Monday, 4 August 2014

HOC (Heroes of Colour) who KICK ASS

When I first created Ash Mistry, there was a lot of thought given to the other heroes of colour that were already out there. Like I said in last week's post, there are universal themes at work, and the ones I focused on were sacrifice (the essential quality of heroism) and doubt.

Doubt is weird, but critical. How do you know you're doing the right think? It's easy being a hero in a black and white world, where the bad guys have easy plans and twirl their curly moustaches and the heroes have white hats and no doubt over the righteousness of their cause. But I wanted to bring a bit of 'real world' issues into it. Just look at the newspapers or put on the news for five minutes and you'll see how confused the idea of 'good and evil' really are.

Now I'm an old fart, so my list has grey hairs in it, but I thought I'd present it to you, but first, a little explanation.

This is not about the 'Asian/African/Eskimo experience'. This is not autobiographical. This is about the HUMAN experience. First proves my point, as it's a HOC written by the GREATEST WRITER OF ALL TIME.

All bow to William Shakespeare...

1. OTHELLO. So good that Shakespeare named a play after him. He's black, and a general of the Venitian army and totally BADASS. He's risen in power despite a culture of racism, only further proving how much more BADASS he is compared to everyone else.

The story is one of misplaced loyalty, betrayal and jealousy. In the end Othello harbours self-doubt, perhaps fed by the racism all around him, is he truly worthy of Desdemona or has he being punching above his weight? Deep down he doesn't believe he's good enough for her, and her true desires are elsewhere. It's how many of us might feel, that we have rewards and blessings we don't deserve and will travel down the path of self-destruction to prove we are unworthy.

Simply put, it's Shakespeare. Go watch it.

2. MOWGLI. Come on, I have to put him in. He is my favourite HOC and why I wrote Ash in the first place. The Mowgli of the Jungle Book (the books rather than the Disney cartoon though I love that too and quite immensely) is BADASS. He's a proto-Tarzan. Powerful, mischievous, surly like all kids and mystical. I won't talk so much about him this time (beound telling you to read him and you'll see how much Ash Mistry is descended from him) around but will mention his creator, Kipling.

I LOVE Kipling. I know he was an old Imperialist but that doesn't take away the fact he was a great, GREAT writer.

I think he knew the flaws of the Empire, even though he was part of it during its' greatest greatness. Read 'The Man who would be King'.

It's the flipside of the 'White Messiah' trope. For those who are unfamiliar about it it's the cliche that non-whites can't look after themselves and need a white person to sort out their problems. It's a left-over baggage from our colonial past where Western powers liked to believe they were bringing 'civilization' to the ignorant darker races. So it made conquering another country and slavery a moral virtue. Think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, think Daenarys Stormborn in Game of Thrones, Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans, Mississippi Burning and so on.

'The Man who would be King' is about two army rogues who head off into Kaffiristan (in the Pakistan/Afghanistan borders) to become rulers. They have no qualifications except a sense of their natural (white) superiority and at the beginning it all goes well. They conquer the backward tribes and become rulers until one bunch of natives realise they've been perfectly happy ruling themselves and throw our two heroes into a deep, deep ravine.

Read Kipling. He's brilliant.

3. SINBAD. I've noticed that there are a lot of HOC at the younger end of the publishing world. That's mainly down to fairy tales and 1001 Arabian Nights. We've Sinbad, Aladdin, Ali Baba and Scheherazade. Tales of pure magic with demons, genies and rocs and heroes and heroines who survive just as much by their wits as they do by their sword arms.

So, despite having these great HOC when we're young, they steadily vanish as we get older. Why so? Shouldn't they be standing right beside Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood? There are plenty of Grimm fairytale adaptations aimed at older readers, isn't it natural that these Arabian heroes should be there too?

Moving to modern now...

4. Khalid out of Guantanamo Boy. If you're a fan of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (and frankly, who isn't?) then this is a book for you. It's grim, I warn you that. Khalid is your average British teen who ends up being in the wrong place at the wrong time and is taken to Gauntanamo Bay, accused of being a terrorist. His pain, his sense of himself and the bizzare world he's dropped into are all brilliantly revealed by the author, Anna Perera.

5. Sunny out of Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. I was given this book by an editor friend of mine after a LONG conversation about HOC. Then it was recommended (completely by chance) by Rick Riordan so basically I had to read it. It brings in a whole new mythology (for me, anyway) out of Africa and that's reason enough to be added to the list.

6. Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. Now we look at another heroine out of a mythology I'm not that familiar wit, China. Cindy's written a story with a BADASS heroine who definitely is all about wits, not brawn. To do her story justice, check out my interview with her, here.

That's all, folks. I'd like to thank all of you who've taken an interest in what's going on with promoting greater diversity within children's publishing. There's more to come so until next time...



Catherine Johnson said...

Sarwat am saddened and - nay - aggreived you left out Hero daughter of a bare knuckle champion and owner of a deft right hook. A girl of her time - that is 1812 London. She is sadly, out of print, also Ezra McAdam from Sawbones he is whip smart and although he's not a fighter when the chips are down he's someone I'd want in my corner.

SarwatC said...

Dear Catherine,
That's raised a very valid point!

People, if you have any recommendations, please add them here! The more the merrier!

Peter said...

What about Ged in the Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin, where the white guys, by & large, are the villains.
That is one of the many problems with the abomination that was the Syfy channel adaption that turned him into a white hero

GL Tomas said...

I really love this post!I will be posting recs in my next comment!Oh do I have a lot to add to the list!