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Tex_Maam
06-14-2012, 09:57 AM
So I wrote a fantasy novel, with an American Old-West kind of setting. Looks a lot like Earth, is not Earth.

In this not-Earth, different races and groups of people have different magic powers / abilities. A little bit like the Avatar cartoon.

That includes different groups of indigenous people. For example, there's a nomadic group whose members are incredibly hardy, can go for days without food or water or sleep. There's another group who can communicate empathically, another who have super-keen sight and hearing, etc.

Here's what's freaking me out, though. In my original setup, I had given a lot of these groups (not all) an animal association - so, for example, the people with the super-awesome enhanced senses and the ability to run like the blazes are called the deer people.

As I've been reading more on indigenous people in fiction, though, one of the biggest issues I've seen is that they are SO often portrayed as mystical savants with animal/nature powers, and while that might sound good on paper ("they have magic powers, isn't that empowering?"), the Unfortunate Implication of animal associations is that they are therefore not fully human beings.

So what I'm trying to understand is whether 'natives with animal powers' is inherently offensive no matter how you slice it, or whether the major problem with Twilight, for example, had less to do with the fact that the Quileutes had werewolf-shapeshifting powers and more to do with their portrayal as savage, emotional, dangerous brutes.

Because at the end of the day, I'm not trying to be Sherman Alexie, but if I roll with this and find out after the fact that I pulled a Stephenie Meyer, I will pretty much have to gut myself in shame.

Kerosene
06-14-2012, 10:15 AM
If this is a alternative-Earth/world novel, then just create these tribes off of your own creations. Take in account of your native american inspiration, but then build them on a different path. This would separate the idea that any two groups are similar while also treating the cultures with respect.

Like the Quileutes you mentioned, you should also highlight a opposite character that would say "they are my family, but we're nothing alike. I hate them for it, but they do act that way (reason) to protect the family". Something like that.
Every action a person does has a reason behind it. The reason people get mad is because they fear for their lives in some aspect. So don't blame the angry man, blame what made him angry.

Hope this helps.

Polenth
06-14-2012, 11:40 AM
It isn't just about the animal associations, but how you handle it. Taking an easier example, it looks odd if you have werewolves who can infect each other, yet they're all one race. Books with all-white werewolves get criticised for this, as the odds that only white people get bitten aren't worth talking about. On the other hand, if your non-white werewolves are inherently more aggressive and savage than their white packmates, you have an issue. The key is handling werewolves of all races as humans who have become werewolves, rather than treating some as almost-humans who've become werewolves and are therefore moreso at everything (more magical, more savage, more wolfy).

Superheroes are another example. People want to see superheroes of all races. What they don't want is for all Japanese heroes to have tech control powers, all Native Americans magical animal powers, etc. However, if you had a team of five Native American heroes, one throwing fireballs, one who can walk through walls, a telepath, a technology control hero and one who can turn into a wolf.... you don't have an issue. It's clear your wolf hero is not you saying, "White people can have any superpower, but non-white people can only have their stereotype."

Your example falls into the harder to handle range, as your superpowers are basically the Noble Savage stereotype split into pieces. Even so, I don't think it's impossible to handle. Basically it'd be down to everyone else. If other groups also have these powers, with their own animal associations, it won't be a case of Native Americans being more magical and in touch with the Earth. They'll just be in line with everyone else. That'd also have interesting cultural issues, as a group of people from England with deer associations and fast running won't be culturally the same as a Native American group with the same abilities and associations.

That was long, but hopefully some worked examples make it clearer.

Anna L.
06-14-2012, 12:31 PM
The easy solution: give animal associations to your white/black/yellow/whatever people too. If everybody does it, regardless of color, it's not an issue.

Tex_Maam
06-15-2012, 05:02 AM
If this is a alternative-Earth/world novel, then just create these tribes off of your own creations. Take in account of your native american inspiration, but then build them on a different path. This would separate the idea that any two groups are similar while also treating the cultures with respect.


True! There'll probably still be some similarities, because I want to keep the setting/landscape recognizably American, and I feel like that's necessarily going to echo in the cultures of the people living there (because any culture reflects its environment, ecology, natural resources, etc). But I'm trying to go an original mile in creating significantly different codes of behavior and value systems, because you're right - making them Hopi or Zuni or Tewa with the serial numbers filed off would be pretty gross (not to mention lazy).



Your example falls into the harder to handle range, as your superpowers are basically the Noble Savage stereotype split into pieces.

...dammit. Dammit dammit DAMMIT. I hadn't noticed that, not even slightly. I was going for a "low-CGI" aesthetic - you know, legit cool superpowers that don't involve flying around shooting laserbeams and lightning-bolts - and walked right into that one.


However, if you had a team of five Native American heroes, one throwing fireballs, one who can walk through walls, a telepath, a technology control hero and one who can turn into a wolf.... you don't have an issue.

THIS, though, is a perfectly stupendous solution. The setting's still rural 1800's (no steam engines, even), so that might discount a few of the X-Men gold standards, but I can totally round in others - telepathy, eidetic memory, super-linguist powers - and get some proper variety going here. SOLD.


The easy solution: give animal associations to your white/black/yellow/whatever people too. If everybody does it, regardless of color, it's not an issue.

You are so right! I've only got a couple of non-native characters in the cast, so it'll be harder to show the range of variety there, but maybe I can tell it first (by referencing it in the narrative) and show it a little bit later.


Seriously though guys, thanks so much for the thoughtful suggestions. Sometimes, you can know you've got your head up your butt and yet still lack the leverage to pull it out yourself, and I SO appreciate the firm but friendly yank.

Kitty27
06-15-2012, 08:49 AM
Terrific answers in this thread.

I can add no more. Y'all said it all. It also says a lot about a writer who takes the time to think about these things and ask for advice.

Good luck,Tex!

backslashbaby
06-16-2012, 01:23 AM
Are they supposed to be reminiscent of real Native Americans? If that part is a given and you are doing anything animal, just make sure to research it :D For some reason, bad writing involving Indians and animals usually involves any cool animal thing the author thought of attributed to people who just didn't do whatever the thing is.

There is so much real history with animal themes that it's odd to have cool, new ones tacked on to a real people. It's using them.

OTOH, if the book is clearly a fusion or fantasy, go for whatever you like with animals, except the obvious rude cliches that put NAs lower than Western culture.

Tex_Maam
06-16-2012, 03:47 AM
Are they supposed to be reminiscent of real Native Americans? If that part is a given and you are doing anything animal, just make sure to research it :D For some reason, bad writing involving Indians and animals usually involves any cool animal thing the author thought of attributed to people who just didn't do whatever the thing is.

There is so much real history with animal themes that it's odd to have cool, new ones tacked on to a real people. It's using them.

OTOH, if the book is clearly a fusion or fantasy, go for whatever you like with animals, except the obvious rude cliches that put NAs lower than Western culture.

Nope, no worries there. I could see writing real American Indians if this were straight-up contemporary/historical and I'd done the research covereth to covereth, or maybe if it were urban fantasy and one of five teenage superheroes who got bitten by the radioactive chupacabra just happened to be indigenous. But I'm definitely not comfortable with doing "Hey, they're Navajo, see, except that I made them were-buffalo and they have to team up with magic flying Cherokee to fight crime."

This what I've got is more like... you know, like Atreyu from the Neverending Story. Fantasia isn't Earth, and the Greenskins aren't the Sioux. But even with those levels of removal, it would still have looked kinda crass if he'd waved feathers and packed a teepee and done a rain dance to prove himself worthy of the Childlike Empress. I'm trying to avoid the subtler forms of that same phenomenon, and totally appreciate your help in not putting my foot in it!

Alessandra Kelley
06-16-2012, 05:28 AM
Nope, no worries there. I could see writing real American Indians if this were straight-up contemporary/historical and I'd done the research covereth to covereth, or maybe if it were urban fantasy and one of five teenage superheroes who got bitten by the radioactive chupacabra just happened to be indigenous. But I'm definitely not comfortable with doing "Hey, they're Navajo, see, except that I made them were-buffalo and they have to team up with magic flying Cherokee to fight crime."

This what I've got is more like... you know, like Atreyu from the Neverending Story. Fantasia isn't Earth, and the Greenskins aren't the Sioux. But even with those levels of removal, it would still have looked kinda crass if he'd waved feathers and packed a teepee and done a rain dance to prove himself worthy of the Childlike Empress. I'm trying to avoid the subtler forms of that same phenomenon, and totally appreciate your help in not putting my foot in it!

I agree with your points and am impressed by the way you're thinking it over.

I'd like to point out that the Quileute Nation Stephenie Meyers used in "Twilight" is a real people. It was majorly uncool of her to use them.

She never asked permission and she added a bunch of junk, but she based it on a real people. I gather it's caused them some annoyance.

So it's good to see you being so careful.

Tex_Maam
06-17-2012, 10:40 AM
I agree with your points and am impressed by the way you're thinking it over.

I'd like to point out that the Quileute Nation Stephenie Meyers used in "Twilight" is a real people. It was majorly uncool of her to use them.

She never asked permission and she added a bunch of junk, but she based it on a real people. I gather it's caused them some annoyance.

So it's good to see you being so careful.

I KNOW, right! And then even AFTER her book made eight hotrillion dollars, she hasn't given a shaved nickel back to the people whose history she played Barbies with, whose actual for-real home and land is now having to deal with a massive influx of Teen Girl Squad members tromping around making pilgrimage. For me, that's what moves her solidly from "clueless lady who writes books I don't care to read" to "major-league jerkass." It's bad enough that she didn't think this through ahead of time - her complete failure to correct for it after the fact is just breathtaking.

You know, I've been thinking about it, and I reckon part of the reason that so many Western whities keep screwing this up so badly is that our default "do unto others" programming breaks down when we don't have a legitimate basis for comparison. You know, folks will say stuff like, "so what? I've been called a cracker before" and it's like... yeah, but that ain't the same thing. That's so far from the same thing you can't even SEE the original thing from here.

Even that doesn't explain this special flavor of stupid, though. Could I write a story about a secret sect of Orthodox Jews who use the bar mitzvah to anoint their kids with lamb's blood and turn them into vampires? No? Can I start up a football team and call them the Mississippi Mexicans? Well shit, can't I even have my kindergarten class make construction-paper headscarves for Ramadan?

...anyway, sorry. Rant over. Thesis: I've screwed up before and absolute perfection is unlikely, but it means the world to know that somebody as flaming-heifer awesome as you (and as fool-unsuffering as Ms. Kitty!) thinks I'm doing something right. This board is an AMAZING place to get out of your marketing demographic and into a new point of view, and my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.

backslashbaby
06-17-2012, 10:48 AM
:ROFL:

It sounds like you are good to go, I think :D