I have been a voracious reader since I was young. Most of the books I read were of the children’s classics variety: Little House on the Prairie, Alice in Wonderland, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Matilda, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, etc.
The Belgariad was the first popular fantasy series that I ever read, and I loved it. I read all five books, the sequel series, and then the Sparhawk series that came after it. I swallowed them whole, reveling in the imagination and the characters and just how fun it all was.
The books I had read before were enjoyable but always, lurking under the story, was an implied sort of moralizing. Sure, there were fun parts, but there was a message. Some greater meaning the book was supposed to be about. I didn’t get that kind of feeling with the Belgariad. I’m sure there is some sort of comment about the human condition in it. But it’s more subtle, and not really the point. The point is, the books are fun fantasy adventure of rag-tag groups overcoming the odds and living happily ever after. The books were like home to me, fun and safe and comfortable.
But after maybe the twelfth time of reading the adventures of Garion and his stouthearted friends, something started to wiggle in the back of my brain.
Everybody sure was really white. And really male. And really able-bodied. And really straight.
And when I tried to look for books where this was not the case, where different sorts of people got to have the same kinds of adventures, what I found were more blond farm boys. A horde of blond farm boys on life-changing adventures with their marginally-diverse group of friends. Although, to my dismay, these other books that I did find did not only feature even more male characters, but they were actively hostile to the female ones in a way that the Eddings books never were.
So at the tender age of twelve I sat down to write a novel that was not about a blond farm boy in fantasy-medieval Europe. My attempt was unsuccessful, because I was twelve. But the idea of a black girl who had magical abilities and worked as a servant in fantasy-Imperial Rome until an attack left her paralyzed was born directly out of frustration with the status-quo. And everything I’ve written since then has been inspired by that kernel of an idea. “I really like this, but it could have been better if they had only done it this way.”
I don’t mean to single David Eddings or his oeuvre out as emblematic of the problems with fantasy fiction as a whole, or to hold up myself as some kind of savior. I love his books. They still feel like home. I hope someday to come up with characters as dear to others as Garion, Polgara, Belgarath, and Ce’nedra are to me. (I also hope to come up with a system of magic that actually makes sense when I tackle my fantasy epic, as he did in that series.) And I hope to also capture the sense of fun and adventure and just flat-out funny moments that were infused into all of his books.
But I want to do that in a more inclusive way than what was available to me when I was a child. I want other children to feel welcomed in that adventure, in those worlds, in this genre as a whole. I want those children to grow up to be adults who also contribute their own voices and point of view to the fantasy genre, and I want the old guard to welcome them with open arms. I want fantasy fiction to feel like home for everybody.