Hold On, Wait a Moment … JK Rowling and the Natives
Something is going on in the media and the blogosphere that as a native man I have to comment on. We’re talking about an author who has had tremendous success (and rightfully so – this post does not debate that) who has written a new work in the much beloved Potterverse world.
A recent letter from an academic, a Native American woman, has written, what I believe to be, a rather important letter to JK Rowling about the responsibility as an author to “get it right” when writing about a cultural/societal community.
You can read the initial letter to her here.
This has been picked up by the media – of which the Guardian in the UK has had an uproar from Potter fans coming to Jo’s defense. Yet, I say to you, they are woefully off the mark as to what is really in play here. They are blindly defending her (by and large) and attempting to obviate her from any culpability in writing about a specific Native American nation (yes, NATION – we still have some modicum of sovereignty in play here, folks). There is a growing concern from within the Native populace that something is sadly amiss here. Now, no one has seen the work, so it’s speculation at this point. But even so, the letter to Jo wasn’t accusatory (to my mind) but rather a – please tread carefully and consider what you, and your powerful writers voice, are saying to the world about any indigenous population.
For I’ll grant you, no matter where they are – what continent they exist on, ALL native populations are watching this.
Here is my two cents on the matter as a member of that community – I find I can’t sit by and NOT say something (this was my response at the Guardian UK website to those who were blindly defending Jo without considering what was really at play here):
Sorry I disagree with those that think writing fiction is some sort of “get out of jail free card” – the tone of the “letter” to Jo was not in a accusatory manner at all, rather a plea to be sensitive to another culture. How can anyone state that she did NOT do anything to misrepresent Native Americans or their culture? Just the broad use of Native Americans carries a disingenuous tone as we are a collective of various sovereign nations each with our own beliefs and societal mores. Are you from that culture to speak to what is offensive or not? As a native man, I interact with my community (both from my own nation/confederacy and others from abroad). I see the signs of continued oppression from within.
Authors are in the business of communication. Even Jo acknowledges this point herself in that documentary that was about her. When she was writing something new the documentary filmmaker prods her about it. She doesn’t want to say much under the point of “it’s still my world.” She knows the moment it is released it is no longer hers. The world’s readership has the right to absorb and reject what the work as to say. It’s all about communication.
I grant you as an author you can write whatever you want BUT be prepared for how others will perceive and respond. That is THEIR right to take in the works and respond to them. If there is a legitimate concern as to representation then that community has every right to say so. Authors are not immune to responsibility in what they write. They can surely stand by it, but at what cost? Alienating a community who feels misrepresented? Breaking down trust that an author sees them with disrespect?
When it comes to my community remember that #whiteprivilege has been the edict that has oppressed us and misrepresented us in all manner of writings – not just “academically” but in fictional literature (Hiawatha, much?).
Case in point: I am writing a story that involves my own native community. It is a story that on the surface looks like it is magic/witchcraft but it in reality is quantum mechanics in play. Yet because of the witchcraft metaphor, I am off-worlding it to an alternate universe because I am fully cognizant of how my people view witchcraft. To be respectful, I am alt-history and alt-universing it in a LIKE universe to divorce myself from our own reality. That is respectful of my own nation and its core beliefs. EVEN THOUGH IT IS FICTION. I wanted to represent the community and give them heroes that they could see beyond the trappings and identify with the characters.
Just because an author writes fiction, it does not obviate that the community you are writing about doesn’t have the right to say “hold on, wait a minute …” because while even Americans (and I realize I am giving them far too much credit here) may know the barest whispers about individual cultural systems in play with each nation, a kid in Romania may think that what’s there is an extrapolation of how it truly is. Why? Because Jo has rooted whatever she’s concocted in the real world (muggle vs. wizard). Therefore, the reality does play a factor (reality is a “character” in the stories she creates) so the “letter” to Jo from this community is merely reminding her that as a people we still are here, and we watch what’s being written about us (whether in fictional form or not).
Until Next Time …
The delights in not flying straight…
And now for something completely different but ultimately, very, very rewarding…
I’m reading a lovely story right now that sort of snuck up on me and took me by surprise. It seemed innocuous enough a subject – a gay coming of age story set amongst some witches in Seattle, Washington. Sort of a gay American Harry Potter – only with hot boy/boy action, right?
Yeah, well, sorta in that that’s not all Jacobson rewards us with. There is a crispness to the prose that I am really liking. The protag makes me grouse a bit, but I love it when authors do that – so bang on the money Jacobson! Well done, you!
The book of which I speak, btw, is called
The Boy Who Couldn’t Fly Straight (The Broom Closet Series)
Here’s the thing about this little gem… it’s YA so we don’t have to worry ourselves about the hot b/b action getting too hot and heavy so much because of the way the genre curtails that within the these sorts of books. Why? I don’t know because at 15/16 i was already reading John Rechy’s The Sexual Outlaw to sort things out (as I’ve said in earlier blog posts). I am assuming that this fair is playing it safer for the girls because, yeah, boys aren’t so shy about the topic of sex – remember, contemplating linoleum gets boys going at this age. They are so not afraid of their own manly parts – just sayin’…
But that is NOT something I will put on Mr. Jacobson. No, I’d rather talk about his work, rather than the foibles of the YA genre (gay or straight). As for the book, here’s the dealio – I am purposefully reading it s-l-o-w. Why? Because the first one is the only one out right now and goddamnit, I miss the heady days of Harry Potter! Jacobson is MY Rowling, now! Not saying that if JKR put out another HP verse book I wouldn’t be there at the midnight release party (remember those…?) in line with all the others, but yeah, for now Jacobson will fill that gap rather nicely.
Part of me is reveling in this tale of coming of age because the closet is inferred (and sometimes quite literally in your face) in many different ways in the book. Each person has a reason to “come out” (so to speak) about something in their past. While it doesn’t (at this juncture – I am only 58% through the book – remember, I am reading it SLOWLY to savor every little element from it) have all the side stories of Potter’s world, or a Hogwarts (though, Puget Academy is sort of playing second fiddle in a weird granola hippy we’re too nice to say anything bad about anyone because we have the über tolerant (and as it turns out, resilient) headmaster of the school who enforces the no bullying policy (as he should) with an iron fist), it does have nicely drawn secondary and tertiary characters that give the whole world a nestled in the greenery feeling that comes from that part of the US Northwest (I have family there so I know the area quite well – something that Jacobson unveils to great effect).
Charley Creevey is a hot mess (of sorts). He’s eye rolling worthy at times, which I think is a lovely character standpoint to write from and Jacobson does it brilliantly. Charley is tangible. He is exasperating (in all the right ways). His love interest, when he is fully realized is Diego Ramirez is a great match – I am loving them so far. Their pairing is sweet as it is heady and intoxicating (as only a first love can be).
“I am not through with the book, but I can say the book has me through and through.”
I am not through with the book, but I can say the book has me through and through. This is a series I think I will come to cherish as much as my beloved Potter series. The artwork is brooding and evokes danger and an eking into Creevey’s life. A wonderfully brilliant start to a series. While I don’t read too many YA novels (because of the earlier sentiments I have for how we suppress the sexual laden nature of our teen years when we ALL know the reverse is going on) I will stand by Jacobson’s position on this series – It’s bang on! But again, the other point is a blog posting for another time.
I’ll probably write another final review of the work. But this one has me hooked. What I like about this one is that my daughter probably won’t mind my reading it with the granddaughter (who is pre-teen and a darkling of a goth like girl – she doesn’t look the part but she’s goth in an epic way inside). Keely’s a big time Beautiful Creatures series reader (also along the witch/caster line). But she’s all about the gay boys too (something about her grandpa being one and all, I suppose). She seemed pleased that we have something to share together. It’ll be a good match.
Anyway, I highly encourage picking up this delightful read. I am savoring each and every page!
So given that the final season of True Blood is around the corner. I’ve been reminiscing about the difference between Charlaine Harris’ book series and the episodic version on our TV screens.
At first blush the main cast of characters seem to be front and center (with a few notable exceptions – that being Lafayette and the much more sub-dued Tara – arguably the TV series strongest and most interesting characters). This however is where we hit that proverbial argument (one of which I don’t always think is as valid as Hollyweird seems to make it): Books are different than TV/Film.
Yeah, the more I read, coupled with the fact that I have family that works in the film industry, I am not so sure of that as a creative premise at all. I think in most cases it is producers and directors wanting to make a splash on the shoulders of another author’s works. “Reimagining it for the masses over a different medium…” sort of thing.
It worked for the Harry Potter series, right? Eh, don’t get me started on that one… there were soooo many fucked up production decisions on that film iteration of the beloved books that I could spend an entire blog series just covering it all.
And when David Heyman offered only that as a children’s series they didn’t feel they could ever stretch the films out to encompass the smaller story elements in the books because children were going to struggle to sit still longer than the ‘line in the sand’ at 2 hours and 30+ minutes they’d alloted for each installment in the series. Say nothing of the fact that these were the same children who were happily sitting in the Lord of the Rings movies that toppled at 3.5 hours long with apparent ease. Or given the fact that as the movies wore on (and those little tykes grew up) they should (according to Heyman’s implied theory) be able to handle a longer film. My point being that it was nothing short of a financial cop out. The story and it’s telling suffered because of poor plot line choices. Steve Kloves (the screenplay writer) did his best to keep an even keel scriptwise with input from Rowling herself (often cluing him into elements that were important far before the rest of the world knew what was going on). But alas, it was the story plot lines and the production team involved that sort of ruined the magic of that series for me.
Okay, I’ll cop to the fact that I own every single one of them. They’re my granddaugther’s favorite movies and books. So those films hold a different form of sentimentality for me. She was only one when the first one came out – and she was riveted even at that tender age. If you got in the way of the TV she’d skreech and in her babushka (the reference my family had for her baby talk as she tended to sound like an old Russian woman) way telling you on no uncertain terms to: “get the FUCK outta the way man, I am watching my flick!”
I did like that they never lost sight of the whole blood business. Pure bloods vs. Muggles – yeah, so Third Reich in it’s reach and scope. I really liked that element in Rowling’s series.
Speaking of which – The Hobbit writers felt the NEED to insert a fucked up fake Elvish/Dwarf love thing? WHAT THE BLOODY FUCK? That singular addition to the tale fucking ruined the movies for me! You DON’T INSERT into literature you fucktards! You aren’t that bright to do so… something like that practically soured me on the whole fucking idea of movie options from novels.
Which brings me to the real analysis of this blog entry: True Blood.
In the books the world of Bon Temps and the fearsome but beloved Vamps are quite different. So different in fact, that the faeries play a larger role in the course of the series (and to set the record straight – I HATED the treatment of them by the writing staff of the HBO series – a mishmash of Disneyesque cum Burlesque twat-heads that I was only too happy to see them perish in the TV series. They were complete waste cases). But not in the books, the faeries are BAD ASSED. Even Eric Northman thinks twice about confronting them when Suki is in the hospital and her Faerie grandfather Niall is inbound. What the fuck happened to that element? Why toss your wad on these sappy faerie light versions of their fearsome counterparts in the books? I just didn’t get it.
And I get it, dear reader, that you may wonder why I even care. Well I do because it matters. It matters because I am a writer. Not to say that i have lofty ideals that my stories will ever equate to a property that would get sold to a film/TV company. I can dream but I am a realist as well in that department.
So yeah, if fucking matters big time that they get it right.
There is one element that is fairly spot on between the books and series – Alexander Skarsgard portrayal of Eric Northman. From the moment Alexander makes is appearance in the show I was all “YES! YES! YES!” and I am over the fucking moon that he’s a Nord actor. Go for the blood. It was brilliant bloody casting.
Now, with the exception of Ryan Kwanten, Nelsan Ellis, Rutina Wesley, and Kristen Bauer van Straten , the rest of the cast is questionable. Not that the other actors are bad at their jobs. That’s not it at all. The actors perform admirably to the tasks given to them. It’s the writing that has sucked as the seasons have worn on to the point where it barely resembles the premise it started out with. These are writers who’s good ideas went out with the bath water around the second season. Coincidently, around the same time that the TV series started to really divert from the plotlines that Charlaine had in the books. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean, it didn’t have to be a bad thing. But unfortunately, it was.
The differences between the two worlds were really starting to show. One element completely dropped from Harris’ books that I really loved in the novels? Bubba – Elvis as a goofy dumbed down lovable vampire with a penchant for kittens. Now THAT I would have loved to have seen. Hell, they could’ve even cast Michael St. Gerard (from the old Elvis bio pic) in the role.
So the takeaway from the TB fiasco, as I’ve come to call it? Whenever someone says they want to put a ‘twist’ on it, ‘shake it up a bit’ on a successful premise, then that really means – hey, we want to substantiate why we’re having to hire screenwriting hacks to reinvent the wheel because, hell, we’re just too imagined out to come up with a truly great premise ourselves so we’d rather bastardize your shit rather than put in the real work ourselves.
I mean it is possible, you know. Need I say ORPHAN BLACK? Now there’s a series that was created from ground up. But of course, it’s Canadian. Damned Canucks (and I happen to love Canucks… brilliant bastards that they are). But if anything, they show how it can be done. Just like we novelists do – with grit, determination, a little mental-elbow grease and guess what IMAGINATION. Something sorely lacking in Hollyweird.
Sidebar: You know, I sorta have mixed feelings when I bash Hollywood with the ‘weird’ status. Mostly because for the most part I like their sense of equality when it comes to the gay community (in so far as it doesn’t extend (or rarely extends) to lead characters). But then they go completely off the rails with real imagination and creative bravado. They just seem to be apathetic to trying new things when it’s so much easier to option something in existence and ‘spin’ it, make our mark on it.
What the fuck-ever.