We’re on a bit of a fantasy kick these days. With places like the World SF blog covering speculative literature published elsewhere around the world, it’s becoming pretty obvious that there’s so much more out there that traditional outlets aren’t covering. But Western myths and folkloric traditions are still the dominant theme in a lot of fantasy, which is why we’re asking the question in the title.
Here’s what we think:
I think it’s fairly obvious to American readers that most of our fantasy is based on western European mythologies and folklore, predominantly the folklore of the British Isles and, to a lesser extent, Greek and Norse mythology. Even the vampire legend had to be transplanted from Eastern Europe before it was popularized (although vampires are a broader tradition and not unique to even Eastern Europe). Anyway, what I’m saying is – BOOOOOR-ing! Boring isn’t really the right word. I still continue to enjoy these traditions in the fantasy that I read, but I’d really love to see the American fantasy community branch out a bit more – break out of their Western European comfort zone! I’ll grant you that Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint have done a great job incorporating non-western mythologies; it seems to be lacking for the most part. And though writers that are born within those non-western traditions/cultures do incorporate them, they aren’t necessarily things you see on the American market. So, the mythology/folklore I would like to see more of is… crap… I’m going to go with South American. Things out of the Mayan and Aztec and tribal mythos would be very neat to see. If anyone can tell me some fantasy that already uses these traditions – point me in that direction! I want chupacabras and Quetzacoatl and whatever else they have! Can you tell it’s a tradition I know next to nothing about? Well I want to learn!
Honestly, I would like to see accurate portrayals of tribal myths/folklore/belief systems/etc., particularly those from the African continent. The problem I’ve seen in SF/F is that a lot of work that tries to use non-Western mythologies or folklore does so with an implicitly Western viewpoint. By that I mean that such works rarely explore the myth without somehow Westernizing it, either by using a Western POV character or trying to change the dynamics of the myth itself to make it accessible to a Western audience. Accessibility is problematic, though, since one can easily cross over the line into “too accessible,” which inevitably means that your attempt to represent a non-Western myth has failed miserably. African, Native American, South American (Amazonian, perhaps?), Chinese, Southeast Asian, South Pacific-an…whatever it may be, I want to see it brought out in its entirety, without unfair reduction. Worldbuilding should be totalizing, not half-assed.
What do you all what to see? Let us know in the comments below!