I reblogged a post from a fellow fantasy guru and I have to say it hit the nail right on the head. While his post may be considered “controversial” to some, I found it quite refreshing that someone has the guts to honestly say that diversity, in the political definition of the term, is not always good for a story. Adding characters of other races, genders, or sexual orientations just to avoid being accused of leaving those groups out can be damaging to your writing. Take, for example, the question of Dumbldore’s sexuality. J.K. Rowling admitted, long after the conclusion to the epic Harry Potter series, that the wise old wizard Dumbledore, a long-time friend and mentor to the protagonist, and key figure in the history prior to the events in the books, was gay. Some people were happy and others were upset but for me, he was never gay. Once an author has written and published, that’s it. You cannot go back and change the canon that you created, especially if it has no affect on the story, and I’m sorry, but Dumbledore being gay did not change anything. It did not affect his relationship with Harry or with his rival Grindelwald (whose story came into focus in the final book), and it certainly never changed the fact that he died, the reasons for which he died, or who killed him. His sexual orientation was simply an add-on made by an author hoping to appeal to a politically correct society.
If your characters are going to have some diverse quality, there better be a good reason. Writing is an art, and particularly science fiction and fantasy writing involves already complex elements both in characters and in events. Everything has meaning in stories such as these, at least for me. Look at Tolkien’s created world; every name and every place had meaning. He had multiple volumes of histories to support his decisions in his narratives and it all revolved around each other. Tolkien also covered the ageless topic of race discrimination, between elves and dwarves. The animosity between these two races goes back generations and sends a good message that all races are not so different from one another. He accentuates this hatred in The Hobbit and completely mends it by the end of The Lord of the Rings, but the relationship is always important to the story. George Martin has done something similar in Westeros, though not on the same scale, but there is no detail left out. Martin actually did use sexual orientation to shape his characters. Look at Oberyn Martell, for instance, a man from Dorne, a part of the world secluded and whose culture is very much different from King’s Landing and “normal” society. His preference for both men and women, and the fact that the woman he is with shares his tastes, shows a part of his culture and points out that his background will make him a strong character. Renly Baratheon’s lust for men (though only hinted at in the books), is also vital to the story because it meant that he could never have been king. He could not have sired children with his wife and the line would have ended. Him claiming the throne to end it there would have accomplished nothing. These are examples of diversity being used to better a story and to advance the plot.
I encourage all of you (especially fantasy authors) to examine your works. I am currently working on a fantasy story where the protagonist is a young girl and I am forced to question why she is female. What makes her a strong character? What qualities make her worthy of the role of protagonist? If she were a male, could she still accomplish the same task?
Good writing is good writing, no matter how you slice it. Let us question the definition of diversity and make sure we use it to the benefit of supporting good writing and not just politically correct writing. They are certainly not the same.