During the last year, or so, there have been a lot of discussion about diversity in fantasy. I have mostly been quiet and listened to all the energy and interesting discussions.
However, one thing has been nagging at me for awhile is that elves always are fair skinned. Why is that the case?
Oh, I know there are drows but they are always evil ( with the exception of Drizzt.). Humanity is so diverse, so why isn’t elves? The only book I can think of with non-white elves is Katherine Addison’s the Goblin Emperor.
I know that part of the reason is that elves is part of Irish mythology and because of that people assume that they are fair skinned. Another reason is that in most fantasy novels, elves tend to be a minority race, while humans are the majority. Why not turn it around, and make elves the majority, with humans the minority?
There are a lot of other cultures and countries to be base your fantasy novel on.
How about writing elves in an civilization based on Mesopotamia, vying for power with the help of the gods? Or Ancient Iran? Or India?
Or Eastern Asia. I can totally see buddhist elves, or confusian elves, or both in an kingdom based on Ancient China. The Confucian cadets of duty and family feels like it fits elves. I can also see Japan with elves, using shinto to defend themselves.
But lets look beyond the Asian continent, even if it is big enough to host a plethora of intriguing elvin cultures.
There are Africa. Egypt is the most well known culture, and while it might be fun to write about Egyptian elves, Egypt has been done so many times. So lets look outside Egypt. What about Yoruba? They had some interesting views about magic and what royalty ensured. Or elves in the Sahara, trading with other oases.
In the Americas, you have all the ancient civilizations, with their struggles and differences to be inspired by. I can see an version of the inca, maya and aztec empires but with elves.
Oh, and when I mention all these different cultures, I also mean that the elves should look like they come from that kingdom. So, non-white.
This is just on the top of my head, I am sure there are plenty of other civilizations that I am not thinking about right now.
I know that it might sound like a hypocrite, since I have several books with fair skinned elves, but I was younger when I created those worlds, and more importantly they are built on Celtic/ Northern European foundations. I did think about retrofitting the Dhurians into being more diverse, but… that would create other stereotypes that I want to avoid more than having the elves and the Dhurians there being non-white.
I am having ideas, though, about writing non traditional elves. Arawaki, which is very loosely based on Japan, would fit. I’ll also admit that part of me is thinking that I shouldn’t be writing this story, that someone from Asia should write it. But, the idea is mine, and I think it is worth writing. So I will write. Hopefully, will this post make someone go “ Hm..” and write an fantasy based on say, Vietnam with elves. Or even better, their local equivalent. Because I bet there are one.
I, however, don’t feel comfortable writing a book about the Vietnamese equivalent of elves, since they pull on culture aspects that I am unaware of. But I do think that plucking elves from their normal European based settings and putting them down in a diverse one is a start.