Native Americans in Fantasy

2012-Feb-23 -> from the 29-days-of-fantasy department Tags:

Today's post is coming to you a little bit late (sorry, I've been sick). Written by Amanda K. Taylor, today we take a look at Native Americans in Fantasy.

First off, I would like to thank Thomas for having me on here today and a big hug for friend and fellow author, Jonathan Gould for introducing me to this event and to Thomas.

I have always been fascinated by Native Americans ever since I was a child. They also are a part of my makeup as a human being. Georgia (where I have lived all my life) is one of the states that is rich in Native American lore and history.

I have always enjoyed fantasy books ever since I was a child -- at the Middle Grade and Young Adult level -- so then I am inclined to write for these age groups. I don't really like to write for adults very much, but that is a blog post for my own blog later.

I have always wondered if Native Americans and fantasy ever go together and I have asked these questions: Do Native Americans exist in fantasy? Why can't a Native American ride a dragon, go to a brave new world, go on a quest, etc? I think they could have a respect and connection to a dragon or a unicorn just as much as a horse or a wolf. They are able to complete a quest as well as anybody.

Well, do they exist in fantasy?

Well the answer is both yes and no. So far, the only fantasy books that have Native Americans in them are urban fantasy, paranormal, or horror books. Great deals of them are horror books which can contain fantasy elements as well. Some of these books are written by Native Americans and some are not. Some examples of urban/contemporary fantasy written by Native Americans are: Grass Dancer, The Night Wanderer, Unnamed Gothic Fantasy Series. The Mercy Thompson Series, Dresden Files, The House of Night, Stripped, Chase Dagger Mysteries, and more are written by non Native American authors. Every fantasy book mentioned here is an urban fantasy. There are a few young adult, but most are adult urban fantasy. The Skeleton Man and its sequel The Return of the Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac are the only middle grade urban fantasy books that are fantasy with Native Americans present that are written by a Native American. At least that is the case as far as well known authors go.

For epic, high fantasy, sword and sorcery, etc, Native Americans barely exist, if at all. In some of the old comics there have been some Native American characters, but they were still secondary. What a shame, they were so awesome! Some recent movies have had some Native American characters as well, but guess what? They were secondary. The only lead protagonist that comes to mind is Pocahontas in Disney's film, but she is transformed into eye candy which angered the Powhatan Nation. Hollywood has a bad reputation for ?getting it wrong' when it comes to Native Americans. Another example is Jacob Black, but I'll mention him in a second since he is a victim of stereotypes.

However some Native American elements may exist in the backdrop or Native Americans are usually secondary and given stereotypical roles which unfairly abound, definitely in fantasy. I haven't figured out or found a tangible ?why'.

For instance, let's take Jacob Black from Twilight as one example. As one of the main characters, he still falls as secondary. He helps out the two main protagonists and despite his noble intentions and selfless actions, he still doesn't get the girl.

Another example is that Native Americans are usually called upon as guides in the natural and spiritual worlds. They are usually helping out the protagonist(s)--who are usually white--survive the wilderness or aid them in completing the task at hand. Most of the time, the Native American is killed off or left unthanked or falls into the backdrop and forgotten.

The worst stereotype of all is when Native Americans are presented as the "barbarian clans" or the "cannibalistic, bloodthirsty savages" that lurk in the forest or the plains ready to eat anyone who enters. Some barbarians appear perfectly white (i.e. Conan), but sometimes they seem to be spliced with Native American elements in how they dress or in their customs.

In a new and fresh sense, what could Natives offer the fantasy world for a change? Let's do away with the stereotypes and express more about this rich society of people and do them some justice for once. They have their own kinds of magic and more to add to fantasy.

Well, if anyone wanted to write any other sub-genre of fantasy besides urban/contemporary fantasy with a Native American protagonist then there would be many molds broken and reshaping would have to take place. Everything would need to be redefined to fit this unique person. Noble actions may have to be redefined. What is noble for JRR Tolkien or George RR Martin is not going to fit here for our Native American character -- at least not everything. Their idea of what is noble differs in some cases. Villains would have to adapt too. This has already been done with the Chinese and Japanese and their customs to some extent.

Native Americans are known for their strength and bravery for both men and women. Even when things look bad they fight anyway and don't give up till they quit breathing. They always seem to adapt pretty well as well as keep their customs alive. Quests and tests of courage, manhood, or personal growth could/would be different. Villains would have to be very dark, sinister, and utterly bad in order to cause a Native American protagonist or his/her group any worries. In most cases he would be bloodthirsty and/or otherworldly. In this case the bloodthirsty stereotype could work, but the protagonist Native Americans would not be that way and would not tolerate that kind of behavior. Wielders of magic (shamans, wizards, mages) would be a little different and/or the reasons for their aid or presence could be different too ... depending on the situation. Native Americans would probably have a greater respect for magic, talismans, etc as well.

Neiko, the protagonist of my debut MG/YA fantasy novel Neiko's Five Land Adventure and the others that will follow it, is a Native American female protagonist. The tribe she came from is fictional, but it is similar to real tribes but with its own customs, language, etc. She has a penchant for attracting trouble, and she must face some very tough or dastardly evil enemies. There is a hidden Indian secret society at work here, and it exists during modern times, so I'm not stuck in the 1800's or before.

There are monsters, magic, immortals, time travel, nonhuman characters, etc in this series. In the fantasy world, no one says that a Native American is barred from any doing any of this. I decided to try something different and put what I am interested in into my work. When I wrote it, I was writing for fun, but then I got talked into publishing. That's... another story.

Thanks so much for joining in Amanda.

Tomorrow, we have a post discussing Honour, Duty and Chivalry in fantasy. Stay tuned! :)

Thanks for reading!

I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. Contact Me, I'd love to hear from you.

Don't forget to join in on the conversation in the comments section below.

3 Comments(1 Pending Approval):

By Joshua Chief Littlewolfe on Thu 25 Oct 2012 09:01:32 pm [ Reply ] Which tribes are you speaking of in your article? I have a particular interest in the Mississipian culture and their time period (about 900-1400 AD) and how they interacted with all the other tribes of North America. Within my own tribe, the Northern Woodland Cree, There are many fantasy- like legends and stories that are very interesting. Anyway I am glad to see and author take note of my people.

By Lyle on Fri 26 Feb 2016 12:20:24 am [ Reply ] Thank you Amanda. You've written a very insightful analysis on a sub-genre that deserves greater focus. So much to think about! I'm looking forward to reading Neiko's Five Land Adventure.

By Thomas A. Knight on Fri 26 Feb 2016 12:23:33 pm [ Reply ] Thanks for dropping by, Lyle. I'll be sure to let Amanda know you enjoyed the article. :D

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