Of kings, warriors, and Oreo Blues
By Carole McDonnell
The Constant Tower is a story about Psal, a lame prince who is unable to go on a journey. It’s not the lameness that’s keeping him from traveling. It’s the world he lives in. No one travels outside at night on Odunao, a planet with three moons, one sun, and a night that tosses people to disparate parts of the planet.
But being lame is not Psal’s only problem. Or rather, his being lame is problematical in that he is not a warrior. On Odunao, a sickly, over-sensitive, limping boy is a blight to the warriors of his clan. It doesn’t help matter that Psal is a prince.
I don’t know why or when I developed a love for kings, royalties, and warlords.
I can only chock it up to Shakespeare and the Bible. Certainly, growing up Black in the US, I should perhaps have developed an attachment to freedom-fighters, democracy, underdogs, and equal rights. Heck, as a woman, I should have developed a love for female protagonists. Alas, no such luck. Of course, many American female fantasy writers write about royalty. But my main characters are often male. They often belong to a race that is different from mine. They are often royalty, which I am not.
So why this identification? I hate to admit it but I’ve begun to think that although I like to think of myself as enlightened, it appears that I am a product of my childhood education. As a kid, I grew up in a Jewish-Italian neighborhood, and have always found myself somewhat “out of my element.” I even wrote an essay once called “Oreo Blues.” For better or worse, I seem to always be interested in how the other half lives. And I always seem to want to challenge the clans to which I belong.
At first, I tried to be aware and self-aware enough to write about women. After all, women were supposed to write about women. And I tried to write about Black folks because I am Black. But childhood education sticks. Unlike many of my Black and/or female writer friends, I didn’t feel like taking courses to shake the evil British canon out of my mind. I liked English lit and I grew up with fantasy/quest stories of boys going on journeys — and that’s what I write about. I grew up reading about kings and hearing characters speak to Prince Hal and Prince Hamlet as “My Lord.” So the whole class system is woven into my fantasies, whether I like the class system or not. I grew up reading the Bible so I wasn’t going to get all super-enlightened and throw away my faith in order to cast off Imperialism.
So the child is father of the man…or of the woman.
Of course, there was a time I felt guilty about all this. I thought I should write about strong women instead of weak oppressed women. Little girls need to see strong women, right? I thought I should populate the world with dark-haired, dark-skinned icons whom little Black children could love and honor. But, why change myself? I write about what I see, and not about what I feel the world might be or should be.
And it turns out that I have somehow managed to merge my own issues with those literary icons I studied during my childhood. So, while I write primarily about male heroes, I do approach those guys with my own Black female sensibility. And although I write about outsider-princes and wounded warriors, (I’ll thank Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Othello, Edmund, Shylock, and Hal for that), I do write about racial oppression and I do seem to write truly multiculturally. My books are populated with people of all races, and the races of my heroes —and their love interests— don’t generally matter. I’d like to think that my writing is ambassadorial, touching people of all races and I hope The Constant Tower will find readers from all over the world.
Writers are supposed to write what they wish to read. As the saying goes, “Wells are dug by those who are thirsty.” I suppose the easiest way to think of it.