But not everyone falls in that category. Quiza, hable usted español. Si yo hubiera escrito éste artículo sobre el imperialismo de los 'gringos' o 'yanquis' y como autores como Gabriel García Márquez o Alejo Carpentier escribieron cuentos utilizando ese condición malo para contar cuentos de la esperanza y la desesperación, algunos no aceptarían que estos cuentos puedan ser fantasías. After all, for some, 'fantasies' must follow certain conventions and preferably exist somewhere safe away, protected against the intrusions of our world. A great many people with whom I've conversed over the years at wotmania and elsewhere have expressed this desire for their 'fantasies' to be separate from real-world concerns, concerns such as racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, the inequal distribution of resources, or how we humans appear to conceive the world.
The genesis of this article comes from reading last month an essay by Pam Noles titled appropriately enough as "Shame." Her article exposes a raw nerve for a great many readers of speculative fiction - that of the 'other.' In this case, it is the 'other' reader, the reader who is not White, the reader who is not male, the reader who is not Anglo or who comes from the bourgeois background into which a great many of us have been privileged to have been born. Her story is that of the quest many have to find characters that they can relate to in the readily-available fictions that many of us pass around and recommend to the people around us.
Noles quotes Ursula Le Guin and her reaction to the casting of a virtually all-White cast for the TV adaptation of Earthsea:
"I think it is possible that a good many readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don't notice, maybe don't care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being 'colorblind.' Nobody else does."I will let that comment sink in for a bit.
— Commentary on Slate, Dec. 16, 2004.
There is a lot of truth to that comment, a truth, which like so many goes quietly in us and through us without leaving much of a trace. Many of us have a common world-view, a conceptualization of matters in such a way that revolves around the experiences that members of that particular society will share in common. However, this often leads to a sense of cultural myopia, the failure to conceptualize in its entirety the experiences that other groups will have. For example, taking the García Márquez example I cited above, why can't there be an intimate connection between the imagination and the 'real' world? Why cannot there be fantasies that tie in our hopes, our despairs, our dreams in such a fashion as to be both stories of imagination and of how we relate to this world around us?
Of course, a great many authors already do this, both within and outside the Anglo-American tradition. But yet the perception of what constitutes a 'fantasy' seems to revolve in the popular consciousness of this Anglo-American tradition almost solely around the twin axes of Tolkienian secondary-world stories and mythological tales of faires and sprites and other creatures drawn from Western fairytales and legends (and I'll hold off here talking about legenda). But what about those other stories, stories in which there is not that comfortable divide between the 'real' and the 'imagined'? How does one classify a story such as Ben Okri's The Famished Road? As a fable, as 'magic realism,' or as something else?
I suppose for some, if a boy is seeing 'spirits', it must be a 'fantasy,' but how is that to be received by the reader? After all, The Famished Road is a tale that touches upon the very real miseries of life for a great many in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world. It is not a 'safe' story to read, as the reader will encounter a great many examples of unfairness and cruelty in the guise of characters such as the nameless Landlord or the political parties that seek to manipulate and to terrorize the villagers. In a sense, it is very 'real' and therefore likely will be rejected by some readers for that aspect, just as others will likely reject it for having 'spirits' and other creatures of dubious origin. It is their choice, I suppose.
And now, back to the Le Guin quote. I might take a lot of heat for this, but as Kurt Vonnegut said in Slaughterhouse-Five, so it goes. I think Le Guin has put her finger on a very interesting point, not just about the characters to be found within the story, but also on the readers interacting with the story. The world in which we live is not a whitebread one; differences often go much more than skin-deep. It is a naïve presumption to make that people can blend together into one 'colorblind' society. After all, whose vision of that society would triumph? Are our visions of the future really any different from the days of Kipling writing about the "White Man's Burden"? It is an open-ended and debatable question. But I will close by saying just this one little thing:
There are other worlds than this.
I hope to discover and to appreciate some of them for what they are and how they can influence me.