Sunday, November 14, 2010

On Racism and Other Such Nonsense

I am a member of the Writer's Digest Sci-Fi/Fantasy Forum, and one of our newest members recently brought up an interesting topic. In one of her college classes, a fellow classmate has alleged (and supported by the professor, no less!) that in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, there exist subtle tones of racism and inter-racial hatred. I was flabbergasted. Not that I don't think Mr. Tolkien didn't have his opinions, but to accuse of him of penning his life's work as disguised racial hatred is reaching just a little far in my opinion. Has as much to say about the state of our society and the corruption and decay within our system of education as anything else. I took some time to respond to her, so I thought I would post it here as well, as boards in the Forum are beyond my ability to control to preserve this little gem of "wisdom". Here it is.

Suemac, there are a lot of people like that, both liberal and conservative. The fact that anyone is reading "subtle racism" into Tolkien and other traditional fantasy by allegorically assigning real life racial roles to the good and evil among the races in any such work speaks volumes, I think, about the state of their own heart. Personally, I perceive that sort of thinking to be the height of human arrogance and view people like that with disgust. Of course the author was really writing about racial relations, what else is there to discuss?!

Now, have there been authors whose works of Fantasy or Sci-Fi are indeed allegorical to their real life feelings about other ethnicities? Let's say for the sake of argument there are, but I am not enough of a literary scholar to be able to cite specific examples. Citing your adversaries example, I think the fact that so many evil entities in fantasy have ape-like features and exhibit less intelligence is more of a statement of mankind's superiority as a species over other creatures to which we customarily attribute such characteristics.

Fantasy is just that. Fantasy, nothing more, nothing less. Great heroes require a great evil, or great opposition against which to struggle. That more is written about the triumph of good over evil, I think sheds more light upon the inner heart and desires of humanity as a whole, rather than exposing hidden racism and other similar bigotry tucked away in the dark corners of our hearts. We want to believe that there is a hero or heroine deep inside each of us, because we can each look into ourselves and see the battle taking place between the light and darkness in our souls. We want to believe, because we want to be redeemed, to be saved from all that within us that is not admirable.

And for the record, should one try to draw allegorical comparisons between the races in LOTR and real life, one would find that the evil entity would have been the Aryan race that was the Nazi Party of Germany in the second world war. Ergo, the physical attributes of the "evil" races in the LOTR would have been the manifestation of what lurked within, rather than the appearance of, real life peoples.

Ever notice how vampires are typically portrayed as white people, but nobody gets upset about it? And come to think of it, so are werewolves and Frankenstein. All of this has more to do with the culture of the peoples to which those mythologies belong, rather than any hidden agenda. Urgh. Stupid people.

My two cents. (Well, probably more like my two bits.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Book Review, "Towers of Midnight", by Robert Jordan

Book Review

“Towers of Midnight”, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

                So maybe I’m a purist. I’m biased. I started reading the Wheel of Time in high school and was immediately captivated. Every year, and at times every other year, I have waited in great anticipation for the release of the next book in the series. So, despite my gratitude to Mr. Sanderson for completing the epic work that is the journey of the Wheel of Time; after reading both the “Gathering Storm”, and now “Towers of Midnight”, I can’t help but feel a little disgruntled.

                How? While Mr. Sanderson has done the Pattern justice, he lacks the grand vision and depth that seemed to have come so naturally to the late Mr. Jordan. He has remained true to the characters and the story, but sadly, it is not the voice of Mr. Jordan that we hear as we read the two latest novels in the series. The details and colors on this canvas are not as vivid with Mr. Sanderson holding the brush; the visceral detail and gritty realism that made the characters of the Wheel of Time so compelling is conspicuously absent. There is no doubt that he is an artist in his own right, but his efforts pale in comparison. One is left with the feeling that the climax of this journey that should by all rights have been Mr. Jordan’s greatest triumph has been white-washed by both Mr. Sanderson and the editors at Tor Books. Instead, I believe that which has finally been published would be a great disappointment to Mr. Jordan.

                In the push to meet deadlines, and indeed the push to meet the demands of rabid fans like myself, both Mr. Sanderson and the editors at Tor have released a sloppy product. In all of the previous books that were published before Mr. Jordan left us, from “New Spring” to “The Knife of Dreams”, I could count on one hand the number of grammatical and spelling errors that I noticed. In the last two books alone, the sheer number of common mistakes was enough to elicit comment, and I am not the only reader who has noticed. Several of my fellow Wheel of Time fans have commented on it as well. This is not in keeping with the finest traditions of publishing that I believe that Tor has until this time upheld. By rushing this critical phase of publishing, the editors of Tor discredit themselves and do both Mr. Jordan and his fans a disservice.

 It is my sincere hope that greater care will be taken with the climax, the last book, and the Memory of Light.