Elves of Colour

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When writing stories I can’t help being conscious of the people represented even in my fantasy and futuristic landscapes. It’s hard to find female protagonists in popular media, harder to find ones who past the Bechdel Test, and even harder still to find women of colour.

I like to find artwork that, to me, represents the kind of mood or look of my characters. I’m bored of white European fantasies/sci-fis, and so for NaNoWriMo I’m challenging myself to go beyond what I’m familiar with. I want to see more stories about characters from a variety of non-white cultures, and I believe it’s lazy to say ‘I shouldn’t write such characters because I’m white’. Culturally diverse representation is starting to grow in multimedia, like in the new “Star Trek Discovery” series or the “Walking Dead” video game, but so very slowly.

When I try to search for elves, wizards or knights who are not white—let alone non-sexualised women—it takes me HOURS. For every seventy images of a pretty white elf, there might be one elf of colour. Fantasy seems to be a terribly white-washed genre. In part, it’s cultural assimulation—it’s what we’ve grown up to imagine and believe is beautiful/best/most magical.

I want to stretch my own imagination and stretch the imagination of others. Part of writing is to research, and I’ve discovered so many fascinating facts about medieval Bulgaria, Turkey and Arabia. My favourite fact to whip out at parties at the moment (no joke) is this: did you know that in roughly the 7th Century, Volga Bulgarian noble women could not marry until they had proven themselves in war? I mean, it’s bad that Bulgaria was at war frequently enough for it to be a prerequisite to marriage, but still. It’s time to change the erasure of warrior women throughout history by bringing their stories back at least through fiction. It’s a big ol’ world and there’s so much more to imagine other than differing versions of fantasy Europe.

Have you found fantasy PoC images of elves, wizards, and knights? Do any artists spark your imagination? Who are they?

Feature image by Eleonor Piteira

Following my NaNo mood-board on Pinterest!

5 thoughts on “Elves of Colour

  1. I understand your struggle and commend you for even trying. I feel most people wouldn’t even be cognizant of types of representation in fiction. However… Pinterest for the win here. I have a board for each book/story world I’m writing and they are full of visualizations. Characters, scenery, maps, architecture, types of plants that grow in specific areas, pics of fantasy or sci-fi clothing, if it helps inform me and my writing, then I save it. Whenever I feel low on inspiration, I scroll through there and it’s like I’m back in the story. The words are flowing in no time.

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    • I just feel like reading is an empathetic task – it teaches you to appreciate different points of view and backgrounds, so why can’t writing be a similar process? I feel like awareness of representation is growing, there’s simply a resistance to change – it IS hard to change the way you’re brought up to think and feel, but it’s not impossible. It’s hard to drag people out of their comfort and interest zone.

      That’s brilliant you have a board for every book/world you create! I don’t use Pinterest as often as I should. It’s great for finding all of those things. It’s so easy to get sucked into scrolling for hours, isn’t it? Haha

      Thank you for leaving your thoughts and feelings. It’s nice to hear from you, Victor.

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      • True, true, and true. Writing should be empathetic and it should teach us new ways to look at our surroundings. And yes, change can be hard. At times it’s like we’re programmed to resist change. But it’s necessary.
        No, thank you, for expressing how you felt and what was on your mind. It’s on my mind as well.

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  2. We have just watched a radio interview on YouTube with Russel Brand and Kehinde Andrews (author and professor of black studies). Talking about how the west is built on racism!
    Reading your article, it would seem the fantasy world is also influenced…how sad, and almost unbelievable!!
    Proud of you for striving to make a difference in your world of fantasy :).

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s incredible how much the white Western world has benefitted from racism and exploitation. It’s part of everyday life and more obvious in places we’ve colonised and abandoned – especially so in the ones we still have our fingers in.

      The fantasy world is RIFE with white-washing as much as any other genre, I think it’s just not noticed as much because a lot of races tend to also get invented – like dwarves, elves, trolls, fairies etc. so who cares if they’re all white? They’re not real! Well, it matters to the young black girl who never sees herself represented as a beautiful and powerful elf queen.

      A lot of “evil” races or characters in these stories also tend to be “black” or “dark skinned” – for example, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is a hot mess, even if it is a product of its time, it’s part of a defining generation of fantasy stories that set the standard of white heroes against black monsters.

      I BELIEVE IN RIGHTS FOR ALL ELVES AND FAIRIES, lol

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