I wanted to include some thoughts and an excerpt from fellow blogger/author Hannah Ross, but her recent post is perhaps the most perfect thing I’ve read all year on a sensitive topic. If the Hobbit were written today pinpoints the Orwellian doublespeak that exists in writing nowadays (which promotes an unrealistic expectation of “diversity” as some kind of modern, golden calf in fiction). I couldn’t cut it apart and will merely copy it in its entirety for you (but you should totally check it out then like/follow on her blog: Flight of Fantasy)
I think that if Tolkien had written The Hobbit today, he would have trouble pitching it to literary agents. Why, you ask?
Well, first off, what is the targeted age group? I can’t define The Hobbit as a book for adults, yet the main character is an adult, and how are kids or teens supposed to relate to someone outside their age range?! *eyeroll*
Second, women and girls are shockingly underrepresented in this book. Gandalf or Thorin Oakenshield should have been female to amend that. What’s up with the all-male dwarves, anyway? Time for a female dwarf protagonist, with or without a beard.
Three, diversity. Do you recall even one person of color in The Hobbit? Me neither. Why not make Bilbo the scion of the one black family in the WASP Shire, struggling against racism and bigotry? It would be a good thing if he has confused sexual identity, too, and finds himself entangled in a romance with Thorin (whether the latter is male or female).
What about some action in the beginning, huh? What is it with the pipe smoking and tea drinking? Give us a dragon falling out of the sky, or an earthquake that destroys half of the hobbit holes on the first page, or we’ll lose interest.
Finally, what about #ownvoices? How can Tolkien be trusted to represent dwarves in literature, when he was of average height himself? I say this is shameless cultural appropriation.
Bottom line: I’m thankful that Tolkien lived back in the time when one could simply tell a good story without worrying about social agendas, when one didn’t have to dance on eggshells trying to accommodate diversity, whatever that means, when it wasn’t a point of shame to be white, male and straight, and when readers were expected to have an attention span exceeding five milliseconds.
Before I go on a rant, I’m going to point out that Hannah Ross does not necessarily agree with my below thoughts. We’ve never discussed it (just a caveat in case I make any new fun and exciting enemies today.)
I’m pretty sick and tired of walking on eggshells and kinda ticked off that so many publishers care more about the fact that I have a white penis and am attracted to females than they do about the quality of my writing. That makes for really bad writers and stories that are explicitly steered towards propaganda for the sake of money. I’m all for diversity. I’m supportive of all people, regardless of their worldview—but the track we’re on pitches a harmful ideology. At its base level, the voices of white men are somehow worth less than those of others based on their skin color and genetic material rather than on the content and quality of their stories. Stories should be accessible and relatable to all—that doesn’t mean that stories must include gay characters in order to be relatable and inclusive: think about Braveheart… there were no persons of color in the film, but many POCs can relate to the oppressive political rule and injustices of racism through the film (even though it was white on white.)
Good stories and good storytelling shouldn’t be crammed into such a narrow-minded worldview that makes writers check off boxes. But that’s what the modern publishing industry does… and that’s why the Indie publishing world is so great. If you want to write a book with nothing but transgendered, nonbinary, racially charged, anti-trump college rebels leading a crusade to end mysoginistic church abuses by systematically enacting post-birth abortion upon unsuspecting white cis male 30+ year-olds, cool. Writing is about sharing what you believe—not shutting out other voices… but that is exactly the direction that we are heading.
I received a book review request last week from a publisher (whose books I’ve reviewed on request previously) and they made a big deal about their promotion of feminism and answering the challenge of novelist Kamila Shamsie who challenged the publishing companies of the world to only publish female authors in 2018. They are taking up the challenge and proudly promoting feminism (feminism does not promote equality, but rather the objectification of men and the idea that retribution should be extracted for generations’ worth of slights. That means one full year of denying the reading public of certain voices simply because you dislike their gender. (And it’s especially unnerving to see that most male-owned lit agencies I’ve looked at have an equal blend of men and women agents while more than three-quarters of female-owned agencies don’t have more than single male staffer if they have any at all.)
I am all for equality and unique voices, but I am against being told my art is bad or improper because you don’t like my lifestyle or my genetic material. That’s just not how you do good art, storytelling, or business—that’s how you do politics, newspeak brainwashing, and psychological warfare.
I might’ve crushed some eggshells today. I’d offer a political apology that I don’t really mean if it helps… I don’t believe that we must agree on all things in order to get along just fine in the world. You are entitled to your free opinion and thoughts on any matter—it’s your basic human right. Just don’t try to cow me into submission; if your logic doesn’t flow or you think you can win arguments by shouting down, political subterfuge, or messing with the free market to silence opponents when rational thought is not in your favor then we probably can’t be friends. I’d much rather have a conversation than a debate. Nobody prospers when sides try to simply discredit each other to “win.” Winning only happens when we strive for better understanding and does not mean that someone else loses.
Maybe we should strive for open dialogue rather than trying to silence others. It’s the only way we’ll ever do anything more than shout in an echo chamber… and surrounding yourself with clone voices does crap for originality.