adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, April 30, 2015

White Savior

One of the clichés of the fantasy novel is the civilized man – usually white – who in some fashion saves the ‘savages’ he encounters. We have seen this as recently as the movie ‘Avatar.’

This fellow has been dubbed the ‘white savior.’ Whether he pops up in Africa or among the stars, he has been all over fantasy writing since at least of time of Haggard. (Though to give Haggard credit, the real hero of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ is the black man who pretty much saves them all.) For that matter, one can see it before then with the frontier romances that featured white men among native Americans.

It would have been easy to fall into using that trope with ‘Coast of Spears,’ my soon-to-be-published novel. White guy shipwrecked among natives (never mind that it occurs in a more-or-less parallel world) gets involved in their lives and wars. I recognized the perils of such a scenario and made it my intention from the start that he would NOT be particularly heroic.

Competent, yes, but not wanting to take the lead or impose himself — which contributes some to his problems. Is he the hero? Sort of. He is the protagonist, anyway, and the point is that he does step up eventually, after being pretty much forced into it. But first, he is the one rescued on more than one occasion.

And he truly saves no one but himself. The native peoples could have gotten along perfectly well without him.

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There is another, completely unrelated cliché that pops up in some fantasy writing and that is the use of the apostrophe in proper names. Usually this is just to make them seem ‘exotic’ and serves no actual purpose.

However, there are languages in our own world where apostrophes are there for a reason. One sees them in western Africa, for example, or in Polynesia. This latter has a direct bearing on my novel as one native nation there is supposedly of Polynesian origin. So a few pseudo-Polynesian names I coined do have those apostrophes, but only where they make sense.

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