In Helen Young’s article “Game of Thrones’ Racism Problem,” she seemed to focus more on the show’s interpretation of Daenerys Targaryen than the books’. Although there are similarities between the two involving Daenerys taking over the Slaver’s Bay cities and liberating the slaves (of course I haven’t watched the show besides clips of it), I did think that the show built up Daenerys to be the White Savior that Young describes since the show does not highlight the indirect consequences of her liberations, such as the freed cities being in constant rebellion which is exacerbated by a plague which Daenerys did not have enough food to give out to any refugees, as well as the other difficult choices she had to make which apparently would dissuade people from buying dragon queen merchandise. I do think that there was cynicism involved in making these alterations for the show.
When being asked about this dynamic in an interview at Brown University, George R. R. Martin explained that the slaves of Slaver’s Bay are meant to be inspired by the slavery in the Greco-Roman world. There was no regard for race or skin color when bounding people as slaves, whether they were Greco-Roman or not; European, Asian, African; white, olive, brown, black. It did not matter, just so long as there was a giant, inheritable slave caste who will do all the physical labor. The shows were completely different from the books, since Slavery’s Bay is shot in Morocco and it was more financially feasible to star Moroccan extras instead of bringing extras from all over the world.
This is what leads to the discussion in this article. Although just like the Viking symbols I do not think that Game of Thrones should be considered a vehicle for white nationalism, I agree with Young that if the world of Westeros and Essos is meant to be fantasy with liberal amounts of historical accuracy, then that should give any writer the creative license to make it diverse without any restrictions.
This is especially the case if mythical creatures like dragons exist in any mythopoeia. These are creatures that are large enough to carry cargo, can have wide wing spans, and can travel far distances. So, it would make sense that dragons could either bring trade or war. There might also be dragons from European and Chinese mythologies who travel to distance places; or perhaps mythological creatures from many mythologies that can travel long distances. The presence of many colors, nationalities, religions, and clothing in a single city-state could be the result of these long migrations made by these creatures. So, logically, it would not be impossible to write a story about a part-time coliseum fighter/full-time accountant who has ancestry from dwarves and human nations resembling Mali, Italy, Syria, and Poland; living in a island-city guarded by a fleet of pegasus-troops.
However, there is the possibility that the “diverse” characters could–at least–fall into the bounds of stereotypes, or–at worst–are represented as monsters. This was especially seen in the Uruk-Hai in Middle-Earth, in which they have dark skin and are depicted as so unintelligible that they have no redeeming qualities.
If the villains are themselves diverse, then would it result in alienation of the group those villains represent? What does need to be kept in mind is that villains do not have to be one-sided. Killmonger and Magneto have proven that you can create diverse villains who are digestible, since they have clear, concise rationales for doing their deeds. Even William Shakespeare’s plays provide an opportunity to provide villains and anti-heroes with a sense of believability would make his plays interesting. In more modern interpretations of Merchant of Venice, Shylock is focused on less as the comical villain, rather as a humanized minority character.
As to how this can be applied to fantasy, there are tropes and conventions that are made to be subverted. It may be true that Tolkien relied on the racist depictions of black people to make the Uruk-Hai, however in the video game Shadow of War, which takes place in Middle-Earth, one of the important characters in Talion’s quest is Baranor, who is a black ranger. He explained to Talion that he comes from the Haradrim, the eastern nation who allied with Sauron. Baranor’s existence as one of the good characters is a sign that not everything depicted in the author’s time is set in stone.
This is especially important when fantasy no longer has a Eurocentric focus. Tomi Adeyemi, author of the Children of Blood and Bone series, has proven that fantasy can exist through any cultural perspective. It took a long time to research African mythology and life in order to write the series. Tolkien, likewise, took years to research the various European languages, cultures, ancient writings, and histories in order to materialize Middle-Earth. In order to create a truly unique fantasy setting, all it really takes is to spend years studying and researching history, culture, linguistics, and other other fields in order to materialize a completely unique setting.
If a fantasy world can change focus, then it is entirely possible to right wrongs done in fantasy’s name. That is why diversity is important, since it should enable the characters to have as much depth as any of the traditionally white characters have. There is no one nation that is superior over another, rather they are equal in their struggle to survive in a world of dragons and magic.
- Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. Henry Holt & Co. 2018.
- Uploaded by Aegon Targaryen. George RR Martin on Racism and Sexism Accusations against Game of Thrones. YouTube.
- “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War.” WB Games. Monolith. 2017.
- Snyder, Christopher. “The Making of Middle-Earth: A New Look Inside the World of J. R. R. Tolkien.” Sterling. 2013.
- Warmbraun, Christina. Dear Tolkien Fans: Black People Exist. Public Medievalist. September 24, 2020.
- WatchMojo. Top 10 Film Villains Who Had Justifiable Motives. YouTube. May 5, 2018.
- Another Top 10 Movie Villains with Understandable Motivations. YouTube. December 2, 2019.
- Young, Helen. Game of Thrones’ Racism Problem. Public Medievalist. July 21, 2017.
- Ynkawen, Robert-Scott. Can Tomi Adeyemi Become The Nigerian Tolkien? 2nd Edition. Villa of the Dream-Writer. June 5, 2019.
- How Fantasy Creatures Can Alter Human Interaction With Nature. 2nd Edition. Villa of the Dream-Writer. November 21, 2021.
- Response To “Where Are The Diverse Villains?” Villa of the Dream-Writer. April 23, 2020.
- Should The Modern Audience Reimagine Shakespeare’s Most Notorious Character? 2nd Edition. Lucius St. Crispin. December 29, 2018.
- “The Making of Middle-Earth,” by Christopher Snyder | Literature Review. Ynkawen. Feburary 23, 2020.