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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Turn and Face the Strange
I'm still enjoying The Changes, at the pace of one episode per night with my supper, with Sword Art Online for pudding. (I'm almost due an anime round-up, by the way, and will write one as soon as I've finished SOA.) My enjoyment comes in the following proportions:

'70s nostalgia - 20%

genuine enjoyment of story - 35%

enjoyment of some the bad aspects (The amateurish fight scenes! The acting of all the children except the MC! British child actors were so awful compared with Americans until a few years ago - I wonder why?) - 20%

pondering the series' treatment of Otherness - 25%

I want to dwell on that last one for a minute. This series is well known (in so far as it's known at all) for featuring Sikhs as major characters. At the time, even more than now, it was pretty much unheard of to have major non-white characters in a British children's fantasy. We didn't even have Magical Negroes, though an occasional Mystical Indian might be encountered. The Changes certainly delivers here: Nicky has spent the last five episodes sheltering with an extended Sikh family, first travelling with them, then living on an abandoned farm. And they're not just background characters: five of the most prominent seven characters in the last few episodes were Sikhs. There's also quite a lot of (untranslated) Punjabi, though Nicky - and thus the non-Punjabi-speaking viewer - also gets to learn a few words. So, huge props to the series for that.

On the other hand.... they are still definitely supporting characters to our heroine, who is a white middle-class girl.

On the other hand... because Nicky is affected by the machine madness and the Sikhs are not, in many ways they are closer to the position of the implied viewer than she is. They are also far more morally scrupulous, and generally nicer people. The way they use her as a kind of "native guide" even recalls some colonial narratives of white exploration into superstitious and primitive lands. It's a clever reversal.

On the other hand... the reason given for their not being affected by the madness is that, as Sikhs, they are not part of Britain's history and traditions. Merlin has no hold on them (not that we know it's Merlin yet) because they don't truly belong here. So far, the only other people we've seen have been white Britons, but it would be interesting to know who else is exempted for the same reason. Are Afro-Carribean immigrants also unaffected? Are Jews? Is it a racial question or a religious one or simply a matter of how long you've been on the island?

I suspect these questions won't get answered, but I find them fascinating, and I'm loving the way the series is making me think them through.

Aravis, from The Horse and His Boy? Which was radical enough for its time to end with a mixed-race wedding.

Apart from that, erm, nope, can't think of anyone.

Yes, that's a good example. Of course, it all takes place in a world far away of which we know not much, rather than in contemporary Britain.

I've thought of another one - Jacob, from Chimneys of Green Knowe.

Ooh yes, and come to that there's Ping in The River at Green Knowe, too.

I like your subject lines

Thank you. :)

Is it a racial question or a religious one or simply a matter of how long you've been on the island?

I would find the third the least problematic, I think, because then it's not a matter of inherent "Britishness," just exposure to the influence of Merlin. Are the Sikh family recent immigrants?

The matriarch appears not to speak English, so I would guess so.

I suspect that british writing expressed 'otherness' using different groups until recently. The Irish predominantly, then Jews and Romany. Although there are some very Empire books (The Little Princess) that also come to mind. In fact, I suspect that Empire is a major influence on who is what kind of other in a novel. What I was saying some time ago about which countries have what class equivalent in Britain helps decide which countries get to be the mildly exotic and whether they are other or poor cousins. Australians are almost always poor cousins. One thing that doesn't work is modern race distinctions, for they partly reflect the US colour consciousness, which has overlap for the UK but is not the same thing.

I agree with all this. In fantasy the Empire was also a convenient repository for mysterious objects - totems, fetishes, monkey's paws and the like - that could find their way into English villages and cause havoc, partly on account of their intrinsic power but also because they were in the Wrong Place.

Elizabeth Goudge has at least one Magical Negro. I suspect there are more than you think. Now trying to think whether any of Charlotte Yonge's black characters (there are a lot more than one would suppose) would qualify.