Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random Thursday - Book Controversy

I'm terribly fond of the author Patricia Wrede. Her Enchanted Forest Chronicles are just about the best parody of fairy tales I've ever read. And her Enchanted Chocolate Pot series gives us "Harry Potter and Regency Romance Novel" in a hilarious epistolary (ie, written in the form of letters and journal entries) series.

So when I heard she had a new novel out, I was excited! The description of The Thirteenth Child said it was about a family of fourteen set in an alternate United States, in about 1850, where magic is normal and accepted. The youngest daughter is the thirteenth child in the family. Her twin brother is the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. As a thirteenth child, everyone believes the girl is unlucky, doomed, and inherently evil. Everyone fawns over her twin, knowing he will be an ultimately powerful enchanter.

Her parents believe this is all so much nonsense, and don't want the children growing up totally warped by the opinions of their neighbors. So they move out to the edge of the frontier. What follows is a marvelous story that has all the appeal of the Little House books, with some Caddie Woodlawn problem solving and a heavy dose of Learning Magic.

Wrede says this is the first book in a series. When I finished reading, I was excited, and looking forward to reading more.

I noticed there was no racial discrimination. There was no mention of a history of slavery. People of different races interacted in a totally normal way, and the only distinction between them is some had different cultural backgrounds.

I also noticed there were no Native Americans in the book. No mention. No hint. No relics. Nothing. ...How odd.

I decided it was likely that the Native Americans would play a role in the later books. There was a huge magical conflict, that was apparently natural in origin. I was betting this was Wrede's version of the cultural conflict between the settlers and the natives, and this would be a major theme in the later books - how the two cultures met and learned to respect and like each other. (I'm a sucker for a happy ending. I want there to be no massacres and enduring hatred in this world.)

Then I started reading the reviews.

Charlotte's Library

Tor.com (Read the comments here. They get pretty fractious)

School Library Journal

I had totally missed the absence of any Native names - the Mississippi River isn't called the Mississippi. But many other names were changed also. Europe is called Avrope. Africa is Aphrik. I simply missed it.

Apparently the absence of Native Americans in the novel is creating a ruckus.

What do you think? Can a vaguely historically based fantasy book totally eliminate one cultural influence/presence without offending someone?

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