Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fantasy Roundtable 2: The Baggage of Language in Fantasy

Recently, there was a bit of an uproar about the Hunger games. Apparently, many folks who had read the book were not aware that certain "dark-brown" characters were what we in the United States would call "a black person."

Words are a powerful thing.  I've had moments when I simply wanted to describe a character as a Native American or a Chinese person -- but such countries and groups did not exist in my story. I therefore had to use words such as "crescent-shaped eyes" (which only made a few people wonder if my characters were aliens.

But there are other issues besides physical descriptions of characters. I always seem to trip over what to call eating implements: Forks...meat spear? Pronged utensil?

Of course, Language can be revitalized in fantasy as well. We all know what a zombie does without calling them "zombies." Same for "vampires" and "witches." It's great using words in a new way. 'Friend age-long' for a best friend. 'Unfleshed ones for spirits.' By changing language, a Christian can do a lot with the idea of
zombies versus Resurrection  -- true spiritual growth versus a spiritual legalism herd-mind. Or vampires and cannibals and the Christian idea of taking on the lifeforce of another. Or witchcraft and the spiritual power of words to curse or heal.

My biggest issue in fantasy is all the high english or high fantasy language. Noble folk should speak nobly, and poor uneducated folk should speak badly. But even if one creates a world without class distinctions, there will be different cultures who all  use different greetings, vocabulary, customs. Of course if the fantasy takes place in a world that is very like Europe, one can fall into the old patterns created by other fantasy authors. But how does one create a Native American fantasy language with a folkloric language when high fantasy Arthurian words are whispering in one's ear? And how does one get one's reader to understand the grammar, vocabulary, lingo, of the various non-European clans and castes one has created?

The other discussions on this topic can be found all combined at this link

Or you can go to individual websites:

Theresa Crater has published two contemporary fantasies, 
Beneath the Hallowed Hill & Under the Stone Paw and several short stories, most recently “White Moon” in Riding the Moon and “Bringing the Waters” in The Aether Age:  Helios. She’s also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Colorado with her Egyptologist partner and their two cats. Visit her website at 

Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia.  She writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories which give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue.  See:

Warren Rochelle has taught English at the University of Mary Washington since 2000. His short story, "The Golden Boy” (published in The Silver Gryphon) was a Finalist for the 2004 Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Short Story and his novels include The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010. He also published a critical work on Le Guin and has academic articles in various journals and essay collections.

 I began writing professionally in 1982 as Deborah Wheeler with JAYDIUM and NORTHLIGHT, and short stories in ASIMOV'S, F & SF, REALMS OF FANTASY and STAR WARS: TALES FROM JABBA'S PALACE. Now under my birth name, Ross, I am continuing the" Darkover" series of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, as well as original work, including the fantasy trilogy THE SEVEN-PETALED SHIELD. I'm a member of Book View Cafe. I've lived in France, worked for a cardiologist, studied Hebrew, yoga and kung fu, and am active in the local Jewish and Quaker communities.

Sylvia Kelso lives in North Queensland, Australia. She writes fantasy and SF set in analogue or alternate Australian settings. She has published six fantasy novels, two of which were finalists for best fantasy novel of the year in the Australian Aurealis genre fiction awards, and some short stories in Australian and US anthologies. 

Carole McDonnell is a writer of ethnic fiction, speculative fiction, and Christian fiction. Her works have appeared in many anthologies and at various online sites. Her novel, Wind Follower, was published by Wildeside Books. Her forthcoming novel is called The Constant Tower.  
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