Friday, November 30, 2012

What race is Maara?


If you've finished Book I, you'll be OK, but if you have yet to read it, try forming your own image of Maara before you read this.


So, what race is Maara, anyway?

Short answer: whatever race you see her as.

Long answer:
When I was working out Maara's place, or lack thereof, in Merin's house, I knew, for the sake of the plot, that she was going to be an outsider, and that she would always be seen as "other" by the people of Merin's house.

The problem is, that's hard to do, because when we get to know somebody, no matter how prejudiced against them (or people like them) we may have been at the start, we learn to relate to their human qualities and our differences seem less "different" somehow.

Maara needed to be clearly "other" in a way that people weren't going to forget about or be able to ignore, so I hit on the brilliant idea of making her racially different from Merin's people.

Who were the various races running around the British Isles during the Bronze Age? Rosemary Sutcliff includes glimpses of the "little dark people" in her stories of Roman Britain, and European fairy tales feature the little people, the fairy folk, leprechauns, etc. Those tales come from the folk memory of the people who populated Europe before the Celtic people showed up.

I saw Tamras and her people as being part of an early migration of pre-Celtic people, but closer to the Celts racially, i.e. fair and blond. The "old ones" in Book II represent the remnant of the hunter/gatherer tribes that were pushed into marginal lands by neolithic farmers. No doubt some of those early tribal people would have mixed with the newcomers and settled down to farming, much as some of the North American native tribes did when faced with European settlement. It's this mixed race group that Maara comes from.

Now we're going to switch topics for a minute. Brace yourself!

Something that has always bothered me is how little diversity we find in the stories we read or watch or listen to. When I was a child, back in the Dark Ages of the 1950s, I had friends who weren't white. I never saw them, and they never saw themselves, in picture books, in movies, or on TV. Just like girls never saw themselves as the hero in adventure stories, and gay people never saw themselves at all.

As it happens, a few of my early beta readers were people of color, and one in particular didn't find my book very interesting until Maara showed up and it was obvious she was non-white.

And that reminded me. We always want to be included, to see ourselves as belonging in a story, as in life, just as we are.

So what started out as a plot device turned into an aha! moment. Even though When Women Were Warriors is set in a particular place, at a particular time in history, it isn't about Britain or the Bronze Age. It's about people!

Some of my readers have transposed the story into another place and time that feels more real or more relevant to them. Fine by me!

Here's the definitive answer from the horses's mouth:
Maara is whatever race you see her as, and that goes for the rest of the cast of thousands!