This thread is inspired by somebody’s comments over on my comments over on “Tyrants of the Underdark” review.
Specifically, I pointed out that one of the biggest problems I have with lazy high fantasy writing is the kind of “baked in” racism that pervades such works: orcs (or orks) are all evil. Ogres are all brutish. Dwarves are all industrious. Etc… etc…
The response was along the lines of “Well, it makes sense in universe, since the gods that created those races are representations of single facets, and the races are reflections of those simplistic aspects”. Then he/she brought up Tolkien, stating that orcs and goblins were twisted and evil because they were created twisted and evil by whoever-whatever-wherever.
I countered by saying that Tolkien’s work is actually quite racist when viewed through the lens of Eurocentric world building (the heroic white people holding back the dark-skinned monstrosities and barbarians of the East and South), and represented, at the time, contemporary fears of China/Mongolia (hence the “great wall” that surrounds Mordor). And so on.
So my question is this: how do we, as modern readers and consumers of media, view older works (specifically in fantasy and sci-fi) that have unconscious racism and sexism built into their world view? I mean, it’s one thing to say “Conan is sexist” (which it unquestionably is), but a more complicated thing to say whether it’s excusable that it is sexist because, at the time, it wasn’t created to be sexist, it was just the author using the acceptable parlance of the time when crafting his work.
To me, this is more forgivable in standard fiction (taking racism out of any work of Mark Twain is idiotic), but veers dangerously towards unforgivable (or at least enormously unfortunate) when looking at works of fantasy or sci-fi where the author can literally craft any universe they choose and still (often unconsciously, granted) include sexism and racism in those newly crafted worlds… and again it becomes a bit more forgivable when you think that 50 years ago nobody would ever dream of a world where racism and sexism weren’t constants. And while there is racism in Twain’s work, I would hesitate to call Twain racist, whereas I’m less hesitant to slap that label on Tolkien…
I’m rambling at this point. Sorry.
Curious what greater minds than I think about this! Thanks!