The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
NYU Press, 2019, 240 pages
Trigger Warnings: Spoilers (Merlin, Vampire Diaries, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter)
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas is Associate
Professor in the Literacy, Culture, and International Educational
Division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of
Education. A former Detroit Public Schools teacher and National
Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, she is
an expert on diversity in children’s literature, youth media, and
“Not everyone is positioned the same way in or by the fantastic.”
An in-depth discussion about the intrinsic and socially-crafted roles of “darkness” and the “other” in popular fiction fantasy novels, as well as their filmed adaptations, Thomas’s The Dark Fantastic stands out as a singular exploration of the racial issues inherent in modern publishing and how they effect the presentation and reception of women of color. Using popular characters who have, in the past, been the focus of heated debates about racial authenticity within the readership—a few of which include Rue from The Hunger Games and Hermione from Harry Potter—Thomas uses her vast knowledge of both the fan communities, and critical race theory, to deconstruct how race is portrayed in the fantasy genre, as well as how these themes effect the cultural narrative.
Partly a critical assessment of the role of race in the fantasy genre, and partly a memoir reflecting on her days as a fan-fiction writer and participant within online fan communities, The Dark Fantastic serves as a stage from which Ebony Elizabeth Thomas is able to passionately explore the literary universes she loves, while still considering how their representations of characters of color further continues a history of exploitation, appropriation, and violence. Her obvious proximity to the subject and affection for the genre, as well as her deft analysis and confident rhetoric, makes this piece of non-fiction an important tool for any classroom, or for any person interested in understanding the complexities of this much debated issue. While it does spend a significant, and sometimes unnecessary, amount of time summarizing plot—perhaps for the sake of familiarizing people who are unacquainted with the titles and characters being discussed—it none the less presents a clear and concise argument for the urgent need to identify harmful themes that have long since been crippling the roles of women of color in fantasy writing.
PRR Writer- Joe Buckler