Fantasy stories and different cultures

11 Sep

I read a post of jhenne-bean‘s that, once again, got me thinking about stories of different cultures.  It was added to by bobbarob and jhenne-bean stated she’ll be writing a longer post at a later point, but I started to think about the different myths, folklore and stories that are not Eurocentric (once jhenne-bean makes her post, I’ll add that link here, because thoughts and ideas should be shared).


Lately, whenever there’s been a discussion of fantasy that includes race or even gender, the default argument of those defending certain properties (such as Game of Thrones) is that the story is based on medieval times and that’s how things worked.  Which is incredibly ignorant, to be honest.  To say something like that is to put on display how much one has no clue of the history of the world (even the history of Europe).

Fantasy isn’t some market that was cornered in Europe based on stories that cave dwelling white people told around camp fires.  Fantasy has its roots in practically every culture around the globe.  Including those who the defenders of certain properties (like Game of Thrones) would find surprising.  For hundreds of years, First Nation people in North America (what Northeastern tribes, in particular Iroquois, called Turtle Island) had a rich, oral tradition with story telling.  Many of those stories have been recorded and written down to be save so they aren’t lost.  Those stories include fantasy characters which have incredible similarities to European stories.  Not unlike how dragons aren’t simply a European commodity (Chinese).  The Iroquois’ stories included elves, and pixies, and sprites, and fairies, and other creatures that Europeans (especially British/Scandinavian/French) would call fae folk.

There is something else that a lot of these defenders of certain properties (like Game of Thrones) bring up, that being how people from nations outside of Europe were technically and intellectually inferior to Europe in medieval times.  Which is wrong.  While Europeans were still scratching in the dirt, the nations of the Middle East, around the Mediterranean, North and West Africa, were some of the most cultured, well read, scientifically advanced, and philosophically literate.  Baghdad was, at one time, the cultural epicenter of a Renaissance that rivaled the one in Europe.  Hundreds of years before the actual European Renaissance, the Middle East was the home to the largest library in the world.  Books were a huge commodity, and their weight in gold was offered.  Many books were transcribed from their original language into the language of the local area.  Which meant there had to be language scholars in Baghdad.  And they didn’t come from learned academies in Europe (mostly because there weren’t sufficient academies in Europe by this time).

The famed Silk Road actually helped spread the aspect of story telling and shared culture and religion between peoples.  Not only were commodities transported, but so too was information.  News from North Africa was shared in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Tibet, and all the way to the Far East and Asian Pacific.  And, it did go north into Europe.  For many North African nations, the communities became Mulsim not because they were conquered, but because it was fashionable and therefore more attractive for Middle Eastern merchants to deal with those communities.

Each of those areas also had their own stories.  In West Africa, the Yoruba had folklore that rivaled the stories of Ancient Egypt.  Far into the south, the Zulu tribes had their own stories, of which some mirrored what we have heard in Europe.  In the Western Asian nations (which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, India) there were also there own stories which had their own elements.  But the fundamental basics usually stayed the same.

Many different cultures shared the same types of stories and the same types of characters.  Heroic figures who defeat some great evil, often being depicted as larger than life.  The folklore of Ancient Egypt, the Norse gods, Tuatha de Dannan, Baba Yaga, the Sky Women of the Iroquois creation story, Djinn from both pre and post Islamic culture, and many others all have their own stories but there are some very glaring similarities.  That comes from something like the Silk Road, where cultures traded goods, but also traded stories.

To end, two groups in North America evolved in isolation from the origins, although their reason for being in North America was completely different.  One group arrived in North America by choice, the other didn’t.  But the French Canadians and the African Americans became cut off from their cultural roots and had to evolve independently (although, I’d say the French Canadians had a much easier time).  In Quebec, the french language evolved differently from European french, and went onto influence Cajun (which derives from Acadian), and Hatian Creole (although, Haitian Creole did evolve independently as well, while it still was influenced by Acadian, and Acadian had some influence from Haitian).

For African Americans, naturally it was different, but they still developed their own stories, language and so on.  A story which comes from a region around South Carolina comes from African Americans.  It’s part of the line “Don’t let the hag ride you”.  It was believed that there existed a creature that would slowly drain the life out of a person until it would eventually skin the person and wear their skin.  This was called the Boo Hag.  Those who experienced sleepless nights were often said to be affected by the Hag.  There was a way to combat this creature, however.  By placing a broom on the floor by their bed, the Hag would have no choice but to count the bristles.

I know I’ve brought up Game of Thrones when talking about those who defend certain properties.  I do that only because lately Game of Thrones seems to have the largest number of people saying that fantasy existed that way because that’s how things were in medieval times.  Which, as I already said, is very naive and ignorant to say, and proves how little about history a person knows.

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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Life, randomness


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