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The Darkening of White Fantasy Literature

Arthur Rackham's painting of Alberich and the Rhine Maidens after Richard Wagner
Arthur Rackham's painting of Alberich and the Rhine Maidens after Richard Wagner [1]

Arthur Rackham, Alberich and the Rhine Maidens, 1910-1911

1,323 words 

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?

— Lewis Carroll,  Alice Through the Looking Glass 

I thought I had seen and heard it all when J. K. Rowling, appearing on the Christmas special of Radio 4’s The Museum of Curiosity, claimed her Harry Potter books were an allegory against racism and her hero’s nemesis, Voldemort, was an authoritarian nationalist. But unfortunately, I was sadly mistaken, because following rapidly on the heels of the character assassination of Enid Blyton for being a stereotyping racist and the banning of her golliwogs and ragamuffin gypsies for giving offense to certain ethnicities, I was, within a few short hours made aware of a stage production of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe populated by children of Afro-Caribbean descent and Aslan, the heroic Christ-Figure, being played by a Rastafarian whose matted dreadlocks are meant to represent the Lion’s glorious golden mane.

There was already, of course, the anti-colonial and pro-feminist preaching of the latest series of Dr. Who and the LGBT virtue signaling of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones to contend with. Themes it seems that are to continue masquerading in the guise of children’s entertainment, when the re-make of the 1970s British classic, Worzel Gummidge, a character created by Barbara Euphan Todd — a walking, talking scarecrow who is associated with the Green Man of British folklore — finds himself befriended by two young children, Susan and John. Played now, not by the well-spoken middle-class children of yore, but by the liquorice-skinned India Brown and Thierry Wickens. Their grating estuarine accents combining with their rolling disdainful eyes to mock the central comic character while spitting out street-wise idioms in patois slang.

A trend no doubt welcomed by the author, Philip Pullman, who wrote the over-hyped and diversity-celebrating His Dark Materials trilogy. A social justice warrior par excellence, Pullman has been critical of his own father who died while serving in the RAF fighting the murderous Mau Mau terrorists in Kenya, saying he was “dropping bombs on people with spears and knives.” He was active in charitable activities in support of the hapless victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, taking the name of one young girl who died, Nur Huda el-Wahabi, as a main character in the money-spinning continuation of the Dark Materials series. He is also the creator of the Greta Thunberg-like feminist all-action heroine Lyra Belacqua, the scruffy and imperious ward of Oxford’s Jordan College.

Pullman, like Rowling, is himself an artificial product — not a poet or original thinker — but a Left-leaning Guardian-reading progressive pushing subliminal polemics rather than what he portends to be — a sub-creator of imaginary worlds. A hollow-man who had the gall to say in an interview with Slate magazine in 2015: “Tolkien’s work has very little of interest in it to the reader of literature, in my opinion. When I think of literature – Dickens, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad – the great novelists found their subject matter in human nature, emotion, in the ways we relate to each other. If that’s what Tolkien’s up to he’s left half of it out. The books are male-oriented. The entire question of sexual relationships is omitted.”

Perhaps Pullman who claims “The Lord of the Rings is fundamentally an infantile work” is mixing-up the intense and long-lasting passions displayed between Beren and Luthien, Aragon and Arwen, Galadriel and Celeborn, Sam and Rosie and the love triangle between Faramir, Aragon, and Eowyn with the graphic biological interactions so prominently depicted in the same-sex relationship school texts that children are now subjected to from their infancy?

The pretentious Pullman, who is not worthy of cleaning Professor Tolkien’s walking boots after he has strolled through a cow-shed continuing “C.  S. Lewis’s work is not frivolous in the way that Tolkien is frivolous . . . I just don’t like the conclusions Lewis comes to . . . the way he shuts children out from heaven or whatever it is, on the grounds that the one girl is interested in boys. She’s a teenager! Ah, it’s terrible: sex – can’t have that. And yet I respect Lewis more than I do Tolkien.”

Did he not notice the prominent and fully rounded parts played by Lucy and her older sibling Susan in The Chronicles of Narnia? Which leads me to ask myself, did he actually read or truly understand Tolkien and Lewis? Or is he simply reveling with self-indulgence because his opinion is being asked about two of the last century’s greatest children’s writers? The juxtaposition of his efforts next to those he is criticizing is like comparing the polystyrene pastiche of George Lucas’s Star Wars to the world-envisioning genius of Frank Herbert’s Dune.

After all, have we not suffered enough already? We’ve been force-fed the spectacle of a black playing Annie, half of Edwardian London’s milk men and chimney sweeps coming from the Caribbean in the most recent re-make of Mary Poppins, Peter Jackson inserting Africans into the street scenes of The Hobbit, J. J. Abrams facilitating a lesbian kiss in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; and the nightmarish all-black cast of Michael Jackson’s The Wiz, a monochrome production by Rob Cohen, re-telling The Wizard of Oz.

How long, I wonder, before Paddington Bear is transformed into a climate refugee escaping the loggers in Central South America, Winnie the Pooh converts from a honey diet to veganism, Peter Pan is made-over into a transsexual, or Wonderland Alice is portrayed by a veiled Muslim?

Do you think I am exaggerating? Perhaps you have not yet heard of Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’s book The Dark Fantastic: Race and the imagination from Harry Potter to The Hunger Games, a publication that explicitly focusses on the roles played by black actors in adaptions of books for young adults. Examples include Rue, played by Amandla Stenberg from Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, Angel Leonie Coulby, an Afro-Guyanese actress who played Gwen in the BBC’s Merlin, Bonnie Bennett, from the American TV series The Vampire Diaries, and Angelina Johnson, a fellow pupil at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Academy.

Thomas argues that the genre of children’s writing has always favored white characters, the implication being that this is an injustice that needs to be corrected. The academic Dimitra Fimi, lecturer in Fantasy and Children’s Literature at the University of Glasgow, argues in her review of Thomas’s thesis in the Times Literary Supplement that “bringing racial prejudice to the foreground is not pretty. But it is necessary, indispensable even. The last few pages of The Dark Fantastic wonder whether we can eventually learn, or dare to imagine differently. And, in itself, this is a book that helps to begin that process.”

But what process, I wonder? One possible conclusion might be that this “process” is a deliberate and rather egregious attempt to appropriate children’s literature and the teen movie genre in general, perhaps in order to further ingrain young and impressionable minds with the all-encompassing paradigm of multiculturalism by injecting diversity into fantasy and imaginative writing, generally set within a Western Civilizational context, where people of color, much like in the real world, have no claim to belong. Would it not be better, if they and their progressive handlers in the publishing world and production rooms of Tinsel Town, attempted to create their own fictional universes? Something truly worthy of the name, that could stand on its own merit in the canon alongside Tolkien, Lewis et al., rather than trying to invade the imaginative spheres of others for whom they have no real sympathy and no cultural comprehension? But that very thought is itself a fantasy. Which rather puts me in mind of Lewis Carroll once again:

“I am not crazy, my reality is just different from yours.” — Cheshire Cat, from Alice in Wonderland