Hey guys! I'm bringing you another post on culture. Why? Because I can. [Also because I thought of this at midnight and I'm very intrigued.]
So I was surfing the internet -as a person like me does- and I came across something that kind of irritated me. Don't ask me how I stumbled upon a dated blog post from two years ago because I have no idea. All I know is that it was in regards to my favorite series: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.
I don't really know why it's my favorite series. There really isn't one thing that makes it stand above all else. That being said, when I read the blog post, I didn't feel the need to post a rant comment in response. I'm classy as hell so I took it to my own blog.
In essence, the blog post was a huge complaint about how Shadow and Bone was a story that butchered Russia, its culture and language. Damn. That's a pretty heavy accusation. To be perfectly clear, I don't know a lot about Russian culture and I think in a way, that's the good part about books that have culture - so we can learn in ways that are more interesting than reading a non-fiction.
But let's get this out of the way: Ravka is not Russia.
I went into the book knowing that it was high fantasy. Knowing that Leigh didn't want to have another run of the mill fantasy book set in Godknowswhere middle ages where people wear tights and talk with words that end in -eth. I guess, I could assume that maybe the reader who wrote the rant didn't know this? That he/she expected authentic Russian culture and received a unique and interesting take of Earth's geography and history. Or even go as far as to say that he/she is Russian and the book personally offended them?
But all of this leads me to the question which is the title of the post: does a fantasy world inspired by a culture have to stay true to it?
Note: I'm not talking about racism in the world building. That was the other discussion. I'm also not trying to ignore the topic; I'm just not touching on that because it's a whole other topic entirely with an easy answer. Yes, culturally inspired fantasy worlds should never be offensive to the culture its deriving from.
Now that, that's out of the way...
Something that made me stay away from Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer series was because of some of the reviews I saw. He's obviously a capable author - I loved Illuminae. I was all ready to go read his previous work but then I found reviews that claimed that the world was butchered.
Like Bardugo's world, Kristoff's is inspired by a culture.
To me, this can go two ways. Either, the author means it and it's evident in the writing. With Bardugo's, you can see it in the world - it's got a Russia-like feel but it obviously is not Russia. Or things can go the way where the author says "inspired by a culture" so they don't take responsibility when they eff up or leave an important part of the culture out. I don't like to assume the worst of authors so I always try to think of the first but really, I think it's about the reader. Some will see the uniqueness of the fantasy world. Some won't. And those who don't may chalk it up to the author not staying true to the culture.
Oh, how about this? How come if say, I wanted to write a fantasy story, I could use my fourth grade knowledge about the middle ages and screw up whatever I wanted to and no one would care? If I said that there were gremlins that sparkled purple that lived in caves in England, no one would care. It would be idiotic but I doubt that I would get blasted for "messing up a culture" [even though, technically I am.] However, if I turn a culture that isn't often seen [Russia, Japan etc.] into something unique and fantasy-ish, I'd get blasted for not staying 150% true?
You believe that there are dragons; there are dragon slayers and the slayers have magic but you can't believe in a world that's parallel to our own where things are a little/lot different? I don't know how I feel about all of this. I think it matters so much about the context. I can't say that all books need to be culturally correct. It depends on how different and fantasy-like the world has become. To me, the situation is different for every book and we need to read them before making a judgment. [As opposed to: "This book gets its inspiration from Russia but the names aren't culturally correct!"]