I recently finished reading the first book in the Game of Thrones series (for our purposes, GOT) and I had this terrible hate/like relationship with it.
After the initial bit of the book that I didn’t like the first time I tried to read it, I started to enjoy Martin’s universe.
What I liked about it was how richly he builds worlds. I love the mythos in that world, the bounce and flow of his prose.
And then I would find myself seething with some kind of nameless nerd rage that made me rant and rave aimlessly to myself. And then I’d be fine.
One thing we can attribute this to is that the structure of the book doesn’t have chapters but has character name headings. I liked that. But finally it dawned on me after grumbling and growling to myself through a whole section what was bothering me.
There is a marked difference in how the Other (the Mystical Brown Dothraki) were written in contrast to even the more minor of the Civilized (read: white) characters.
Granted SHIT SORRY SPOILERS) these sections are written through the eyes of wee Daenerys Targaryen. Who at points becomes the Whitest Savior princess ever but we’ll get to that. Now at the end of the book I know more as a reader about Grumpkins, dead guys walking and assholes at the Wall than I do about the Dothraki.
Even when Daenery’s husband Drago is speaking whatever it comes across very grunty. Basically as I put it to someone else, it’s all blood, horses, rapey rapey murder kill, fucky rapey rapey.
It is hinted at through the behavior of the Dothraki characters that there is some richness behind them but because of the way the book is structured I went from rapey rapey murder to the beautiful loving descriptions of the civilized people.
It was not super obvious beyond my usual discomfort with Mystical Negroes and other Brown people in stories. What did become highly evident was that in Martin’s world the Other is never written as beautifully as the Civilized even when, they are part of the central world and characters.
It was maddening and disheartening.
Here is the problem with a lot of Fantasy and other genre fiction I have as I get older.
Now let’s leave GOT for a minute and go back in time to me reading the Narnia Chronicles.
Okay let me tell you that I really fucking loved those books. I read all of them repeatedly during my childhood. I had dreams about meeting Aslan and fighting while riding a fucking centaur.
I LOVED them.
At the same time, because I was in fact a little Black child I was also acutely aware of without having the language to express that I was missing.
I turned 36 yesterday and remember with painful acuity the sadness and confusion as to why if there were unicorns, aliens, centaurs and shit in the books I was reading why weren’t there any Black kids?
When I watched (raptly and repeatedly understand) fantasy movies like The Never Ending Story or the Last Unicorn (two of my favorite to this day) I understood that while I could partake in these worlds, I could not be in them. Even in pretend worlds where there are giant sneezy tortoises, I was not welcome.
At least that is how I parsed the absence of fellow children of color in books, television and movies. I understood that we could be on Sesame Street but not in Narnia. I understood on a visceral level that I could be a street kid or shucking and jiving in an urban scene in the land of make believe but I couldn’t be in the Shire.
As a child these things manifested as me feeling like I was trespassing when I read The Hobbit. Like, I shouldn’t have even been trying to read it.
As I got older, that feeling of being disconnected and unwelcome turned into something else. I just stopped reading a lot of fantasy and sci fi. I loved it but, I felt too keenly that I couldn’t be a part of it in a meaningful way. I was uncomfortable enough that escaping into a world just as White as the one I was living in wasn’t cutting it for me.
My teenage reading years were spent figuring out what I could tolerate. While I could tolerate Stephen King’s attempts to get Black folks into his stories (magical negroes about) I can tolerate it from him.
Others not so much. I think I tolerate it (to this day) from King so much because even with the absence of POC in the first few of his books I read when I was 8-9 years old, I still loved them. Because so many of them were set in a way that I could understand (or justify I imagined) why there weren’t POC because as a kid I didn’t think there were Black folks in New England.
What I started to learn was how to think more critically about my reading and watching preferences based not only on how much I liked it but the things themselves. For a while I read a lot of classics and got pissed off that they were all (at the time, early 90s) written by white people except for The Color Purple. I was learning to question Whiteness which was good and bad. On the good side I was learning to spot and think about race in a critical way. Bad int hat I had nobody to talk about these things with.
My questions went ignored by teachers. Or shooed away with the usual White nonesense. “Stop reading into things.” “that’s just how things were in those days”, “stop being so sensitive” and my favorite to date, “stop pulling the race card”.
At that age I was still able to overlook a lot of shit in order to have books to read and things to watch. There was some thing I have lost in the intervening years. My tolerance has gone way down. My ability to just gloss over the parts that make me mad has disappeared.
Now we’re back at the present.
As much as I try a lot of fantasy just becomes White People Noise in my head. I get frustrated because it’s 20 fucking 13 and I can’t enjoy the fan base for a lot of things because holy fucking shit so racist I can’t even.
And here we find why I can accept Magical Negroes in Kings work. At this point I feel like fuck, at least he’s been trying for thirty years. Granted, it’s often kind of grating and I shake my head but at least he’s trying.
He isn’t white girls who are the voice of their generation, whining about how it’s so hard to include POC and they just can’t write about them. It’s not watching racist ass Tolkien fans go CRAZY because some of the Hobbits might be brown or Black. It’s not people telling me that having Black people in an Arthurian legend style myth or show is distracting BUT it’s totally not a distraction to have talking dragons and shit.
The former is comfortable most of the time where the latter hurts all the time.
These are all reasons why I liked and loathed GOT. I am going to try and finish the series because unread series of books that I’ve started drive me insane.
I fell back on some King and another collection by Brandon Massey. As people are often intoning when minorities want to be represented I am working on my first straight up fantasy story.
After my crime and noir reading spree with the sprinkling of horror, I’ll go back to some fantasy. I’ll probably look for some more fantasy books by POC. I’ll try to quiet that WHY ARE THEY ALL WHITE voice in my head while I read.
That’s all I can really do about it right now.