The Line…

TooltasticBorrowing real life cultures for fiction is something I’ve been thinking about a lot of late, and the book I’m currently reading has just slammed me in the head with what I don’t want to do.

Let me explain a little bit. In my novel-in-progress, currently titled See the Sky Again, I am working really hard on developing the culture of the Aphanasian mountain elves. I worry a great deal about the perception of that culture, I do not want them to be -insert any culture or race here- transplanted into the inside of a mountain. That being said, I have borrowed one or two of the trappings of real life cultures and bent them to my purposes. Each instance of this (there are two, from two different cultures) has required a lot of introspection on my part before I did it (a lot) and the results have been run by several people to make sure no one had any red flags or eye-rolling moments. Indecisive as I am, I’m confident now that they are woven into and integral enough to the story that they aren’t going to make people go ‘Oh, she just totally stole that from ancient Japan!’*

I’m reading The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett and for the first two thirds of the thing I freaking loved it. It’s a story about a world where every night demons rise up out of the ground intent on killing anything that moves. It’s a fantastic concept, the people and lifestyle that have developed as a result of living with that threat are very believable and I was completely drawn into the story.

I’m almost done the first book and the three main characters haven’t yet met each other which tells me that the book is not going to be self-contained. That is one of my pet peeves about books in a series, but in this case I was totally willing to forgive it because I liked the book that much. Then I encountered the Krasians. Everything I read about these people makes them sound like a renamed real-world culture to me. That taints my reading of the story, partly because I find part of my brain analyzing the story to see what the author thinks/feels about that cultur, and kills my suspension of disbelief.

As an aside, most people don’t seem to see the Krasians the way I do. As I was writing this I googled them just to see and it seems they are often seen as a cross between different warrior races. One interviewer described them as “a blend of Vikings and Mongols, with a little bit of the near East thrown in for good measure” and Mr. Brett said the original inspiration for them came from Medieval Japan. So it could be that my perception may say more about myself than it does the book. Still, for the sake of this blog post, let’s assume that it’s not completely on me.August 30, 2010

The Warded Man is well-worth reading (and I’ve not even finished it yet), but my issue with the Krasian race has tainted my completely unbridled enthusiasm for it. I don’t want to do that with my stories, and I’m curious to hear other people’s thoughts on the issue. Not, so much on the political/moral/ethical correctness of borrowing from cultures and what not, but more the effect it has on the work itself (or, as a reader, your enjoyment of it).

I’m sort of feeling around in my brain to see where the line is. If you’re a writer are you constantly aware of cultural appropriation? What about as a reader? Do you find yourself pulled out of a book if the cultures in it too closely resemble real ones? What about psychoanalyzing the author when that happens? I’m willing to bet it’s not just me.

*Not actually a culture I used LOL

**Pictures just added because I took them and liked them, not because they are relevant in any way.

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