If you keep up with YA news, especially on Twitter, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard, to some extent, what’s been going on. This post has been in the works for quite a while, so while it’s not strictly about what’s been going on, it ties into it.
I’m not going to add any disclaimers to this post, mostly because I believe that anyone reading this would realize it’s a sticky subject and people are going to have different (from mildly to hugely) opinions. That being said, I’m not trying to offend anyone by writing this, and please remember this is my opinion.
I’m going to start by saying that all I read when I was younger was fantasy. I steadfastly refused to read anything other than fantasy (the only two exceptions I can think of were Junie B. Jones and The Penderwicks), which meant I read a lot of epic fantasy. And I still do.
But I can list all the truly diverse epic fantasy I’ve read on one hand. One hand.
Here’s the thing; if you write epic fantasy, you literally get to make up a world. You get to choose how the world looks and works and acts. If you want to make up a whole country that’s populated by a race of green-skinned tree creatures, great! That’s up to you!
So it would be so unbelievably easy to write a diverse epic fantasy. No harder than writing the one millionth epic fantasy in a European-inspired country. Place your story in a country that’s based on India, or Ethiopia, or Korea. Make it perfectly normal and totally accepted for someone who has a different culture than your MC’s be living next door. Make LGBTQA+ relationships be perfectly normal and totally accepted. Because guess what? It’s your world to create (I would, however, advise against creating a fantasy country that has, say, people with a Persian skin tone but is still, for all intents and purposes, European based, but that’s a conversation for another time).
So why is there not more diverse epic fantasy? I don’t know.
I’ve said in posts before that when I was a kid, I never really saw myself in characters. I could see myself in parts of them, but I never really, truly identified with a character. This is mostly related to never reading characters with mental illness, which, yes, needs representation in epic fantasy (badly), but it was also partly due to race. I read my very first book that has a character of my race in it this year.
I read a book with a Native Hawaiian character in it for the first time this. year.
I am seventeen years old. I have been reading since I was four. And it took me thirteen years to read a book with a character of my race in it.
I love epic fantasy more than any other genre, like so many other readers out there. And I have never read a epic fantasy where there is a character that is my race, or is from a country that resembles my native one. I have never read an epic fantasy with a character of my sexual orientation. I have never read an epic fantasy with a character that has anxiety.
THAT is why we need diverse books, and epic fantasy in general. Because I have been reading for thirteen years. But never once I have I read about a Hawaiian character, or asexual character, or a character with anxiety in epic fantasy.
Also, as a little sidenote, I’m sorry if this post seems rambly/makes no sense. I’m frustrated and I’m tired and I just needed to get this out there.