This week I finished a trilogy of fantasy novels, and one of the things I was trying to work out, Was the writer English or American? Spelling wasn’t an issue, as the book had obviously been edited for the British Market, but what tipped the balance for me was that more than one of the main characters was elevated from peasantry to lordship instantly, but there wasn’t really any class struggle to go with this elevation. No plotting lord talking about commoners getting above their station etc.
But one of the differences between the US and the UK is that class discrimination isn’t really an issue in the US, that a lot of social barriers stem from race, and the roots that discrimination had coming from slavery. And that theme was present in the books I read this week, the brutality of slavery and persecution because of race (in this case from a prisoner of war aspect) was gone into in detail, while any issue of class struggle was, whilst not ignored, was certainly not as much of an issue as it should have been.
I think in terms of issue, racism is less of a problem in the UK (not to say it doesn’t exist) but, but we tend to look more at class, working class, middle class, aristocracy and so forth. Black and Minority Ethnic groups have become parts of most classes, and are generally accepted, but trying to cross that class gap is a different matter entirely. I say this as a lower class, heterosexual, white, relatively able bodied, male, but it remind me of a joke by a Black comedian whose name eludes me at the moment, but he said “In England, they don’t have racism, no, they’ve got a class system, so that way they can be racist to white people too.” and I honestly think that sums up the class system almost perfectly, and this aspect is something I find is missing from a lot of American fantasy, whether its the Riftwar saga that I read this week, or A song of Ice and Fire, where the liberation of slavery is a key element across the series, tackling the idea’s behind racism, but aside from a few phrases like up jumped sell sword the idea of class is left behind (although I notice it has been made more prominent in the TV series).
But going the other way if you look at some of the British and Australian works of fiction, but race won’t be a big deal, looking at the works of Trudi Canavan like the Black Magician series, on of the key themes throughout is class struggle, but the issues of race hardly come up at all, to the point where even slavery is shrugged off. (Although one unique fantasy theme in the Black Magician Series is the theme of homophobia, which is something I’ve never really seen addressed in a fantasy series).
Of Course British Authors do attempt to look at the race aspect, but in the case of JK Rowling and the Harry Potter books, what you see here is a sort of blending of both class and race, establishing Wizards and Witches as the upper classes, and then other races as being below them, and quickly establishes this as a negative, the series could be seen as a study in the combating of oppression and discrimination, in the series, you see the elitist attitude of the older established wizarding families, like the blacks and the Malfoy’s representing the class aspect (probably a little bit influenced by Ms Rowling’s time on benefits), but then you see the brutish violent aspect of the Death Eaters (forming posses to attack those who’re different while wearing pointy hoods, come on JK that’s a little on the nose don’t you think?)
And who is to say which is the more important to focus on, as both are real issues for those that have faced them, but I just find it interesting how the issues that surround the author in their real lives has an influence on how they write.