A follow up…: A few examples of how some fantasy settings handle ‘non-white’ races

This list will be by no means exhaustive or even particularly detailed. But I hope it will be more interesting than those “1d10 Names of random garbage” posts that I see everywhere šŸ™‚

Just off the top of my head…

Order of the Stick: OoTS takes place in a Multi-ethnic world that for most purposes seems colorblind, at least insofar as humans are concerned, though racial tension is explored a bit through the goblins (green) and hobgoblins (yellow). Features both non-white protagonists and antagonists. Also depicts a number of cross-racial romantic couplings.

Earthsea: Multiple ethnicities exist, though each culture is homogeneous in the pockets they’re indigenous to, except in certain cosmopolitan areas. Features a non-white protagonist and a black side-kick. White people are pretty much villainous vikings through most of the series.

Middle Earth: Oh, my. Despite some claims as such, Orcs are never explicitly said to be “black”, just that they are all (probably, even Tolkien admitted having reservations, as a Christian man, in claiming that an entire race of people was evil, irredeemable and incapable of good) evil and speak the Black Tongue. Easterlings are never explicitly defined as Hun or Asiatic or such, but they’re all pretty much evil barbarians. Same with the Haradrim, except one gathers that they’re Moorish or Arabian and universally opposed to Civilization (with a capital C). I’m pretty sure the Wainriders are Gypsies.

Elder Scrolls: Lots of races here, and a lot of them are pretty racist against each other. But no race is universally defined by their racial traits, at least as personality goes. It is interesting, though, that there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, racial mixing (with the exception of the Bretons, who are apparently all half-elven?). I wonder if there are any black people that aren’t Redguards? Or if there could be a black imperial? “I’m from the imperial province, born and raised!” Too bad, you’re black, so you’re a Redguard.

Dragonlance: Were there black people in Dragonlance? People were pretty uncomfortable around Raistlin because of the color of his skin, but I’m not sure that counts.

Prydain: I’m pretty sure everyone in this was either welsh or a goblin.

5 responses to “A follow up…: A few examples of how some fantasy settings handle ‘non-white’ races

  1. I’m trying to remember the Terry Pratchett line from Discworld when talking about racism, but it goes something like, “black and white get together and gang up on green”. When you add non-humans into the mix, speciesism becomes more of a problem…

    • Indeed. Because then you have an indisputable ‘other’, who can easily be made a target of ‘good races’. Order of the Stick’s Start of Darkness focused a lot on why goblins were ruthless and evil. After ages of being killed and hunted by low level adventurers for cheap xp, they had no choice: kill and conquer the ‘good’ races or see their homes and families destroyed for generation after generation.

      It’s a cheap tactic in fantasy, and reminds me of what Roger Ebert once said to the effect that once people realized they could put villains in black hats and heroes in white, they could save lots of time on exposition in westerns.

      Eons ago, I wrote a fantasy series in which elves had actually evolved from goblins and vice versa (there was a time-loop within a non-linear multiverse with man-made planes that allowed this to happen), and I think I had a plateau of black elves. The two protagonists that books followed were the (white) father of all elves and one of his last descendants, a (black) goblin hero, who, along with a few of his companions, is ironically also the father of all elves.

  2. Dragonlance had the Ergothians, a human “race” of black-skinned people famed for their seafaring ways. Interestingly, they were simultaneously survivors of the first human empire, but also referenced as sea barbarians.

    • Thanks, I’d completely forgotten about them. I don’t recall them being particularly important to the main story (chronicles/legends). Were any of the main characters Ergothians and I’m just not remembering?

      • No worries! There was Theros Ironfeld in the War of the Lance, the Ergothian with the silver arm that forged the dragonlances. Theros wasn’t really a main character, though he did get featured in his own novel after the original trilogy was released. Similarly there was Maquesta, a 2nd supporting cast Ergothian (technically half-elf and half-Ergothian) that captained the ship Perechon the Companions used to escape Flotsam.

        There were several other minor Ergothian characters in various other Dragonlance novels, but none that can truly be called main characters to the setting.

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