Race, Fantasy Literature, and Political Correctness (part II)

Continuing on the theme of race in fantasy literature, I, once more, feel inclined to buck the trend. This is actually a completely different topic than what I discussed in part I, but it does belong under the same general heading.


A few weeks ago, I was reading a blog about race, racism, and fantasy literature (it actually, to a certain extent, inspired this series of posts, but unfortunately, I have lost the link). The whole point of the blog post was that fantasy literature featuring “inferior” or “monstrous” races implied that the writer was differentiating and “creating difference” or “recognizing differences” and was therefore racist. Basically, the upshot was that you can’t use orcs and goblins (or even dragons) anymore, because if you do, you are being racist. Seriously? Seriously? This is why people do not like political correctness. Holier-than-thou loons who pick at trivialities as if they are profound problems.


In my book, Drasmyr, the action takes place on the world of  Athron. It is a fantasy world. With fantasy creatures. Although they have not appeared yet, I intend to use a race of creatures called goblins in later books. And they are evil. Ergo, there is conflict between the humans and the goblins. Not because the goblins have blood-red skin and bald, knotted skulls, and therefor look different from the humans, but because the goblins raid and destroy human villages for sport. I suppose, theoretically, the conflict between humans and goblins on my fantasy world could be paralleled with actual real historical conflicts between Race A and Race B on good old Earth which were eventually resolved when Race A and Race B began to talk to each other and trust each other, finding a way forward to peace, and so, such thinking would imply that the goblins and humans on my world could do likewise, but I can tell you, as the AUTHOR, that is not the case. The goblins are evil. They respect only strength; they kill amongst themselves; they think nothing of rape and murder; and they worship demons. They will never progress beyond that. Because I’m the AUTHOR, and I say so. And I want an evil race of creatures for the humans to fight and be in conflict with.


I mean, seriously? Was Smaug just a misunderstood capitalist? Oh, no, it’s capitalism that is the true evil, so Smaug couldn’t be that. But whatever he was, he was surely misunderstood. Never mind the city of dwarves he roasted, or the village of men he plagued. We just aren’t looking at things through his perspective. If only the dwarves had been willing to talk to him. They could have worked things out. Oh, that’s right. They did talk to him. They said, “Aaaaaahhhh!” a lot. And then they got eaten.

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About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

12 responses to “Race, Fantasy Literature, and Political Correctness (part II)”

  1. Ultramyth says :

    I have to agree with you. It’s all gone too far, probably all just because a few academics wanted to be able to analyse their favourite fantasy novels for a thesis. Things are very extreme in this sense in Sweden, and ironically, it’s tends to be some worked up middle class person rather than a member of any particular group that is regarded as oppressed… So it’s hard to be PC when things are just getting silly and taken way out of context.

  2. Katinka says :

    Personally, I think the evil horde of unnamed monsters is a one-dimensional device. It makes for good action sequences and fear factor especially in movies. But it’s not very challenging as a writer IMO to represent all the evil in the world as barbaric creatures. The racism comes into play when non-Western cultures are portrayed as the barbaric uncivilized antagonists. For instance, the nomadic horse warriors (forgot their name) in Game of Thrones or the black Parshendi in Way of Kings.

    • atoasttodragons says :

      I don’t think the Parshendi were human. I seem to recall they had a kind of shell on their bodies. Anyway, I like having the option of having clearly defined good guys and bad guys. When everybody is equally human I am less inclined to root for anybody at all.

  3. Alex says :

    I think it largely depends on the cosmology of a fantasy world. In worlds where demi-human races are either created by or thoroughly corrupted by evil gods, it’s easier to write them off as pure evil. Or like Fey in western myth, due to it’s Satanic allegiance and the ‘Tithe’ of mortal children.

    Where the problems arise is in the realm of intelligence and free will. If a race is intelligent, it stands to reason that they may have free will. And if the race is intelligent and has free will, would their attitudes on morality be monolithic? Even Tolkien admitted that he had regrets about the idea of all Orcs being irredeemable; and though we’re left with the impression that not all Easterlings were evil, all Easterlings who were featured in the stories were (because ‘good’ Easterlings wouldn’t have invaded Beleriand, Middle Earth, or wherever whichever dark lord was compelling them at that time).

    As fantasy literature has moved towards more complex views on demi-human races, one starts to look back on the “simpler” days of uniformly evil races a bit more questioningly. For example, after playing lots of Elder Scrolls, in which Orcs are more of a proxy for Dwarves and run the gamut from crazed evil barbarian to genteel peasant farmer, I’ve found some trepidation in wanting to run a game where all orcs should be killed simply because they’re orcs and a danger to humanity, even if that’s how they’re written in that setting. A mission in a BFRPG module involves killing several unarmed pregnant Orc women; in the “simpler” days, this might be seen as a much less morally dubious act than it is today.

    If a race is monolithically evil, there’d better be a good reason for it, and it ought to involve some degree of the deprivation of free-will. Maybe goblins are Calvinists?

    • atoasttodragons says :

      Not believing in free will is not the same as not having free will. I would say the evil isn’t so much genetic as it is ideological. I suppose a “good” goblin or Orc is possible, just unlikely. Actually, I don’t want to think that deeply about it… so it could be genetic (if that word makes sense in a fantasy world) too. I prefer the simplicity.

      • Alex says :

        This is true. Allow me to be incredibly un-PC and make the comparison to followers of Islam: while not all followers of an apocalyptic warrior faith are going to be dangerous murderers, the mere existence of such a a culture poses an imminent threat to the civilizations around it. The British experienced the same trouble in India with the Thugee cult of Kali who wandered the countryside slaughtering travelers. While many historians now wish we knew more about the central American Indians and their culture, at the time, the Catholic priests and their soldiers felt pretty well justified to kill them all and burn their books Call of Cthulhu style after the religious leaders bragged about all of bloodsports, human sacrifice and worship of scary monster gods. People are culturally, rather than racially, predisposed to evil.

      • atoasttodragons says :

        In real life, I pretty much agree. In a fantasy setting I’m still predisposed to a D&D approach where alignment is preset… Whether it’s genes or culture is never really addressed. But if push come,s to shove, I’d go with a combo of culture and individual choice.

      • Alex says :

        An interesting corrolary to that is Classic D&D (OD&D, Holmes, B/X and BECME) used only a 3 point alignment system (Law, Neutral, Chaos) which addressed the prevailing societal views of intelligent races or behavioural patterns of monsters while leaving morality to the discretion of the DM or players. It made spells such as Protection from Evil or Detect Evil somewhat more subjective, as “Evil” was not defined by a mechanic but was rather a reflection of the caster’s own world-views. But I now imagine a truly cynical post-modern fantasy setting dripping with moral relativism where a DM says “You are unable to detect evil because vice and virtue are imagined constructs.” 🙂

      • atoasttodragons says :

        Lol. Yeah, I noticed some later editions of D&D started to suffer from relativistic intrusion. But I stopped around 2nd edition and I’m not sure what it’s positions on alignment were.

  4. Alex says :

    And Smaug was evil because dragons were a “creation” of Melkor, and thus wrought of elemental evil.

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