The Hidden Fandom
As a longtime fan of Lord of the Rings, I was apprehensive when I heard that Amazon was making The Rings of Power. Would this show be an epic adventure, or would it fall on its face as yet another Game of Thrones ripoff? It turns out, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the show is anything but a failure. Okay, fine, I've only seen the first two episodes, but from where I'm standing the show is off to a fantastic start. The acting is well done, the effects are breathtaking, and the story appears to be more or less in tandum with the overall plot of the saga (at least, with Peter Jackson's films).
I wasn't too surprised when I heard people were panning the show. It seems there isn't a single fandom that can escape widespread criticizm these days. Sure, sometimes the criticism is deserved (I'm still reeling from the debacle that was The Last Jedi) but even if there are logical complaints about a series, it irks me when people can't just sit back and let other people like what they want to like.
What confuses me even more; nay, what disturbs me, is why certain so-called fans are attacking The Rings of Power. This time it's not so much the story or the effects that has people up in arms. People are angry because Amazon had the audacity to cast People of Color in this series.
It's true, Tolkien never explicitly wrote that there were Black Elves or Hobbits. So, if you're a purist, then having Black Elves and Hobbits contradicts the canon of Tolkien, and by extension Jackson's movies.
Here's what I say to that: so-the hell-what?
I'm a longtime nerd, and I'm also a bit obsessive. For me, cannon may as well be holy writ. If a writer wrote a story a certain way, then a movie adaptation had bloody-well check all the boxes of consistency. I despise the Percy Jackson films because their plots are an affront to the genius of Rick Riordan. I was irritated with J.J. Abrams's take on Star Trek until I learned it was meant to be a parallel universe. It still bothers me a little that Sarah Harding in The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a redhead when in the book she was a blonde (no offense to Juliane Moore!) Yeah, that's how picky I am.
But it doesn't bother me when I see Black Elves. It doesn't matter to me that Tolkien described his Elves as "fair skinned", or that Middle Earth was supposed to be an ancient, forgotten era of European history. Why? Because fantasy stories should belong to everyone. Let me spell that again so we're clear: E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E!
I'm an educator, and during my teacher training I was warned about the Hidden Curriculum. The Hidden Curriculum consists of all the things in the classroom that you don't explicitly point out, but the students pick up on anyway. This includes the books you read aloud, the pictures you post, the music you listen to, etc. The Hidden Curriculum infiltrates the minds of children in sinister ways. You can say that a Black child can grow up to be an astronaut, but if you only teach children about White astronauts, it will subconsciously send the opposite message. If you don't read stories with Black characters, you're telling Black children that Black stories aren't worth the time to tell. Children are affected by what you do and by what you don't do.
I suppose you could say there's a Hidden Fandom, too. For decades, media was dominated by White actors. But fortunately, science and fantasy fiction have been champions for imagining better worlds, and as a result making the real world better. Star Trek defied racial norms by casting a Black woman, and even had the first televised interracial kiss. For millions of people, seeing Nichelle Nichols on the television was a source of hope and inspiration. Where would we be if the writers had instead kowtowed to bigotry?
Sometimes casting people in the right race matters. If, hypothetically, you wanted to have Chris Pratt play an African American man in the 1950s, that would cause all sorts of problems. But if you exclude people of specific races and ethnicities from taking part in fantasy and sci-fi television just because they don't match the author's supposed intentions, you are sending the message to People of Color that these genres are not for them. If People of Color can't feel welcome in something silly like a fantasy show, how the hell can they feel accepted and valued in society as a whole?
"But, Tolkien!" some people may cry. It's an intriguing question. Would Tolkien approve of Black Elves? I can't say for sure, but I think there's a chance. He had some problematic views on race, but he also was violently opposed to Nazism, and his book series was all about different cultures uniting to fight evil.
In the end...who cares? We're talking about a television show. If we can't let everyone partake in it, then what kind of society are we living in? We can't keep excluding people from having representation in big media while pretending that it's okay.
Fantasy belogs to everyone. If you have a problem with that, I challnge you to ask yourself why.
Moving away from politics, I have some new publication announcements!
--I have new poems that have debuted with Shamrock! You can see them HERE.
--I am excited to share that my story "The Breaker of Tropes", a new twist on the classic Chosen One story, is slated to debut with Factor Four Magazine! (When, I'm not yet sure. Stay posted!)
--My short story "The Faceless Enemy" is also set to appear later this month in The Future's So Bright Anthology, from Water Dragon Publishing! Links to follow!
.One last thing. I'd like to provide a plug for my friend and fellow writer Matthew Donald! He just released his sci-fi novel Teslanauts, which follows the exciting adventures of Nikola Tesla the world never knew about! Filled with awesome steampunk tech and thrilling action, this is a young adult entry you won't want to miss! Check it out HERE!
Remember, fantasy, science fiction, imagination itself, belongs to every human being. Dream big, and be bold!
Until next time!