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Posts Tagged ‘Charles R. Saunders’

Introduction:

Fourteen tales of sword & sorcery by black authors set either in or places inspired by medieval Africa—Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology (2011), edited by Milton Davis and Charles R. Saunders, is a great introduction to a movement that deserves a lot more attention from the fantasy community at large. The only story I didn’t finish was one that I literally could not read. More on that later.

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Knowing a bit of pre-colonial African history (and yes, Africa has a history, thank you very much Mr. Hegel), I’m often a bit let down by how under-represented African cultures are in the fantasy genre.  The Empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, the city-states of the Swahili Coast, the Kingdom of Kongo, the Kingdom of Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe, the Massai and the Zulu, all have histories and oral traditions just as rich and fascinating as anything in classical and medieval Europe that a fantasy writer can look to for inspiration.  The Sundiata epic has enough heroics, battles, and magic to put Beowulf to shame, but we’re more likely to find works influenced by the latter than the former.  Fair enough, all things considered; if most fantasy started out from the pens of white Europeans (or those of European descent), we’re more likely to find those traditions propagated by fantasy thanks to familiarity.  For the longest time, writers simply didn’t consider Africa as a place to draw traditions from: western historians believed Africa didn’t even have a history; scientific racism, helped along by a good dose of Joseph Conrad, painted sub-Saharan Africa as an uncivilized land filled with bestial savagery.  What little civilization there was got attributed to outside sources: Arabs, or, in the case of Great Zimbabwe, Phoenicians.  Now, however, the historical field has broken from these long-standing biases and recognizes African achievements.  Thus, while I might feel let down by how few African-themed fantasy cultures are out there, I’m willing to let it pass on the grounds of either ignorance, disinterest, or concern for misrepresenting the cultures in question; I’m a bit more worried when those same nineteenth century attitudes towards Africa pop up in relatively recent works.

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