When I used to be a baby, I used to be what you’d name a JRR Tolkien fangirl. I learn The Lord of the Rings time and again. I traipsed across the countryside, imagining it was Center-earth. With only a flight of creativeness, I may very well be cosy within the Shire, exploring the mines of Moria, and even flitting by means of the woods of Lothlórien.
When the primary Lord of the Rings film was lastly launched, I used to be 14 and so excited to see it. However instantly, I seen one thing distressing: nobody on display screen seemed like me. The darkest characters on display screen, the orcs, have been all male. At the same time as a monster, it appeared, there was no place for individuals who seemed like me in Tolkien’s world.
Fortunately, I had my very own to work with. I grew up in Sierra Leone, a spot I take into account essentially the most fantastical on this planet. Magic was in all places I seemed. It was in my household’s huge library, the place there have been so many books that I might make fortresses of them and crawl inside. It was within the ocean simply past my veranda, the place, if I squinted exhausting sufficient, I might typically see whales breaching. It was within the bushes, the individuals, the land itself. It was all the time there.
Fantasy was a lifesaver. After I was born, within the late 1980s, Sierra Leone was on the point of civil conflict. The nation was in chaos; individuals have been struggling and dying. To distract me, my father and grandmother would inform me tales in regards to the magic of Africa, a few of them rooted in actual historical past. Mami Wata, the goddess of all waters, slept within the salt marsh past our home that fed into the Atlantic ocean. Within the Dahomey kingdom (now Benin), an all-female army drive referred to as the N’Nonmiton, or Dahomey Amazons, hunted elephants for his or her king. The Dogon tribe of Mali, our ancestral residence, had mapped the celebs with out telescopes.
After I moved to the US in 1996, conflict was instantly not part of my life. However neither was the magic. As a substitute of goddesses and Amazons, there was now the legacy of slavery, civil rights and racial battle. I used to be advised that I used to be a Black individual, and that Blackness got here with a selected historical past and set of expectations, most of which I’d by no means heard of earlier than. I’d solely ever been Temne, my tribe in Sierra Leone. How was I supposed to grasp this new identification?
Worse, there have been no extra epics. Rising up, my father had defined to me that epics – particularly fantasy epics – are the mythos of a tradition: they decide how a individuals see themselves. However within the US, it appeared Black individuals weren’t afforded the privilege of crafting our personal narrative within the fantastical sense. In each guide, each movie, each commercial, Black individuals struggled. We have been poor, we have been uneducated, on medicine or the drug sellers. We have been child mamas, gangsters and prisoners. We have been perpetual victims or perpetual predators, lurking on the fringes of society.
However this didn’t make any sense to me. I knew my historical past. Sure, some Black individuals had been slaves, however others had been queens, kings, adventurers, tricksters, nation people. Sure, there have been huts and slave cabins, however there have been additionally castles in Ethiopia, towering partitions and streetlights in Benin, libraries in Timbuktu and fortresses in Nice Zimbabwe. The richest man to ever exist, Mansa Musa, was African. The N’Nonmiton, the feminine warriors my father and grandmother had advised me tales about once I was younger, have been African. There was extra to Blackness than battle.
However in each Black guide that received a medal, or each Black movie that received an Oscar, there was all the time a Black individual struggling towards racial oppression. There are penalties to solely lauding such portrayals. Perpetually tying the narrative of Black individuals and Blackness to slavery, colonisation and oppression meant that Black individuals – Black youngsters particularly – have been denied the possibility to see ourselves as heroes with company over our worlds. And non-Black individuals have been denied the possibility to root for us, solely feeling pity and, after all, aid that they weren’t Black.
That is the rationale I turned a author. I needed to create a fantasy world on par with those in my favorite books from childhood: The Lord of the Rings, the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. I needed to place Black and brown individuals on the forefront of this world; and girls, who’ve so typically been pushed to the periphery of fantasy, on the very centre. Within the custom of my favorite Black feminine authors, comparable to Toni Morrison, Octavia E Butler and Zora Neale Hurston, I needed to create areas the place I may maintain up Black individuals, particularly Black and brown girls, to make sure that they too have been seen by means of the lens of the improbable, that they too may very well be fairies, mermaids or creatures of fable.
My debut novel The Gilded Ones is ready in Otera, an African-inspired fantasy world. It follows a gaggle of women who’re deemed demons by society as a result of they’re Alaki, near-immortal beings who’re sooner and stronger than common people. When precise demons invade, the ladies are given a selection: struggle them or die.
It’s a work of feminism, and it’s a work of hope: it’s the type of guide I wanted I’d had earlier. One that provides an area not solely to individuals who seem like me, however to everybody. And as my guide is revealed worldwide, I’m joyful to say I don’t have to faux I’m in Center-earth any extra. Whereas Tolkien’s world allowed me a secure area as a baby, it additionally confirmed one thing extra necessary: the way to create considered one of my very own. With The Gilded Ones, I feel I lastly have.