Watching Fantasy in Black and White – Technique

Burning dragons, hoarded mountain of gold, wars under the mountain and the grand names of Thorin Oakenshield in tales of old. I grew up completely fascinated by fantasy literature and strove to get my hands on everything from Rick Riordan to Kathryn Lasky to CS Lewis. One of my greatest discoveries was a complete set of “The Chronicles of Narnia” on sale for $4 at my local library, and by the age of 12 I was completely immersed in Middle-earth.

But there was always one thing I couldn’t ignore: the way the terms “black” and “white” were dichotomized. We need to be more careful about how we use these terms for their associations bleed through the pages of Middle-earth for power in our world just as they do in Mordor.

Fantasy literature often centers on good and evil, with the former usually being attributed with adjectives such as “light, white, and whimsical”, while the latter is attributed with “dark, dark”. and mean.

The first and perhaps the most famous is the story of “The Ugly Duckling”, which revolves entirely around the sheer “ugliness” of the lonely black duckling in the flock. He is ostracized by the other ducklings because of the black color of his feathers. At the end of the story, the duckling matures and is considered the most beautiful of all, but only after she sheds her ebony feathers and a new crop of brilliant white feathers has arrived. take their place.

Continuing this trend, JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” mentions in a short poem:

The wind was on the parched moor

but in the forest no leaf stirred:

there were shadows night and day,

and silent dark things crept below.

He passed the lonely mountain naked

and swept over the dragon’s lair:

there are dark black rocks

and flying smoke was in the air.

Going beyond mere blackness to include darkness, as these terms are often used interchangeably, here darkness in the form of shadow is used to illustrate slyness, mystique and dangerousness – something unique. ‘unspeakable and mostly black, waiting out of sight to do unspeakable harm. The second part after the ellipses refers to the darkness and blackness of the rock to emphasize and reaffirm the undesirability of the situation: between the dark rocks and the thick black smoke, the adventurers of the story are placed in a impossible position where an immanent and invisible danger awaits them.

Conversely, the same book refers to “four beautiful white ponies… [who] went out and soon returned bearing torches in their mouths, which they kindled on fire and stuck in low brackets on the pillars of the room around the central hearth”, immediately contrasting the undesirable and impossible darkness seen in the poem with the beauty of the ponies whites who save the protagonists by providing them with fire and therefore a way out of their “dark” situation.

There are exceptions, but they always come back to this central idea. For example, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” features a witch who is famous for her whiteness. The Ice Queen, also known as the White Witch, is the main antagonist of the book and though everything about her, from her bleached hair laced with jagged shards of ice, to her steely pale complexion, her wardrobe strewn with snow, is white, this outward expression is but a reflection of her dark and inner evil.

The source of his magic, as Aslan condemns it, is dark magic after all.

Before you label me as a social justice hippie warrior who over-analyzes what should just be “a good read,” note that I’m not the only one commenting on this war between dark and light. In 2014, André 3000 wore a bold lettered jumpsuit in Lollapalooza that read “across cultures, the darkest people suffer the most.”

And why indeed?

Undoubtedly, this repeated system of labeling used both in the most famous literature, in the case of “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and in the most fundamental, in the case of “The Ugly Duckling”, plays a role.

Going even further back to the 20th century, Muhammad Ali also challenged a similar binary: wonderful and innocent things like angels and heaven are represented as white, even vanilla cake is labeled “angels food”. , while angry objects like black cats and the ugly duckling are depicted in black; the chocolate cake, in foil that looks like the vanilla cake, is labeled “devil’s food”.

This impact is doubly felt by dark-skinned people within communities, as André 3000’s most directly contested message. Colorism or “prejudicial or preferential treatment of people of the same race based solely on their color,” as defined by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, is inflamed by this type of language.

Also, this comparison and expression of blackness and whiteness may not be as intuitive as one might think. While reading “Kane Chronicles” by Rick Riordan, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in ancient Egypt the themes of balance and chaos (analogous to our good and our bad) were represented by black. and red. Black was considered auspicious because it was the color of rich, fertile soil, from blackness came life and abundance. Conversely, red was viewed with rebuke because nothing grows in red soil – it represented barrenness and starvation.

Understanding that the color palette is only what we limit it to is essential as we move forward as writers and readers, because ultimately the associations we give to these colors extend as we label people too.

I don’t mean that the works of Tolkien and Lewis were the origin of this dichotomy or that they should be banned. On the contrary, they are two of my greatest literary heroes. I can’t count how many afternoons I’ve spent buried deep in my bedroom, obsessing over “one ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the dark the bind”.

I am simply drawing attention to this disparity so that readers are aware of it, question it, and leave it out of our literature as we become literary greats ourselves.

About Christopher Rodgers

Check Also

Kazakh writer Gabiden Mustafin who captured the essence of the Soviet working class turns 120

ASTANA- Today, November 13, Kazakhstan celebrates 120 years of Gabiden Mustafin, the leading Kazakh writer …