Today’s special guest is Morgan Smith, she will be discussing age divercity in SFF.
Age and Treachery or “Why are all the heroes so young?”
There’s a lot of discussion these days about diversity. It’s beginning to dawn on the SFF community (well, I mean, for a long while now – not, like, yesterday) that other than in very limited supporting roles, the majority of the genre is populated by 18-year-old males that have been deemed “Chosen Ones” and that maybe there might be other people, even in fictional worlds.
It’s begun to change the landscape, this discussion, and we’re finally starting to see not only writers incorporating wider definitions of humanity, but also writers from different cultures and backgrounds.
Women had a lot to do with this: first because women started writing women, which introduced us to the idea that women could not only be central characters in books, but also could be whole human beings (or whole orcs or whole zombies or whatever) and still carry a novel – that was pretty refreshing for those of us with indoor plumbing who had to do a few mental gymnastics in order to identify with protagonists like John Carter of Mars.
The colour barrier came next, and while I am the first to admit that my books are pretty white (“Write what you know” is responsible for many sins, children) it always pleases me to see authors who can transcend those mental barriers (Guy Gavriel Kay, anyone?) or, better still, writers of colour who move “Write what you know” into my brain and take it over in ways that cannot be described other than with a hearty “Oh, WOW!” – it’s really opened up some exciting prospects for everyone, writers and readers alike.
And you must admit that even in the late 70s, a few writers were breaking the binary code with regards to sexuality, and in many ways they are responsible for dismantling many, many people’s indoctrinated responses. We’ve grown up with a more open attitude towards sexual orientation. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. It breeds acceptance.
But there is still one place where very few writers venture. There is still one taboo, one almost insurmountable barrier. Not in general fiction, not in mystery, and not even in science fiction has this one thing represented such an enormous obstacle – but in fantasy, it is so rarely transgressed that it has rendered one class of protagonists nearly invisible.
I’m talking about age.
Wait – don’t roll your eyes. Don’t yell “Gandalf” at me in rage.
Think about it. All those oldsters? They aren’t the heroes. They are often heroic, but they are also expendable. The hero makes it to the end. The wise mentor might…but it doesn’t matter if they don’t.
There are very few – possibly less than ten – fantasy novels where the main/central/heroic character is over thirty. Even more importantly, there isn’t a single fantasy novel with a hero/heroine over forty who made it into bestseller territory – or if there is, I will bet you dollars to donuts that they are somehow magically induced in some way as to appear to be twenty or so.
And there is a reason for this.
It isn’t what you’d think, though.
It isn’t because we want to envision the central characters as if they were on a Netflix series. We could do that anyway, because reading is nice that way. Even with good descriptions, we are still free to imagine the visual aspects and tailor them to suit ourselves.
It isn’t because writers need the readers to identify with the central characters. Let’s face it: if we were being strictly mathematical about this, at least 50 per cent of all fantasy novels would be about 50-year-old women, because that’s where about half the fantasy market is. All those girls who spent their entire high school career reading McCaffery and Lackey? They’re still at least half of fantasy fandom, but they’re all grown up now. You want them to identify with your protagonist? There’s your market.
But we don’t. The men and women who get out there to make with the derring-do, wielding the magic swords or undoing fearful curses? They are – at least 90 per cent of them – under the age of consent in most western democracies.
I said there was a reason for this.
It’s not because we’re ageists. It’s not because we can’t relate (an awful lot of us are already taking advantage of those senior’s discounts at Denny’s and IHOP, believe me).
It’s because old people – they come with backstory.
Long, involved, complicated backstory, not to mention sciatica and arthritis and poor short-term memory. Real or fictional, they come equipped with an enormous collection of ingrained attitudes, well-worn platitudes and a whole host of relationship issues and completely irrelevant life experiences.
And – real or fictional – they never shut up about it either.
Trust me. It’s really hard to write around that.
To check up on Morgan you can go to the follwoing:
Her blog Travelling Light
Her Facebook page.