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Racial Stereotypes in Fantasy and David Eddings

Discussion in 'David Eddings' started by Creabots, Oct 20, 2007.

  1.  
    aThenian

    aThenian Well-Known Member

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    Yes, agree with this.

    Cultures might evolve differently, and therefore people of different cultures might have different outlooks, values, skills etc, but that's different from portraying some people as inherently thick, depraved etc because of the group they are born into - because it's in the blood so to speak. I think with the Belgariad its an in the blood i.e. racial difference that's being portrayed - not a cultural difference, and not just reflecting the characters' own cultural prejudices.

    I think Tolkien gets away with this more, strangely, because while his "peoples" of Middle Earth definitely do have inherent characteristics - like orcs being born just plain nasty, it's nothing to do with nurture! - because they are SO very distinct from each other, it's not racism. Maybe it's speciesism, if you think that exists. But Eddings' people are all much more obviously humans, so the way some groups are better than others feels more uncomfortable.

    Having said that, he's portraying a different world, and his races don't really map onto ethnic groups in our world very well, as people have said. So don't know it's that damaging or encouraging of racism in practise. And there's something comforting about reading (some) fantasy in that you do know who the baddies are, and you're free just to dislike them. It's a long time since I read them though. Maybe this aspect would bother me more if I read it now.
     
  2.  
    The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    This is something Eddings moved away from in the Malloreon mind. The nastiness of the Alorn is made more manifest in the Bear Cult; Sadi shows that Nyssians aren't just 'incomprehensible villains' (Eddings' own words for their portrayal in the Belgariad) and he humanised the Agnaraks to 'correct the injustice' done to them.

    The Elenium and Tamuli move even further away. I think the Tamuli is actually quite clever in dissecting the nature of prejudice at times; Sparhawk's reaction to Sarsos and Sparhawk & Sephrenia's conversation re Ehlana's dislike of Zalasta both spring to mind.
     
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  3.  
    Hex

    Hex Write, monkey, write

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    I'm reading The Belgariad to my son just now and this question has occurred to me as well... I think the issue for me is that Belgarath etc (that is all the characters one cares about in the first series of books) regard the Angaraks as alien and subhuman. The Thulls are thick and brutish victims, but they're still loathsome, and the Murgos are pretty much evil through and through (and it doesn't help that they're indistinguishable from the really evil race). I'm glad to hear it's not quite as brutal in the follow up series.

    Perhaps it says something questionable about me, but I'm still very much enjoying the books.

    I accept that what he's portraying is arguably his characters' narrow point of view of the "enemy race", and racial stereotyping is something people use to work themselves up to do bad things in the real world as well as in books, but I think Eddings is an independent enough author that if he wanted to ameliorate the effect of the Alorns' negative views of the Angaraks, he could find some way to do it without necessarily weakening the characters' prejudices. He has Ce'Nedra, for example, as a POV character but we don't see a more positive or nuanced view from her either.
     
  4.  
    Elventine

    Elventine Trouble

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    Ok point 1. Eddings's books are not racist. Saying so is just silly. If for no other reason than if you look at how the thinking that each race is this or that is portrayed... it is in fact showing a flaw in even these old and wise characters. Eddings writes flawed characters and flawed hero's. He has given these all but immortal and powerful beings a very human and short sighted view of the world that they are out to save. It is in fact brilliant writing. This does not mean that the books contain racism though. In the end more of those preconceived ideas are shown to either be false or pressed upon the people but the hands of outside forces (their Gods) or... In the end one is made to see them as more than just the label they had been given.

    Point 2. (Yes Fantasy is a reflection of reality and the ideas in reality so yeah when creating a "bad" race there are going to be elements of "racism" in there because unfortunately that it just never far from 60% of the worlds thinking. This is a shame but well most people do little about it and it is all very well to point a finger at fiction and media and say "they have to stop first" that it just not how the world works. Media is always and forever a reflection of what is in the world and what is most prevalent in the immediate world/country wide culture/way of thinking about a topic. This has always been so and yes there have been a few times when the media (after a decision has either been made by the authorities (laws have changed and so on) or by a push by a group/s of people trying to change the currant culture) has been used to help push a new culture/way of thinking out into the world but always after the idea has taken root in a fair portion of the people of that country. Media is a tool, a reflection, a way to talk about those currant topics that are already widely or growing in the universal consciousness.

    Point 3. If we are to go on this idea that any author that sets any broad defining cultural features for a race in their work using racism, then all fantasy and sci-fi is racist. I have yet to read a book that does not in some way define a race as mostly being Kind, mean, stingy, drunk, augmentative... Pick your poison! It is a trope, a easy way to define and separate one culture from another beyond just looks and language or dress. It has been used since people first started to tell stories around the fire and I don't think that there is anything inherently wrong in doing it. I don't think that is promotes racism or says that it is ok.

    So the argument it just moot however you slice the cake. Fiction is always going to deal with racism, from one side of the racism outlook or the other, in someway as it is a relevant issue and one that always brings forth a emotional reaction.

    My point is that I don't see why talking about currant issues in some form or another in fiction/media ought to be a problem. It needs to be talked about somewhere and where better than in a totally and utterly fictional world? It is like the perfect neutral place to talk about this stuff as it free us from the emotion of the past and allows us to see the feelings, ideas, and emotional reactions that may be behind some behavior more clearly than if viewed in the real world, with real world history. We will never solve the issue or racism or any other kind of intolerance that we face in todays world if we do not understand where the issues are coming from and what powers them.

    One just can't fight a fire without knowing what will best put it out. To learn how to best put out the intolerance issue we need to talk about it and fiction is one of the best ways to go about that. To show in a "real" way what racism is from both sides of the fence, because there is a there side to the racism fence just like there is to everything. It does not mean that a book that may or may not contain racism is in fact promoting racism or should be looked down upon for having something that may LOOK like racism.

    Yes we should always question what we read but we should never stop authors from raising currant topics, theological ideas, philosophical ideas and ideals for us to question.
     
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  5.  
    Hex

    Hex Write, monkey, write

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    I think that while you're reading the Belgariad, though, there is no evidence that the characters' attitudes towards the Angaraks are unreasonable. If Eddings included the racism as a subtle teaching tool about narrowmindedness, that's not clear in the first series of books. Given that they seem to be aimed at the younger end of a YA audience, expecting that sort of subtle understanding might not be wholly reasonable.

    Also, yes, fantasy does contain lots of racism, in the sense that you often have a good race and a bad race. Sometimes it's orcs, and sometimes it's a different kind of human. It's often a rather lazily used idea and it flows both ways -- we recognise it easily in fiction and arguably we look for it in the real world, which makes it dangerous because we are inclined to judge people based on their race (much like the fiction of the 1920s and 30s encouraged us to suspect the hook-nosed "oriental" gentleman with his dark hair who had so much money but didn't understand British ideas of honour and gentlemanliness).

    We recognise the bad guys easily in Eddings because they are dark-skinned with slanted eyed and scarred cheeks, and because a man can be impaled for going into the women's section of a Murgo's house. Perhaps when I read the later stories I will be persuaded that this is more than rather lazy racial stereotyping -- we're only at the end of Magician's Gambit just now.

    I think we can agree to differ on this @Elventine :)
     
  6.  
    Elventine

    Elventine Trouble

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    But the Belgaraid is not YA... It is and has always been a adult fantasy series.

    How much of Eddings have you read? Read the Tamuli series and then come back to me with this statement. It is so limited in it's view of his world building and offensive in it's limited view of the cultures that he creates.
     
  7.  
    Hex

    Hex Write, monkey, write

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    Well, that's an interesting question -- is the fact that Eddings no longer used racial stereotyping in later works a reason for arguing he didn't do it in the earlier ones?

    It feels to me, as a reader of YA, that if Eddings were to write The Belgariad now, it would be marketed that way. I read it as a young teen and my son is nine -- most of the themes and issues are fine for him (though Salmissra's seduction gave me a few moments of anxiety). Yes, it's a little violent but The Hunger Games is YA and that's a lot worse.

    Anyway, whether it's really aimed at older or younger readers, it's perfectly accessible to fairly young kids. The language is quite simple and the concepts are straightforward. I think that's a strength of his style but it also means the racial stereotyping is unchallenged in the early novels.

    I don't want to argue with you, just disagree politely, and this discussion is getting a little heated for my enjoyment, so I'll retain my existing opinions of The Belgariad and its races of dark-skinned bad guys and pale-skinned good guys, and leave the rest of you to enjoy this thread :)
     
  8.  
    The Big Peat

    The Big Peat Well-Known Member

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    I completely agree that authors should tackle difficult issues if they want. I don't really trust an author that doesn't tackle them in some way.

    But for me, agreeing that authors should be free to tackle them doesn't mean handing out a free pass to authors that do it poorly. If they swing and miss then they deserve criticism and calling out. This may be a pedantic point but I think its an important one.

    Similarly on point 3, using cultural stereotypes is fine unless its done poorly. If you give the message that you can look at member of culture Y and just know that they're going to be X, then that's pretty dodgy in my book.


    Specifically on Eddings - I think he got it pretty badly wrong in the Belgariad and am not surprised people question it. I'd question it if I'd only read that and I think his own words in the Rivan Codex suggest he's aware it wasn't great. He's pretty good at it for the next three series, so I don't see the point of getting all up in the grill, but equally I don't see the point of getting all up in the grill of people questioning it based on the Belgariad. Other than to say - read up to the Tamuli, there's some cool stuff there.

    Do not read further than the Tamuli.
     
  9.  
    Elventine

    Elventine Trouble

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    It is at this point that I usually start pulling my hair out... Why is the fact that the bad race dark skinned an issue? It is the leadership of the Murgo's god that has lead them there to being the way that they are not their skin colour and it is never linked to their skin colour either. They are victims of what their god has made them are just as much as anyone else. So what had skin colour got to do with it? Why is is ok to be reverse racist? And the thinking that JUST because he made the "bad" race dark skinned that it is racist is reverse racism. You are saying is that no "bad" race can be can be dark skinned because it is automatically because of there skin colour that they are like that.

    As to him failing in Belgariad... I don't think that he did. I think that you have just have to see what is the driving force behind the way that the Murgo's behave and you will see that he didn't write THEM as bad. He wrote them as the victims of a bad god. And that makes all the difference in the world to how you see them and it has nothing to do with their colour.

    Just because one can read it when you are younger does not make it YA. I don't think that it would have been published as YA and I really object to this concept that is starting to prevail in books that anything that does not have an over abundance of sex and violence in it would automatically be put into the YA category or should be.

    Eddings does not write simple books. He wrote subtle books, there is more to everything that he writes even in the not best series he has written. You have to truly read and pay attention to what he is writing and how things are described.
     
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