CULTURE & ARTS
01/10/2017 01:03 pm ET

Marlon James' New Fantasy Trilogy Is Inspired By 'LOTR' And African Epics

Finally, an answer to the lack of characters of color in fantasy and sci-fi.
Marlon James is writing "the African 'Game of Thrones.'"
Jeffrey Skemp/PA Archive
Marlon James is writing "the African 'Game of Thrones.'"

Fantasy and sci-fi stories take place in faraway lands or alternate universes, but they still suffer from the same failures of representation as many 21st-century Hollywood films. Whether the setting is Middle Earth or Winterfell, almost everyone is white.

An upcoming trilogy by author Marlon James will bring some much-needed diversity to the fantasy genre.

 The Dark Star Trilogy by James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, is billed as the “African ‘Game of Thrones.’” The books will follow three characters ― the Tracker, the Moon Witch and the Boy ― as they decipher what went wrong in a search for a missing child.

The main characters are three of eight mercenaries who were hired by a slave trader to track down a kidnapped kid. The book takes place nine years after that fact, when five of the mercenaries as well as the missing child are dead ― and seeks to put together the missing pieces using not-quite-reliable witness testimony. Expect mer-creatures, underworld darkness, magical techniques, a mysterious dwarf race and far more unadulterated geekery.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, James explained how his frustration with the lack of characters of color in existing fantasy books led him to create his own.

“Originally it came from a fight that I had with somebody. I think it was when they announced the casting for ‘The Hobbit,’” James recalled. “I remember saying, ‘You know, if an Asian or a black hobbit came out of the Shire, nobody would have cared. We would have just moved on.’ And my friend said, ‘Well, Lord of the Rings is all this British and Celtic mythology.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know ... Lord of the Rings isn’t real.’ It just turned into one of these arguments we have about diversity and inclusion.”

The writer summed up his stance in Man of the World magazine: “I realized how sick and tired I was of arguing about whether there should be a black hobbit in Lord of the Rings.”

The works that helped shaped James’ trilogy are a multifarious spread, ranging from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber to Marvel’s “Luke Cage,” Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea to the paintings of Salvador DalíYet James was particularly influenced by African epics like The Epic of Son-Jara and The Epic of Askia Mohammed, created around the same time as Beowulf.

“It made me start to think about the fantastic African epic traditions — some of the stories I grew up with, like ‘Anansi the Spider,’” James told EW.

“I just realized that there’s this huge pool of fantastic stories to draw from. It’s sort of like my being a scholar of African history and mythology, and my being a total sci-fi/fantasy geek who rereads things like The Mists of Avalon, they just sort of came together.”

James is aiming to finish the books by the end of 2017, in time for a Fall 2018 release. At that point, 12-year-old sci-fi-heads and avid literature fans can finally join together and “geek the fuck out.”

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