Write of Way #8 – Writing Beyond Eurocentric Fantasy
It’s probably a safe bet to say most of us are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. At the very least, it’s safe to say we known what hobbits are.
You can probably conjure up an image of one now, can’t you?
Hairy little creatures, they prefer the peace and quiet of their hobbit holes, tucked away in a decidedly English-inspired countryside.
Now imagine we dropped those very same hobbits into the pacific. Not the ocean, that would be cruel. Let’s drop them onto a small island in the pacific.
A rather ridiculous idea, no? What a meeting of worlds that would be. Hobbits don’t belong in the pacific.
Unless, of course, they do.
Enter Homo Floresiensis. Also known as “Hobbit,” this three-foot-tall species of hominins lived on the island of Flores up until about the same time our distant ancestors began arriving there.
Not only does scientific analysis say it is possible our ancestors lived alongside these real-world hobbits, but folklore from the people of Flores supports it. Is that not a crazy idea to consider?
I don’t know about you, but I’m itching to write a story about that!
Now, I’m not writing all this to give you a lesson in anthropology. I’m writing it to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart: Eurocentrism in fantasy.
On my bookshelves I see some of my favorite fantasy novels, and they all share the same setting.
Okay, well maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole. Certainly J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is not the same as Christopher Paolini’s Alagaesia. However, both draw inspiration from the same source: that of medieval Europe.
Now don’t mistake me, there isn’t anything wrong with that.
As a history geek myself, the European world is a fascinating place full of people and cultures that have given birth to some great stories.
But it isn’t the only place in the world with stories to tell.
Did you know when the Egyptians were erecting the first pyramid, the Indus River Valley Civilization had already built cities complete with indoor plumbing?
History is full of captivating peoples and cultures, often overlooked, that can serve as original sources of inspiration.
Many writers draw inspiration from history, but all too often we look only to the history of Europe and the western world. There is a grand story out there waiting to be told, but you might have to dig deeper than the traditional history you learned in school to find it.
Additionally, drawing inspiration from subjects outside the western world allows us to expand our horizons and grow our wealth of knowledge. It’s a vast, wide world out there populated by peoples and cultures too numerous to count. Why relegate ourselves to drawing inspiration from only a small part of it?
Of course, when writing cultures one is not a part of, there is some risk of cultural insensitivity. It’s easy for an outsider to misrepresent a culture because they don’t understand it. I encourage you to thoroughly research any culture you seek to write. But that isn’t solely for fear of being culturally insensitive, when it comes down to it, it’s just good practice.
As you should with anything you write, understand your subject.
At its core, writing is about telling stories. Stories we haven’t heard before, or stories we have, but in new and interesting ways.
History provides many sources of inspiration for such stories, though you might have to dig a bit deeper to find them.
So be it among the nomads of Central Asia, or the tribes of the Amazon, wherever inspiration takes us next, I look forward to meeting you there, and learning a good bit along the way.
Read widely, and write even more so.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Where did you draw inspiration for your story from? Have you explored any often overlooked areas of history? What are your favorite cultures or stories from them?