From my earliest days as a reader, I’ve always been fascinated with myths, legends and fantasy tales, whether it was King Arthur, Robin Hood, Treasure Island or Lord of the Rings.
I found reading as an escape from the real world and many of the problems I found in it. I placed myself in every story and experienced every peril the protagonist found themselves in. I was truly hooked!
As I read, I was confronted with images of dashing scoundrels, pirate swashbucklers and valiant knights ala Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and Sir Lawrence Olivier. I would spend hours running around outside acting out the scenes from films, writing my own stories about those types of characters and drawing images from the various artworks of Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.
As time progressed, I realized that many of the legends and myths other than the Greek/Roman or Norse were often ignored and/or neglected in books and film. I had to go seek out stories of other cultures and when I found them, I spent hours reading about them. The myths of the Egyptians, Native American tribes, Asia and parts of Southern Africa were EPIC stories which were incredibly interesting and beautiful, but getting absolutely no attention.
When it came to fiction, my choices were limited. The images of other black people I read about in books were either as poor people, racially discriminated against, slaves or servants. Still, there was no Black, Asian or Latino fantasy heroes to be found.
Another friend and fellow author, Milton Davis had the following to say in a recent blog post titled, The Cool Factor.
“When I look back to African based images that stuck in my mind growing up two images come to mind; Shaka Zulu and Kunta Kinte. The Zulus come the closest in my mind of African coolness. These were the people who defeated the British at Isandlwana. Hundreds of books have been written about them. The Zulus were considered so cool that when Oprah was on Dr. Gates show that traced genetic roots she said she thought she might be descended from the Zulu (sorry Oprah!).
And then there was Kunta Kinte. The story of Roots is a powerful narrative, a story that reflects the struggle of African Americans in this country. It was moving and thought provoking but not cool. I did not want to be Kunta Kinte.”
Because of the fact that the rich heritage and histories of other cultures had not been tapped, many of us who were of color and fans of the fantasy genre, felt shunned and altogether ignored.
I was faced with the realization that none of the heroes of Epic Fantasy looked like me or came from any other history, myths or culture besides Eurocentric ones. However, I was unaware of a little publicized novel titled, “Imaro,” even existed, but had I known, quoting my friend and fellow writer Balogun Ojetade, “Charles R. Saunders would be a billionaire by now.”
In one of Balogun’s blog posts titled,” SWORD & SOUL: Much needed new genre? Or “simply something old, with a new coat of paint?” He wrote the following: “According to the genre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders, Sword and Soul is “African-inspired heroic fantasy. Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”
Had I known back then, what I know now…
Alas, let us fast forward to the present.
I only recently discovered the Sword & Soul genre, but I was immediately drawn to it. I started to think back to all of the stories I’d read years ago about African history, myths and legends. As a writer, I was inspired to write about heroes, kings and queens who heralded from Africa or at least an Afrocentric fictional land.
I think that the genre of Sword & Soul has a lot of potential to awaken the imagination of its readers and possibly spur them to explore the histories, mythologies and cultures of places other than Europe, while staying true to the factors which made the fantasy genre so appealing to begin with.
I believe that writers should write from their hearts and tell inspired stories. For myself and some other writers including: Charles R. Saunders, Milton Davis, Balogun Ojetade, Talitha McEachin and Valjeanne Jeffers, we are writing inspired stories from the heart which are at once poignant, powerful, and beautiful. However, these stories happen to be told with a focus on Afrocentric worlds and from Afrocentric perspectives.
Fantasy tales spun with a certain level of integrity to history, mythology and its source material, can go a long way in enticing, entertaining and educating its readers. The time is nigh for the genre of Fantasy to grow beyond a focus on mainly European settings and examine other cultures so that that it may become more diverse and reach a more diverse audience.
It is my calling to write, but it is also my mission. My writing is an expression of who I am, yet I would like for it to also be something which entertains, educates and enlightens those who read it. When I come up with my story ideas, I strive to write the very stories I would love to read and write them in the best way I possibly can. I want to develop intriguing, relatable and dynamic characters, which I then put into sensational and stimulating circumstances. This is my greatest challenge as a writer and I fully embrace it. Sword & Soul Forever!!!
Very Intriguing work. I like how you’ve captured the essence of fact and fiction and properly categorized it in regards to how it has impacted your life and career.