Fantasy’s Othering Fetish, Part 2

Media Diversified

By Phenderson Djeli Clark

This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Part 1 is here.

In modern fantasy, with its fascination with medieval Europe, it seemed almost fated that acts of “othering” would take root. Some of Western Europe’s founding notions of non-Westerners trace back long before colonialism, as early as the medieval era, where xenophobic fears (rational and irrational) of Muslim, Tartar or Mongol enemies were part of popular, religious, state and academic culture. We know this in part from the literature of the time, where non-Europeans (and non-Christians) are depicted as less than human and prone to wickedness.

Roland battles Marsile, black “heathen” Saracen king in the Song of Roland.  (Courtesy of Grandes Chroniques de France, Bibliothèque Nationale) Roland battles Marsile, black “heathen” Saracen king in the Song of Roland.
(Courtesy of Grandes Chroniques de France, Bibliothèque Nationale)

The 12th-century Frankish epic The Song of Roland describes the Saracen king Marsile as “cankered with guile and every felony” and who “loves murder and treachery.” As a…

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