One of the most important functions of fiction is that it can be used to provide greater insight on reality. By reframing a real social problem in an entirely new and unfamiliar context, that problem can be portrayed more objectively, divorced from the society that may normalize or excuse prejudices or social division. As writers have addressed before, allegory is a very common and a very positive element of fantasy, but even the noblest and most direct of allegories are not the same as visible and relatable minority representation in fantasy. Social research indicates that for minority groups, visibility in media is critical in creating a sense of importance and self-worth, something that metaphorical representation, however well-constructed, does not provide. Fortunately, there is no reason that a story cannot contain both an extended social metaphor and some trans wizards or dark-skinned fauns. Continue reading
The epic high fantasy genre has not historically been a sterling example of inclusiveness. The touchstone of the genre—the Lord of the Rings—has a gender ratio of 1 female character to every 4 male characters, with no mention at all of persons of other genders or sexualities. High fantasy staples such as Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, and Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series overwhelmingly feature straight male main characters and virtually none feature explicitly LGBTQ+ characters, even in minor roles. In the case of Lord of the Rings specifically, the social climate in which the books were written can be partly blamed for this: the series was written in the 1940’s and 50’s by a devoutly Christian English man. However, even in an era where more appropriate inclusiveness in fiction is becoming the norm, high fantasy is trailing behind.
As I have mentioned before, I am a longtime fan and close follower of R.A. Salvatore’s twenty-six-part ongoing fantasy epic The Legend of Drizzt, part of the well-known Forgotten Realms franchise. Like many of its high fantasy brethren, The Legend of Drizzt is hardly a good example of inclusiveness in media. The main character and most of his supporting cast are male, the main character marries the only female character on the team, and the only matriarchal society is entirely, heinously evil. Though the first book of the series was published in 1988, the first explicitly homosexual character did not appear until the book Charon’s Claw, published in 2012. Even in that instance, the character’s previous lover was dead, mentioned rather briefly, and never actually appeared in the series. The only homosexual activity mentioned in any part of the series was some steamy girl-on-girl making out as part of a ritual for Lolth, an evil spider deity. Neither of those characters played a role in the series outside of this scene.
Warning for quoted slurs after the jump.
A couple weeks ago, while scrolling through Tumblr, I read about a comic called Rat Queens. The poster described it as a high fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons-esque story about an all-ladies mercenary group, the titular Rat Queens, that included diverse racial representation, queer characters, and realistic female characterization.
Needless to say, I was sold on the idea, and so I picked up Sass and Sorcery, the trade collection of issues #1–5, when it came out a week or two ago.