I always explained the sex and violence to people who stopped reading the books as what might be a feature of a low-tech civilization with 10-year summers.

  • Brett

    I used to think the dates were weird in the series, but Martin has hinted that they’re inaccurate (most notably in the 4th and 5th books). They’re the product of medieval-style history research (at best), without the tools of modern history and archaeology to identify dates. One of the characters even says outright that the histories get more inaccurate and mythological the farther you go back, not to mention loaded with anachronisms.

    Cut the dates roughly in half, and they’re not quite so bad. If the Andals came to Westeros approximately 2000 years before A Game of Thrones begins (give or take a few centuries), then it would be like the gap from the beginning of the Iron Age to the High Middle Ages (~1000 BCE to 1000 CE). The Great Houses would probably only control certain areas for so long because a specific House name became associated with a location, i.e. “A Stark must always be in Winterfell” (even if he’s a distant cousin who takes over after the main line dies out for the 1000th time).

    It kind of reminds me of how the written Roman histories of the time before the 3rd century BCE (the earliest Roman writing we have) are so weird and flawed despite the events only occurring 100-200 years before. It just shows you how hard it is to transmit reliable accounts in a society with low literacy and quantities of written material.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #6 nice explanation/rationalization ;-) though it is a good point to remember that it is fantasy, so we shouldn’t over-rationalize everything. on the other hand, the internal coherency of the ‘secondary worlds’ is part of their appeal. the simultaneous ludicrousness combined with shocking plausibility.

  • candid_observer

    I wonder if fantasy characters who partake of the supernatural don’t serve an important purpose derived from our evolutionary past.

    Nicholas Wade, among others, has argued that we have a biological disposition toward religion, based on our evolution as a kind of social species. If fantasy does anything for us, one would expect it might engage our “primitive” instincts in a form we can be allowed. This would explain as well the “racism” in these books, which captures our presumed inclination to make distinctions between our group and others. Likewise, of course, with the “sexism”.

  • Downer

    Considering the legends of Brandon the Builder and the architectural wonders he left behind (like that honking big wall) I think it’s safe to say they had some pretty amazing tech in the past. The problem is that the tech was probably dependent on magic for power and the books make it very clear that magic has been waning for a long time (though apparently recovering somewhat again). So the machines grew fickle, in due time stopped working and society collapsed because it had become dependent on abundant magical energy. Magic remains but continues waning and they continue to rely on it as far as they can, which delays a switch to purely mechanical engineering.

  • Mark Plus

    According to stereotype, fantasy literature appeals strongly to functionally autistic people, Aspies and such. Do they like that literature because of their different “theory of mind,” which makes it difficult for them to empathize with others?

    I have Aspergerish tendencies myself, but I could never get into LOTR, Dungeon & Dragons and such. I come from the gutter of America’s Scotch-Irish diaspora, and I share that culture’s disdain of the Old World’s notions of hierarchy. Many science fiction stories, by contrast, assume meritocratic social structures where the lowly boy can work his way upwards based on hard work & ability; I often find that sort of literature more agreeable, and it comes closer to the values of the American mainstream.

  • http://saladinahmed.com Saladin Ahmed

    Hi, I’m the ‘unhinged’ guy who wrote the article in question.

    Obviously, this is your space. But I really wish you’d been a bit more honest in your headline here. It’s much nastier and more reductive meme than my actual reading.

    NO ONE IS CALLING GRRM ‘A RACIST.’ OR DICTATING WHAT HE HAS TO WRITE. OR TRASHING THE BOOKS OR THE SHOW.

    The post itself makes it obvious that I’m a massive fan. What part of “brilliant” and “astonishing genius” was unclear? ASoIaF is one of my favorite fantasy series ever, and GoT is one of my favorite shows.

    More importantly, In our brief professional interactions, Mr. Martin has been very kind to this newbie novelist – and has been encouraging about my own, middle-eastern tinged fantasy.

    Grownups can raise questions about works they love and still remain devoted fans. You can take issue with my reading all you want, but please don’t summarize it as a hatchet job, because that’s not fair to the piece.

    Also, THE IDEA THAT A CREATED FANTASY WORLD MUST LOOK PHENOTYPICALLY LIKE MEDIEVAL ENGLAND IS SILLY. FANTASYLAND IS *NEVER* ENGLAND IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

    Epic fantasy is already very anachronistic in all sorts of details: eg, in general, medieval european culture didn’t give a shit about teenagers’ feelings – but teenagers’ feelings are at the emotional core of tons of epic fantasy. A majority of people were terrified of the notion of going to Hell in medieval england, but we never see that in fantasy novels. There were no hay bales. Etc.

    For another there was much more cultural exchange and population movement in the Middle Ages than the dark ages stereotype supposes. And reactions to those exchanges ran the gamut, as they do today, from curiosity to hostility to awe to enamourment* to disgust to fear. Ask a medievalist.

    *Yes, I made this word up.

  • marcel

    I didn’t find any mention of this in your archives, a nice example of “writing it yourself.”

    I was a LOTR junkie 40 years ago (so much so that I still have not seen the movies because I don’t want the movie images to overwrite my own) and very much enjoyed this version of the tale.

    I learned about it here, though, since I barely ever read Salon, I don’t know how I heard about this reference to this.

  • Geoff

    Like all Western fantasy, its imposed on a Western template, in this case a distinctly Anglo-Saxon one. This story is a fantasy A.S. Britain – seven kingdom, the south (Sussex) dominates, the north is walled off (Hadrian’s Wall) from the savage (Scots and Picts) northerners. Across the narrow sea is the “barbarians” (i.e. the people as savage as us, but not like us). HBO could have made it more diverse than England was in the 8th Century, but, meh.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    I think part of the issue is GRRM wasn’t taking the series seriously enough when he began it, so elements of the worldbuilding are frankly meh (as opposed to the characterization, which was uniformly excellent – even if in the last two books, it took over to the detriment of plotting).

    For example, Westeros is supposedly the size of South America. The Andals invaded 6,000 years prior, but failed to take the North. Dorne was settled by the Rhoynish 700 years prior. Yet everyone speaks the same language. Note isn’t even made of regional dialects. This is, frankly, preposterous.

    It’s sort of similar with our glances of Essos, as aside from the Dothraki, and to a lesser extent what we see of the Free Cities, everything seems like some poorly-described despotism of a generic “oriental” variety. I think Martin would have been better off if he lifted more directly from existing Earth cultures, but combined traits in unusual manners.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    You can take issue with my reading all you want, but please don’t summarize it as a hatchet job, because that’s not fair to the piece.

    hm. reading is the key. you don’t even get what i was trying to say. i wasn’t saying that you were saying george r. r. martin was racist, or that you were saying game of thrones was racist. i’m saying that judged by modern conventions almost all epic fantasy has racist or racialist under or overtones. not only that, epic fantasy is bathed in a normative context where aristocratic privilege is assumed to be normal and acceptable. you say explicitly that “if Westeros has its race problems, they are simply a powerful reflection of America’s.” frankly, i think that’s dumb and reductive. as you note, obviously tolkien’s milieu and racial assumptions of his day are inflected in middle earth. but perhaps just as importantly pre-modern populations regularly engaged in slander and caricature of what you would term the ‘other’. it’s evident in ancient epics from which modern fantasy is in large part derived.

    Also, THE IDEA THAT A CREATED FANTASY WORLD MUST LOOK PHENOTYPICALLY LIKE MEDIEVAL ENGLAND IS SILLY. FANTASYLAND IS *NEVER* ENGLAND IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

    again, wondering about your reading comprehension. i didn’t say that at all. my point is that naturally most pre-modern fantasy based on complex societies will exhibit elements of being retrograde from the modern perspective. you can spin twists on this. e.g., making the fantasy materialist without magic or gods. or make it feminist. but the basic prototype is straightforward, and the racism and xenophobia don’t tell us ‘about ourselves’ today.

    and, i don’t put in links for vanity. the *avaryan rising* books have dark skinned and red and blonde haired characters. the characters we would view as ‘white’ are generally depicted as the ‘other,’ and often in negative racialized terms by the dark skinned viewpoint characters. white western audiences might find this strange, but it’s totally realistic.

  • Brett

    @Karl Zimmerman

    Note isn’t even made of regional dialects. This is, frankly, preposterous.

    That’s not quite true. One of Jon’s friends (Pyp? The singer Dariel-something?) mentions at one point that he can tell where new members of the Watch are from based off of how they speak, since he was part of a traveling group of entertainers before being sent to the Wall. That’s simplified heavily so that everyone can understand everyone in the books, but that’s to be expected in a novel.

    I think it’s also biased by the POV characters that we have, most of whom are nobility taught by Maesters.

    It’s sort of similar with our glances of Essos, as aside from the Dothraki, and to a lesser extent what we see of the Free Cities, everything seems like some poorly-described despotism of a generic “oriental” variety. I think Martin would have been better off if he lifted more directly from existing Earth cultures, but combined traits in unusual manners.

    True, the Essos societies aren’t as well developed.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #13, i think #14 is closer to the truth. first, you’re accusing martin of lying either explicitly or implicitly, as he’s denied close correspondences you are suggesting (though admits multiple influences). also, #14, i prefer the unrealistic elements if they’re necessary to make it less historically obvious. i guess it’s a matter of taste. some of guy gavriel kay’s stuff is just too close to historical fiction now to make it compelling to me as fantasy. also, #13, most people claim that wessos is more ‘war of the roses’ era. it seems ‘high medieval’ and not ‘dark age.’

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    also, martin has admitted making shit up when people ask him for really detailed geography and ethnography. this naturally results in incoherence. even tolkien admitted that he was at a loss to explain the botanical biography of middle earth (this was a request from a botanist).

    i do think that essos is more well developed than most fantasy worlds. far superior to jordan’s for example.

  • Marcus

    One would think the slavetaking marauders of the Iron island, the actions of the fair Lannisters and Targaryens, and the cannibals on Skagos would balance out the Dothrakis, the slavetrading cities, and (worst of all) the people of Summer Isle. Maybe it would for someone with no chip on their shoulder.

    Maybe a more reasonable conclusion as to why the majority of fantasy environments are derived from a specific cultural context, is because the authors themselves have some connection to that context? Also, when there are an overrepresentation of people with a certain skin color in a narrative from a derived cultural context that just reflects this historic fact, should this even begin to imply rascism? That is absurd.

    In this vein, I found the quotes from the author’s novel amusing. Thank god there are fantasy writers who are trying to break the mold, who aren’t afraid of going out of their cultural comfort zone when writing fantasy, right?

  • Cat

    I have not read Game of Thrones or LOTR so I cannot comment on the novels.

    But the LOTR movies struck me as being subliminally racist. I do not believe it’s intentional but the protagonists are Aryan looking and the antagonists are, well, the darker folks. I find these types of subliminal messages even scarier than the KKK because they operate on people’s subconscious.

    Actually I did not even find the LOTR story line that original. Have you ever heard of Journey to the West, a Chinese ancient fantasy novel. Kind of reminded me of that — a journey to conquer evil and find truth and happiness.

    Btw, Journey of the West is about the journey of a Buddhist monk… and he was escorted by a Monkey, a Pig and another monk. Probably the most diverse protagonist cast of any fantasy novels :-)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    who aren’t afraid of going out of their cultural comfort zone when writing fantasy, right?

    bingo! though david anthony durham in acacia comes close. you could post facto infer that the relatively large (relatively!) he gives to black races is due to the fact that he’s african american, but the central characters aren’t predominantly african. more mediterranean/arabish types.

    I do not believe it’s intentional but the protagonists are Aryan looking and the antagonists are, well, the darker folks

    this is rashomon. who are the biggest antagonists but for the lannisters, the scions of “blonde andal adventurers.” in fact martin is replaying a common hollywood trope; evil blonde guy vs. dark-haired good guy (jaime/joffrey vs. ned). the fact that this goes into the background for you indicates your own subliminal influences and biases. not that there’s anything wrong with that….

  • Marcus

    While on the subject of worldbuilding and making shit up, seven years of winter sounds like an extinction event to me, or at least necessetating a large migration of people and wild-life to a presumably warmer south. I don’t recall this being mentioned in the books. Bah, humbug!

  • http://saladinahmed.com Saladin Ahmed

    “One would think the slavetaking marauders of the Iron island, the actions of the fair Lannisters and Targaryens, and the cannibals on Skagos would balance out the Dothrakis, the slavetrading cities, and (worst of all) the people of Summer Isle. Maybe it would for someone with no chip on their shoulder.”

    Yeah, that’s probably why the actual, y’know, article says :

    “If Dothraki society is depicted as violently perverse, so is Westerosi (i.e., quasi-European) society, which bows to the whims of the Aryan-featured boy-monster King Joffrey, and which has knighted mass murderers and rapists like Ser Gregor Clegane, one of the most horrifying minor characters in all of fantasy. Every culture is savage in “Game of Thrones,” and that’s a very different view of the world than what Tolkien gave us.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    Razib -

    I dunno. When we met barbarians, who were living in the mountains and had no connection, or fealty, to the Westerosi nobles, I was just shocked they weren’t speaking some unintelligible tongue.

    16 -

    Accent and dialect are different things. Your point does stand, of course, regarding the nobility. Still, by A Feast For Crows, we meet tons of commoners – that entire book deals mainly with commoners.

    19 -

    Earthsea is the logical counter here. Of course, LeGuin was writing it to prove a point (as she did in all of her works).

    22 -

    I don’t think it really means seven years straight of winter – I’m pretty sure it’s more like a mini ice-age. Presumably the “summer” months during a Long Winter have some warm days, but enough killing frosts that agriculture becomes nearly impossible and people need to eke out on stored food.

  • Miley Cyrax

    Jackie Chan’s The Myth didn’t include any blacks or latinos either. How racist.

    What a fantastical society we live in that fantasy fiction writers have to write-in characters or peoples that represent certain minority groups, and on top of that portray them in the most positive light possible, in order to protect themselves from accusations of racism.

    A similarly related trope is the overrepresentation of black computer programmers and black doctors on television shows and movies relative to real life.

  • bender

    Liberals are stupid and detached from reality, more at 11.

    @ Mr. Ahmed

    “Also, THE IDEA THAT A CREATED FANTASY WORLD MUST LOOK PHENOTYPICALLY LIKE MEDIEVAL ENGLAND IS SILLY. FANTASYLAND IS *NEVER* ENGLAND IN THE MIDDLE AGES.”

    The idea that fantasy must reflect retarded 21st century liberal concepts of diversity and political correctness is even more silly.

    @20

    I am brown myself and LOTR is good. Who cares if its KKK?

  • chris w

    #25, and if they’re portrayed too positively or shown as being too virtuous, that can also be construed as racist, as it would be a form of fetishizing. You can’t win, except by either not caring what the critics think or making all characters a color like green or purple.

  • Marcus

    #23 You seem to miss my point, which is that you certainly give the impression that these examples are not enough, that they do not redress the graver crimes of unflattering non-white depictions.

    Although mercifully, you give Martin and other fantasy writers an out. They’re not actually trying to be rascist, they are merely tainted by a “culture rich in racist stereotypes and xenophobic fear-mongering”. A product of their time, they don’t know any better.

    From my perspective, the majority of most fantasy writers in the West are probably white Westerners. Naturally then, most of them have drawn inspiration from Western-centric society, history, stories and myths – be it from comfort of familiarity, the precedents of Tolkien, or realities of the market.

    Is there some inherent rascism in this? You seem to think there is a great deal – given your complaints about the prevalence of white people in fantasy. I think that’s kind of rich, considering you’re following a similar pattern of the genre writers you decry, when you decided to write a story set in a caricature of ancestral myths and values from your own cultural background.

    Btw, I’m not against different perspectives, settings or challenging narratives in a story, I just don’t like your arguments and conclusion of the lack thereof.

  • Justin Giancola

    Maybe any fascination with racism is not on the part of the authors so much as the people who consistently consume these works. Don’t read into that too much as obviously people like the time periods and myths, but you’ll always be getting a caricature, or perhaps, more likely seeking out a caricature to your liking, unless you read the actual history. But such is fantasy, eh?

  • Marcus

    F, the ability to spell racism correctly might be a prerequisite for even discussing it. I forfeit.

  • Clark

    While reading the second volume I came across a section that mentions the many languages and the problems of everyone understanding each other. Admittedly it’s not on the Westeros area but it does suggest it is an issue in the book. Anyway, I immediately thought of this thread when I came across that passage.

  • Bobby

    I’ve noticed that for a lot of people history only seems to begins after the 17th century. If you would go back farther you would see that for most of history the East was the center of power and wealth. They weren’t any more sensitive than white Europeans for the peoples and cultures they displaced and destroyed. Don’t underestimate our human capacity for violence. The fact that we can at least see it and acknowledge it is a huge step forward. For most of history violence we would consider monstrous was considered normal, even expected, hardly denounced.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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