Political Correctness in American Folklore

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JohnDurvin
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Political Correctness in American Folklore

Post by JohnDurvin » August 8th, 2012, 12:50 am

As I've mentioned a few times, I'm working on a YA fantasy novel series based on American folklore instead of European--you know, like instead of being inspired by Tolkien, it comes from Twain, Poe instead of Dunsany, Teddy Roosevelt instead of Charlemagne. Just as Conan the Barbarian's world is a fictionalized version of Dark Ages Europe, mine--the Republic of Pareidolia--is a fictionalized North America between the War of 1812 and the First World War. Instead of the Civil War, the Republic is threatened when miners "delve too got-dang deep" and unleash an ancient evil known as the Coal Fire King, and the fight against the infernal armies he summons replaces the Civil War. The plot involves a young runaway joining up with a group of hobos and joining a plot to prevent a manufacturing magnate from taking control of the country as draught and famine (analogous to the Depression and Dust Bowl), brought on by magical pollution from the War, drive the population to desperation.

There are two issues I'm running into, though--the American government's treatment of blacks, and their treatment of Native Americans. I'm trying to create a world inspired by that of American literature and oral tradition (with a complete disregard for the actual facts), and it's worked pretty well so far--the Pareidolian equivalent of George Washington is a mythic, larger-than-life hero, and the worst of the Industrial Revolution robber barons have been consolidated into Colonel Halcyon Sanglier Dougham. But older American sources are pretty harsh on minorities, and I can't seem to sound authentic without being offensive. I can't just ignore the issues of slavery and native population displacement. Attempts at political correctness always feel forced, probably due to the rest of the text being so old-fashioned. So I was hoping for some opinions on how to deal with the two issues--are these good solutions? Will people get offended? (It may be worth mentioning that I am myself an able-bodied, lower middle-class white male, which always makes these discussions a little harder to have.)

1a. My best idea so far for dealing with the US treatment of slavery is this: instead of the New World being colonized by European aristocrats, European underlings, and African slaves, the Republic of Pareidolia was colonized by the Light Elves (representing England) and the Dark Elves (representing France or possibly Spain) capturing humans from their homeland and forcing them into servitude in the new realms, eventually leading to a slave rebellion that is analogous to the American Revolution. Thus, every human in the Republic will share the plight of Africans in the real world.
1b. The eastern seaboard was worst ravaged by the war against the Coal Fire King, and remains sequestered by a wall of magic to keep the pollution from seeping out any worse than it already is. However, many pity the population trapped behind the wall, and an analogy of the Underground Railroad has been set up to smuggle people to freedom.

2. I'm really not sure what to do with Native Americans. The best I've come up with is a pretty straight-up analogy of some ethnic population that has been gradually forced from their homelands and into the inhospitable wastes of Toscalista in the western half of the Republic. One will certainly be a member of the main character's group, but I'm not sure what should happen with the rest. The cliche would have them act as a convenient standing army, and I'd like them to be a bit more dynamic than that...perhaps they are another faction of people being pressed to desperation by the mounting tensions? That should work. Now here's the tricky bit: there's a long-standing tradition in fantasy of using the magical races to represent real-world nations and cultures. I've got humans representing blacks, Light Elves representing the British, Dark Elves representing other European powers, Dwarves representing the Chinese (rare in the eastern Republic, more known in the west, generally doing menial labor and a very specialized and different kind of magic)...but somehow it just seems offensive to have the Native Americans show up as, like, cat-people, or winged faeries or something. Am I maybe worrying too much--getting pwned by liberal guilt?
Everybody loves using things as other things, right? Check out my blog at the Cromulent Bricoleur and see one hipster's approach to recycling, upcycling, and alterna-cycling (which is a word I just made up).

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polymath
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Re: Political Correctness in American Folklore

Post by polymath » August 8th, 2012, 2:35 am

Pick out a few cultural markers for Native Nation people and I think that your socially conscious struggle would be won. Like they worshipped dead ancestors, if for no better reason than so their spirits woudn't haunt or harm the living. A warrior's death in battle was celebrated, so long as the body could be properly respected. A captured warrior was subjected to what the pale face of death Strangers who came from under the world speaking with forked tongues thought was torture. But it was a ritual giving a respectable warrior an honorable death.

Native Nation peoples were also noble companions of the earth and fire and air and water spirits and totemist, animalist, animist spirits thereof. Dryads, nerieds, naiads, aulonaids, hesperides, oceanids, and such, depending on place of abode would fit part of the bill, I think.

One feature that caused much misunderstanding and strife between the Nations and the Strangers from under the earth was differing senses of ownership. A knife set down was free for the taking. An ax. A shovel, An untended pot. A thunder lance. The Strangers thought it was mortal thievery. Worse, a waste when the item was later found abandoned to the elements and ruined by rusting away. Land was also treated differently regarding ownership.

The manhood ritual of counting coop was a rite of identity affirmation. There was supposed to be some risks, but death was not supposed to be one of them. The Strangers didn't play fair. A warrior or candidate warrior who counted coop in battle or single combat or raid wore a white eagle feather to signal his manhood. He wore a red eagle feather if he was injured, blooded, and lived.

Little known and often misundestood, the sex based division of labors was also a ritual. Women managed the home and town affairs. Period. Men managed affairs abroad from the town. Period. When exigent circumstances required, like the coming of the Strangers, elder councils of both sexes met and decided a course of action. Men spoke men's language. Women spoke women's langauge. A common language was used when men and women interacted. Since the Strangers who also went abroad from their towns and great canoes were men, they only met men, unless they visited a Native Nation town, then they only interacted with men, except for council and you-know-what.

Hunters bread is a little known recipe for making, eating, and packing to stretch out a long, meager hunt. It was a preparation known only to men, not women. Nor were women to know that men could bake a crude but passable bread.

Succession was through the matrilineal line in the main. A head mother's eldest son was headman for war and large hunting parties and guarding towns. Unless he was an unpopular successor. Then a younger son was. Or if no apparent successor was about, then the people elected a worthy headman for the occasion at hand. A head mother could also be a headman, but not the other way around. Contraries included. A headman was also elected on a temporary basis when a small warrior or hunter party went and did their own thing. A head mother's standing was based on her mother's standing, and so on. A barren woman could not become head mother. A head mother had to have sons. A sister or daughter succeeded a head mother.
Last edited by polymath on August 13th, 2012, 2:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Mark.W.Carson
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Re: Political Correctness in American Folklore

Post by Mark.W.Carson » August 8th, 2012, 7:46 am

What about the Native Americans being "Forest Dryads?" They can look Human, or even make themselves look like elves, but can take a spirit or animal form.

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wilderness
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Re: Political Correctness in American Folklore

Post by wilderness » August 8th, 2012, 12:40 pm

Your book sounds awesome! Humans as slaves seems brilliant because it shows their suffering is universal. I also like Mark's idea of representing Native Americans as a people who can take spirit or animal form. I think anything that shows their connection with the earth and nature would get the idea across. Good luck! I hope to read this one day!

JohnDurvin
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Re: Political Correctness in American Folklore

Post by JohnDurvin » August 13th, 2012, 2:15 am

Spinning ideas off the suggestion of dryads, I'm also considering satyrs, leshoviks, woodwoses, or something resembling Ents, which would fit in nicely with the clash of value systems and ideals that Polymath was talking about. (I'd straight-up go with some kind of Ent knock-off, except that the plot calls for them being pushed gradually into the barren wastes, quite ill-suited for tree people.) Thanks for the ideas, everybody--but don't let that sound like I don't want more ideas. This project (even more than most of my projects) is a composite of many, many ideas, so every suggestion helps!
Everybody loves using things as other things, right? Check out my blog at the Cromulent Bricoleur and see one hipster's approach to recycling, upcycling, and alterna-cycling (which is a word I just made up).

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