Friday at 11:30AM, the Marriott L401–403 hosted “1001 Near and Middle Eastern Influences in High Fantasy.” The diverse and experienced panelists shared their breadth of knowledge with a packed room to help broaden awareness for fantasy books influenced by some non-Western cultures.
The panelists started by differentiating between modern and historical influences in the genre. Some books will be influenced by modern cultures when they’re shaping their worlds. Others will take influence from historical mythology and cultures. Author Alethea Kontis lamented the lack of Greek-influenced fantasy that is inspired by the Greek culture beyond that of Ancient Greece and the traditional Greek gods.
The panelists also discussed that a lot of things in fantasy that are attributed to Western influences actually have their origins in the East. Even things that have been commonplace, like stirrups, were originally Eastern inventions.
Diversity versus cultural appropriation was also a much-visited topic. The panelists and audience talked about the line between having a diverse range of literature and appropriating another culture, without coming to a definitive conclusion. One of the things the panelists did agree on was that stories can be inspired by other cultures and written by people outside of that culture without it necessarily being cultural appropriation, but that it is still important to have stories from those people, with their voices, as well. They also added that one person’s story and voice is not definitive of an entire culture.
They touched briefly on how many “Western” stories were actually influenced by stories from Eastern cultures. Cinderella in particular was mentioned as a story that has very similar stories in various Eastern cultures throughout history.
When discussing how stories have been modified over the years and changed from their original cultures, the topic of writing for intellectualism versus emotionalism came up. Stories that maintained their authenticity were often written and passed around between educated people and cultures, whereas many stories were modified for classes of people who were not as well educated, and the stories were changed to make them more emotional and relatable to those people.
Overall, it was a very enlightening panel that touched on numerous topics. What was only an hour-long panel could easily have taken an entire weekend.