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Fantasy and science fiction allow for limitless creation, innovation, and exploration. Yet what we actually get are Eurocentric worlds that demonize or erase people of colour. Why do authors and readers accept this? Where did it start? And going forward, how do we resist? SFF author and critic Phenderson Djeli Clark takes a look at these issues in Fantasy's Othering Fetish, Fantasy and science fiction allow for limitless creation, innovation, and exploration. Yet what we actually get are Eurocentric worlds that demonize or erase people of colour. Why do authors and readers accept this? Where did it start? And going forward, how do we resist? SFF author and critic Phenderson Djeli Clark takes a look at these issues in Fantasy's Othering Fetish, the latest ebook from Media Diversified. Featuring a foreword by novelist Daniel José Older, this book discusses everything from medieval Arthurian romance to Tolkien and Game of Thrones, and provides a overview of contemporary work by global SFF authors of colour. With its sharp, insightful critique and Clark's deep knowledge of and passion for the genre, Fantasy's Othering Fetish is a much-needed antidote to the whitewashed worlds of mainstream SFF.


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Fantasy and science fiction allow for limitless creation, innovation, and exploration. Yet what we actually get are Eurocentric worlds that demonize or erase people of colour. Why do authors and readers accept this? Where did it start? And going forward, how do we resist? SFF author and critic Phenderson Djeli Clark takes a look at these issues in Fantasy's Othering Fetish, Fantasy and science fiction allow for limitless creation, innovation, and exploration. Yet what we actually get are Eurocentric worlds that demonize or erase people of colour. Why do authors and readers accept this? Where did it start? And going forward, how do we resist? SFF author and critic Phenderson Djeli Clark takes a look at these issues in Fantasy's Othering Fetish, the latest ebook from Media Diversified. Featuring a foreword by novelist Daniel José Older, this book discusses everything from medieval Arthurian romance to Tolkien and Game of Thrones, and provides a overview of contemporary work by global SFF authors of colour. With its sharp, insightful critique and Clark's deep knowledge of and passion for the genre, Fantasy's Othering Fetish is a much-needed antidote to the whitewashed worlds of mainstream SFF.

30 review for Fantasy's Othering Fetish

  1. 4 out of 5

    charlotte, (½ of readsrainbow)

    this is all online to read just...in case you wanna do that (part one | part two | part three) this is all online to read just...in case you wanna do that (part one | part two | part three)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Genesee Rickel

    Want to be a more critical consumer/creator of SFF? Read this book. It’s worth every penny and, for white people, this is advice you SHOULD pay for. It would be a great discussion group primer if you are in book clubs/writing groups (among others) that consume/create SFF. And frankly, othering happens in every genre and beyond the bounds of art. Good advice all around!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Meagan ✊🏼 Blacklivesmatter ✊🏼Blacktranslivesmatter

    #6 out 12 for my nonfiction goal for the year This was really interesting. The entire time I was reading I just kept think about the Demon Cycle series. I only read the first two books and DNF'd the third and it was largely due to the "othering" that was going on with the people who lived in the desert and were clearly based on middle eastern culture. They were the evil, backstabbing, ruthless, uncivilized, barbarians. This pissed me off so much to the only POC characters represented this way. I #6 out 12 for my nonfiction goal for the year This was really interesting. The entire time I was reading I just kept think about the Demon Cycle series. I only read the first two books and DNF'd the third and it was largely due to the "othering" that was going on with the people who lived in the desert and were clearly based on middle eastern culture. They were the evil, backstabbing, ruthless, uncivilized, barbarians. This pissed me off so much to the only POC characters represented this way. I couldn't finish the series. In the first book we do not interact with the people who live in the desert so it wasn't apparent the extent of "othering" that was about to go down in book 2. I will never finish that series. The "othering" is so obvious and so garbage. I am so tired of this othering fetish in fantasy, and the uncreative medieval setting, that I have stayed away from fantasy series written by white men with white characters at the center for a little while now and don't know when I will return. I have been burned too many times by this "othering" fetish.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marion Hill

    Fantasy’s Othering Fetish by P. Djeli Clark came onto my radar recently and after reading the comments in Goodreads about this book made me want to read it. Actually, it is more of a long-form essay than a full-length book, Clark makes the argument about how the fantasy genre has treated the non-European as an “other.” Clark provides examples from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series (AKA Game of Thrones for TV) and the Patron Saint of the Genr Fantasy’s Othering Fetish by P. Djeli Clark came onto my radar recently and after reading the comments in Goodreads about this book made me want to read it. Actually, it is more of a long-form essay than a full-length book, Clark makes the argument about how the fantasy genre has treated the non-European as an “other.” Clark provides examples from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series (AKA Game of Thrones for TV) and the Patron Saint of the Genre, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Series for how the imaginative vision of each of these writers view non-white folk in their fiction. Clark gives credit to Jordan for bringing diversity into his series and less so for Martin and Tolkien. It would be easy to dismiss this long-form essay as someone who wants to force multiculturalism and diversity down the proverbial throats of fantasy readers. However, I would suggest fantasy readers and writers examine Clark’s thesis and determine if there is a legitimate merit to his argument about the genre on the whole. Clark is a fan of the genre and wants to see it progress like the rest of society. I will admit that as a writer in this genre, Clark’s essay will cause me to look more critically at my work in the world of Kammbia and hope not to fall into easy stereotypes. I highly recommend Fantasy’s Othering Fetish for fantasy readers and writers who want to see the genre progress into a future that embraces imaginative and fantastical works worldwide.

  5. 4 out of 5

    iam

    Great read about the history and prevalence of Othering in Fantasy popculture, from Tolkien to Wheel of Time to Game of Thrones and more. Plus it's free: here's part 1, here's part 2 and here's part 3. Great read about the history and prevalence of Othering in Fantasy popculture, from Tolkien to Wheel of Time to Game of Thrones and more. Plus it's free: here's part 1, here's part 2 and here's part 3.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bridget Mckinney

    Required reading. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't longer, especially at $7; I expected a short book instead of a longish essay. Still, worth every penny. I would have loved more examples, and I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had ever gotten around to reading The Wheel of Time. Slightly disagreed about Clark's assessment of George R.R. Martin's books, but only (and specifically) about the Daenerys story line, which I don't think is given enough credit for subverting and averting Required reading. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't longer, especially at $7; I expected a short book instead of a longish essay. Still, worth every penny. I would have loved more examples, and I think I might have enjoyed it more if I had ever gotten around to reading The Wheel of Time. Slightly disagreed about Clark's assessment of George R.R. Martin's books, but only (and specifically) about the Daenerys story line, which I don't think is given enough credit for subverting and averting tropes associated with the white savior narrative (although I'm also wary of giving it too much credit, tbh), though Clark's assessment of the general Orientalism in the overall depiction of Essos is objectively correct. Also had forgotten all about how horrendous basically every single mention of Sothoryos and its people was. Yikes.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cleo

    An interesting, historical analysis about race in fantasy and science fiction. A large part of this short essay looks at Edward Said's theory on Orientalism and othering and how that plays out in the SFF genre. This essay also mentions Critical Race Theory and its place in fiction and the onus on all writers to create diversity in fiction, not just #ownvoices writers, which I think is best demonstrated in this quote: I should be able to write stories that aren’t about my particular ethnic-rac An interesting, historical analysis about race in fantasy and science fiction. A large part of this short essay looks at Edward Said's theory on Orientalism and othering and how that plays out in the SFF genre. This essay also mentions Critical Race Theory and its place in fiction and the onus on all writers to create diversity in fiction, not just #ownvoices writers, which I think is best demonstrated in this quote: I should be able to write stories that aren’t about my particular ethnic-racial background. And so should everyone else. That argument in my opinion is a cop-out that conveniently leaves PoC holding the responsibility bag. It lets white-dominated speculative fiction in the mainstream continue on doing what they do–while PoC are relegated to smaller enclaves that get little to no popular visibility. We’re all responsible for creating not only more diverse world, but also ones that challenge our past (and modern) stereotypical tropes. This is an interesting and short essay that places contemporary SFF fiction in historical context, with the benefit of being well researched.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chella Ramanan

    Great essay but shorter than expected This essay tackles the excuses often churned out to defend fantasy fiction against accusations of appropriation, othering or exclusion of people of colour. It also offers links as a handy resource of extra reading. And Clark provides tips for writers on avoiding the traps in their own fiction. Recommended reading for writers and reviewers should also read it because I find them largely blind to this issue. The only issue is it's short. I expected a short book Great essay but shorter than expected This essay tackles the excuses often churned out to defend fantasy fiction against accusations of appropriation, othering or exclusion of people of colour. It also offers links as a handy resource of extra reading. And Clark provides tips for writers on avoiding the traps in their own fiction. Recommended reading for writers and reviewers should also read it because I find them largely blind to this issue. The only issue is it's short. I expected a short book with chapters rather than a long essay.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kell

    A great look at a problem that most SFF epics have. I would have loved a longer dive into the issue but this was a good primer.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    Short but well argued.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Fantasy's Othering Fetish By Phenderson Djeli Clark - 3/5 (Note: This is based on the free online version found in three parts on the Media Diversified website, if there are any differences between this version and the £5.65 Kindle version then sorry in advance - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) This is an incredibly interesting and informative article that I think any and every fantasy fan should read. It very effectively explains the huge issue that much of fantasy literature has with 'othering' Fantasy's Othering Fetish By Phenderson Djeli Clark - 3/5 (Note: This is based on the free online version found in three parts on the Media Diversified website, if there are any differences between this version and the £5.65 Kindle version then sorry in advance - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) This is an incredibly interesting and informative article that I think any and every fantasy fan should read. It very effectively explains the huge issue that much of fantasy literature has with 'othering' non-European peoples, religions and cultures and how many non-Europeans are cast in both stereotypical and racist roles, intentionally or not, limiting their voices as actual characters and, by extenstion, the people they represent. I do have some issues with the article however (some of which may seem like nitpicks but I digress) which I'll discuss now - Equation of skin colour with culture/religion The article often seemingly paints regions/continents with the same brush. The world is an incredibly diverse place and undoubtedly more of it needs to be better represented in popular literature, however, this applies to Europe as well as the rest of the world. This article argues that European's, or white people, are often over-represented in fantasy. I'd argue that whilst yes, white people make up an overabundance of main characters in fantasy fiction and that European-like cultures are less likely to be 'othered', this only applies to selective groups in Europe. The main focus of much of Western fantasy has been on western Europe or Greece, verey little time has been spent with focuses on Eastern European cultures or on true representations of Celtic peoples that are not stock savages from the Northern Wastes, coming to take your women and dance naked to heathen gods before the honourable Christian (or in-universe equivalent) goes to righteously slay them. Europe is vastly over-reperesented yes, but only certain parts, the parts that Tolkien focused on (e.g. the Anglo-Saxon and Norse Legends). There is not much that actually lives and breathes Eastern European mythology (Witcher being an obvious exception) or Celtic mythology (please share any stories that do) without 'othering' it in a similar way. Misrepresentation of some European art/fossil evidence The examples used to represent a more diverse nature to Medieval Britian were not very accurate. This is an image of St Maurice, found throughout Europe (he was patron saint of Holy Roman Emperors) he is the mythological leader of the Roman Theban Legion. He refused to worship the pagan gods of the Roman Empire alongside the rest of the Legion he led and was killed with them as a Christian martyr. It is unknown how true this story is but some of it was likely to have happened. However he lived during antiquity, not Medieval times and most likely never reached Britian. This statue was carved in 1715, at the tail-end of what is considered the early modern period in European history when interaction with sub-Saharan Africa was much more common for Europeans (mainly through the Trans-Altantic Slave Trade which was at its hieght at this time). Not an example of Medieval art. This is one of the Magi (wise men) who supposedly visited Jesus when he was born. Western Christianity (Catholisism and most Protestants) believe only 3 Magi came to Jesus' birth, other Christians say up to 12 did from across the world from Ethiopia (all of sub-Sahan Africa to the Europeans), India and possibly further. Additionally another aricle is linked discussing the unearthing of a black woman's remains dating back to Roman times but again this was in the Roman era when the world was much more connected by a huge Empire and people moved much more freely. Whilst people of different ethnicities could be found in trading centres across Europe and the world, residents from Africa or Asia (excepting the Romani who, by their culture, travel large distances) were incredilby rare. Finally, some comments on ASOIAF/Game of Thrones The article makes a fair point about the 'othering' of the non-white characters as they are often shown to have 'strange, savage ways' or are 'decadent, slave-owners with no morals'. However, I disagree that the Westerosi are portrayed much better, most of those shown in the story are amoral bastards who kill, rape and burn for fun. Sure, the Seven Kingdoms have banned slavery but the lowborn peasants are treated little better than the slaves of Yunkai and Meeren. They are shat upon by the high lords and treated like dirt just the same, their ownership is just a little more vague and loose. However, there is little depth the the cultures outside of Westeros other surface detail and it should be improved. Additionally, I see Daenerys (bookwise anyway) as more of a deconstruction of the white saivour trope, all of her attempts at 'saving' the people of Meeren end terrilby (people are selling themselves back into slavery for food, disease and dragons have destroyed the city, the noble class have completely turned against her, the economy of the entire region has collapsed and all of the surrounding cities want her dead. In Qarth she has plunged the city into chaos by killing much of its leadership and she'll do the same with the Dothraki). She's also a little insane as we can see from the perspecrtive of the other characters now meeting up with her (who are all white boys, yes another problem). Overall This may have seen incredibly negative but I really do agree with this article, I just had some serious problems with it as well. Thanks for reading if you have made it this far!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Camicita

    Read this online (1, 2 and 3). If you are looking for short reads to spark up conversations about race, alterity and privilege, here's a good starting point. With references to well-known stories such as The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time, you are bound to find mentions to familiar scenes and situations. To be honest, I do believe this applies to narratives outside of SFF as well. Hopefully, while reading this you'll find yourself trying to think back to how you f Read this online (1, 2 and 3). If you are looking for short reads to spark up conversations about race, alterity and privilege, here's a good starting point. With references to well-known stories such as The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time, you are bound to find mentions to familiar scenes and situations. To be honest, I do believe this applies to narratives outside of SFF as well. Hopefully, while reading this you'll find yourself trying to think back to how you felt and what you thought when you were first exposed to these stories (at least that's what happened to me). If you weren't aware of how problematic these depictions actually are, it might be time to start questioning what you've learned and analysing the narratives you choose (and considering what part privilege plays in that). By the way, I don't think reading critically gets in the way of enjoying a book–except, of course, if you then realise you're reading something full of stereotypes and/or with a biased and privileged portrayal of differences. "All the rest of us can do is make certain to point out, address and deconstruct these troubling tropes when we see them. And strive to create countering visions." The third part includes a couple of reading recommendations and some pointers to consider in order to start being a more critical writer (and reader!) regarding othering and racialisation.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Piña

    Mucho de esto lo había encontrado antes y es por eso que intento siempre buscar diferentes perspectivas y cuestionar cuando la fantasía (y ciencia ficción y horror y todo) caen en estos patrones. Creo que con el tiempo es bastante fácil detectar los ejemplos más clichés y los focos rojos saltan de inmediato. Sin embargo, a pesar de conocer del tema, la forma en que Clark lo articula es precisa y directa. Al final me quedo con la idea de que a veces las formas no son tan sutiles y traemos ideas t Mucho de esto lo había encontrado antes y es por eso que intento siempre buscar diferentes perspectivas y cuestionar cuando la fantasía (y ciencia ficción y horror y todo) caen en estos patrones. Creo que con el tiempo es bastante fácil detectar los ejemplos más clichés y los focos rojos saltan de inmediato. Sin embargo, a pesar de conocer del tema, la forma en que Clark lo articula es precisa y directa. Al final me quedo con la idea de que a veces las formas no son tan sutiles y traemos ideas tan normalizadas que dejamos pasar cosas. Y dado que leer es un hobby para muchos, pareciera no afectarnos, como si no estuviéramos plasmando ideas en nuestras mentes que poco a poco permean la realidad y se replican irremediablemente hasta que si afectan a alguien. No se trata de decir lo que es bueno o no leer, sino de cuestionar y pensar lo que leemos, de apoyar a gente que está creando otras cosas con mucho más cuidado y de, cuando nosotros creamos, ser mas conscientes de los significados que hay detrás de nuestras elecciones. No hay lector que lo sepa todo y que deje de aprender en algún punto, así que repensar lo que ya leímos y buscar nuevas perspectivas nos llevarán a mejores horizontes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    Clark's little volume offers great insight into what he calls "othering" in SFF literature (and its eventual adaptation for the screen). It's basically about how non-white Western characters are used as a foil to present differences to the main, white culture in SFF literature, and debunks some myths about what writers can and cannot do about them in their work. Although I'd been aware of this issue, it still offered great insight, and it was good to know that my idea wasn't too far off. The tex Clark's little volume offers great insight into what he calls "othering" in SFF literature (and its eventual adaptation for the screen). It's basically about how non-white Western characters are used as a foil to present differences to the main, white culture in SFF literature, and debunks some myths about what writers can and cannot do about them in their work. Although I'd been aware of this issue, it still offered great insight, and it was good to know that my idea wasn't too far off. The text includes some great hints which I'm going to follow up.

  15. 5 out of 5

    skadoosh

    An excellent though brief examination of pervasive racial problems in some of the most culturally dominant works of fantasy. Many helpful links to further reading were scattered throughout the text, which I greatly appreciated. I only wish it had been longer! I'm off to peruse Clark's other works, and to hope that he might return to this topic in a full-length book someday.

  16. 4 out of 5

    isobel

    There are no black people in fantasy lands of ladies, horse lords and knights–because there were no black people there. . . Well, there were no dragons, hobbits or elves either. You made that sh*t up. Quite an interesting essay applying Orientalism to SFF.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Viola

    Read this if you're an (sff) reader/writer.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    Thoughtful and thought provoking essay, well worth a read. It made me want to dive back into post-colonial theory again—and gave me a list of new resources. Excellent!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kir

    Read online.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    A phenomenal and concise explanation of how to recognize and avoid "othering" in SFF.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julia Kelly

    Short and sweet Very short replay of including characters of color in SF and Fantasy. Lots of good points, but not super fleshed out. Is primarily an essay, but a good read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Merritt

    A good but very short starting point for learning about othering, exoticism, and xenophobia in popular fantasy.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    Shorter than I was expecting, but excellent and full of suggestions for further reading. I would call this an essential essay for all writers, but for fantasy/spec/sci-fi folks in particular.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alyza Raine

    An enlightening read. I really appreciate the linked articles and enjoyed reading them too.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Informative AF I knew what the othering fetish was, but I didn't know the term for it until now. So before I was just super frustrated with this world of fantasy that I love so gaddamn much. Phenderson Djeli Clark really broke down a couple of things for me and even provided ways for one to play an active part in trying to ... Idk work on this weird trend which really shouldn't even be a trend. It's a good read. Everyone should read it. Short but hella sweet.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kristīne Vītola

  28. 5 out of 5

    Suzi

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amelia

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alex

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